I guess it’s a little easier now than it was in the beginning. But it still feels kinda crappy to see a little creature that you’ve nurtured from birth, lying ripped open and dead on the ground.
Yesterday, Elihu and I took a walk down the hill to our garden to check on things when he spied a form in the tall grass. “Mommy, there’s dead chicken here!” he told me. I was surprised, and not. The chickens, for some reason, don’t often venture down the hill to this spot; the only times I’ve known them to come down here is when they’re following me. Even Max doesn’t bother with the garden. (He does, however, become a threat to the young plants when he carelessly tramples over them with his big, webbed feet as he waddles along after me.) I came to look and saw that it was one of our dark red girls. Who? I don’t know. It’s most often the head and comb shape that tells us, and the head on this girl was missing. And honestly, even after having had them for two years now, I can’t always tell the dark red ones apart. A couple stand out, but for the most part they’re just red hens. I’m relieved to see it’s not Thumbs Up or Madeline or Shirley Nelson, but nonetheless I’m sad to think that this little gal, who’d made it through two winters and all the many nighttime attacks on the coop, had finally met her end.
The question we chicken farmers always consider first is ‘who did it’? But in the end, there’s never a definitive answer. One can speculate all day – and indeed, one can spend hours online in various chicken chat rooms discovering all sorts of anecdotal evidence that ends up telling us everything and, well, nothing. Raccoon, weasel, fisher, hawk, fox. All equally possible. All may well take off the head. All may well leave the prey and return for it later. Just yesterday Elihu had told me there were two young hawks outside talking to each other. I’d thought they were probably just blue jays – but as usual, he was right. We looked up to see some juvenile red tails circling above our yard and immediately made sure our flock was close to the coop for safety. So it might have been one of them. But really, there is no sure safety for a free-range flock. You do what you can, keep your ears open and use common sense, but ultimately there will always be a missing hen at some point.
I picked up the headless hen and saw her breast flayed open; I recognized the pink flesh – it looked just like the chicken breasts I cooked for supper nearly every night. I wondered to myself why the animal hadn’t eaten the meat. Seemed a waste. She was still flexible, so we guessed she had been gotten fairly recently. That she should not go to waste, I flung her body over the steep edge of the hill into the brush for some lucky animal of the forest to come and finish.
Ironically, that night we had chicken for supper.