I can bear no more. And then there were eight.

This post is three days late,  today is the first day I could face writing it. Trixie is dead.

After the weasel killed Coraline and Haley last Sunday night, I was a mess, as you might imagine, but not completely without hope. It was the first time I’d opened the coop to fatalities myself, but I felt confident we’d dealt with the issues before bed. Deeply depressed by the newest losses, I did something I hadn’t done all winter: I sat in the coop at roost time, and let the girls sit in my lap.

This is primarily a 1.0 pursuit; 2.0 wasn’t handled enough as chicks, an error I plan to rectify with 3.0. I was able to find solace in the wrestling match between Big Tallulah and Trixie for my lap, the winner getting big body scrubs. It made me cry, but there was a sweetness to the tears, as well as bitterness.

The next morning, I opened the inner coop door to find Trixie lying lifeless on the ground by the poop pit.

It was too much, and I broke. I spent the day either sobbing hysterically or staring into space, catatonic. The Man forbade me to drive. This fucking rodent was killing my new life and there was nothing, it seemed, I could do to stop it.

The good news is, we found a way to stop the deaths (see Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page for more details). The bad news is, the weasel is still alive and taking bait from traps, leaving the coop unscathed, night after night.

I now have three remaining 1.0s: Tallulah (who will now, surely, be Head Hen), Alexia, and Hermione. To see my (only) eight girls grazing on the lawn makes me so sad, every day. So few.

The weasel saga will continue, and 3.0 will hatch (she said), but I want to take this moment to remember Trixie, who yelled louder than anyone over nothing, who laid nothing but fart eggs for ten months, and who was my last remaining Buff Orpington. She is missed.

Month 08 Trixie

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Gaps kill. And then there were nine.

Yes, nine. For the first time ever, the population of Heedley’s Hens has dropped down to a single digit.

The weasel came back last night, and I opened the coop door this morning to find Coraline’s body by the spilled water dish, her neck chewed to the bone, as Buffy’s had been. A quick visual sweep saw Haley in the right nesting box, motionless.

We believe we found the point of entrance. The Man found Barred Rock feathers outside the coop, by the nesting boxes. When he pried up at the corner of the nesting box lid (and I mean hard) he was able to squeeze two fingers through the gap. That has to be it. Oh, please God, let it be it.

The Man screwed the lids shut, and we will be setting traps tonight.

It’s funny; yesterday was a day of bad weather, too: dangerously high winds. I am definitely seeing a pattern. We had planned to set the traps last night, but we were making beer and had guests over and it got late…I’ll add that to my very long list of self recriminations.

We’ll need to bury Coraline and Haley today. I’ve asked The Man to dig the graves, as I don’t think I can face the task so soon after digging the last three. I dread telling the Stepdaughters; upon hearing of the death of the first three a few days ago, Stepdaughter the Younger was upset, but deeply relieved that her precious Coraline had survived. And now…

Beyond the emotional toll, which I’m finding crippling, there is the practical cost. Of the five hens killed, the weasel managed to kill my four best layers. He may have killed a third of our hens, but he has cut egg production in half. I’m glad The Man and I decided to add another twelve hatching eggs to our order from The Garry Farm, but it will be a lean summer, egg-wise.

The count is now devastating. 1.0 now counts 2,1,1. That’s it. All our Plymouth Barred Rocks are gone. I feel like hatching some, to be honest. In my limited experience, they are the best layers I have found, and Abby was broody, and I hear they make good meat birds. I will have to see how the Ameraucana/Maran hatch goes. I don’t think either breed is famous for its egg output, pretty as the eggs may be.

I have obituaries to write, on their five pages. I’d been putting off moving Abby, Maisie and Dorothy over to the “In memoriam” section, waiting until the wound had healed a little. And now, there are two more. It may take me a while to bring myself to do it.

