Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 113: R.I.P. David Bowie & the Girls


David Bowie at 1 week old

I’ve stayed away from the blog for about 10 days, trying to wrap my head around a recent tragedy and trying not to come off overly sentimental. But even after a separation, I’m still ridiculously emotional about the horrific bloodshed in my hen house.

I had been away from the hens for a couple of days, handling some business at my folks’ house in Oregon. When I got home on Sunday, I walked the wooded path to my coop to check on the girls and collect eggs. David Bowie and two salt and pepper speckled hens were MIA. Another two black and tan Laced-Wyondotes were dead next to the feeder with their throats ripped out. This was no April Fools.

Poor Henny, an old bantam far too old to lay eggs, and Lucy, a black Astrolope I’ve never really liked, stood stunned as statues in the middle of the fenced in run. Garret hauled away the two black and tans and I searched the woods for David Bowie and the others. I found a hole dug underneath the run lined in blue-black feathers. I knew David was dead.

From what I could piece together, some small animal dug under the fenced yard, entered the coop through the chicken door, and killed 5 girls, dragging 3 of them away. I examined the hole littered with feathers. The hole was too small for a coyote. I thought about fox, raccoon, opossum, and skunk. There are so many coop predators.

Opossum and skunk usually eat eggs first. A large hen is a bit too much of a challenge, but it is possible. A dozen tasty eggs filled two nest boxes, making me think it couldn’t have been the skunk or opossum.

My most common chicken enemy is the coyote. But in my experience, coyotes run in, grab a hen, and run off, often completing the kill somewhere in the cover of the woods. It’s a rather bold predator that wipes out nearly the whole coop, killing for the sake of killing.

Fox are rare in these parts. I’ve seen a couple down by the waterfront in Seabeck, but never on my own property. The hole was about the right size for a fox, and I’ve read that fox will come in and kill everything in the coop, but drag away only what it can eat. With the exception of David Bowie, the birds weighed about 6lbs each. A 6lb bird is more than a meal for a fox. David Bowie, a Crested Polish so named for her white plume of feathers topping a jet black body was not as large, only about 3lbs. I can’t imagine a fox eating David and two big ladies.

Garret and I filled the hole with large rocks and reinforced the chicken wire. Raccoons can be tricky, or so I have heard. I researched raccoon attacks and read a few articles featured in Backyard Poultry. Raccoon seemed possible. They often work in tandem, so carting off more than one bird made sense. But I wasn’t sure.

I read how raccoons reach their hands through the smallest openings in the wire and pull a bird through. I didn’t worry about that in my coop. The coop is a fortress and the outdoor wire mesh run had been fortified. The only holes remaining were quarter-sized octagons constructing the weave of the wire. Surely a raccoon couldn’t snag one of my girls through a hole that small. Wrong…

In the morning, I walked down to check the remaining two girls only to find Henny’s headless body pulled partially through a quarter-sized octagon in the mesh. Some creature reached its hand through the wire and caught her off guard. The animal then gnawed off her head and neck, exposing her wishbone. Only Lucy remained. Lucy is the least-loved of the flock, but evidently she is also the fastest. I bawled. Lucy squawked.

After a raccoon has a successful night’s hunt, like in my chicken coop, it will return to the scene of the crime again and again until it’s wiped everything out. I didn’t love Lucy, but I wasn’t about to see her dissected through mesh fencing like Henny.

I grabbed the axe from the woodpile, deciding to eat Lucy before the coons got to her. I sat with her on a stump for a good while, trying to remember how I had once seen my mother kill chickens some 35 years ago. I googled: “how to kill a chicken,” on my iPhone. I even watched a little U-tube. Lucy cackled at my selection of short clips.

I remembered reading a quote once, something to the effect that you can kill a chicken and eat for one day, or you can let it live and eat for many. I decided that one fresh egg per day was better than none. Besides, I could not see myself swinging Lucy in large circles until she passed out, so I could then lop her head off. I put Lucy back in the coop, boarded off access to the outdoor run, and heaped a large ration of golden corn on top of her nest box.

Lucy lived through a couple days of terror, and then I almost killed her. Locked in the safety of her coop, the extra helpings of corn soothed her. By the third day, she dropped a reddish brown egg with a marigold yellow center. I poached it for breakfast alongside a razor clam. One egg a day is better than none and much better than one meal of stewed hen.

R.I.P. Henny. You were a sweet little bird


  1. I am so sorry for your loss! I know they're "just chickens," but it always kind of pisses me off when people say that. Sure they are just chickens, and not sapient (or even very smart), but they are living things which are a part of your life. I mean, isn't that part of the whole idea of this project, the "killing spree," to know these food sources as living things, and really, it is sad when anything living loses its life, however natural the predation, because life is awesome, probably even for chickens. Hell, i sometimes cry when i see a massive tree uprooted by a storm, so maybe i'm too thenthitive about that stuff. Anyway, my sympathies.

  2. Also, i had to laugh at the person on FB who thought the actual David Bowie had passed away, because it reminded me of this ex of mine who had David Bowie hair and which one of my friends just called "David Bowie" instead of his real name. Except we had to then amend that to "Not the Actual David Bowie" because of the massive confusion from folks who would overhear us talking about him and assume we knew the actual David Bowie.