It was only a few short weeks ago that we were filled with the joy and anticipation and dreams of adding more farm life to our property again. We’ve been feeding, watering, keeping warm and caring for 27 laying hens who came to us as day old chicks, and we’ve been watching them grow and explore a little more every day for the last two months. Oh, how we looked forward to those first eggs. The anticipation of that perfect “home grown” food, collected in the morning from our happily clucking hens made us almost giddy, especially since it’s been such a very long time since we’ve had many hens-a-laying just for us.
Well, our 27 hens dropped down to 26, a sad but expected occurrence only days after our baby chicks arrived. We counted our 26 blessings every morning, sometimes scooping one who escaped from shelter back into the warm and safe brooder we had for them to grow in.
Our 26 hens then outgrew the safety of the garage kept brooder, so we moved them into the great outdoors. We reinforced their new home, made certain of easy access to food and water and heat and, most importantly, shelter, and, with our hearts in our throats, left them to learn and explore their new home and territory. And so, for 2 months, all was well.
Until one day last week. In the morning, I looked out my kitchen window and smiled as I watched these growing hens scratching and running and flocking and living. They were happy and I was content. The goats had grown accustomed to their new pasture mates and all was well. And then it rained. And rained. And rained. All day long it rained. So we weren’t surprised to look out and see not a one. Because chickens don’t like rain, so of course we knew (so we thought) that they had sought protection from the elements. My husband went out to do the evening chores and saw only a few chickens so he left the coop open for the wanderers to come back, perhaps after it stopped raining. But the next morning they were still missing.
We searched the enclosure for signs and found only a small handful of feathers. We searched our woods with our dog in the lead, and she found another small handful of feathers, very far from the fenced in enclosure. Other than that, there is absolutely no sign of our missing hens. More than 20 disappeared without a trace in one short day. We suspect a fox, but it’s pretty unheard of for a fox to take that many at one time.
We haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. We can reinforce the fencing, but without being certain of the culprit, we can’t be sure of how much reinforcing we might need. Electric fencing might help, but it isn’t an option for right now. A livestock guardian dog has been discussed, and that option is still on the table, but it requires finding the right dog and training him or her to protect chickens, which from what I’ve read is a hard thing to do. We still have four hens left and we need to try to keep them safe, but we’re out of ideas. We might order more chicks, but we certainly don’t want to lose them again.
And so, here we are. It’s a hard thing to write about defeat. It is a hard thing to process, this real life entering our happily ever after, but our story will continue. It just might be a story without fresh eggs.