Advice We've Been Given By People Who Know Their (Chicken) Shit:
-Do not name your chickens. (We did.)
-Prepare yourself to see at least one of your chickens die a horrible death. (We didn't.)
-In the event that your own dog kills one of your chickens, tie the dead chicken to your dog's collar until it rots, dissuading them from killing again. (No.)
The first chick we lost, we buried in a small, intimate ceremony in the front yard. Willy was three days old, had no eyes and had been nursed by hand since we got her the day after she hatched. Aidin mourned for the rest of the day, reminiscing over the cute things she had done, including that one time she cocked her tiny head to the side as though she was concentrating on what he was saying. It was a sad day, having put in a lot of care only to see our efforts fail. Aidin picked flowers. There is a small rock that serves as her headstone.
For the subsequent twenty chickens we lost, there was far less ceremony.
No-Eyed Willy: Illness.
Chicks 2-4: Neighbor's German Shepherd.
Chick 5: Illness
Chick 6: June (Our German Shepherd)
Chickens 7-9: Unknown predator.
Chicken 10-14: Unknown predator. Left no trace.
Chickens 15-18: Unknown Predator.
Chickens 19-20: Unknown predator. Left an explosion of feathers and, several yards away, a head.
*Chicken 21: As of an hour ago, still alive. Torn to shreds, currently in our bathtub but not expected to make it through the day.
Just to be clear, we began with thirty chickens and now we have ten (the realist in me is saying nine). We have a strong, sturdy coop of chain-link fencing around a cement foundation and still, whatever is getting them is undeterred by barriers and is, perhaps, magic.
The loss of our first few chickens was rough, but there is a gradual desensitization that comes with living in the country. Well that's sort of a lie. I mean, I bawled when my cat Smith died suddenly a few weeks ago, but he was cute and cuddly and liked being held like a baby. Chickens are basically impotent raptors. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for them. They're given zero survival skills, can't even fly, yet somehow they're made it this far. But they're not my pets. You might totally love your chickens! You might put your chickens in cute sweaters. Your chickens might have their own Instagram accounts and that's totally cool. To each their own.
Now, that said, yesterday morning when Cole opened the back door and said, "Mom there's a chicken head out here. Did you know?" Something in me really snapped. These are my chickens. I raised them. I got them through their first laying, when they were all like "OH GOD WHAT'S HAPPENING??" And I was like, "You're becoming a hen. That's an egg."
My point is, I don't want them suffer and I certainly don't want them to die. So now we go to war with whatever the hell is decimating my flock. Traps are set and we're ready. Dear God, Please don't let it be a weasel. How boring. Or a skunk, for obvious reasons. What would I even do with a skunk in a trap? Oh boy. I honestly didn't think about that until right at this moment. Anyway, this is what living in the country gives you. All these hard lessons to learn, a certain familiarity with death and occasionally, the rare opportunity to call into work with the excuse "A chicken emergency."