A Bittersweet Moment in Chicken Keeping

By Emily
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One of the hardest moments in having chickens, especially when you are first starting out, is that moment when you lose one of your birds. At least, that is what I thought was the hardest moment, until we lost four of our chickens (out of five) in one month.

To give you a little backstory, we got our first four birds in April of 2015 (a white one: Whitey, two Rhode Island Red hens : Emily and Debbie, and a RIR Rooster: Kellogg). My boyfriend quickly dispatched the rooster for supper (not that we have anything against roosters, but we live in a subdivision; we will make up for it one day when we have acreage). A few months later, we ended up getting one more hen (Barred Rock: Iggy). But later that summer we lost one of our birds. As we never knew the age of the birds when we first got them, and she was past laying, I think it was related to her age. So we got another hen (Australorp: Squeeta). We stayed at four birds for quite a while, until earlier this year Ameraucana: Lil B). Five chickens seemed to be the magic number, especially for where we live. We had plenty of eggs (to keep and give away), and the girls seemed to have the “pecking” order worked out. Things were peaceful.

Fast forward to last month. Hurricane Matthew swept across Northeastern North Carolina while my boyfriend and I vacationed in Alaska. We were fortunate. Many others in our area were not. We only lost three chickens. Others lost everything. We hemmed and hawed over if we wanted to get more chickens now (knowing that we wouldn’t have eggs again until spring), wait until spring, or wait until we got out of the subdivision.

Our love of chickens prevailed, and I began searching for some pullets. We didn’t want biddies, and we wanted chickens that lay moderately but have an interesting aesthetic about them. I found the perfect group the same weekend that we lost one of our remaining two chickens — to my dog. It all had to have happened in a manner of five minutes, and I never heard a peep from our normally most vocal chicken. But I looked outside to find my dog plucking a deceased chicken. I’m still uncertain if she killed the chicken (as she has never shown much interest before), nonetheless she received the blame.

Down to one chicken, that made our decision absolute. We needed more. So we set off and drove about three hours roundtrip to pick up three, 20-week-old birds — a Buff Brahma, a Barnevelder, and a Barred Rock. We are still working out their names (once we have our farm and are raising meat chickens, that is when naming will cease), but they’ve proven already to be interesting.

They don’t bother Lil B, but Lil B wants to bother them. She keeps picking fights, as she was bullied with the last girls. She goes after them with her little ear muffs all fluffed out. She quickly gets defeated (even though she’s older, the Barred Rock is twice her size) and goes upstairs to the coop to pout. It is sort of pitiful (and hilarious). I think they will all adjust though.

Anytime a critter dies in my care, it makes me sad. Some may say that it is just a fact of life and I will get used to it, but I don’t want to get used to it. I think that the moment you stop feeling something about a creature’s demise, that may be the moment that you stop honoring the fact that they were once alive. I’m grateful for every creature that gave up its life for me to eat. I still need that disconnect of seeing the exact moment a creature dies, but I’m working on it.