This week was not the week to be a chicken around Casa de Ford. Not even if a little bit.
For anyone faint of heart, kosher, or a dedicated supporter of PETA you may want to go ahead and skip this post. I won’t go into visual details, however, the nature of the content will, by nature, lend itself to be rather graphic.
And if you’re still reading, here we go. Prepare to be, at the very least, heartsick at the end.
Monday evening: Chris and I ran into the big city to do some grocery shopping for Adventure Camp and get off of the compound for a couple of hours. We were after dark getting back – usually we put the chickens up before we leave if we think we are going to be late, but this time we didn’t think we would be gone so long. We stopped at the coop before taking the groceries down to the lodge – at first Chris just stopped in the road, but because I’m a big chicken (no pun intended, seriously) in the dark I asked him to re-angle so the car lights hit the coop.
Beady eyes stared back at us. From inside the run. Not good.
I run to the house to get headlamps, flashlight, and a sharp object of some sort. I run back down the sidewalk and across the road, toss Chris the rake so that he can go inside the coop where the varmint is hiding, chickens are going nuts in the run, the rooster is squawking and flitting about, and about the time I get to the gate the perpetrator scurries under the hole in the fence from, we assume, whence it came.
I shine my light in the coop. One, two, three, four, five… there’s one missing. I shine my light in the run. We’ve lost one – she’s laying lifeless in the middle of the run.
Sadness. Anger. Hurt. Defeat.
Chris takes the shovel and starts to dig a hole up behind the house. He tells me I don’t want to be a part of it. I check on the other birds, making sure they aren’t injured, close them up, kick in the hole and put large toolbox in front of it, and go up the hill to help him dig. Chris lays her in the hole and we cover her up.
Wednesday evening (sun is just setting): I went out to close up the birds – a little earlier than usual to play it on the safe side. Tuesday was fine, but we weren’t t taking any chances. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The silly birds like to perch on the rope to the trap door until they are closed up for the night – then they flutter about to the roost and hang out there til morning. The fluttering typically makes quite the ruckus – birds jumping down, flapping their wings, squawking at the surprise – this time it did not. I think to myself that something’s not right. I peer through the big window like I usually do after closing them up – one lays limp under the roost. I can’t find the fifth one and I can see the rooster is hurt bad and cowering in the corner.
I run back to the house, devastated and frantic, and tell Chris the news. He goes out to survey the scene. He finds the fifth bird. She’s dead, too, under the rooster in the corner. We think he was trying to protect her still.
We stand there totally perplexed- at a total loss of what to do. We know we have to bury the birds. We know we have to separate the rooster, due to his intense injuries, from the remaining two.
Chris starts digging. I get the dog crate. We wrangle the rooster into the crate, away from the hen he was protecting. I help dig, mostly to blow off some frustration. We bury the birds and go back to the rooster. I try to clean him up with water and peroxide, he can barely stand. The left side of his face is in bad shape, swollen beyond recognition, maybe missing his eye. His comb and waddle are limp, he’s missing a patch of feathers on his upper right wing. His beak and jaw are cockeyed.
I figure he’s close to the end but I’m not willing to let him suffer. I think he will likely die during the night or have a miraculous recovery. For the latter, I am not so hopeful.
I call Derrick, the coon trapper, and settle a time for him to come set traps the next day. I don’t care if he takes them or offs them – I’m done with the varmints killing my birds.
We close them up, him in the crate & hens on the roost. We will wait and see what tomorrow holds – it’s likely not good. No matter how much I try to convince myself that I will nurse him back to health with love, salves, peroxide, and antibiotics, the realist in me knows otherwise. I flip through our trusty chicken book, email the chicken lady, Ashley English, for her input, and go to bed. I toss and turn for a while and eventually drift off.
Thursday morning: His condition is the same and worse than I originally thought. I doctor his wounds again – this time knowing for sure that he is permanently blind on his left side. Death for him seems eminent, I just won’t let myself believe it yet.
We decide to leave the birds inside for the day. We will be gone for the better part of the day and don’t want to take any chances. If something returns through the hole or digs a new one, it at least won’t be able to get to the girls and the wounded. Hopefully the coon trapper will be there later and we can resolve this once and for all.
