Monday, June 16, 2008

Lost Chicken

Sad news on the homefront. We lost one of our girls to a raccoon. We went to a movie that ran long, and asked a relative to put the girls away for the evening. When he arrived he found a raccoon in the coop with a hen in hand. The damage had already been done.

We immediately rushed out with flashlights, and for my part I confess to my own bit of bloodlust. It is one of the few moments in life where having a gun is appealing. We roamed about the yard and barn clucking and calling, but heard nothing. We spotted the raccoon occasionally skulking about but were not able to catch it or catch up to it.

We circled out to our neighbors yard, and found feathers. They seemed to match Rhoda (the Rhode Island Red) and a little further on we found some that seemed to match Rocky (our Barred Rock). A bit despondent to say the least we carried on looking in his barns and property, but found nothing.

Standing in the driveway thanking our uncle for his efforts, I heard a clucking from the neighbors yard. I dashed down the driveway, and then heard the equivalent of a chicken yelping. At a dead run we ran toward the woods that line the southern end of the property near his pond. We saw eyes in the woods low to the ground. No other sounds.

We walked along the pond, and that's when we found one of the girls. Lying on her back with her feet in the air she looked the part of a dead chicken. Upon closer inspection we realized she was breathing. As we approached to pick her up, she rolled away from us toward the water's edge. After a bit more floundering I scooped her up and took her back to our house. We put her in the cat carrier, which we then put in the bathtub with a blanket over it.

We walked about a bit more after sending our uncle home, but heard and saw nothing. Heavy-hearted we went to bed thinking we'd lost three, and not sure what we'd find in the morning when we opened up the carrier.

Needless to say we spent a restless night, and shortly after sunrise I got up. As I stood at our diningroom window looking out at the beautiful morning and wondering what we might find, Rhoda popped her head around the corner and clucked at me.

I dashed outside with some birdseed (treats seemed to be in order) and fresh water. She looked none the worse for wear, and certainly had not lost her appetite. As I was talking to her and inspecting as best I could, Rocky came walking up one of the paths. She too enjoyed her birdseed and water, and seemed to not be missing any feathers.

Kooretza, on the other hand, looked like she had been mugged. All but one tail feather were gone, and one eye looked a bit rough. Feather around the neck and back were missing, and her head was a bit roughed up. She ate and drank though, and clucked a bit at us.

We watched them closely throughout the day. All three spent the day napping on our front porch, and let them do whatever they wanted. Want to scratch about in the compost bin? Sure thing. Extra bird seed? You bet. Fresh water every couple hours. No problem. Poop on that bench? Go right ahead.

We tucked them in early that night, and invited a cousin who likes to hunt over. Everyone we spoke to said that once a raccoon learns where chickens live they return night after night after night. Every sound we heard was a raccoon, and every shape moving through the grass. Our cousin got a raccoon that night - a big fella, too - but I can't say we really felt like justice was done.

The girls go to bed early each night now, and we keep an eye on things. We know nature is red in tooth and claw, and that we are smack dab in the middle of it. The raccoon was just doing what a raccoon does. Intellectually, we understand that and how the food chain works. Yet, when the food chain runs so close to us in a way not of our choosing our reaction is not intellectual. It's deeply emotional and nearly primal. Maybe if I was more of a farmer rather than a agricultural hobbyist type, I'd feel differently. But I've seen the look on the faces of our friends at Ambry Farms when a lamb is taken by coyotes and I am not so sure it is different.

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