It was bound to happen. We have had a few instances of forgetting to close the chicken pen properly. We have been really lucky. Until yesterday. Let me back up.
After a wonderful trip to see my oldest brother and his family over the weekend, the Chirpys and I arrived home late Sunday evening. We were all exhausted and a little bit ill (That’s Southern for cranky.) as was to be expected after a five hour road trip with little ones. We played outside a while and visited with Mitch. Yesterday also happened to be the first day of daylight savings time. I LOVE having more daylight hours in the evenings. Spring and especially summer are my absolute favorite times of the year. But I digress.
After a good wash, a great meal and a good night’s sleep, we awoke to perfect weather on Monday here in Chirpyville. I started the washer, and we headed outside for the day. We played with the dogs, said hello to all of our animals and played the morning away. When lunchtime rolled around, we retired inside for a quick lunch and a good nap. As the older two children (3 & 2) fell asleep, I heard a ruckus outside. It started with a hen clucking persistently. I didn’t think much of it at first. The hens generally go into a tizzy congratulating themselves when one of them lays an egg. The clucking turned into a distress call and got louder. I suddenly remembered the dogs were still out.
Let me stop for a minute and catch you up. For Christmas, we got two livestock guardian dogs. Not guard dogs, mind you, but guardians. They are half Great Pyrenees, half Anatolian Shepard. One male and one female. Jack and Zoee. Their sole occupation is to watch over and protect the class of live stock that we have the most experience with: small children, aka our “Chirpys.” I would like for them to watch over the whole place and everything on it when they mature, but for now, their job is to learn to watch and protect our children. Jack and Zoee are five months old and are doing extremely well. We have been very pleased with them so far. Until yesterday. Back to the story.
I ran outside with Blair (1) on my hip and around the corner of the house and what do you think I saw? Jack, Zoee, and our chocolate Lab, Tucker in a circle taking turns biting at one of our Wyandotte hens, Maxine. I screamed and ran into the midst of them kicking at anything I could make contact with. The dogs scattered and Maxine retreated behind the air conditioning unit. Jack ran to the puppies’ kennel. I dragged Zoee part of the way there when she realized her victim must be getting away. She spun around out of my grasp and raced back to Maxine. I was right behind her and this time I beat the fool out of her for her trouble. She got the message. Into the kennel she went. Tucker, meanwhile knew he had messed up but wasn’t the least bit sorry. He stayed just out of my reach until I was ready to shoot him out of frustration. He disappeared into the woods and I gathered my wits and my baby to begin taking a body count.
We have 16 chickens total. We started out with a hen and a rooster that we raised from little chicks. Their names are Marshmallow and Vinegar. They are special to us because we raised them from babies. AliBeth and Logan love them dearly. The next additions to our flock came soon after Mitch brought Vinegar and Marshmallow to live in a small cage on our back porch. I called into Swap Shop, our local radio program (More about that later!) and asked if anyone had any chicken coop building material that I could buy. My dad’s friend called and said he had a whole coop and pen! There was just one catch. I had to take all 7 of his hens with it. Oh, and dismantle the coop and fence that was actively housing the hens in his yard. SCORE! Free chickens and a free coop setup. With more than a little frustration on my dear husband’s part, the coop, pen and 7 hens came to live at Chirpyville. The hens were a variety of White Bard Rocks (Suzy, Betty, and Lucy), Columbians (Lily and Pearl), an Araucana (Arabella) and a Welsummer (Martha). The next set of hens completed our flock and were acquired from a business associate of Mitch’s. They also added some beautiful color as five of them were Red Laced Wyandottes (pronounced Wine Dots). Sassy, Fancy, Ruby, Maxine and Florence Nightingale are big beautiful hens. Grace and Annie are two more Araucanas (Yay! My favorite).
Vinegar and Marshmallow along with a few others were nowhere to be found. Ten of the hens were hiding in the coop behind the feed barrel not making a sound. Poor Lucy was laying on the ground amidst most of her feathers inside the pen. After Blair and I made as thorough a search as we were able to of the surrounding trees, we finally found poor Suzy hiding under a dead tree branch with a huge wound on her back. With some gentle coaxing, she made it back to the yard. Lucy had made a miraculous recovery and was waiting for her feed inside the coop. I left the pen open and the others came out as soon as they discerned that the dogs had been contained. (Chickens are smart that way.)
AliBeth and Logan had joined us outside by this time. Not knowing what else to do for Suzy, and knowing that all the chickens would eventually “come home to roost” if they were able, the Chirpys and I continued our outside play. Though now, with an ominous feeling gripping my heart. Would Suzy survive? Were any of the rest hurt badly? Chirpyville Farms just started selling our eggs last week. Would this stress cause the hens to stop laying for a time? Our yard was a snowfall of feathers and things were not looking good.
Just as predicted, the other chickens slowly made their reappearance not long before sundown. Even though Suzy was pecking around the yard with the other chickens, she was hurt too badly and did not make it. At the time of this writing, she is our only casualty from the whole ordeal. I am grateful that it wasn’t worse. We could have lost Vinegar or Marshmallow. We could have lost them all. I am also strangely saddened by the loss of Suzy. She was one of our first hens and I wish she had come to a more peaceful end. The irony of my “livestock guardian” dogs attacking my flock is not lost on me. In their defense, the pen had not been properly closed after checking on them when we arrived home from our trip. That was my fault. I propped the door shut instead of latching it, thinking I would go into the pen once more before going inside. Whether the dogs knocked the board down and the door opened, or whether the chickens, being hungry for bugs pushed on it to get out, I’ll never know. (We let our chickens out almost every day to forage for insects and seeds.)
Lesson learned. “In just a few minutes” usually never comes. Don’t leave things to chance. Your luck will eventually run out!