Monday, December 19, 2011

Feathered losses

Sadly, we lost 3 members of our flock in recent days.  Among the dead are:
  1. Patricia, she was the loveliest of buff-laced polish hens.  Anybody who came to visit us inevitably had a turn holding her.  She was was a lousy layer, but she was sweet, quiet and very patient with children.  She was the only hen who let the children pick her up.  And she was a good flock member too.  When Barncat (her sister hen) broke her leg and had to be confined to a small pen, Patricia was her gentle companion.  
  2. Patrick, my friend the buff-laced polish rooster.  He was selected and named by his namesake.  Several times he required first aid as he seemed to be an accident prone rooster,  I'll never forget the time he got his legs tangled tightly in string and I had to untangle and cut it away.  Most roosters would have panicked.  He also let me keep his spurs trimmed.  He has always desired to be a free-ranger.  He must have been a very attractive rooster, as many hens desire to be a part of his free-ranging flock.  He never quite fit in with the other roosters, but the ladies loved him.  He spent his days roaming all over my yards and orchards and his nights he slept on a shelf in the barn.
  3. A young Patrick the rooster.
  4. Miss Piggy (formerly known as Whitey) was a white Ameraucana hen.  She was meant to be Campbell's hen.  She acquired her new name because every morning when I opened the food bucket, she would fly into it and start madly eating.  For the past 2 years, she had a pattern, she would sleep in the barn with Patrick, then she would go into the coop with me to eat, she would lay a big beautiful blue egg and then she would return to Patrick until the next morning.  Patrick waited for her and appeared stressed out when she was in the coop without him.  They really did have a bond.  
Miss Piggy, laying her daily egg.

Patrick (top left), Miss Piggy (right, second from top) and Patricia (bottom right),
also Hawkeye's rear view on left and Miss T (center).
Patricia and Barncat, they were great pets.

Miss Piggy and a friend.

Foraging, what Miss Piggy did best.

Here's how it happened:

One morning, Damon, Campbell and a friend woke up early and went outside to play in the yard.  As they walked towards the barn, they saw what they thought was a chicken sitting on the chicken fence.  Then they saw the "chicken" hop off the fence and into the chicken yard.  That was when they noticed Patricia, lying dead in the middle of the chicken yard with neck injuries, and the "chicken" was really a red-tailed hawk.  The hawk flew away, but kept circling over the barn.  They alerted us.  After disposing of Patricia's body, we waited and watched as the hawk went into the chicken yard again, looking for Patricia's remains.  He looked puzzled as he sifted through the pile of feathers with his beak finding no carcass.  Then the boys chased him off with their friend's AirSoft gun and he flew a few hundred feet away and watched.  They continued chasing him until he flew away.  This incident brings new light to the disappearance of the neighbour's hen and duck.  The boys were flying high with the excitement.  Now I have added "Staple netting to the top of the chicken yard" to my to-do list.

This was our first loss due to predators.  My heart sunk.  I thought my heart had hardened to the loss of animals, as farmer's hearts must do to protect themselves, but Patricia was very special to us.  I even got teary.  I immediately typed off an email to the breeder telling him what had happened and asking him to reserve more Polish chicks for me this spring.  

This morning, my heart sunk a little when I took the dogs out and saw a pile of white feathers in front of barn.  Then I saw the body of Patrick lying about 20 feet away, not far from my bedroom window.  In the barn (which was left unlocked last night by one of the boys) is a trail of feathers that leads to the shelf the slept on, and on top of the straw is one of Patrick's wings.  Hawkeye (a grey Ameraucana) and Miss T (Patrick and Miss Piggy's orphaned lovechild) were still running around.  I'm not sure what happened, it could have been a fox or a coyote.  But I imagine a scene involving Patrick being attacked in his sleep and Miss Piggy awaking and risking her life in a valiant but futile attempt to save her love.  Or something like that.

I am curious about whether the loss of Patrick will change the flock dynamic and convince the other two hens that the coop is the place to be.

On a positive note, today, 3 of the chicks that hatched in September, namely Moneyboy, Spiderman and Vulture (formerly known as Sweet Baby Jesus) have been fully integrated into the main flock. O.J. and Baby Gigi are still living with their surrogate mama, Jill.  Out of 5 chicks, we managed to get 4 hens and 1 Ameraucana rooster.