The count.

Every chickeneer has a count. You know, the way you check to ensure all your babies are accounted for. It might be a simple “I have ten chickens, so I count to ten”, or it may be more detailed, as mine is. As I pointed out once to Stepdaughter the Elder, if you just do a straight count, and you’re missing someone, you won’t know who’s missing!

Your mileage, as always, may vary.

My technique is counting by breed. We started out with three chickens each of four breeds, and the count went (from lightest to darkest): 3 white, 3 blond, 3 red, 3 barred. Nice, even, rhythmic.

We lost Jack to gender, and the count changed, but it was bittersweet; I knew where he was and how he was doing. Then we lost Angelina to a fox the day after Hurricane Irene, and the count went to: 3 white, 2 blond, 2 red, 3 barred. And it stayed that way for a long time. I got used to it.

To those of you for to this seems silly, I can’t explain it. There is a deep satisfaction and relief, for me, in knowing that the count is right, that my girls are all okay, and I have fulfilled my job as their caretaker, at least for that day. There is the peace of knowing that no one has been left locked out of the coop for the night, terrified, or worse. We count. Right?

With the integration of this spring’s chicks, the count got a wee more complex (from oldest to youngest then lightest to darkest): 3 white, 2 blond, 2 red, 3 barred, 3 laced, 3 black, and (once we rehomed Gregory Peck) 2 Easter Eggers. And it was good.

And then, I lost Pip to heat and/or egg laying, and Gidget to a car accident. And the count changed again: 2 white, 2 blond, 2 red, 3 barred, 2 laced, 3 black, and 2 Easter Eggers. I was okay. This was part of the deal, and I always knew that. I still miss Pip’s cry for cuddles and Gidget’s squatting athletically for the chicken butt handshake, but…life went on.

And then, I lost Buffy. I’m sorry; I know I’m carrying on, but this one has changed everything for me. She was the one who never failed to run out to greet me, and ask, nay, demand, not just the chicken butt handshake, but a full body massage. If I was paying attention to someone else at roost time, she’d come forward on the roosts and insist I pay attention to her. She was a frequent guest in the house. She was my girl.

The tyranny of the count is this: I feel her absence all the more, because now, for the first time, there is a 1. Trixie is our last remaining Buff Orpington. And, so, the count goes: 2 white, 1 blond, 2 red, 3 barred, 2 laced, 3 black, and 2 Easter Eggers.

We haven’t caught that cat yet, but we’ve seen him around. I’m convinced the kill happened when it did because the cold weather has kept our cats inside; both Lucius and Oliver have been seen keeping this cat at bay, defending their turf. Knowing the chicken killer is still at large makes me nervous, frankly, about leaving my girls alone.

So, when I leave today, I’ll be putting our two black cats out.

Let’s recap, shall we? I’m putting the cats out. To defend the chickens.

I have guard cats, whether they know it or not.

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7 thoughts on “The count.

  1. Wow, I have so much in common here. Not only the chicken count (love the way you describe that, btw!) but also the ‘guard’ cats… we have one of those too, AND a cat predator who recently visited!
    I have video of the chicks chasing our guard cat all over the yard because his tail looked like a juicy fat worm, lol.
    I know the panic when the count comes up wrong. Bad things happened the two times I didn’t do the count, so I agree, it’s mandatory for ‘chickeneers’!

    I was blessed with the gift of a rooster and his 7 hens near the end of their egg-laying years- and got about 3-4 eggs a week for a year. Then one hatched a handful of gifted eggs and I was getting 1-2 eggs a week by then.
    I learned so much from them and will forever be grateful for them, but after 3 of those 4 viable eggs hatched into roosters, I then had 4 roosters for 8 hens. Bad math for coop management.
    Someone else then gifted me with 11 various aged hens, and two of those became roosters too. So SIX rooters, and 9 laying hens and 7 non-layers…. so this weekend we’re going to ‘do the deed’ and cull from the flock.
    I feel kinda sick and kinda nervous and kind of relieved and resigned to it. I did not get them for keeping them as pets but as a homesteading practice – for practical reasons. It costs twice as much to feed this whole bunch and less than 1/2 can even lay. (I’m keeping one rooster). So I HAVE to follow through with the reasons of practicality over sentimentality.
    But I know they will go to good use – for chicken stock for dog food (the old gray hens) and to someone on an anti-cancer diet who can’t eat processed foods and avoids GMO foods (the roosters)…. so you know, I think I can mentally deal with it.

    It’s funny, if you can imagine what would happen if you freshened your flock with new layers every 2-3 years (say another dozen), if you always kept all the old hens, you’d be feeding a lot of hens if they lived 10 years!
    I’m learning not to get so attached, but you simply can’t help having favorites!

    Thanks for sharing your stories, I get SO MUCH out of it, and most of all, don’t feel that my experiences are rare or weird or ‘just me’.

    • I admire you, truly. I would very much like to get into incubating eggs, either by incubator or broody, but that means…roos. I just don’t know what I’d do with them. I wonder if I could have them processed with the turkeys… I’m contemplating either Marans or Blue Orpingtons. The loss of Buffy has made me want more Orpingtons.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes. And, for what it’s worth, I’m with you, even as a non-meat-eater: you can only carry so many freeloaders.

      • That particular bug has been there for a while, ever since I saw the avatar of one of the BYC members with all those different coloured eggs…

        (Focus on turkeys! Focus on turkeys!!)

  2. I only have three little bantams, they free range but I always worry. I dont clip their wings so they stand a small chance of getting away. my neighbour has often spotted foxes during the daytime licking their lips! I only thourght they came at night so need to be extra careful! x

    • A daytime fox is a concern, for sure. It’s either sick, or a migrating adolescent, or a mama feeding babies (unlikely at this time of year). Angelina was killed by a daytime fox because Hurricane Irene kept them from hunting for two days and flooded them out of their summer hunting grounds. I can recommend liberal quantities of Great Dane poo everywhere. Works for us!

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