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It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon.

Madeline was going to be home from school in an hour.

And I thought it the perfect opportunity to let the ladies out for a supervised stroll ’til dusk.

I was wandering in and out of the house checking on Berkley while she napped. 

I remember stopping by the windows, watching them roam the yard and thinking to myself, ‘what a joyful, peaceful vibe they add to the yard’…

When Madeline got off the bus, we went down for a visit and she noticed one group must have wandered down the hill or into the woods. 

The moment I saw Charlotte (one of the hens) up in the tree, I knew something was wrong.

As we came to the clearing, there were feathers scattered everywhere.

Horrible.

In less than an hour, 5 of our girls were gone.

I take my job of keeping everyone safe and happy pretty seriously, so you can only imagine how I felt…I thought I was doing a good thing by letting them forage and having a bit more freedom, but it was more like I had just released them to the wolves.

The look on my daughter’s face was unforgettable and I lost count of the number of times I repeated “I’m So Sorry”….I felt entirely responsible.  This was not what I intended my sweet girl to come home to after school, that’s for sure.  I even felt bad for having our dog tied up on the leash at the time.   She knew something was wrong down in the woods and wasn’t able to do anything about it.

The bright light at the end of this dark post however, is that we found ‘Betty White’ (one of Maddie’s favorites) bunkered down in some tall grasses…She was alive, but injured.

Our incredible vet agreed to look at her and ended up stitching the large bite wound on her chest shut and gave her a 50/50 chance of survival.  She’s proven to be a tough little bird and I’m happy to report she is back to being the ‘leader’ and doing absolutely fantastic.

We searched the woods for other ‘miracles’ that day and the days to follow but finally accepted the rest were gone.

Lots of tears were shed that evening.

Endless talks of nature and the cycle of life.

We’ll never know what the culprit(s) was/were, but I do know that they will only be allowed to range where they are ‘safe’ and ‘protected’.  So if you ride by our house and see covered runs scattered about the yard, you’ll know why.

I know to most, they’re ‘just chickens’, but Madeline has developed such a wonderful relationship with them all, it was incredibly sad to watch her lose so many, so fast.

And I’m not gonna lie…I too was a bit disturbed by it all.

Cheers to life lessons and how they affect the days that follow.

michele.

 

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  1. Janice says:

    I feel your pain – we lost nearly all our girls to a bear out for a snack. Last summer a neighbors dog got into the pen and killed even more. We caught the dog and the girls he killed were replaced by his owner but even so….. I can understand the bear or even one of the other wild animals living in Anchorage but the neighbors letting their dogs loose is inexcusable.

  2. Tracey Heinz says:

    I can feel for your loss of your hens…my hens are /were part of my daily life…my husband came to the house one morning and told me “something” is killing the chickens in the coop in the middle of the night…and leaving them!!! Not even eating them..it took some searching, but something was bending the chicken wire…we ended up having no set a trap, and caught the biggest raccoon I have ever seen. Our farm vet said that raccoons have been known to kill chickens for the fun of it , especially males . Like the one we caught. Well, I had lost over half of my thirty hens before we found the TINY spot of entry. I still miss some of those hens…

  3. Angela Murrell says:

    I was wondering if you have a recipe for homemade bacon. If so could you please e-mail me or post it on your web page, sure would appreicate it. Thank you so much.

  4. PaPa Rick says:

    Was raised on a farm and have a lot of experience with ducks,geese and chickens.We would get chicks from the feed store for Easter and would name them,our chose.We kept them on the porch in apple boxes with a refrigerator shelf on top the box.When thy were strong enough to jump and knock off the shelf,we would move them in the old duck coop.When we first got the peepers,we would pick out the one that was most talented and would place it on the piano keys.When we would play chop sticks,the chick would hop on the keys and created its own version.We never had much trouble with skunk or coons,only when some chickens would roost in the cedar trees,some would disappear…………

  5. Linda says:

    Michele,
    Lost my 6 silkies I raised from eggs last year. They would follow me around my flower gardens to get the worms and forage in the fresh dirt when I planted my flowers. I would have to stop to pick them up and give them a hug as we worked. Something got them one by one…not sure maybe raccoons, but could have been a combination of predators. They were shut up in a coop before the sun went down each night. One time I went out to put them in the coop (they were already in the pen)and saw a raccoon climbing over the fence. Two more gone. The next week it was one by one no matter what I did to protect them. The last one was pulled through a locked double door that was so small I couldn’t imagine anything could get in or out. Once they knew chickens were there…there was no stopping them. When I built the pen I even buried wire. I too loved to give them the freedom to roam never thinking it would be their end. Miss my rooster, Cinderfella! He would chase my two miniature horses around the barn. It was hilarious! Haven’t tried anymore to this date….still devastated. Some day maybe when I have a fortress built around the coop. If it isn’t raccoons, maybe coyotes, hawks…whatever…survival of the fittest and strongest. Nature is not kind sometimes, but that’s the way it works.

