Most people who have, or have had, pets have also experienced the death of a pet. A segment of our society dresses “furbabies” in seasonal costumes, takes them for photos with Santa, indulges them in spa days, takes them visiting as therapy animals, take them on shopping trips. When we say goodbye to our pets, we say they have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and envision them purring without cease or running through endless flowering meadows. When we began adding livestock and poultry members to our family here on Hard Hill Farm, we didn’t consider the mathematical situation that, all other things being equal, more animals meant commensurately more losses with which to cope.
As if our decision, at the direction of our large animal veterinarian, to assist young Cazador the alpaca, suffering with tetanus in spite of vaccination, unable to stand up, in late April was not agonizing enough, we lost the amazing Little the Chicken earlier this month. To add insult to injury, the unidentified predatory objects then took down the giant Claude Girouxster this past weekend. Both were victims of wild predators, in the late afternoon, before the dinner hour or dusk, and within a hundred feet of one another. It appeared that both had struggled in their losing causes: Little protecting her two chicks, whom we found hiding in the alpaca barn, and Claude, protecting the rest of the flock. The family of foxes that appears after dawn up on the hill, whether they are the culprits or not, is no longer adorable.
We lost only two hens last year, in the autumn, and both disappeared without a trace during the annual hawk migration through our county. Before we were recovering suburbanites, we would marvel at the circling, soaring raptors riding the thermals over the valleys; now we have trained Vina the LGD to bark ferociously at the command “Hawk!” When we found that raccoon clawing at the coop door before dawn on the last Winter Solstice, we installed red predator lights around the coop and entrance to the barnyard. Now the monsters come shamelessly in broad daylight. We let the alpacas roam with the hens during the day, as a size deterrent, but the monsters seem to know when it’s alpaca naptime during the afternoon. We have stopped discouraging the girls from free-ranging up the hill in the far wood. It is a good distance from the barnyard and the girls are under cover, away from the fox grounds, just too close to the road for our comfort.We hear the coyotes at night, although they seem content with the local deer herds for dinner.
But since April, someone or ones have taken Cayenne, Kensa, Tressa, Little, and now Claude, and we need to step up our game. Make no mistake — the indigenous fauna is welcome here on Hard Hill. We don’t mind staying out of their way while they take care of the mice and other small rodents. They just need to leave the chickens ALONE.
We have sought the advice of veterinarians, farmers, hunters, trappers, the state game commission, and probably half the known Googleverse. It seems we are supposed to bait humane traps with chicken, catch the suckers, and relocate them to another area where they will presumably eat someone else’s chickens or die a lingering, miserable death from starvation in their new territory. We have inquired as to the possibility that a certain type of contractor could be hired to resolve this conflict for us, but alas, fox season is not open in these parts until October, and we fear we will have no flock left by then. In the end, we have, like many other homesteaders, compromised our principles and acquired a firearm and training in its use.
Little and Claude left behind two now-orphaned chicks. Rather than hope another hen would take over their care, we moved the pair into the house the day we lost Little, into the brooder with the six chicks who arrived the same week from the feed store. Stripe and Deuce seem more physically and emotionally developed than those hatchery chicks, having been nurtured by the huge personality that was Little, and protected by Claude, the gentle giant. It seems that Stripe may well be a rooster and will hopefully take over where his father left off. They give us hope. But it doesn’t stop us from missing Little.