Friday, May 4, 2012

Barnyard Traumas

Yesterday was quite a day. It started off normally enough. I got up, as usual, at 4:30 a.m., worked out and checked my e-mail. Then Segi, Simi and I went out to the barn to do the morning chores. As soon as we were done, I gave the girls their breakfast and combed out their locks. Then, as usual, they returned to the barnyard while I busied myself in the kitchen for a while. But after just a few minutes, Simi came running back into the house, yelling at me to come, that Zebra Zuzu (our Delaware hen) was lying still in the barnyard and there was a fox out there. Since we have quite a bit of drama in our household--and much of it make-believe--I probably didn't take Simi as seriously as I should have. But I grabbed my cup of coffee and walked over to check things out.

The moment I opened the gate and saw the bunch of feathers lying ahead of me on the ground, I knew something terrible had happened. I soon found Zebra Zuzu's lifeless body out in the pasture. I looked over to the fence by the creek just in time to see a retreating fox (or was it a small coyote?) staring back at me. There had evidently been several of them. I also found and collected the bodies of two other hens: Dottie (the Black Australorp) and Aniponi (a Dominique). We only found two of the chickens alive: Cuckoo (another Dominique) hovering terrified between the rain barrel and the barn wall, and Crystal (the Jersey Giant), who was still sitting as placidly as ever in the coop on her clutch of foster eggs.

So, I thought, they must have gotten away with Queenie (the Buff Orpington), Libre (the other Dominique), and Autumn (the Buff Plymouth Rock). Segi was devastated. Autumn, her beloved chicken, was gone. Ripped apart and consumed by foxes. For a while, she held onto the goats and cried, drying her tears on their soft hair. Then she locked herself in the storage shed by the house, refusing to come out or speak. All I felt I could really do was hug her and tell her I was so so sorry.

While Segi mourned in the shed, Simi and I took the three dead chickens to the woods and dug a trench. We buried them there and covered the mound with leaf litter, topping it off with a rock we plan to paint as a gravestone.

Then I went back to check on Segi. Her face was strewn with grimy tear marks, but she was recovering. Simi helped a good deal by offering to share her own chicken (Crystal) with her sister. In fact, Segi soon managed to carry herself from "I hate foxes! I'm always going to hate foxes!" to "I'm really glad the foxes got something nice to eat, Mama. I hope their babies were happy to have a good meal." Oh, to have the heart of a child!

We were supposed to go strawberry picking yesterday morning and decided collectively that we should go ahead and do that. It's good that we did. We drove out to Bradford Farm and had a great time picking 4 gallons of organic berries. (Actually, we probably picked a good deal more than that--Segi and Simi must have consumed at least a gallon apiece!) When we returned home a few hours later, we found that all 6 of our goats were gone! Oh, no, I thought. This can't be happening.

Turns out it wasn't. They were nonchalantly waiting for us on our front porch. Silly things. The best part, though, is that as we searched for them, we found Autumn! Actually, Simi found Autumn, and came running around the house with her sister's chicken in her arms yelling "It's Autumn! She's alive! She's alive!" Only a few moments later we spotted Libre! These two often hang out on and around our deck during the day (Autumn often comes to say hello to us through the sliding glass doors), and they'd evidently been here when the foxes came in the morning. They were close enough, though, to be good and frightened, and it seems they'd stayed in hiding until we returned from our strawberry picking venture.

So the morning's tragedy hadn't been quite as extensive as we first thought. We lost only 4 of our 8 hens. (If Cuckoo makes it, that is. She's still spending most of her time cowering in the corner, and we think she might have a broken wing.) We are sad but also grateful--grateful for the lives of the chickens who are gone and grateful for those still with us. And hopeful for the new little lives sitting under Crystal and the lives of the chicks that will soon be shipped to us through the mail.

I don't think I expected farming to be such an emotionally laden adventure. I guess I failed to consider that whenever we become involved in nurturing other living creatures, we risk becoming invested in their well-being in ways that go well beyond the monetary and material. We risk letting them into our hearts. While this makes us more vulnerable than we'd often like to be, I wouldn't have it any other way.

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