Readers of the Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that we had a terrible loss Monday night. The Man and I were visiting family and friends in Canada, and Chicken Debbie was staying at our house, looking after Sergeant, the cats, and the chickens.
I received a text on Tuesday that there had been a terrible sight greeting Debbie that morning, when she opened the coop door: three of our chickens were dead, killed by a predator. She told us she felt it was a weasel, given the state of the bodies.
It was horrible to be away in that moment, as you might imagine. I had no idea which of the hens, specifically, had died, as Debbie could only give me the breeds: two Plymouth Barred Rocks and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. I was grieving and guilty, but I was also terrified; we weren’t to leave until Wednesday…what if the predator came back Tuesday night, as well, before we had a chance to find the point of entrance?
Debbie reported that the remaining eleven girls had made it safely through Tuesday night, all praise be to The Great Chicken, and The Man and I returned home yesterday, as planned. I went into the coop expecting to find a crime scene in need of a cleaner, only to find it looking…perfectly normal. No blood. A few feathers.
I cannot tell you how I felt knowing that we had lost chickens, not to illness, not to a car or an accident, not even to an outdoor predator, but in their coop, their home, where they should be safe, while they were asleep, helpless and trapped. I felt sick.
We tightened up the coop with the daylight hours we had left last night, but, honestly, there wasn’t much to tighten. We’re still not sure how he got in. We set out a couple of rat traps last night; this morning, one was untouched, and the other had been sprung, the bait taken, the thief nowhere to be seen. We will be bringing in the weasel trap boxes tonight, loaded with fresh chicken livers.
Early this morning, I steeled myself to deal with the bodies. Debbie had placed them in a large black garbage bag, inside the courtyard. We will be burying them when the ground allows, and I wanted to wrap them, individually, for burial. More even that that, I wanted to look at them, to not turn my eyes from what had happened to my girls. More and more, this becomes my most important mandate.
They looked…asleep. There is very little damage: a few feathers missing at the neck. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I took photos, maybe to have in case The Stepdaughters wanted to know. I am attaching them here, in the smallest size wordpress allows, so as to not upset anyone. If you want to know more, you can click on them to enlarge.
From left to right, we lost Abby, Maisie, and Dorothy. Abby and Maisie were 1.0, and Dorothy was one of 2.0’s “good girls”. Their loss is difficult to bear. Abby was my superstar layer, and my last known broody. She will be sorely missed. Maisie was her breed sister, with her curved toes, long, skinny eggs, and flappiness. Dorothy laid late, but eventually turned out marvelous snowglobe extra-large eggs, almost daily. She was three weeks shy of her first birthday.
I wrapped each of them in one my dad’s old shirts, brought home yesterday as protective wrapping for a sculpture he gifted me. I find it comforting that they will go to their rest wrapped in his figurative arms. That will have to wait for softer ground.
The revised count is heartbreaking. From my original eleven 1.0 girls (after Jack was rehomed), I now have only six. I feel their losses more than I do those of 2.0, which is not something I’m proud of. One thing I have determined: I cannot continue to keep them all in the chicken graveyard. Not only do I have three chickens to bury, I also have five headstones to paint, and that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that a graveyard containing all the chickens we lose will be a constant, daily reminder of loss, one that I’m not sure I can bear.
I’ve decided that, going forward, only 1.0s (or others particularly are close to my heart) will be buried; others will be cremated.
These are the risks we assume when we have chickens. I know that. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.