The Events of 1/13

It had already been a tough week.

Enjoying our ski vacation in Mammoth, we were hit with the news of the terrorist attacks at the satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris.

I had once purchased the URL, chickensacrifice.com, thinking I would do some sort of satirical online publication. I never did.

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It was about 4 a.m. on the morning of January 13. I was returning in a daze from the bathroom to my bed when I heard a strange whimpering sound from outside — something like a cross between a baby crying and an owl.

“Do you hear that?” my wife said.

Living in the country, we are used to strange and wild sounds at night. But this was one we hadn’t heard before. I turned on the outside lights and gazed down the back hill.

“Coyotes,” I said. “In the yard.”

Coyotes periodically scale our perimeter fence and make it onto the property, typically pacing back and forth in front of our very secure chicken coop. This is what I thought I saw that particular morning. I ran outside, threw a few rocks, and they disappeared back over the fence into the woods. A few minutes later, they were back. And then my wife noticed something I hadn’t:

“The coop door is open.”

My heart sank. And I realized that I had forgotten to give the animals their afternoon meal and close them in.

Once again, I chased the dogs away, and descended into the darkness toward the coop. The evidence was everywhere — puffs of feathers, here black and white, there beige or red, all over the property. In the coop were four chickens huddled on a high roost. Four of 17.

There was one dead chicken in the coop, and one on the property. The others were only evidenced by the feathers left behind.

It was the worst chicken massacre we had suffered so far in our six or seven years of chicken farming, exceeding a daring mid-day raid of a few years before by nearly triple. Gone was “Big Mama,” the queen of the coop, the first chicken we’d ever gotten, a fat silver laced wyandotte that had long ago stopped laying. Gone, too, was “Fluffy,” our cute little black Chinese bantam rooster. It’s not a good idea to name your chickens.

When morning came and the kids were safely off to school, I went about the long, sad business of cleaning up.

“Well,” I said to my wife, “at least that solves the issue of what to do with the ones that’ve stopped laying.”

Chickens, as you may or may not know, have a productive laying window of a couple years. After that, production drops off over the course of the next year or two. And then you get three to five years of eggless pet chicken. Or you eat them.

“Are you going to eat them when they stop laying?” was a question I would regularly field from the curious.

“Nah, they’re pets,” was my standard reply. “Plus, they think I’m their mother.”

Indeed, the chickens would follow me around the yard, wherever I would go.

Lifting a carcass slumped beneath a tree in a distant corner of the property, I thought briefly that perhaps I should go ahead and clean this bird and prepare it for the table. Wouldn’t that be the respectful thing to do?

Instead, I placed the bird gently in a bag, wrapped it up and took it to the bin with the other carcass I’d found. These chickens would remain in death, as they had been in life, my friends. If there was eating to be done, it would be by the local predators, and the chickens would be returning to the circle of life as their wild flightless ancestors had once been.

I drove down to the Malibu Feed Bin to see what they had. A rather unimpressive selection of end-of-season birds, mostly roosters. I bought a couple plain adolescent red leghorns. And they had a dead-ringer for Fluffy, which I also bought. This would lesson the blow for the kids. And it would bring the numbers back up, at least a little bit, which would cheer my wife and I up some.

The next day, I ordered 15 assorted breed chicks from mypetchicken.com. This would bring us up to 22, with another seven exotic chicks I’d previously ordered for my daughter Willa’s birthday coming in April. By summer, our egg production would be cranking like never before.

And would 29 chickens be too many? The number was sure to fluctuate based on the ingenuity of our local predators, and my own diligence in foiling their efforts. Such is the nature of egg farming in the country. We began with five chickens, lost two; added five, lost one; got up eventually to 23 birds, then back down to 17. Our sad low point of four lasted a few hours, and now we’re at seven. And so it goes.

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19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patty Colvig
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 18:13:22

    So sorry to read about this slaughter – found lots of b+w feathers out on the street in front of your house. The coyotes have been roaming in a small pack and getting bolder and bolder.. Ant P

    Reply

  2. Mom
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 18:19:50

    Ahhhhhh. Siob said ‘life on the farm’ when I told her.

    Reply

  3. timoirish34
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 18:59:23

    Dear Sean Colgin–

    I am awfully sorry for your poultry loss. These events are more of a shock than non-rural persons may realize.

    Our household lost roughly half of our bird lot (twenty-five out of fifty) several weeks back. This carnage resulted from a sudden, bitter snowstorm and drop in temperature plus a mental lapse regarding feeding by my brain-traumatized and love-struck landlord (their nominal owner; and I am not kidding about the head trauma). Among the lost were my own favorites, a pair of plucky little sage hens, two ducks, two turkey hens and several pretty silky hens with fluffy feet like bedroom slippers.