In the meantime, here are pics of our lost girls in happier days. Abby checks out Tallulah’s molting butt…one of my faves:

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Maisie, in the chicken hospital for a badly-ripped nail:

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Dorothy, checking out the Nest on Pooh Corner:

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Coraline, in the chicken hospital for bumblefoot (with Buffy):

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And Haley, all shiny in her new, post-molt feathers (Abby, at left):

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Oh, my poor girls; I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. You were all so good to us. Thank you.

UNACCEPTABLE.

There is a lot of construction going on at Heedley’s Hens this week, as the fence goes up and the barn is cleared out and rearranged for its new residents. This is the week that The Man took off work to get the work done, and he is gettin’ ‘er done. Seriously, it’s impressive. I am impressed. I knew there was a reason I married him…

The girls check out the fence as it goes up, little realising how their lives are about to change:

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The fence is going up, but that’s only part of what’s happening. There was a major purge of the showroom of the barn Monday, as I sifted through discarded flotsam and jetsam, most of which preceded my residence here. Very interesting…

This is all very spiritually cleansing for me, if physically exhausting, but the chickens are less sanguine. You see, the showroom houses fully four of their five nests, not counting the nesting boxes in the coop, which are only used by Tallulah, who isn’t laying at the moment. Tallulah!!!! (shakes fist) Of those four nests, three have either been moved or disappeared. They are not amused.

Here is a pic of Abby searching desperately for The Hideaway:

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The closest raised platform she could find was the saw table. Trixie checked it out this morning, too. I tried to show Abby where The Hideaway had gone:

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Same Hideaway, different wall. She wasn’t having it.

Now, I do this not cavalierly, believe me. I know how important it is for a girl to have her nest. It truly cannot be helped, and the construction in the showroom today is bound to upset them even further. I am trusting that they will adjust, once their tiny pea brains have forgotten how things used to be, They will cry and cry and cry and cry and then look up and say “Wait. What?”. Life will go on.

They will find new nests, especially Hermione, who will blithely ignore the new nests I have created for them. My greatest challenge will now be finding Hermione’s eggs, once the right hallway door is left open to accommodate the needs of goat-keeping. She has always loved that hallway, and keeping the door shut has been the only way I had a fighting chance of finding her eggs. Now, every day will be Easter.

In the meantime, I am fully expecting that the egg flow will be constricted. It sucks, but…there it is.

UPDATE: Abby finally settled on the one non-coop nest not disturbed by all the ruckus: The Not The Tennis Racket Nest, down the coop hallway, near the coop’s inner door:

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Uncle.

I give up, Trixie; you win.

The first fart egg was funny. I sent it to school with Stepdaughter the Younger for show and tell, so her classmates could learn that eggs don’t out come perfectly uniform and clean in a carton; chickens are people, too, and sometimes accidents happen.

The second one was a warning: this could be for real. And this morning, first thing, came the third one, announcing that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

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Here they are, in order of lay, from left to right. Yes, I’ve kept them. What was I going to do…cook them? SELL them?!

Now, ya just gotta give it to her: look how unalike they are! It’s hard to believe these three fart eggs all came from the same butt. That is one highly creative butt, I think we can all agree.

So…there’s that.

Oh….POOPYPANTS.

For all my wailing about Trixie’s fart egg earlier this week, I held out hope that it was an aberration. Yesterday was a day off; surely she’d lay today. Surely it would be a normal Trixie jumbo. Right? RIGHT??!!

As I left for midday errands, I saw Trixie take over The Hideaway from Abby, and knew I’d have more information upon my return. As I re-entered the barn two hours later, I walked slowly to The Hideaway…

And found…

THIS:

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A pale, perfectly-spherical fart egg, not one inch in diameter.

So…sigh. You know, if she were at least inclined to be broody, she’d be earning her keep…

Not again. Please, not again.

Don’t panic; no one died and no one’s missing. It’s just…

AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!

