I call myself a "chickenblogger." And some may read that as a declaration of expertise, or authority, but I mostly think of it in a self-aware way... I am a scaredy-shy-anxious person, who blogs... the chicken blogger. And being that I don't profess to be an expert, I feel compelled to admit something awful I've done, with horrible consequences. Not for the pity, not for any attention, really, but because I feel a responsibility to be transparent about the good and the bad of keeping chickens, so that others can learn from my experiences, from the ideas that have helped me, and the mistakes that have broken my heart.
In the afternoons I let the hens free-range. Our yard is mostly safe, and I know there are risks... we get hawks, and even the occasional daylight bobcat has been seen. But, when I'm home, it's a nice choice to make for the chickens, and the goats, to have time and space to explore a larger area. The key is to get them in and secured before it gets dark. If I don't... the run can be attacked by owls, opossums, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, weasels, snakes, and the hens would be mostly helpless to defend themselves.
Saturday morning, I awoke to Chango staring so intently out our window, onto the backyard, that I actually asked a cat, "Chango, what's wrong? What do you see?" It took my eyes a few scans to focus, to see what he saw. It was carnage. Geoff woke up to my distressed gasp, and all I could utter, as I ran out of the room was, "Chickens." Down the stairs, out the door, I tried to revisit the night before... and I knew. I knew, with self-loathing shame, I forgot to close and secure the run. Not one hen clucked or stirred. The goats were silent, and the mess spread across the entire lawn. Feathers. Wings. Bits, terror, loss.
It looked, it felt, like I'd lost all eleven hens, like it was a complete wipe-out. And I thought about my favorite hens, about how stupid and irresponsible I am, about their fear, pain, suffering. I thought, I can't be a farmer, play at this. I've failed them. I say, often, "If it's 'easy to do,' like locking up a chicken run, then it's 'easy to forget.'" But that's no consolation when facing dead pets. And no excuse for not insuring that I don't make that mistake. I used to have an alarm on my phone... every day, at dusk, it went off, and whether I needed the reminder, or not, I would think about the chickens, and double check myself. For some reason, that alarm had stopped going off... new phone, user error? I hadn't even noticed. No excuse. There has to be a system, a back-up plan, for making sure pets, farm animals, loved ones, are not forgotten.
Geoff, and Alex joined me, and we found nine hens, as they came out of hiding. Amazing. I saw Mako, and Fiona, there was Liberty, and those mean sisters, Pepper and Pippi, we had Koa, Tricia McMillan, Tamsyn, and Emma Thompson. We lost Mama Tompson, who was broody, an easy catch, since she never left her nest. Poor dear. We lost Ginger. She roosted on top of the nest box, above Mama Tompson. The goats looked distressed, so did the cats. They'd seen it all, I'm sure.
We cannot be sure what it was... we suspect weasels or skunks. Their was a whiff of musk in the air. It was a messy, ravaging event. I only think about it in hopes of knowing what we are up against. But really, 'what we are up against' is human error. No excuse. There has to be a system, a back-up plan, for making sure pets, farm animals, loved ones, are not forgotten. My alarm is activated, again. Geoff added an alarm to his phone, too. Nothing in life is fail-safe. I get that. And playing at being a farmer is no game. I get that, too. Most of the time, in many ways, having chickens and goats is as easy, and fun, whimsical and cute, as all of the blogs, and Instagram pages depict it. I have shared my concerns about publications that make chicken keeping seem a little too easy. And I've shared all I have learned about what I have found necessary for keeping them healthy and safe. We have learned plenty, the hard way, and we have worked hard to make as safe a home as we can for our farm pets. We've been, mostly, successful, and fortunate.
The cute cottages we assembled and installed, four years ago, are falling down, and basically expired. Max demolished the goat's cottage... or he finished demolishing what they have been working at taking down, all along. Goats! We are building them a new shelter, with a sturdy and raised floor, and plenty of rain cover. When that's complete, I will get started on a new shelter and roosts for our hens. We have to do this, I see, keep doing our best, adjusting our sails, and trying to make things better.
With Infinity More Monkeys, a picture a day.