I don’t know how much longer I can do this. And then there were seven.

Our house is at the corner of two moderately busy country roads, which our chickens blithely cross on a daily basis. Lately, Tallulah and Alexia have been hanging out under our neighbour’s bird feeders, directly in front of her front door. She loves it. Our neighbour, that is.

The fencing we erected for the horse(s) does not contain the girls the way we had hoped it would. I have chicken crossing signs up. Sometimes, people stop and wait for the girls to cross, almost always with good humour, and a wave when I mouthe “thank you”. Once, the girls held up an ambulance. True story.

I was leaving the house today, just before dinner, and had to stop for 2.0, all three surviving members, directly in my path on the road. I had to honk the horn to get them to get off the dang road already. The path cleared, I drove on to the rise, the rise which makes drivers blind to what’s beyond, the rise which has caused three car accidents in five years, to find the road covered in pale feathers. And Marilyn.

She was quite dead, and that is probably a mercy. She was profoundly injured and must have died instantly. It had just happened; she was still warm and bleeding. I took her back to the house, and, per my previous decision, asked The Man to cremate her in the outdoor furnace, yet, operational, heating the house for another couple of weeks.

Sigh. I feel cursed. Or criminally incompetent. I can’t decide.

I am not crying, although I may later. Marilyn was not, to put it mildly, one of my favourites. She was flighty and needy and a lousy layer. She was the prettiest of the 2.1 chicks, but she grew up on the very bottom of the pecking order, and even her sister, Mae, found her neediness oppressive.

And, tonight, Mae is alone on the roost; Marilyn won’t be pestering her again. (Okay, now I’m crying.) I don’t believe I am anthropomorphising when I say that Mae is sad.

I know for a certainty there are many, many occasions where free girls are safer than contained girls. When girls are free, you lose one, not whole flocks, because they can run for cover. Contained girls, obviously, do not face the hazards of traffic. I’m not feeling the same sense of desperate, heart-breaking accountability as I did with the weasel; this death didn’t happen inside their home. This death was, as The Man puts it, “the cost of doing business”. (I disagreed with him, strenuously, when he applied that consolation to the weasel deaths.)

And, now, there are seven. Seven.

It feels as though we’re really starting again this year. I am excited about hatching 3.0 and Gwynderella and the poults which are likely in their own incubator in Indiana right now. But this rampage of death, coming, as it has, in relentless drips, is breaking my spirit. I keep thinking I’m recovering, and then…

So, here’s to Marilyn. She was the cutest chick I ever saw, and she laid a beautiful, blue egg, although it took her thirty-eight weeks to get around to it. She was a timid girl because, I think, her muffs were so huge her vision was impaired. She’s not afraid any more.

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12 Week 07 Marilyn

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Snap goes the weasel. The satisfying conclusion.

We got it. (WARNING: graphic photos to follow.)

Which is to say, The Man got it, the damned weasel that killed so many of our girls. My heart is still broken, but I am feeling a sense of victory I wasn’t sure I’d feel.

Weasels are not easy to catch. They are very small, and very clever. They will evade an open trap, and will steal bait from an enclosed trap without setting it off. We saw this night after night, much to our frustration. The Man has spent a lot of time on the internet researching how successful hunters have caught this predator, and I went to Tractor Supply yesterday to get a different kind of trap.

This trap, inside a weasel box, baited with fresh chicken liver, is what caught our chicken killer.

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This trap uses heavy plastic, a brutally-powerful release snap, and a hair trigger to get the job done. Weasels have a great deal of finesse, but this trigger is so sensitive, it goes off at the slightest disturbance. I carried the loaded weasel box to the back of the coop with the respect one would give nuclear waste.

Yes, outside the coop. The weasel was killed outside the coop. Does this mean s/he couldn’t get in? The identical trap inside the coop was untouched. We made two changes yesterday: we removed the poop pit and I filled the inner door track with sand. Did we cut off its method of entry?

Not so fast. The bait to the Havaheart trap inside the coop was gone, and the trap was sprung, but there was nothing inside. Now, on the advice of the internet, The Man set the Havaheart last night with the bait twist-tied to the side of the trap; it’s possible it was eaten from outside the trap. It’s also possible it was eaten by a non-weasel.

We will not be letting down our guard anytime soon. The remaining eight hens will continue to spend the night inside the crate (sorry, girls), and we will continue to set traps, just as we did last night, for at least a week. I will not lose more hens. I won’t.

Contrary to threats made earlier this week on the Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page, I will not be feeding the corpse to the chickens. My fury has boiled down to a deep, abiding sadness; tears come easily these days. I feel satisfaction today, and a sense of victory, but my bloodlust is gone. This wass a living creature, doing what nature created it to do.

That said, I do get satisfaction in the knowledge that The Man found it still alive. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that part? Yes, alive. If you ever have the opportunity to test drive one of these snap traps, you will understand my shock. I thought it would take the weasel’s head clean off its body.

But, no; The Man found the weasel will alive and writhing, and dispatched it with his air rifle. So, when I think of Coraline, and Haley, and Trixie, and Abby, and Maisie, and Dorothy, and probably even my darling Buffy, I can know that this creature suffered for hours before it finally died.

Please know, I am the kind of person who rescues worms off the road after a rainy day. I have a very soft heart, but I am glad it suffered. When my mind calls up images of my girls’ chewed necks and lifeless bodies, and I doubt my memory will ever surrender those images, I can now add this one:

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The wound look remarkably similar to those on Buffy and Coraline, and I am feeling an Old Testament satisfaction.

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.

Home kills. And then there were eleven.

Eleven.

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.

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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.

Not dead.

Hi. Long time no blog. Sorry. I finally have something to blog today, however, and, holy moly, it’s even chicken related!

I have just ordered my first-ever hatching eggs, to do my first-ever hatch. As I have mentioned before, I am going to hatch Lavender Amercaunas (true blue eggs and du a gwyn) and Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans eggs (chocolate brown eggs, and…du a gwyn). I am consistent, if nothing else.

The Lavender Amercaunas will look like this:

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Which, frankly, was what I was hoping Mae would look like. Amercaunas should, unlike Easter Eggers, lay truly blue eggs, without any hint of green. The Blue/Black/Splash Copper Marans, which lay a dark, chocolate-brown egg will look like this:

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And this:

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And even this:

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Just like Blue Slate turkeys, there are three colours tied up in one breed, and they all look good to me.

I am hoping to have a good hatch rate, but braced for the reality that these things are an adventure and a crap shoot. In the end, I’d like to have one rooster and 2-3 hens from each breed. And they will be (say it with me)…3.0!

From whence am I getting these beautiful birds? From the Garrys of The Garry Farm in Georgia. You can learn more about The Garry Farm here, or at their Facebook page.

What’s that you say? You thought I was going to wait for Abby to go broody so I wouldn’t have to brood them myself or worry about integration? I did say that, didn’t I? Here’s the thing: I got me some baby fever.

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.