Friday, July 27, 2007

and then there were three

Harrowing night last night. I was awakened at about 1:30 a.m. by chicken distress signals - not a pretty sound, in case you haven't ever heard them right outside your window. Of course, by the time I got out there in my nightgown, flashlight in hand, it was too late. The beam shone first on my husband's old gelding who, ears pricked, was staring intently at the chicken coop. Walking out there I passed a great mound of feathers, and my heart sank. I moved the flashlight around a bit, and there they were, right on the other side of the fenceline separating us from the great prairie beyond: a pair of glowing red eyes staring me down until I made enough scary noise to frighten whatever it was away. Coyote or raccoon, I assumed. Whatever it was, it didn't help that my husband was down in Tombstone on business this week (yes, that Tombstone).

When I finally got up the nerve to look in the coop, I found two of the five chickens alive in there - Bootstrap Bill (the rooster), and one of the fluffy yellow Banties. The others were nowhere to be found, though I made a thorough, shaky search, hoping against hope that they were maybe hiding out. But chickens are light-activated, as my husband has always told me. When the sun goes down, they're basically in standby mode. Sitting ducks.

I felt heartsick and stomach-sick. After all, it had been my decision at feeding time yesterday to finally just let the chickens come and go as they pleased and to not lock them up as we always have. They've been doing so well in free-range mode during the day time, after all, as did the Aracona (sp?) hens we owned years ago. But those hens roosted high in tree branches, whereas these do not. It was a foolish decision, a foolish mistake, and a heartwrenching one, considering that two beautiful, sweet pullets had to pay with their lives.

I got back to bed sometime around 2:30, and maybe got two or so hours of restless sleep, during which I dreamed (nightmared) over and over again about telling the children about their Easter chicks when they woke up. It was truly one of those "dark nights of the soul," and I'm not talking about the fullness of the moon.

The kids were okay about it when I told them. They immediately wanted to check out the scene of the crime, so we headed outside to a strange sight: What I thought was the remaining pullet was cruising around, pecking at the ground. I wondered how she'd gotten out of the coop after I'd secured her in there hours earlier, and then I thought, "Could it be?" We raced to the coop and saw the other yellow fluffball in there, just as alive as you please. So, a little miracle came out of the whole thing, especially considering the fact that the Mystery Pullet was running around out there for several hours, completely unprotected. I still don't know where she was hiding to have missed the flashlight beam during my search.

The kids set right to work gathering up memorial service feathers from the feather trail left by the varmint - from the entrance to the coop right out to the prairie. I got online and learned that raccoons and skunks will usually leave a big mess consisting of headless chicken carcasses, etc., whereas coyotes will leave nothing but feathers. I tried track identification this afternoon in vain - whatever it was moved too nimbly, and the ground was too dry, I think, to make an i.d. possible. But when my son looked out the kitchen window at about 11:00 this morning and said, "Hey, Mom. Is that a coyote out there?" I was doubly conviced that we were watching the felon trot casually right past our fenceline in broad daylight. He was a big sucker for a coyote, too, so I immediately implemented an indefinite, No-kids-outside-alone rule. Then I spoke to my neighbor - WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (lol) - and who mentioned the very real possibility of a local wolf population. So, I guess I can pretty much kiss any fantasy of a good night's sleep goodbye for the foreseeable future.

We'll see how tonight goes. The coop has been relocated, fortified, and hung with a set of lovely wind chimes I was given years ago after judging a horse show. I plan to keep one eye and one ear open, though if I know prairie varmints (and I think I do), they'll work in sneaky, swift silence. There's a lawyer or politician joke in there somewhere, I'm sure, but frankly I'm too fried to tease it out.


  1. What a story! I can imagine how distressing it must be to lose your hens this way, especially after you've just made the decision to let them go free range.

    Not far from here is a beautiful garden run by a Sherpa. His henhouse was recently raided by a polecat who savaged at least eight hens, taking a bite here and a bite there. This man was livid: he would not have minded so much if the animal had just killed one hen and eaten that, but he was incensed that it killed so indiscriminately and left all the corpses to rot. After this happened, he built a beautiful treehouse for the remaining hens in an old apple tree. It has its own drawbridge and is a real sight to see.

    Hope the coyotes leave you alone so you can get some sleep!

  2. Oh, Mary, that is so sad about the Sherpa's hens. I must admit that it was sort of a relief to not find the carcasses. Alone in the middle of the night (and having just seen those glowing red eyes) that was really the last sort of scene I wanted to come upon. So far so good - as of today we still have the three. My husband installed a motion-detecting light above the new Fort Knox coop, so we'll see if that helps keep marauders at bay. I am also bummed that my anticipated egg gathering has just been cut in half. I expected those two to start laying around October.

  3. I've heard donkeys are darn good at scaring varmints away. We don't really have a problem at the farm because it's pretty well populated and fenced and cultivated around there.

    You came back to the blog while I was there on dial up! Good to have you back!! Loved the photos too!