  6. Mark Diehm says:

    Strange as it may seem my Father in Law used to feed english sparrows leftover cracked corn from the cow barn on a special bird feeder under a very large spruce tree. You would not believe his excitement when the local Coopers Hawk would come in to feed on the sparrows. Large predator birds are part of the life cycle and they need food too. We lost a couple of chickens to hawks but most lost to coons, possums and a least weasel. (endangered species in Indiana, pretty cool animal, glad to have been a help to it’s survival!) One very nice chicken was lost late one night to a Great Horned Owl. We could hear her call as she was carried down the lane. We followed the calls in our jeep until we lost the sound a half mile later. After that we kept a closer eye on “pet” chickens and raised several extras for predator losses. Sounds a little odd, I know, but it is just part of raising animals. Like the pig named pork chop and the cow named t-bone. The kids always knew what the end result was to be.

  7. Allie-Marie says:

    I know how that is. We’ve lost a lot of ours, too. And we’ve raised them since they were still in the egg. Our problem was chicken hawks and foxes.. Not a very pretty sight, I must admit. So sorry for your loss):

  8. Rachel says:

    Does anyone know what kind of chicken that is??? It is the chicken that is black with the dark orange spots and the fluffy head in the first photo.

  9. Heike Childs says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    I/we hope that time will have done it’s duty to heal your family’s wounds. In our experience having chickens for pets is joyful. They do take a bit more work than dogs to keep the pens clean, but they pay with fresh eggs and excited chatter when the “food-lady” comes. Best of all, they are so appreciative of left-overs from the kitchen. Wether the bread is getting stale, the salad limp, or the vegetables in the refrigerator getting shriveled – the chickens love it all.

    We don’t have but 5 chickens, but we so do love them. They live in the chicken version of the Tash Mahal. Their outdoor strolling yard is fully enclosed with thick wire fencing all the way around, on top and below. Their house is heated (via infra-red light bulb) in the winter, and cooled in the summer with an automatic fan. Meanwhile the cat is sitting in front hoping he will be invited in, but that is never going to happen. I/we know him well enough not to trust him with chickens. So he (the cat) returns to the barn to rest on his electric blanket on the leather couch, contemplating how live can be so unfair.

    We have lost cats to animals of prey, but fortunately no chickens.

    Take care and know your chickens are grateful to live in your family.

  10. Richard F says:

    Don’t raise animals, free range or otherwise. I do have numerous bird feeders and have had the occasional hawk nab one of them. That’s nature for you. Not sure why it’s OK for people to eat chickens and the like but it isn’t OK for our fellow predators in the animal kingdom to do likewise. Seems a huge contradiction for the organics out there. They are simply trying to do as we are-survive.

  11. Pam says:

    We have a Livestock Guardian Dog – a Maremma. Haven’t lost a chicken since we got her. She’s heck on birds of prey. I highly recommend the LGD, but read up on them. They’re gentle with family, but should not be in the house much if you want them to be on duty on the land.

  12. John E. Pierce says:

    finally getting back to the garden after recovering from the flood of September 6,7 and 8th in 2011 in Broome County, New york, Making a comeback, and I want to learn about raising chickens for eggs and poultry meat. I have an acre of property completely fenced in so I’m relatively sure I might be able to provide a good home for some birds. I just need to acquaint myself with the right experts, so I might save myself some time and energy by avoiding some of the known mistakes and pitfalls. Also, have a garden that is 75′ by 100′ and would like to make the most of it. It is excellent soil as it is rich dark river flood plain soil. Very productive stuff and I would like to make the most of it. Help.

