Death, again

It never bloody ends.

Rocky, our smallest chick, so named because she was both a barred rock and an underdog, got picked off by a hawk. She had a beak problem, either a deformity or an injury, that apparently made it tough to eat, and her development lagged behind. Still, she was growing. She was also feisty, and always gave us a hard time when we had to round up the flock.

The birds have been in Day Camp, an area in front of our house that we fenced off with chicken wire. We put them all out there in the morning, let them peck and scratch and run around to their hearts’ content, and return them to the brooder at night.

Last week, Kevin spotted a hawk circling overhead, apparently thinking about having chicken for lunch. To protect the birds, he put a net over their play area. Although the hawks could probably still see the chicks, we were hoping they wouldn’t have a trajectory in.

No such luck. The hawk went around and under, snatched up Rocky, and headed for the tall trees around the pond. We found some feathers around the back of the house.

That put an end to Day Camp. And, since the chicks were too big to spend 24/7 in their brooder, we implemented an Accelerated Chicken Integration Plan.

We’d planned to wait another week or so, and then sneak the chicks into the big-girl coop late at night, after the big girls had gone to bed. But a hungry hawk lent a certain urgency to our situation. Before it could come back for seconds, Kevin rounded up the rest of the chicks, corralled the five grown-up chickens, and put them all in the run.  Together.

We figured there’d be bullying and confusion and fear, but being bullied and confused and frightened beats being eaten. They’ll just have to learn to get along.

Now, if we can go a week or two with nothing dying, I’ll be grateful.

12 people are having a conversation about “Death, again

  1. So it’s death both sides of the pond then? Our stars must be misaligned. I feel like our blogs have become livestock obituaries. Here’s to better luck, and an emphasis on the LIVE part of livestock management.

  2. We have problems with eagles where we live, and lost three chickens this spring. We had strung fishing line tied with reflective tape over the chicken run, criss-crossing it tightly enough we didn’t think an eagle could swoop in. What it did instead was land on the top rail of the fence then dropped in, rather than coming right through the fishing line. So we put netting over top the whole shebang, and it seems to be working. But we also let the chickens free range, and there’s so much cover for them, and they’re so strongly inclined to hang out in the bushes rather than the open spaces, that we’re coming to the conclusion it’s safer for them free ranging than it is in the chicken run. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having a chicken run in the first place…

    It sucks losing a chicken that way – in our case one was just a few weeks old, one was a teenager, and one was a beloved member of the family. It may be a realistic part of the whole experience, but it still sucks.

  3. Tamar,
    I’m sorry to hear this bit of bad news. There’s always that one chick that grabs hold of our heartstrings and it’s miserable when that one leaves us.

    Question for you — how old were these girls when you implemented the ACIP? My newest girls were born on 6/1 and are quickly outgrowing their latest space. I’d love to introduce them to the run/coop but I’m afraid the “big girls” will bully them too but it sure would be nice to have them all together… soon-ish. Thanks for the help & the great blog.

  4. Thanks for the moral support. I’ve learned, in the short time I’ve been doing this, that you have to be able to take these things in stride. We decided a long time ago that we wanted our chickens to run around outside, even though we know the risks. (Ditto for our cat.) We took all reasonable precautions, but we know full well there will be losses. If you can’t take them in stride, you’ve got no business keeping livestock.

    Lucy, our chicks were about 5 weeks old when we foisted them on the big chickens. A bit too small, I think, but it was the best choice we had. If yours are six weeks, I’d take the plunge. Sneak ’em in at night (that’s what everyone suggests — I haven’t tried it), and keep an eye on them for a while to make sure there’s no blood. Tell them they all have to get along. There’s a serious limit to the extent to which we should inconvenience ourselves for our chickens’ sensibilities. They’re just going to have to suck it up.

  5. Tamar, this is the part of animal husbandry that I’m really familiar with, and that most humans have forgotten because we work so hard to make sure that no one dies until old age.

    In reality, life is full of runts and weaklings that are not only likely to get picked off, but need to get picked off. It’s just nature keeping the species in good shape. You did not fail this bird.

    I have a soft spot for runts – my beloved kitty Giblet is a runt, and she was so happy to become an indoor cat because it’s so SAFE in our house. But had we not taken her in, I’m sure she wouldn’t have lasted a year.

    It’s always sad to see them go. We love underdogs. But the harsh reality is that all babies are not created equal. Raise enough of them and you’ll be able to identify – correctly – the ones that won’t make it. Nature isn’t pretty.

    And on another note, hawks are geniuses. I’m trapping mourning doves in my front yard and banding them this summer, and when I went to the training session for doing this, they showed photos of hawks that had gotten into untended traps to eat the doves. How they got in I don’t know – the opening is dove-sized – but they did.

  6. Sidone Burton says:

    sorry about your loss… we feel for you guys… as a fellow beginner farmer, (about 6 years now) we can empathize with the death thing… we have sheep/goats/chickens/Scottish Highland cattle/angora rabbits… and I remember about 3 years ago, it seems every time we turned around something else was dying. In one year we lost 80% of our lambs, our milk cow, 6 chickens, and 4 rabbits… gulp! I can hardly comprehend it now, but that is the farming life… The past two years, we have lost only one lamb… and the animals now are making a profit (eg. paying their way with a little left over) Keep up the hard work… it does pay off in the end…

  7. Tamar,
    I’m wondering how your young chickens have fared through the accelerated integration program you recently had to implement. I appreciated your post and follow-up response to my question. I’ve been thinking about your “girls” since we introduced Littles to Bigs at 2 months about 2 weeks ago. The Bigs (especially one of them) have been constantly terrorizing the Littles so much that the Littles just cower in the corner of their large caged run and scream and run away from the Bigs whenever they are approached. The Big in question doesn’t even need to peck — just a flap and a step in their direction and the Littles screach and run away. Hubby thinks I introduced them too soon but I thought their brooder was getting much too small & at 8 weeks thought it was time.

    Also, one of our Littles has now been segregated due to our small dog getting a hold of her and damaging one of her wings. Darned if I know how he got into the coop/run to chew on her! She’s, of course, my favorite — a petite little Barred Rock with a darling little voice & personality to boot. Any suggestions?

    Good luck with your bees! Our bees died 2 years ago as well and we’ve started up again this spring. Finger & toes are crossed that we’ll be successful at keeping the hive going this time around.


    • Lucy — Our experience is much like yours. The big ones chase the little ones away from the food, and they’re maintaining separate flocks inside the run. Still, as the litttle ones grow, they seem to be more willing to take on the big ones, and we expect that they’ll reach some kind of equilibrium when they’re all the same size.

      Sorry to hear about your damaged wing. I’m afraid I’m no use in the veterinary department — if we have a damaged or sick bird, we take any obvious remedial steps, give it a few days to recover, and resort to the Cone of Silence if the problem doesn’t go away.

      I’m glad you’re trying bees again! Let’s hope all our hives survive the winter. Keep me posted, please!

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