Cats kill. And then there were fifteen.

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?

Month 11 Buffy's second dress

Month 11 Buffy Dress 2

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.

Week 06 Buffy

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9 thoughts on “Cats kill. And then there were fifteen.

  1. I’m so sorry. Wild animals can kill so fast, even if you’d been awake and heard it, you’d likely not have got there in time to save her. Try not to beat yourself up too hard (because of course, you will). I’ve never moved so fast in my life as the first time I heard that soul-chilling cry of a chicken being killed and by the time I got there there was nothing I could do but protect the survivors. It hurts, especially when it’s your favorite. I think I’d go into serious mourning if Queen ever died like that…

    • Thank you for getting it. I’m a little better today, but I dread reaching into the carton and finding one of her eggs. She was my honey…

  2. As far as the gun goes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. That being said, you’ll be hard pressed to kill a cat with an air rifle. I’m speaking from experience. Unless you have the barrel up close and personal, it’ll only injure the cat. A .22 caliber will do the job in short order.
    Your other option would be to live trap it so you can get close enough to do the job correctly with the air rifle.

    We had a lot of bear problems last summer. I wasn’t into killing them, but they were coming around in the daytime when the kids were out. I got some rubber buckshot for my 12 gauge. I persecuted them relentlessly and they finally got the hint and moved on.

    • This is all new territory for me. The man seems to think this particular air rifle can get the job done, but I have no qualms about using a trap and doing it up close and personal. This particular cat (and I LOVE cats!) is a menace, not only to my flock, but to my cats and my kids. It occurred to me that our cats (mostly Lucius and Oliver) have been keeping this cat at bay, defending their territory (and their chickens, by default). With the snow and brutally cold weather, they’ve been inside for weeks. I’m sure that explains the timing of the attack.

      • There are certainly air rifles out there that will do it! Lewis and Clark used a .50 caliber air rifle. It was the only rifle that they had that was a repeating rifle. They make them in all shapes and sizes, you just don’t see them that often.

        Good luck with it. I’m really sorry for your loss. We’ve been meaning to put one of our roosters in the stew pot for quite some time – I’m just too fond of him to do the job.

  3. Oh, I am so, so sorry. Losing chickens is so hard… losing such a sweet, favorite girl is even worse. Thinking of you.

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