I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bad things come in threes...

Well we have had our first real homestead tragedy and unfortunately it may be far from over.

Allow me to back up momentarily, it has been a busy spring. We had a difficult time getting our garden in the ground due to the local monsoon season but fortunately we were able to get everything planted and the work has yet to slow down. It looks like we only lost the carrots and peppers to the rains but I can live with that. I admit I was looking forward to a crop of multicolored bell peppers but I guess those are a luxury we can do without.

We have had a blessedly humongous crop of almost everything which means constant harvesting, tending and preserving. I finally broke down and invested in a pressure canner, other than costing a kidney, it seems like a genuinely legitimate expense. I mean, who does not want to eat a twenty dollar jar of green beans right (eye roll)? I canned my first eight quarts of beans this morning. I started at 4:30am and finished around 10:30am. All that work made for a long morning but getting started early meant I could use the stove without it being blisteringly hot in the kitchen.

The bees are fine, if generally neglected. We are now the proud owners of a couple of geese and we had some turtles foisted upon us over the Fourth of July holiday. That pretty much catches you readers up on everything in brief. I am sure I will touch on all those subjects in depth in the future but as the title of this post implies this entry is about the bad.


Yesterday was hot, and by hot I mean the blistering, muggy nineties. I spent the day running around getting stuff caught up in town and basically beating my head off the side of bureaucratic brick wall. I came home tired, cranky and basically glad these days I spend minimal amounts of time immersed in the arm pit that is humanity. I made a quick dinner for everyone, ignored the dishes teetering dangerously towards the floor and headed to the back yard to spend sometime with my feathered family.

My mom loves to send a hodgepodge of left overs to my house, sometimes they are for Fred, sometimes they are for Sarah, sometimes they are for Louie but generally they are for the chickens. She loves the chickens and their giddy frenzy over anything edible amuses her to no end. Last night's treat was a mix of stale cookies and rice cakes, sounds gross right? To a flock of chickens it is like ambrosia. They were thrilled. Everyone came to get a bite. Much clucking and fussing and jostling for position was followed by lots of chortling and cooing as they enjoyed their evening treat.

That was about 6:30pm. I had been sitting outside for quite a while but the bugs had started to bite and Sarah needed a ride to church. I sighed and pushed myself off the steps of backyard heaven and headed in to grab my keys. I dropped Sarah at church and headed home to park it on the couch with Fred for a few. I did not sit for long. We always put the geese and chickens to bed around 8:00pm. It is still daylight but they can spend a little time in yard of the coop settling down and getting ready to roost.

Having the geese has thrown a little bit of a wrench into the normal bedtime routine but we are working on it. A mutual fear makes for and uncomfortable goose-chicken bedtime alliance I have found that putting the geese in their coop first lets the chickens relax a little and stick to their normal bedtime routine. The geese, Elvis and Priscilla, thought last night would be the night to try my patience, by the time I finally got them both in the coop and tucked in I was a little flustered. I stepped into the chicken coop with their oat and did a head count, Autumn-chicken was missing.

I did not panic. After all with all the goose drama I realized she may have just gone to hide under one of our pine trees. I locked up all her sisters with their bedtime snack and fresh water and set out to hunt her down. Apparently I was not the only hunter last evening.

I looked every where. I called, I shook the oats canister. Nothing. Finally I went in and recruited Fred for the cause. We were both still sure that she was hiding somewhere. Although Autumn-chicken was usually the second into bed and never tried to stay out past snack time, we should have known. There was no sign of her anywhere.

Fred suggested she may have gotten over the fence. It was highly unlikely considering her wings are clipped and she and Miranda-chicken are the least adventurous of my girls but we expanded our search to the rest of the neighborhood and recruited Sarah to the cause. We scoured the yard the trees, and the neighborhood we even opened the goose coop to make sure she had not inadvertently gone in the wrong door. No little black chicken. I was starting to panic.

Fred asked the neighbors, no one had seen her. Fred went to the river and back up the creek circling the outside of the fence line. Nothing. Meanwhile I stood in the yard shaking the canister and calling for her to come home. Nothing. I tried to fight down my rising panic with reason, after all there was no chicken carcass, no bloody mess of feathers, no sign of a struggle just a vanishing and an uneasiness in the chicken yard. I listened for the sounds of chickens roosting for the night, nothing.

I finally pulled a lawn chair to the middle of the yard, far enough from the coop so the girls would not feed off my anxiety but close enough to see the door and the outside gate and wait and pray for a chicken's return. Nothing, as the sun went down my anxiety and panic gave way to grief and my grief to resolve. Autumn-chicken, my quiet little unassuming opposite was gone. Worse than the certainty she would not return was the heartbreak of not knowing her fate.

Had she really escaped over the fence? Not likely. Had someone come into our yard and lured her away with a treat? Again, unlikely. Fred and Louie and I were only a few mere feet away inside the house. Had a hawk swooped in and lifted her from my yard? Probably not, being a BJG she was large for a hen and would have required and eagle size raptor to lift her away with no trace. No, the more likely culprit is either a fox or a coyote.

Both have been seen in our area. The scariest part of this is that they will probably be back. Both foxes and coyotes are know to treat chicken coops like drive through grocery stores. So what do we do? I was so upset but I did not have a moment to mourn Autumn-chickens loss. I have to protect the rest of my flock. I shot off a quick and emotional email to the DNR and I am happy to report that they called me promptly at 8:00am this morning.

The really helpful women of the DNR loaned me a trap and gave me a brief on the law, and how I can and cannot legally dispose of the culprit(s) (if they can be apprehended), they also confirmed what I suspected: the total lack of evidence pointed to either a fox or coyote. Fred is stopping on his way home to buy me a box of shell and tonight may find me camping in the yard. I do not know what else to do.

Last night I held out hope that Autumn-chicken might magically appear this morning, but as daylight broke there was still no sign of her. I have made about one-hundred trips into the yard today to do a head count and make sure everyone is safe and maybe catch a glimpse of her, no such luck. I have resigned myself to the fact she is gone. I morn her sweet little unassuming self and I resolve to protect the rest of my girls (and Elvis).

The worst part is just not knowing what happened to her and worrying about the unknown homestead-boogyman lurking in the shadows. I am sure she is dead. I hope she died quickly with little pain. I know this is part of the homesteading experience and on a larger scale part of the circle of life. To everything there is season. But just for the record this season sucks. Bad things come in threes and the other two pale in comparison to our loss.

RIP Autumn-chicken you will be missed and I will do everything in my power to protect your sisters from whatever took you.

Much love, thank you for reading, pray for us,