Those of you who follow Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that we had another loss this afternoon, and this one was very hard to bear, because it was so soon after Gidget, and because it was my favourite girl…Buffy.
Buffy was a Buff Orpington, a 1.0, one of our original flock. She was, empirically, the friendliest of our girls; those of you who received this year’s Christmas card will see her on the the lower right. She and I have been through a lot together.
After The Stepdaughters came home from school today, I took Billie out for a pee. As soon as I opened the courtyard gate, I knew something was wrong. There was a blondish pile of motionless something, to the left of the barn’s front doors. For the first ten footsteps, I held out hope that is was a plastic bag, or some other piece of garbage.
When I could not longer deny it was a dead chicken, I prayed (and I’m not proud of this) “Please, God; please let it be Trixie.” Because if it wasn’t Trixie, by process of elimination, it had to be Buffy. And that I couldn’t bear.
When I got close to the chicken, I saw that she was pretty much intact, if surrounded by feathers, except that the full length of her neck was bare to the raw, bloody bone. There was no leg band to identify her (they do wriggle out of them), so I turned the flopped-back head to check the comb. Small comb = Trixie. Large comb = Buffy. And then, I knew.
I went into the coop to find the rest of the flock huddled there. A quick count came up to fifteen. Everyone else was accounted for, and unharmed.
I don’t know what happened, exactly, but I can make an educated guess. We have a number of feral cats around here; there’s a limit to how many even we can adopt. A close neighbour of ours also has chickens, but hers are kept in a coop and run full time. I had never met her but we enjoy the sound of her rooster. When I’m with the hens and we hear it, I say “Oooo, girls! It’s a man.”
By small-town chance, the keeper of this flock happens to be a nurse where both the man and I go for our medical care, and both The Man and I have engaged her in chicken-type conversation while waiting for appointments. When The Man spoke to her last, she told him she had lost three chickens in a single terrible incident, to a brutally-feral local cat, inside her run. All three chickens had had their heads ripped off.
She told The Man that it was a black cat with green eyes, and my blood ran cold. We have two black cats, and Oliver has greenish eyes. Couldn’t be. Our cats are chased by our chickens on a regular basis. Marilyn chases Oliver, for crying out loud. I worried about it, until I met the cat one day, following the sounds of an impending cat fight to the front of the house. Lucius had the cat cornered by the porch.
There was no doubt in my mind that this was the chicken killer. He was a nasty piece of work, not to be messed with, with the most intensely-green eyes I’ve ever seen. He was also long haired. I chased him off, relieved that my boys had been cleared, but I still worried about my flock.
It was The Stepdaughters who suggested him as a likely culprit, and I think they’re probably right. It wasn’t an aerial predator, for sure, and it seems to me that a dog would have carried her off.
The Man came home with an air gun. Now, I’m Canadian, and vehemently anti-gun. When The Man first asked me, years ago, how I felt about having a gun in the house, I thought carefully and replied “I will not live in a house with a gun.”
It’s only an air gun, I know, but that’s still a gun to me. That said, I welcome it today. Until we get a fence up, and fortify it with electric netting, there is the danger (and probability) that this cat will be back. I don’t know how I’m going to let my girls free range now.
I have absolutely no reservations about killing this cat, and that’s a big statement for me to make. I get the laws of the jungle, I do, but I need to keep my flock safe. This is not someone’s pet.
I’m not sure if the ground will allow for Buffy’s burial anytime soon. We’re just coming out of a brutal cold spell, and there is a good six inches of snow on the ground. Buffy is wrapped lovingly in a towel and a plastic bag, inside the courtyard. It breaks my heart to think of her there, cold and alone. But, as The Stepdaughters told me, her suffering was likely brief, and she had a good life.
It certainly was a very eventful life. It was Buffy who spent three weeks as a house chicken, recovering from a brutal dog attack last February, one where a good portion of her flesh was ripped away from her body. I guess I thought she was immortal after that. Who could forget Buffy in her little dresses?
And it was Buffy who went through several bouts of broodiness this past summer, teaching me the old school way to break a broody. I had been planning, upon her anticipated broodiness next spring, to give her a dozen of Gregory Peck’s fertilised eggs to broody mama. (Yes, “mama” as a verb.)
And it was Buffy who had a badly-bruised foot not long ago, which, come to think of it, was the reason she didn’t have a leg band. I had removed it to make the swollen ankle more comfortable.
This one really hurts, chickeneers; I’m pretty fucked up. At the time it happened, I was napping, knocked out by cold meds. Maybe if I hadn’t been…
Let us remember Buffy. She was the very best of chickens.