  13. Lorraine says:

    It is very difficult to keep any type of bird FREE RANGE. My canal has so many different birds I love the great peaceful vib I get being out there. Unfortunately, where there are birds there are preditors. the worst thing is to see a great egret eating 3 day old ducklings; a site i will never forget. So, the best thing is what you have done for your birds and get a border collie pup. After growing up with your flock they will protect them when they get out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Collie

  14. Marguerite F. says:

    Oh, so very sorry. I would have been devastated. I have 3 g. pigs and a bunny, 6 cats, and 1 tiny dog, and 1 ferret. All rescued but the ferret. We built an 8 by 8 pen in our yard, with steel panels, a door, and a roof. It is attached to the house with a cat door. My cats go in and out, but my litte guys can be put out there on nice days and enjoy being outside with safety. It is a “catio.” (Ferret is kept separate because she is a little carnivore.) I worry about my tiny dog and watch for hawks. We are in a subdivision in MO but it is a somewhat rural area. We have even seen bobcats out back. She does not go out in the yard alone. It is a real problem and I have read of 2 chihuahuas being grabbed by hawks. My little Scoutie is my BFF and I would never recover if that happened to us. I wish I could have chickens but I can’t here. Also I am disabled and in pain all the time, and simply can’t take on anymore. I hope your children have recovered and I like your covered pens.

  15. Debbie says:

    We have had free range chickens for the last 30 years, and for the most part the adults are safe, the chicks do run the risk of being killed by raccoons, skunks, hawks, on a daily basis. But will say that our key to keeping our chickens safe is our dog, our dog is loose with the chickens and other animals running around and we really don’t have problems. A good body guard is priceless.

  16. George Brooks says:

    Something I wrote when I saw all the new Chicken people Free Ranging birds. Harsh but I know the pain.

    Chickens:

    What is better keeping your birds in a Pen or Free Range bait? Harsh words but better than the pain of seeing them slaughtered.

    I would love to Free Range my birds but eventually a Free Range bird around here is a dead bird. I have been raising Backyard Chickens for 44 years in the suburbs 25 miles NW of Boston. Even in the beginning I had them in pens then I added top wire then heavy duty wire. Each upgrade was because some predator got past the security. We have about 9 Coyotes & 2 Foxes that I know off, Raccoon’s, Opossums, Weasel, Fisher, Red-tail & Coopers Hawks. Predators take birds day & night especially when their young are getting big & hungry. Fox, Coyote & Fisher will hunt during the day so only locking up the birds up at night will not prevent losses. The following I know of happening, a Coyote will grab a medium sized dog off a leash while you are walking them, Chickens are a piece of cake. When I walk our dog I take a walking stick with me to provide some protection. Several Coyotes will take a big dog left alone on a leash if they are hungry enough. A Fox will watch from a distance then make a run for a chicken & take it right from in front of you without stopping. Fox will run birds back & fourth in a pen with large wire holes until the birds get panicked enough to stick their heads out then they bite them off. A Fisher can chew through medium gauge wire & will kill, dismember, eat & carry off a whole flock or any combination there off. That is not a good sight to see (I have). There are now at least 4 to 5 times the number of Predators in MA than there was 20 years ago & many other states have the same issue. If anyone would like more details on how pets were taken they can contact me. Think it over well & know what Predators you have in your area before you Free Range. I keep my 20 birds in a 15′ X 20′ Pen with a 8′ X 6′ Coop attached. By the way when I went to feed the birds this morning a Cooper’s Hawk was on top of the pen. Think about it…

  17. Natalie S. says:

    I would talk to someone in Animal control or the local veterinarian in your area about the predators in your area. Maybe they could set up fence or security cameras for your home that can be checked on your phone or computer.

  18. Mindy Mowery says:

    So sorry to hear about Maddy’s experience….and as a mother I can completely feel your pain. I know that my home would have been an emotional wreck…a family of COMPLETE animal lovers!! I hope to someday live where we can have chickens ourselves, and will definately learn from others experiences. Here’s to keeping our “families”, furry, feathered, and otherwise safe.

  19. marci says:

    we went away for thanksgiving for 36 hours and came home to a flock of 50 murdered. most likely cayotes or coon’s. everybody lost the thanksgivig glow!!

  20. Annie says:

    Yup we had that horror right in the city the smallest Hawk Struck fear into my flock and we lost 3 during different attacks. All Bantams but still loved. We set my parents house up very similar to what you are showing with the netting they are my dads “Ladies” They even have a small electric fence that turns on at night for the night critters to keep out. I’ll get some pics at Thanksgiving to show you :) Chickens are amazing and I’m sorry for your loss.

  21. Bob G says:

    Having grown up on a farm i was accustomed to it, when my kids first time came they cryed for a week. Sorry she had to see that, easier if “they went away to visit”.

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