Monday, April 6, 2015

A first time for everything

Yesterday Jeremy and I went to a family lunch for Easter. We came home and had the whole afternoon before us. Jeremy headed upstairs to work on the computer. I turned on the tea kettle and headed down to the basement with the laundry.
On the way back up the stairs I looked out the window to the chicken coop. I do this every time I go up and down the stairs. It's sort of silly because I can't really see the chickens in the hen house unless there is sunlight shining straight into the windows. And I don't usually see the chickens in the far side of the run, the only part of the run I can see from the house, because they're usually over by the feeders stuffing themselves.
I looked over to the run and saw something weird. There was a white blob. A chicken? It could be, but they didn't usually hold that still, and not squished up so close to the wall. A foreign object of some sort? Something was up.
I headed out to the coop. Sometimes my mind jumps to awful conclusions, but generally those prove to be unfounded and ridiculous. Preparing myself for the worst I guess. But in this case, the worst had happened. As I cleared the hen house and came in view of the run, I saw a dead chicken. One that had been clearly snacked on. I vaguely noticed other bodies and feathers everywhere. I had to peek in the hen house. I half expected a deranged, bloodied animal to leap out at me, but no such thing. Just another half dozen dead chickens. There wasn't a movement in the whole coop or run, besides feathers drifting about. That meant all 19 were dead. I think I was in a sort of fight or flight shock state at this point. I needed backup.
I went into the house for Jeremy.

"Jeremy," I said as I walked through the kitchen. He didn't hear me.

"Jeremy." I said it my most serious something-horrible-has-happened voice. He heard me that time. I could hear him jump up from the computer.

"Do you need me to come down?" he asked, as he started to head down.

"Yes." Again, my very serious voice.

"Is it an emergency?" Jeremy wanted to know if he should walk down the stairs or run, and if he should call 911 - yep, he recognizes this tone of  voice.

"Well, it's not anymore. They're all dead!"

We headed back out to the yard so Jeremy could survey the massacre. He put his arms around me. The adrenaline was wearing off and I suddenly felt weak in the knees and had to sit down. He was very comforting for someone who was also very upset. Of course, he knew what he was coming out to see whereas it was a surprise for me. And I always seem to be the one to find the dead chickens!

We talked briefly about what to do. Should we bag them up and throw them away? It seemed wrong somehow to do that. We would dig a hole and bury them. I was worried. That would have to be a VERY big hole! But Jeremy was determined. We changed into grubby clothes and grabbed shovels. We decided to bury them in one of the garden beds. We dug up half of the bed, piling the dirt in the other half. At one point I dug up a little grub-like insect and immediately picked it up to give to the chickens. They would love this...oh. That's right.
We each picked up chickens and laid them in the ground. We fit 10 in then piled dirt on them and dug out the other half of the bed. Nine more chickens were laid to rest. I also raked up as many of the feathers as I could get and added them to the grave. We replaced all the dirt and smoothed everything over.

"We should be intentional about what we plant in this bed," I said. "Sort of like a memorial to the chickens."

Jeremy thought about it for a moment. "Well," he said, "no root vegetables." Agreed!

We decided to plant a tomato there and some lettuce. We'll have to wait a while longer on both, but that's the plan.

I wandered around the exterior of the coop and began noticing signs. Big paw prints. Signs of digging by the fence on the north side. Signs of probable pacing or running back and forth around the whole chicken compound, the killer trying to get in. And, what I had noticed almost right away, the brick keeping the door to the run closed was about a foot away from where it should be. Like something had forced the door open, sliding the brick out of the way. We remodeled part of the run a month or so ago and hadn't quite finished the door and latch part. Given the attack in the middle of the day and the killing of everything in sight without really eating anything, we both figured it was a dog. Well, the somewhat clear dog prints helped confirm that. I wondered at one point if there had been two dogs. There was just so much destruction.

I posted a Facebook message about our loss and messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then this morning I saw a post from a neighbor a couple blocks away. She had seen two large dogs coming out of our yard yesterday and called Animal Control to report it. Wow. Practically caught in the act! Our friends didn't know what the dogs had been up to though.

With that information, I sent an email on a listserv to our entire neighborhood.

Dear neighbors, Do you (or someone you know) own two big grey dogs? Did your dogs get loose from your yard yesterday and go running around the neighborhood? Did they come back a bit messy, perhaps with feathers on them? If so, I can tell you what your dogs were up to. They were attacking and killing our entire flock of chickens. We had 19 beautiful girls, just about a year old. They were safely penned in their coop and run – or so we thought. Your dogs managed to get the gate open. We were away from home having an Easter meal with family and came home to find the scene of the massacre.  We will be starting over again and we’ll be making our gate and fence stronger. We would appreciate it if you could fix your gate/fence so your dogs can’t get out and do this again. If you want to take responsibility and reimburse us for our loss, please contact us off-list. 
More messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then, an email from another neighbor. A neighbor of hers had found two grey dogs roaming the neighborhood and had caught them. They had found the owners somehow and the dogs had been returned home. It looks pretty likely that these are the dogs. We're working to track down the information of these people. I'm not sure if anything will come of it. Will the dog's owners take responsibility? Or will they claim innocence? Worse, will they said they were "just chickens," so who cares? I don't know.

In the meantime, we're feeling sad about the whole situation. I've heard of people losing their whole flock to one thing or another - usually animal attacks. We probably got a little lax after 6 uneventful years of chicken-keeping. There's a first time for everything. And hopefully this will be the last time!

We plan to start over with new chicks, maybe in a few weeks. Personally, I need time to consider the whole thing, adjust, and prepare.

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