Those of you who are long-time readers may remember the Trials of Trixie. Trixie, our last remaining Buff Orpington, mysteriously ceased normal laying last March, to produce only the occasional fart egg. For ten months. Ten. MONTHS.

Now, were she an older hen, I could write this off to a well-deserved retirement. But Trixie, at that time, was a new layer, 11 months old, dead smack in the middle of her laying prime. I tried to account for this with all manner of explanations: the stress of the dog attack, nutritional issues, pecking order issues, but, as the months went on, it became clear that this was a permanent condition. Unless…

Unless, when Trixie had her first-ever molt this past fall, her eggmaker might reset. It was a long, long, long shot, but it was all I had. Chicken Debbie, presented with this idea, raised her eyebrows, blew out a doubtful sigh, and said, “Well…maybe.” I knew she was only humouring me.

But it worked! Lo and behold, chickeneers, it worked! For almost two glorious months, Trixie has produced gorgeous, huge eggs on a regular basis. I became complacent.

And, then…this:

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Oh, chickeneers, I canna stand it. Yes, that is Trixie’s contribution to the daily ration, at right, with Dorothy’s lovely speckled, snowglobe XL, at left, for comparison.

Please, pleeeeease don’t tell me this is the way it is with Trixie, that she lays beautifully for the first two months of the year and then…ten months off.

Because, if so…that’s some union she has.

Bloom, baby, bloom.

Ever wonder how the eggs at the store are perfectly uniform, as though they’d all come from the same hen? I’m sure scale allows for this; they have so many hens laying they can sort for colour and shape. But a big part of the answer is that they are required to wash the eggs.

(By the way, that operation looks a little something like this:)

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No, I don’t wash my eggs. I agonised over this as I was waiting for 1.0 to enter womanhood last summer, and, after extensive reading, decided against it. And it’s all because of the bloom.

There are many stages to the formation of an egg, and I won’t go into them here. I am not an expert (and I would direct those looking for an expert to definitely bookmark The Chicken Chick’s blog), but I do know this: the final stage of egg formation, right before the egg is laid, is the application of the bloom. The bloom is a liquid film that covers the egg, to prevent bacteria from entering the porous shell. It also slows the process of evaporation, prolonging freshness. Nature is a terribly clever girl.

Each hen has her own colour, sheen and texture to her bloom; washed eggs look remarkably alike. Were it not for the bloom, I would have a much harder time determining who laid which. (For more on how I tell my hens’ eggs apart, just do a search here for “Gertrude Stein”. I am not even kidding.)

A few of my hens have remarkable, unique blooms. Their eggs could belong to no other girl. I have commented a few times recently on Dorothy’s unique bloom, and I decided to share a visual with you today:

1302 Dorothy egg bloom

Isn’t that something? It’s like that every time. Washed, this egg looks like any other medium brown egg, not this delightful mini snow storm. Our own little Butt Nemo.

1.0 has a high-creative, as well. Tallulah somehow manages to spray a bloom that is lighter at one end than at the other. I swear it’s true:

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That is not a trick of light and shadow; that’s what Tallulah’s eggs look like. If this egg were washed, the colour would be uniform. It’s remarkable. More remarkable? The dark colour switches from the pointy end to the wide end. She has a very talented butt.

So, should one wash one’s eggs? It’s a judgment call. On the rare occasions I get a poopy or otherwise unclean egg, of course I wash it. The vast majority of our eggs are perfectly clean looking, and I use them without washing or rinsing. (I also store our eggs on the counter, not in the fridge, as they are used so quickly.)

The exception: if the egg is to be used raw. I like to make my own mayonnaise, and The Man will use raw eggs in a drink after a workout. Those must be washed, as there is no cooking to destroy any potential bacteria.

If you want to wash your own eggs, go for it. One caveat: always wash or rinse your eggs with water that is slightly warmer than the egg itself; water that is colder will open the pores of the eggshell and allow any bacteria to enter the egg.