I am saddened to report the unnecessary death of several hens, chicks, and pullets over the year. This summer Little Sister was broody (again). I set her up in the broody box with 3 wee chicks. The door of the broody box did not have a secure latch. Each night I rolled a bowling-ball sized rock in front of it and thought ‘Good enough’. It wasn’t. This summer I also re-vamped the chicken run. I procrastinated getting the door to the run/coop back up. You see where I am going with this?
Whilst we were away one weekend, our chicken sitter faced two consecutive nights of bloodbath – first in the broody box (Little Sister and her babies), and then in the coop (Baracka, the Best Chicken Ever). We had lost two hens earlier in the summer – one from an unexplained illness (Calamity Jane), the other a suspected overdose to some random poison buried in our compost bin* (Blanca). That left us with a single hen (‘Red’) – the only girl hatched to any of the three broods from 2013. At the bottom of the pecking order, she was the wildest of our chickens. Although she seemed relieved to no longer bear the brunt of all those beaks, she got a bit lonely and decided to go broody – right after we got our next batch of chicks.
The new babies were awesome! It had been years since we had raised our own chicks and we had tons of fun brooding in the fireplace, taking them outside when they were small, and then letting them run free range after we’d moved them out to the coop. They had taken to coming to visit me whenever I came out into the yard, eventually sitting with or on me for a bit to preen themselves (or me!). We were really worried that Frankie, the blue splash marans was a boy. These were all ‘sexed’ chicks, but she was big, had a honky voice, and we didn’t have any experience with her breed.
Yesterday I gave Red away to a woman who didn’t have enough English to reassure me she wasn’t going to eat her. I decided to give her away because she had never stopped bring broody and was terrorizing the chicks with her bitchy attitude and we wanted to keep the flock small. I vowed not to care, but i regret it now. I was however excited that the babies would get the run of the roost.
Last night we went to a friend’s house before dark. The chickens weren’t in the coop yet so we left them be. When we got home, I nearly tripped over the little Australorp as I came down the walk. What was she doing out? I found our little Ameraucana perched on the chicken tractor. Scott eventually told me to stop looking. He had spotted the trails of white feathers that led to our androgenous Frankie – now a mangled mess left on top of the shed.
Take home lessons? It is unnecessarily cruel to not lock the chickens up at night. So many solutions – herd them in before dark, ask someone to come over at dusk and shut the door, use an automatic chicken door. Despite the 360 days of the year when raccoons do not attack our hens, it is not worth the risk.
*[We had once several years ago put rat poison in a burrow in our compost bin. I had recently emptied the compost bin and moved it to a new location in the chicken run, essentially bringing years of history to the surface].