Thursday, February 18, 2010

Josephine, September 15-Februaray 5, 2010

Every time I think I have some control over this chicken thing, that is, I can raise a chicken from a young age, bond with some little, or big thing about its personality, and feel confident that I am acting responsibly for another animal's well-being, I am brought back to the harsh reality that life is so fleeting for the smallest of beings and I am not in charge.

That's what happened two weeks ago when I let the girls out into the yard after I returned from an early morning run. I've done that dozens of times...the automatic letting them out to play and explore, search out tasty morsels (even in February!) and just be chickens. I went in to shower without giving them another thought and then did my usual visual search of the girls in the yard after. Since there are some blind spots in the yard I wasn't concerned that I couldn't see them and I went out to the kitchen back steps to check on everyone. Some bird flew out from under the steps and I thought at first it was a morning dove, just by the flutter of its wings. But as I looked at it up in the tree I realized this was a hawk and with absolute dread I ran out and looked under the porch steps where I found Josephine, already dead.

I'm the kind of person that says a silent prayer over road kill and I cannot stand to see another animal suffer in any manner. So finding Josephine like this was almost unbearable and I was consumed with grief. The hawk kept watch in that tree for 2 more hours and it then moved right into my driveway where it sat for another hour staring at the porch. I know the hawk was just doing what it needed to but it was awful.

The other 4 girls, being more 'street-wise' had scrambled for the back of the yard where they were hiding in the pile of Christmas trees I have gathered over the past few years. My guess is that Josephine got caught near the driveway and headed for the safe spot under the steps, or so she thought. (Am I giving too much credit to a small chicken?) I was surprised the hawk followed her there and I am just grateful it was not long that Josephine suffered.

Naomi, bless her heart, was there for me and together we buried Josephine on that cold winter morning. Naomi read from the Book of Common Prayer and I just cried a lot. Josephine joined Althea and Eunice in our backyard where we have set aside space for our beloved girls. She couldn't have been a sweeter chicken...she loved to climb on my back when she thought the big girls were picking on her. And she faithfully played with Hazel, whether it was in the basement or out in the tractor.

My next thought was how was Hazel ever going to blend in with the other hens now that she didn't have Josephine. I know I'm talking about these chickens like they were my children but that's sometimes how they feel. Since Josephine's death I've tried to get Hazel out to the tractor more and to let all the girls mingle with supervision. No one left the coop for 2 days after the hawk attack as I was a wreck about a return visit. Since then I've seen no sign of that hawk though another one visited this week and I scurried everyone back in the coop when it came by.

I've now received the 'Hen Saver', a heavy cotton apron that Hazel will wear to keep the others from pecking her. All I need to do is add a neck piece and I hope by this weekend to have Hazel try it out. If it works, I'll let her start spending nights in the coop over the next week.

We head out to Sharon's mid-week for a quick visit and Sharon has a little hen in mind for us to bring back. I'm not sure whether to take it...another hen, another name, another chance something will happen to it. But then again, it could be a little spark plug and a hen that will add personality to the group. I won't know until she (maybe K something?) comes back with us.

Certainly, raising chickens has had more drama, more heartache, and more pleasure than I ever would have expected and I have no regrets. I pick up those glorious eggs almost every day and I give thanks for the bounty I receive. I'll just have to continue on this journey, wherever it leads, and be grateful for all I been given. Thank you Josephine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's been a very long time since I have posted anything here. Much has been going on in the backyard and once again there have been some changes.

Taking a few steps back...I spent much of the summer and fall wondering why my girls didn't lay eggs. For the second summer there were no eggs from the two girls who could have laid - Delores and Beatrice. To give Beatrice credit, she managed to lay about one egg a month but Delores just counted on her good looks to get her by. Flora and Gertrude were too young but I knew that from October on there could be eggs. Meanwhile, I just enjoyed their company and antics and continued to buy eggs, though I didn't have much interest in eating them.

My step-daughter, Sharon, suggested I add two more chicks so that eventually, there would be a more continuous supply of eggs as older girls stopped laying and younger girls began. It certainly made sense and I had sadly come to see this year that chickens don't live forever, or even that long. But I had other dilemmas...I was only permitted by the city to have 4 hens and I wasn't sure I was up for the task of blending in new girls. Flora and Gertrude were easily accepted but Eunice had had a tough time of it.

So Naomi and I discussed our options and in the fall we brought home two 'foster' chicks. Irene and Hazel, both Araucanas lived in the kitchen in the recycling bin and was it nice to have them with their little chirps. Hazel had a rough start at Sharon's as the 'runt' and she arrived with few feathers on her back. Irene towered over her but was gentle and the feathers grew back.

Unfortunately, Irene turned out to be Irving with the saddest adolescent crow you've ever heard and on Naomi's next trip out to see the grand-kids in NY she took 'Irene' and brought back Josephine, another Buff. It's so nice to have an endless supply of chicks in the family! Josephine was from the same group as the others so everyone knew each other...well, as far as chickens go.

Keep in mind that we were still working with 'foster' chicks and were still on the fence about keeping them but we started to give them some outside time in the tractor while the big girls hovered with curiosity. I had also gotten into the habit of letting the chicks sit in the kitchen on the edge of the recycling bin as they enjoyed roosting there and were generally well behaved....except for when they weren't and they tested their wings in the kitchen. I seemed to be the only one who found this endearing and after a few flights around the kitchen Naomi banned them to the wire covered bin and I knew we had to move them outdoors.

It was then that I contacted the Board of Health to request my permit be extended to 6 hens knowing I would abide by their decision and if necessary, two would return to NY. In hopeful anticipation of a new officially extended family I started moving the girls out to the coop at night. I still kept them separate during the day as Flora and Gertrude, now laying eggs (hallelujah!), seemed a bit feisty and I worried about them pecking the little ones.

The overnights worked out well but then the time in the run became a little chaotic for the little ones so I continued to keep them apart except for short periods. I worried especially for Hazel who seemed more vulnerable. One Saturday morning in December, when things seemed to be going well, I left them all in the run for two hours to mingle. It was a big mistake and when I returned poor Hazel had been attacked so badly that the back of her neck was completely exposed and bleeding. Oh, such guilt.... We brought her inside and cleaned and bandaged her neck. The wound was so serious I didn't think she was going to survive. She barely tolerated the dressings but with a topical antibiotic and some other antibiotic added to her water the wound healed and the feathers grew back. But now she lived in the basement...

On the warmer days I put Hazel in the tractor with Josephine and on other days I brought Josephine in for 'play dates'. I now had a good sized cage so at least there was room for them. I researched protective jackets for Hazel and fashioned one out of fleece, hoping that would discourage pecking. But the cold weather made it hard to be consistent about getting Hazel out.

Josephine was holding her own in the coop though she was more afraid of the girls than anything and she'd run away from them even when they were ignoring her. Sometimes she'd hide between my legs or jump on my back or head. She loved being held and was a real sweety. There was only occasional pecking at Josephine, nothing like what Hazel experienced.

During all of this drama I had my hearing in front of the Board of Health in late January and I found a much different board than three years ago during my initial permit application. They were open and receptive this time and seemed genuinely interested in what I wanted to do plus they commented on the increase in permit applications since last year's newspaper article. That was wonderful the hear!

I had my permit approved the next day for 6 hens!