    Packs of coyotes (and an occasional bear) come down the hill to make midnight trouble throughout the year. For the most part they are scared off by a pair of loud-but-harmless beagles and a variety of fencing around the big back yard. Like Omar Sharif toward the end of Doctor Zhivago, I hear the howling pack getting closer to the house every few nights. Lately, when they get too near, a blast from a shotgun off the deck is the sole thing that disperses the pack, but the household firearms are not my department.

    In the wake of my discovery of the poultry cataclysm, my often absent (mentally and physically) landlord (he, burdened with a new job and smitten with a fresh twenty-two-year-old lady friend) has sold off what he considered the superfluous fowl–the two surviving ducks and the three peahens and their handsome male consort, (which–I agree–didn’t produce anything beyond humor and beauty, but such products are necessary too, I think). Just as we profit by other’s misfortunes (I do enjoy living–if only as a paying guest–in someone else’s large house on a private country road), we pay in grief for their screw ups too.

    Once I discovered the slaughter, I called old Alice (who always knows what to do in crisis situations, or at least acts like she does); she came by in her tattered barn coat and gum boots to help me shovel and pitchfork the dead into piles. The temp was sub-freezing, so there was not much blood or decomposition. Since that dark day, life in the farmyard has resumed its usual pace, with additional heat lamps in the chicken coop and me overfeeding my landlord’s remaining chickens. Oh yes, there has been one more development: Alice has since turned vegetarian, the most lasting reminder of that grim afternoon. This alteration in her diet has thrown a curve into our dining habits (especially our dining-out habits), but what can I do but go on without remark? Life and death in the garden is a big deal, huh?
    Best, Tim

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 17, 2015 @ 02:04:19

      Tim, that was so well written it makes me think you should have your own blog. Thank you for sharing that very funny story. Cheers mate.

      Reply

  4. Jo Ann Brown-Scott
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 22:52:44

    When we were raising our kids in Evergreen, CO years ago our neighbor’s pet rabbits, who she thought were secured, were also slaughtered by a howling screaming gang of coyotes. That sobered everybody up really fast about being “secured”. It was a lesson in life.
    I always love your posts…..

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 17, 2015 @ 02:02:58

      You’re very kind, Jo Ann. Thank you, happy to have you along for the ride. I told my friend that my kids were learning about predation and the circle of life. LOL

      Reply

  5. timoirish34
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 03:00:02

    SColgin–The circle of life seems to complete itself with ME being devoured by other people’s neuroses. The tough part is I’d just discovered an on-line, Upstate NY source for rendered duck fat, confit, foie gras and specialty cookware. I was planning a cassoulet, dammit… I think old Alice will have to up her psychotherapy to twice weekly before I ever dare broach this (suddenly) sensitive topic. Sigh.

    Reply

  6. "Cheffie Cooks"
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 05:13:24

    Wow, I am happy to know that you were able to replace your flock and set to rest in everlasting peace the ones who did not make the attack! It’s never easy losing anything you become attached too. Chickens or no chickens you have a big heart! Your Florida Bud. Cheryl

    Reply

  7. platedujour
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 20:57:04

    I guess I should say I feel sorry for your loss…My parents have a farm, and they have problems with foxes from time to time- it’s also very painful when they lose animals- chickens, ducks or pigeons. On the other hand, it’s the nature, but I’m glad to see you managed to replace some of the chickens 🙂

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 18, 2015 @ 21:17:38

      Thank you for your sympathy, Marta. 🙂 (In the end, we will have more chickens than we started with. And that too, I’m sure, will change.)

      Reply

  8. andreathompson2
    Jan 19, 2015 @ 02:15:56

    That is HORRID. I’m soooo sorry bro.

    Reply

  9. Michelle
    Jan 20, 2015 @ 03:12:32

    Oh dear. Been there. Not pleasant. We’re down to 3 aging hens (locked into their Eglu run). We’re even having to buy eggs!

    Reply

  10. Jessamine in PDX
    Jan 20, 2015 @ 06:37:20

    Ugh — that’s so sad. I have a few co-workers who raise chickens and it’s often the raccoons that are the biggest worry. I know it’s nature but it’s doesn’t make it any easier. Glad you’ve got some new chicks in the coop to cheer everyone up!

    Reply

  11. Glennis
    Jan 23, 2015 @ 05:47:44

    I saw the feathers in our driveway that morning – Jack the dog and I were curious, and then I figured it out. I was sad – but Jack was intrigued. Your new chickens include a rooster, I think, right? So we hear.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 23, 2015 @ 18:41:26

      We had a quiet little fluffy black Chinese rooster that the kids adored before, and he was one of the casualties. So I managed to get a replacement that looks almost identical, but this one has a little more testosterone than the last. Still pretty low on the rooster decibel scale. But let me know if it becomes a nuisance, and I’ll call in the coyotes. 😉

      Reply

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