We have lost four hens since mid-May. I have started expecting to see a dead bird every time I enter the run or to come up one short in the roll call each evening. It is frustrating and heartbreaking and has made this chicken keeping gig so much less than enjoyable.
At the same time, my sister and I have been helping our ninety-three-year-old mother on her final journey. That has been draining, on a soul-deep level. And it has been rewarding at the same time. Only those who’ve traveled this road will understand that.
We lost Daisy first. I found her in the coop early one morning and cried so hard. She was easily my favorite hen and I was so devastated to lose her. Then Nugget failed to come back to the run one evening and I was heartsick to know “something” was out there, stalking my girls.
Another Egger, Henrietta, died suddenly while I was away with Sister and Mom. Coop Daddy found her in a little depression in the run where she’d been taking a dust bath. Losing two Eggers, with no visible signs of trauma, has me wondering if I ran into a genetic issue with these birds. I am assuming they are from the same hatch and that has me thinking I should contact the hatchery to get their insight.
Then, night before last, I discovered that Prissy, my biggest and easily the prettiest of the Comets, didn’t come back to the run in the evening. Our neighbors have been losing hens as well and had sent a message that they’d lost a big pretty Golden Wyandotte. Then, last evening, their hen reappeared. I hoped to find my big girl when I went down to close up for the night. But she wasn’t there.
I’m trying not to be too mopey. I need to spend some time in the coop today, cleaning and reordering things. I made the girls stay in the run while we were away yesterday and I’m sure they are more than ready to spend some time out in the open. And yet…
It feels like I am in a dead zone. The summer has come on with such a vengeance. Everything is drying up. Water is getting scarce. We are under a fire ban that will remain in place until the rains come in the fall. If they come. Any rainfall we get right now soaks up almost as it enters the atmosphere. What doesn’t disappears as soon as it meets a solid surface. The roads steam. The ground is cracking. I’ve been out to spread scratch for the chickens and discovered deer lurking at the edge of the trees, waiting for me to turn my back so they can come and forage what the chickens don’t eat. My herb border, which only gets hand-watering, is drying up and going to seed. I’ll probably just let it go since it’s a waste of water to try and save something I can easily replant next spring.
And then, there’s the predator. We’ve always known there are hawks and raccoons and coyotes. The hawks have made themselves known, flying overhead or landing on the utility poles, screaming a warning to the skies. The raccoons can been seen crossing the county roads of an evening, waddling along on their way to create mayhem. I’ve lost count of the number of dead coyotes I’ve seen on the state highway since we’ve moved out here.
This time, though, I’m pretty sure we’re dealing with a bobcat. Our closest neighbor got images of one lounging alongside their lower driveway, right in front of a game camera. Coop Daddy and I had one cross right in front of us on the county road we live on. It was heading back to its den with a sizable cotton-tail dangling from its mouth. It is small and sleek. And likely very quick.
This will be the summer of loss. There’s no way to recover from it all and feel differently. I will fight the depression with all my strength and plan and hope and will things to be better. They will be better. Having fewer chickens isn’t a terrible thing. The ones that are left will have more room and food. We were getting so many eggs it was hard to get rid of them all. Clean up will be easier. And, just maybe, they’ll finally stop pulling each other’s butt feathers out.
Losing my mother will take a bit longer to adjust to. She was so healthy for so long, it seemed she’d outlive us all. And, now she’s gone, nothing we do can be done without the realization that such a short time ago, she was right there with us. All the little trips and big adventures will be hard to enjoy for a while.
Hopefully, things will improve. I’m going to hang a lot on that hope.