We headed out for the day, taking Noah to school, meeting Adventure Camp in Soddy Daisy, and picking up chicken antibiotics and wire to bury under the run to prevent anymore digging. We stopped at the Farm Supply on the way home. I told the fella what we were dealing with. He said, “Do you want to know what you honestly need to do?” I told him of course, knowing what the answer would be.
“I’d put him out of his misery.”
Apparently once a rooster is injured, especially on his head, and is hiding his defense mechanisms (ducking his head, not crowing, not puffing his feathers, etc.) then he is in a lot of pain. Even if he recovers he will likely continue to be in a lot of pain that could literally make him go mad.
The man tells me that I can go get a rooster and as many hens as I want from his farm, just call his wife and tell her I’m coming. My first thought was “How am I going to take on more chickens if I am losing my babies by the day?”… I will likely call him in a couple of weeks, just not yet.
Derrick, the coon trapper, never calls. I am hoping we won’t be given reason to call him back.
Thursday evening: On the way to supper at the dining hall I find a good ole boy, one who I know is privy to farm life. I ask him if he knows anything about or cares to take care of our rooster for us. He obliges. Chris leads him over to the coop, loads up Foghorn, and he takes him off. I didn’t ask any questions. I tell myself that he took him off and gave him lethal injection – he never felt a thing.
This was probably the hardest part of this whole situation- I had grown rather attached to him and he fought as hard as he could to protect his domain. He just wasn’t old enough or big enough or even have his spurs yet to rightly defend what was his.
I make sure the girls are safe and sound, no holes in the fence, trap door shut. They are in for the night…
Friday morning: I go to let the two girls we have left out for a few minutes while I take the crate out and fill up their food and water.
Are you freaking kidding me?
Another one is gone. Dead under the roost.
Son of a…
I am so over it. So done. How the heck does this keep happening?
I start to fine-tooth comb every inch of the coop & run – but I didn’t need to look far:
Need a closer look?
The terrorist is coming through the window – the double reinforced window four feet off the ground.
Defeat. Frustration. Confusion.
What in the world is small enough to fit through a 2×4 inch slot and push through the chicken wire? Raccoon? Opossum? Weasel? Rats? The folks at the co-op had varying opinions, solutions, and personal tales to tell – those will have to wait for another day…
The gist is this: Raccoons and opossums are scavengers – they like for whatever they eat to be well into the decomposition phase before feasting. This is likely why the vandal was only killing the birds, not taking them away – because they will wait a few days and come back for their kill, once it’s had time to reach that aforementioned phase. When it came back, couldn’t find it’s original victim, it struck again, thus, extinguishing all but one of our flock.
And the one that remains? The runt.
After three, maybe four separate attacks she proved to be the strongest some way or another. And we are very proud of her strength and her survival instincts. We had held off on naming any of the birds, except Foghorn, until they were fully grown, so we really knew how to tell them apart. With her being the lone survivor, we decided to name her Rudy – after the 1990’s movie about the football player who never gave up. Appropriate, I think.
We hang our heads in sadness, but will not be taken so easily. The flock will be avenged.
So tonight, we set traps. And wait.
Update: I started this post Friday night – it’s Sunday and we’ve had a whole lot of action:
One trap set, baited with a chicken taco (I know – the irony), behind the coop in the run next to the ramp into the house. Rudy is closed up tight, new shavings replace the old, the window has been reinforced. We are sitting in the living room watching a program, the windows open listening to the rain.
A cry comes from the coop – not of the avian variety.
“I think we just caught something,” I say to Chris and Jess.
“Yeah, I heard that, too.”
We wait. Give it time. Make sure he’s really good and caught.
Like a scene from a movie – I with my garden rake under an umbrella (I was quickly told that it’s not very tough to raccoon hunt with an umbrella… at least I was dry.), Chris with a large machete, Jess with the mag light – we walk into the night while it’s raining and the steam rolls over the gravel road.
So caught. Beady little eyes cower at the light. It’s a raccoon, just as we had suspected.
The next series of events, I will spare the details. Just know this – the villain was “relocated” far, far away and will never be messing with our chickens ever again. I don’t particularly love the means to the end, but it’s necessary. There’s a chain of life and we sometimes must be an active part in it.
And then we set the trap again… same place, different bait.
After much thought and good talk with the Chicken Lady, we will get Rudy a companion tomorrow before leaving town at the end of the week so she won’t feel as though she’s been abandoned, left to fend for her own.
For now, the traps remain – and I honestly hope to find them empty from here on out.