Saturday, November 5, 2011

in tribute

For a while now, I've been meaning to write an update on our sweet chickens.

The post I planned to write would tell you of the place these birds have occupied in my family's hearts; how each morning, they would greet us with their sweet cluck-clucks as we let them out into the yard and brought them their breakfas; how they would perch on the deck at dusk, waiting for us to carry them back to their coop and tuck them in safely for the night.

You would hear of how the chickens tapped their beaks at the back door when they wanted us to come out to play and would eagerly follow us about the yard, especially interested in any digging that took place in the garden, happily eating worms and seeds out of our hands.

It turned out that of our five hatchlings, three were roosters. We held on to them as long as we could, but eventually they became too noisy for our suburban lot (though the neighbors swore they loved the sounds). Oh, but those roosters did their jobs, keeping their hens safe and letting out a distinct "bawk-bawk-bawk-bakawk" that signalled the presence of the hawk who would sometimes swoop down on them. The language of chickens is compelling. I never imagined they would be so complex, have so much personality or become so dear to us.

Recently, the hens started laying -- the most perfect, tiny brown eggs you ever saw.

It was almost like Easter in our yard each day, as the hens were a bit confused about where to lay.We'd search them out, sometimes finding eggs on the ground just outside the coop, sometimes on the side of the garage, even in the shed. One was laid on our front porch. The larger hen had the habit of disappearing, going off on adventures to lay her eggs where we would not find them. We took to calling her Louise (like the main character in Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken). Naturally, the other hen became Thelma, though the children preferred the names Henny and Henny Penny.

But this post is not the one I wanted to write about our chickens. This post has a different ending. We returned home the other night to be greeted by our neighbor, who sweetly told us (out of earshot of the kiddos) how she ran out of her house and tried to stop it. She did her best to save our hens, but that hawk was swift and successful. In our front yard we found Louise, there but no longer with us. Thelma is nowhere to be found, having either run off in fear or been carried off by the hawk.

It all made me feel so humbled. I feel as though I failed these birds, who required so little of us but brought us so much in return. For some reason, the roosters meeting their end at our hands didn't bother me, but failing to protect the sweet hens seems an unforgivable error.

There will be more chickens, I am sure. We will likely wait until the spring and try it all again, hopefully with a bit more wisdom and experience gained along the way. But these birds -- the first birds we hatched and raised and fell in love with -- will always have a special place in our hearts.


Farming Mama said...

What a sad ending :( We have out hens in a completely fenced in and covered run so they are safe, but I think yours lived a much fuller life than our 'safe' ones ever will, free to roam around your yard and lay their eggs where they wanted. A sad end for them, but they had great lives while they were here :)

Lindsay said...

Oh, I'm so sorry! It is hard to lose chickens. We lost five to a hawk last Autumn :( It's a very sad feeling, indeed. They are all so sweet, and each so shockingly individual. We become very fond of them, don't we? I'm sure your next go at keeping hens will be met with wild success!

Amanda Greco Holmes said...

Thanks for the comments, ladies. Katy, I've been thinking about how to better house our next set of hens, and the thought of a covered enclosure crossed my mind. Maybe the hens could wander safely in the yard when we're out with them, but have a "roof" over their heads when we're not around to make sure this doesn't happen again!