We’ve had a rough couple of weeks as farmers. Chickens are wonderful animals, but they’re not so easy to deal with. And they can break your heart sometimes.
We put the babies outside in a segregated cage (a dog kennel) two weeks ago. They were doing ok and seemed to be getting used to being around their big sisters, but when they slipped out through the bottom of the kennel last Saturday, we found out the hard way that their big sisters weren’t getting used to them yet.
Blueberry Muffin got pecked pretty badly on the back of her head. We brought her in and medicated her because her own sisters wouldn’t leave her alone once everyone was back in their cage. She’s been living in the kitchen in a cage of her own this week to give her plenty of time to heal.
We thought that was pretty rough, but we had it taken care of. We were wrong. Fruitcake was the runt of the latest litter. She managed to squeeze out again on Sunday. And we didn’t get to her in time. When we found her, the only thing we could do was to help her stop hurting. It’s just something that chickens do. It’s why they call it the pecking order. We know that, but that didn’t make it any easier. Still, we made certain that the others wouldn’t be able to get out again until we were sure they were big enough to take care of themselves. And we worked hard at not holding a grudge about it. We were getting there.
But then yesterday happened. We’ve had a raccoon try to get in before. That’s why we reinforced the run with hardwire and buried it in the ground with pavers to make it just that much harder to get under. We thought we had made them safe. We were wrong. I used to think raccoons were cute. I don’t anymore. We lost all of our grown ladies. I think I could have handled it better if they had been eaten, but that’s just not how raccoons work. It just seems so senseless, so pointless. They were very good girls, and they didn’t deserve that.
The babies were still safe in their kennel, just spooked. And then there was Karen. He did what roosters are supposed to do. He tried to protect his girls. And he may be the reason that the babies were safe. But he got hurt. You might not think you could bathe a rooster, but you can. In the kitchen sink no less. And then we treated his cuts and scrapes – I think he has more of those right now than he has feathers. And if a chicken can be depressed, he is. For the first day since he let us know that we had named him wrong, he didn’t crow. But he’s eating and drinking, and I really think that he’s going to pull through.
This is the sort of thing that all farmers deal with at some point. Not all baby animals make it. There are always predators. Sometimes these things just happen. But I don’t think it’s easy for any farmer to deal with. You can’t hold a little puffball in your hand and not get a little bit attached. And like Michael tells us, you get too attached if you name them. It’s just not in me to not name them, though. I’m just not made to not get attached.
So now we’re to the tragi-comic element of all of this because sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. We’ve got an adolescent hen living in a humane trap cage (it was all we had for her) in our kitchen. She’s very content about it. I don’t think she plans to leave. She’s even making friends with the cats.
And then there’s Karen. He’s purple (chicken medicine to discourage him from pecking at his cuts) pretty much all over. And I’m purple – that stuff doesn’t really wash off. I look like I lost a fight with a mimeograph machine. But the end result of all this is that he’s a very scruffy purple rooster. And he’s living in our bathtub. We didn’t have another cage, so we had to come up with the place he could be that would be easiest to clean up when he’s ready to go back out. The bathtub was all we could come up with. Just like Blueberry, he seems to be settling in there. I have to say that it makes going to the bathroom an adventure. There’s just nothing like having a ragged purple rooster peaking over the top of the tub at you.
So we’re out of the egg business until our nine new girls start giving us more. And we may end up with a very ugly rooster. But that’s just how things happen sometimes. And at least for us they’re pets, a hobby. The one thing this made us appreciate is how hard it really is for those farmers we all take for granted. For them, this is everyday, and they’re not just out of eggs or sad about losing pets when this sort of thing happens. They’re out of money that they depend on, too.
So, appreciate what the farmers who feed you go through. And join us in saying good-bye to our good girls: Della, Kiev, Satay, Sam, Fricassee, Dumplin’, Marsala, and little Fruitcake. We’ll never forget them.