Friday, April 23, 2010

Sad day at the farm...

We let our chickens free-range most days, for a couple of hours, with either us or the dogs (or sometimes both) hanging out in the garden within earshot. After losing two hens last October, we drastically cut back the free-ranging time to those few hours in the afternoon to early evening.

Yesterday before sunset, I went down to put the girls away and found Buffy's lifeless but still-warm body, bitten by either a coyote or a loose dog (you can identify predators by the damage they do to the chickens.) Clearly she had just expired, and I was upset that I hadn't come out just five minutes earlier. Next to her was an explosion of feathers that used to be Buttercup; whatever killed her had run off with her body. I thought we'd lost Chicky the runt, too, but she showed up later as I was sitting in the coop with the rest of the hens, given them bedtime cuddles.

It was all very upsetting, and probably the reason I've had a migraine headache all day. We've found it difficult to stop free-ranging the girls completely. The hens adore their freedom, and we love seeing them in the garden, but of course it puts them at risk of being attacked by predators. The girls do now have a caged run, but it's not the same as them having the run of the garden, where they can find all sorts of places to dig around, snooze and dust-bathe. Still, I think their days of free-ranging are going to be further limited. We have both gotten very attached to our hens and while I know animal deaths are inevitable on farms, it's hard to accept predators attacking our hens.

We'll reconsider our options (chicken tractors, moving electric netted fence, etc.) and if we let them out to free-range, we'll just have to keep an eye on them the whole time. I do love gardening with them; they are great company and love to see what I'm doing with the garden spade.

My neighbour down the road a bit has been free-ranging her girls for years and has yet to lose one; I guess she's been luckier than we have!

We were planning on getting more chicks this year anyway, but I guess now we'll be bumping up the order size a bit.

Buffy and Buttercup, we'll miss you girls. I'm sorry I didn't do a better job of protecting you.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear that. My grandparents free range their chickens and it's really hard to keep them cooped up.

  2. I know exactly how you feel. I'm crying with you...Years ago, my three-month-old dog was killed by a car, in USA, on the 4th of July. And later on, in Toronto, my cat (who had survived the Arctic) was probably stolen. Both times, I was outside with them in a large yard. I just didn't see them, not more than 3 minutes. And they had disappeared from my sight. Do you know what? After 40 years, my heart is still heavy with sorrow. And, like you, I've been blaming myself. But we can't tie our pets. And they're so fast on their legs. It's good that you have those incredible photos to remember them. Bonne chance with the new hens. They cannot replace the ones you have lost. They won't be a substitute, but an addition to the family. Best wishes, dear Knatolee. You're such a good Mom!

  3. That must be so hard to lose those beautiful chickens! I can see how you would get so attached, especially seeing them grow from when they were just chicks!
    Sorry that you lost them, N.

  4. I'm sorry to hear about the loss of such fine ladies Knarolee

  5. I know how you feel. After losing 2 cats to predators and cars, I now have a cat run. A large cage with grass on the floor and ladders to climb. Some people say it's cruel not to let your animals out but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. My cats love it and now I don't worry about fisher kills or being flattened by a car. So happy Chicky was safe...

  6. Hi Nat,

    sorry for your loss. I know how hard it is, but don't blame it on yourself, as you are a very good and loving animal mom.

  7. Yeah, I have indoor kitties, so I need contained chickens. Sigh...

  8. Wandering Cat, the chickens so love runnning around the garden. They need guardians... maybe a Great Pyrenees for every chicken? ;)

    Claudia, those are some very sad losses. We never forget our dear pets, do we?

    Thanks Karen... I never thought I'd get attached to chickens, but they are so funny and quirky!

    Thanks Jams, and Willie!!

  9. Anonymous11:52 am

    Oh, Natalie, I'm so sorry! We had chickens years ago in N. California and lost some that were in an enclosed pen. One to a hawk and one to a skunk that climbed the fence. We finally had to bury the wire fence underground to prevent predators from digging under it and we had to put wire over the top of the yard too. We used to call the pen "Fort Knox" because it was so fortified.

    I know how much your chickens meant to you and I can really appreciate how you're feeling right now. So sorry....

  10. Anonymous6:48 pm

    So So sorry..I know how awful you feel..I went down to the coop 2 weeks ago to find All our chickens dead..a racoon we think. They must have been so scared.(Thats why we just got 2 new baby chicks)...Don't blame wanted them to feel free and happy..and they were.

  11. Hi Knat,

    It's sad to loose your animal friends, especially ones who are dependent upon you in mutual relationship: You feed us, and we'll feed you.

    And then comes along this crime of nature. But those predatory animals were actually "naturally" too.

    It got me thinking how detached I am about the source of my own food. I got all squeamish reading about your precious hens being some fox's supper - but not thinking much about the lives of the animals I eat.

    "With feathers = cute animals. Without feathers = food." (An insight from The Atlantic Monthly

    It's cool that u and G do in fact, eat meat (Exhibit A: G'd delicious grilled chicken dinner photo!) and still feel for your animals. It's not an "either/or" thing.

    Personally, u both have inspired me to eat *less* meat: better for the animals and our environment.

    Looking forward to seeing your new chickadee additions!


  12. I heard about your girls at ATC before reading the Blog...and I felt for you...I know it is hard.

    Don't feel bad. It is better to live a happy free life than being a caged bird...and you, Knatolee, have given them a wonderful free and loving life, as you do all you animal friends.

  13. You guys are all so kind when I'm down in the dumps! Thank you!

    TTPT, the chickens now have a Fort Knox run of their own. They seem to like it. I will still let them out to free-range sometimes, but only when we humans are out there with them.

    Anonymous, that is REALLY heartbreaking!! Those raccoons are so clever, and I sure hope that never happens to us. YOu do your best to secure the coop but predators can be very smart. I'm sorry you lost your girls. :(

    Brian, thanks for the link to the good article! I don't eat much meat these days and now I'm finding it difficult to eat chicken. I feel like a hypocrite when I do, because I know I could never kill a chicken myself. I have no such qualms about eating fish since I used to go fishing a LOT. Except now there's so much fish you shouldn't be eating! It's all very complicated. Beans look better all the time.

    Elisabeth, I can't believe my chickens were the talk of the ATC meeting. :)


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!