Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chickens Will Break Your Heart ... just to prove you have one

Today was a sad day in chickerland.

First, @scrummycupcake's precious Dave and Pru were victims of a tragic and unforeseeable accident.

Then, @AFairCoop mysteriously lost a hen.

My heart broke for both, but then I found out that my own step-chicks were gone.

The origin of the step-chicks is actually a pretty funny (as in, odd) story: Hen shows up at the ranch (I should explain the ranch, Pete, the chickens, but that's another post; suffice it to say that Pete lives at the ranch. So do a lot of chickens) with three new chicks. Sundown nears, and Ma takes to the sycamore tree, as usual with all the other chickens, leaving her new brood cheepcheepcheeping behind. Pete brings them inside, and a routine is established: each day Ma will show up in the morning for her chicks, and each evening she will drop them off with Pete. (Oh, and cats are involved too: see the video.)

One of the three chicks expired, but Pete brought the other two over the first weekend. (Chickie sleepover!) Here's a pic:

Now, just about all of my chickens have come via the ranch--orphans, rejects, spawn of rejects. But Pete wouldn't let me keep these two. He said he was attached. So I let go (sorta) and enjoyed them from something of a distance. My step-chicks, I called them (no offense intended to step-people everywhere).

One weekend--I can't remember if Pete brought them here or just kept them inside at his place because he was here--the chicks were away from their ma for a couple days. After that, she moved on and didn't want anything to do with them. (Close-up chicken owners will be very familiar with this dynamic.) So then the chickies just hung out with Pete all the time--indoors and out, but especially in:

The chicks were getting bigger, so some of the time they spent in a coop set up for MR: Mangled Rooster, a casualty from the Great Rooster Wars of a couple weeks prior. MR himself had a nasty run-in with a possum, who managed to get in the coop. MR's cries alerted Pete, and he was able to save poor Uber-Mangled Roo.

I should note here that the ranch, while practically in the city, is Predator Central. Next to the Sweetwater River, it hosts possums, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, and numerous birds of prey. (Oddly, out here in the sticks, Jamul, the main problem is coyotes. I guess they ate everything else.)

At any rate, last night (while Pete was over here), something got into the coop again. All we know is that when he got home today, the coop door was ajar six inches, the chicks were gone, and all that was left were some feathers and innards. (MR was okay though.)

Anyone who has ever cared for chickens knows how devastating this scene is. Anyone who hasn't probably can't even begin to grasp the complexity of feelings that accompany it.

For most of the world, chickens are meat. Meet (no pun intended) a chicken--for real--and you'll be overwhelmed. Those of us who are overwhelmed try to do the best we can, whether it's free-range-and-take-your-chances, or house-chicken-is-not-an-entree. Or even free-range-and-yeah-you're-still-an-entree. As Annie Dillard once said, and I'm going by memory here, these things are not issues; they are mysteries.

If there's anything I want to do with what's left of my feeble writing skills, it's teasing out at least a few threads of this mystery. . . .

To close, here is the last pic of the chicks, taken (and adulterated by Pete) three days ago:

I miss them too. . . .