Tales of Terror From a First-Time Chicken Keeper

Reader Contribution by Traci N. Smith
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When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the country. I hated living so far away from my friends, the movies and the mall. Everything I wanted to do on the weekends was always in town. Before I turned 16, I always had to ask for rides; after I turned 16, I always had to ask for gas money. I would go into town on a Friday and find someone’s couch to crash on until I had to go home Sunday just to save on gas. I couldn’t wait until I was 18 and could move into town.

I technically moved into town when I was 17. I’m 25 now. And I have spent the last eight years trying to get BACK to the country. Crazy, isn’t it? My family loves to remind me that when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to move into town. They thought when I first started talking about moving back to the country that it was just some phase I was going through and that I was kidding. It is now to the point that they fully believe me. When you are living in town and have a garden, rabbits, chickens, and are looking at getting piglets.… Something tells people that you truly belong in the country and not in city limits.

My little girl and I bought six chicks last spring. We had four New Hampshire Red pullets and two Black Sex Links from the local Rural King. Brought them home and set them up in a big black plastic toolbox thing. (Like the ones you put in the bed of your truck.) Used crushed corncob bedding, had chick feed, feeders, waterers, a heat lamp, everything they needed. Raised my babies inside until they had most of their feathers and moved them to the outside coop. Now this is where we got creative.

My backyard homestead setup with the garden, rabbits and chickens.

We didn’t have the money to buy a coop or the materials to build one, so we used what we had. Which happened to be a metal dog crate. One of those black metal ones with the removable bottoms. I took 1-inch wooden slats that we had laying in the yard and made roosts from them. Stuck the whole cage under the rabbit coop and threw the removable bottom on top of the cage to keep the girls clean and dry (plus, it also caught all the rabbit manure so I could use it on my garden!). Stuck boards in around and housed them into half the cage with the other half open on the sides to aid in ventilation. Hung their water inside the pen with them and hung the feeder outside so they constantly had water, but only ate during the day when they were out. They had full run of our yard during the day and would put themselves up at dark, waiting patiently inside for me to come out and shut the gate. Until the night that I got home late.…

At the time, I had my male pit and I had a female pit-lab mix named Polly. Now I know how some people feel about pit bulls. So I’m just going to say this: I have a 4-year-old male that I have had since he was 5 weeks old. Cane will lay in our yard and let my kids, chickens, whatever have ya, crawl all over him and he’ll never move. He plays with my son and is extremely protective of him. He tries to herd him away from areas where he will get hurt and will let me know when my assistance is needed. Same way with my 4-year-old, although I think Cane is partial to my son. But I digress. I just want it said that being a pit bull had nothing to do with the rest of the story.

We went to my boyfriend’s mom’s house one afternoon, and ended up staying for dinner and until well after dark. I had forgotten about my chickens. At 10:30 p.m., I realized the girls were still “out.” They would have been in their coop by this time, but their door would have still been open. So we packed up the baby and we headed home. Keep in mind; this was only a 10-minute drive. We get home, and I looked toward the back gate. There were eyes looking back at me. We had a security light in the alley, but it was just enough to show shapes, not actually show the animal. As I got closer, it disappeared into the backyard. I had a bad feeling in my gut.

Both of the dogs were black. And they were kept in a great big 8-by-16-foot chain link pen built in our backyard. Polly had been known to jump the outside fence (which was also the fence that surrounded our yard) and go visit the neighbors. Cane had done it a time or two, too. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when I got to the gate and saw Polly in the backyard instead of the pen. What did give me a bad feeling, though, was the way she kept as much yard as possible between us. The coop gate was still open. And there was a dog loose in my backyard that wouldn’t come near me.… I sort of knew what I would find. It still broke my heart when I found four of my six chicks…. Soaked in saliva and left on the ground. I tried to find the remaining two, with no luck.

My boyfriend sent me inside, and then sent me back inside when I came out with my pistol. When I was growing up, we put a dog down ourselves. Yes, it might seem cruel to some. But which seems more humane? Quick shot to the head, or having something injected into your veins that slowly stops your heart? That’s an easy question to answer to me. In any case, he wouldn’t let me shoot her. I have no use for a livestock-killing dog. And even less use for one that kills for sport instead of for food. I have always and will always feel this way. In any case, he sent me back into the house while he cleaned up the mess and put the no-good cur back in the pen. (She went to a new home on the other side of town a few days later.) He couldn’t find the other two chicks. He held me that night while I cried over the senseless loss of life. The next morning, I got up, still sad, and started my day. After I got dressed and had a cup of coffee, I pulled up my big girl panties and headed to the backyard to deal with cleaning up the coop and feeding the rabbits. Here is where the miracle comes in.

I opened my back door, and there, in all her glory, stood one of my New Hampshire Red chicks. She came right to me when I clucked. She became my shadow after that. Every day that I was in the yard, Lucy was right beside me. It was about two months before she got her name though. I always found her in the weirdest places. And one day, I went outside and had a mini-heart attack because I couldn’t find her. Remember now, the coop was under the rabbit hutch. I had a piece of wood on top of the coop holding the cover down. This smart hen had gotten herself up under the rabbit hutch, on top of the coop and had hunkered down there. All that came to mind was Ricky Ricardo’s voice saying, “Lucy! You got some splainin to do!!!”

My daughter, Teagan, playing with the rabbit while the chickens peck in the yard.

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