Today's news comes from the Confederation of Critters of the Gusty Ridge Ranch....as this weekend, Rodney the Rooster finally got his harem....and a hen-house door. He's been quite happy with his ladies, and has taken well to tending after them and keeping them huddled & safe, even in this blustery cold windstorms. (No lie, actually I guess it's been 3 days of the SAME blustery windstorm, with gusts up to 70 mph that have uprooted some older trees & snapped some young'uns in half. So that would've been the good news, not only for Rodney but also for us, since they're all layers.
Yummy farm-fresh eggs is what I'm talking 'bout!
The sad news however?
Rodney's harem has dwindled from 5 to 4...and possibly 3. Mr LKP had to leave early for work, so he fed the critters as best he could, but it was still too cold to let the chickens out of their house. Therefore he asked Mini-Me to just open the hen-house door a smidge so they could get out if they so chose.
Well, on her way to the bus stop she did just that, only she forgot to close the coop's door on her way out. Partway to the bus stop she realized she needed to run back to close it, but by then 3 hens had made their escape! She was able to round up one, but couldn't find the others. All of this happening without me knowing.
I was in the back of the house, and heard the bus stop....then wait....then move forward a little....then stop....and then take off again. I happened to glance out the window and see no bus at that point, so I figured Mini-Me had made it and all was well. It wasn't until I happened to look out the slider for the sunrise that I noticed a familiar red Aeropostale sweatshirt popping up every so often in the field. I grabbed my boots and headed out, only to find Mini-Me sobbing because she couldn't find the other two hens, and so she had to wave the bus on. And to top it off she was scared she would not only get in trouble for that but for being late to school! (You have to know, my heart totally bled for her & her fears.)
I calmed her down, explained that this sometimes happens, but that she wasn't in trouble. We got her inside, got her cleaned up, and I hauled her into school. All was okay with her. I figured either the hens would show up or they wouldn't, and I wasn't too stressed about it. I even let the dogs out a couple times thinking they would pick up the trail, however, with these winds that was pointless.
So I stopped what I was doing (Isn't it ironic that I went to the freezer for chicken, and chicken is what I found?) and attempted to reach her, but she squeezed in BETWEEN the freezer and the house, so I moved the freezer a tad, and put Willow back behind where she'd been trying to weasel through away from me. This way she had no choice but to let me pick her up. However, in reality I'm not as fast or stealthy as I had pictured in my mind, and I must have underestimated her reaction time for she got out before I could get in front of her. Then it was cluck-cluck mayhem all over the yard, complete with feathers & hen-shrieks.
I really wasn't too concerned as I could see Willow was doing her best to herd the hen back towards the coop where I was headed to open the door. The hen took Willow on a chase around the back of our "barn" (really it's a shed, but it's where all the gear & feed is currently kept) and into the field of sagebrush. So I released the two big dogs to help with the herding the way we always do with Rodney. I didn't even think twice, as this is standard chicken procedure...or at least it was so BEFORE the harem came.
Perhaps hens react differently, or more scared. Perhaps they're not as gutsy as Rodney with his little half-spurs. Perhaps I haven't threatened the dogs with these birds enough...cause they know their lives'd be on the line if they harmed Rodney (which is what all out animals have been taught when a new critter has joined the ranks...besides mice and moles and gophers, they know THOSE are free-reign hunt).
I stood at the coop for a minute or so. Didn't hear anything. I knew that when the hens had gotten out once before the hens had huddled, scared under a sagebrush so I figured they had her cornered. Then I started into the field, just in time to see Willow come over the little hill and look at me as if to say, "It's done mom." (THAT was a little unnerving!) As I got the other side of the hill I saw feathers everywhere, the bird in first Hula's mouth, then Linus knocked her aside and scooped the bird up in his mouth. And my heart sank.
I know this is a farm, and these things happen on a farm. Been there, done that, grew up this way. But that still doesn't soften the blow, when the kill wasn't intended ya know? It's one thing to know you have some butchering to do to thin the flock a bit and put up some fryers for the freezer...but that was not today's case. She hadn't even had a chance to get comfortable enough to settle in, and try laying again. I penned the dogs, shut up the coop, and went back to the hen. I couldn't just let her body lay there in the wind on the bare side of a hill....and I was in no condition by that point to dig a hole deep enough to bury her and keep the coyotes away from it. Plus, Mr LKP wasn't home, and HE'S the one who's supposed to field this kind of crap for me!
When I got back to her I could see she was still breathing. Part of me hoped she'd just had a severe scare, especially since there was no blood and no puncture wounds, however when I gently picked her up it was obvious that her neck had been snapped. It had all happened so fast, I almost had to pinch myself so I knew what had really happened. (I'm convinced it was Linus, since he's still young and we haven't trained him with live birds besides Rodney, so he's still rough and playful with EVERYTHING. He'll shake & toss pieces of wood...or even the cap to a Toyota wheel....no lie, he did it this morning....I watched him.) Broke my heart to hold her like that. And then, the guilt flooded in.
Earlier, I'd had a fleeting thought to just leave her near the freezer & the house cause apparently she felt safe there and warm....and that way Mr LKP could usher her back into the coop. But I let that thought get away when I figured I would catch her, get her where she belonged which would be less stress for Mr LKP when he returned home from the day, and Mini-Me wouldn't feel as bad about this morning. Plus I figured, it was one chicken. I could do that.
I do that all.the.time. with Rodney!
While holding her, there was the other part of the guilt, for as I was trying to catch her I was trying to get her to trust me....and I am the one who let her down, didn't keep my end of the bargain, and didn't keep her safe enough. I'm the one who let the big dogs out. She came to our place to lay eggs....that was her purpose. She was a momma. I am a momma. Where was the sisterhood there, huh?!?
Apparently I CAN'T be trusted by chickens!
It was too overwhelming for me, and she WAS still breathing, but with her eyes open and her neck the way it was I knew there was no hope, and it was only a matter of time. (Silly me, I even thought, "If its not broken, can you GIVE a chicken CPR to help with her labored breathing?") So I placed her in Rodney's old box in the barn for Mr LKP to help me deal with when he gets home. Of course all of this was with tears streaming down my cheeks, and me only mad at myself for lacking better judgement.
Mr LKP called shortly after I was back in the house and I literally broke down! Told him everything. He tried to calm me the way a good husband should. Gave me the same pep talk I'd given Mini-Me this morning. Told me to pull up Craig's List and check for more hens.
I guess I can do that, but I still feel like such a heel.
And I just can't seem to bring myself to continue with dinner as I'd been planning. There's a MASSIVE amount of guilt in the idea of moving forward with slow-cooker creamy chicken tacos....at least today.
It's too soon.
I'm thinking PB&J tonight, and maybe tomorrow for breakfast as well.
(So, there you have it. A happy critter "wedding" announcement of sorts AND a sad critter obit all in one post....all having transpired in less that 72 hours. And here I thought this week was going to be a great week. So far, no good. I'm now thinking its more like a crawl back in bed and yank the covers up over my head....and try again NEXT week kind of a week!)
Still no sign of the other lost hen. She was probably watching the whole scenario from her safe little hiding spot under a bush and since then has thought better than to come home.