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 sophie and rosie
 

 Chickens

 

What happened next totally amazed me

 

 

The chicken saga started out innocently enough with three dozen day old chicks. My daughter and I had gone to her friend’s graduation in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend. In our absence, my son purchased chicks and set them up in the downstairs bathroom. Bathtub with an overhead light worked well as their first home. Didn’t take them long to outgrow this setup.

Next they were moved to a carefully constructed coop in the barn. Here they grew and seemed quite content. In due time we had more eggs than we knew what to do with. It’s hard to eat three dozen or so a day. Did make quite a few angel food cakes from scratch (that takes a dozen). Gave a lot to family.

In my mind’s eye, the ideal arrangement for chickens on a farm was to let them run free range. So after a while we let them out during the day and closed the coop after they roosted at night. This would have been fine except for the dogs. At the time, we had Belle and Ginger. They were here before the chickens came and seemed to think the new additions were free for the taking. We strongly discouraged this idea but were never quite successful in deterring them from chicken chasing. The first to go was Jake, our rooster. He tried to put up a fight but dogs outnumbered him. They became quite efficient at working as a team. So much so that a prey had little chance if they set their minds to kill. Once they got a taste for chicken they continued to stalk and kill the birds whenever we weren’t looking.

Bob, our only horse at the time, liked the chickens. They would graze side by side and be perfectly happy. The sight and sound of them were part of his everyday life. Whenever the dogs went after one, if he was nearby, he would run them off. On one occasion he was too late. The dogs had killed a chicken before he realized what they were doing. What happened next totally amazed me. When he saw them with the bird he ran after them. In their flight they dropped it and kept on going. Bob came up to the dead creature and sniffed at it. Of course it didn’t move. He nudged it, still no movement. This was his friend and I don’t believe he fully understood that it was dead. He seemed to think it would be okay if it would just get up. So he took it’s wing in his mouth and shook it up and down very gently. At this point I was not quite sure what to do. Bob kept trying to wake up his friend and was becoming agitated when his efforts failed. I didn’t want to approach him to take the friend away but I did want to stop this whole scenario - it was breaking my heart. Food was the solution. I went to the barn and made as much noise as I could in the process of getting some grain out for him. Curiosity got the better of him and he came to check out what I was doing. Once he was in the barn eating I went out to retrieve and dispose of the remains.

Our chicken population started to decrease at an unnatural rate. Were losing numbers at night while they were in the closed coop. Can’t blame dogs for that. On one occasion, found door to the coop open. Wasn’t locked, just latched. Found evidence (red fur) in nearby fencing of fox raids. Suspected raccoon activity. Spotlighted a few in trees near coop at night.

My husband decided to stay in the barn one night to check out activity, with his shotgun, of course. Wasn’t long after dark the hens began to get agitated. Slowly and quietly the Mr approached the coop. Sure enough there was a raccoon near the door. When he went after that one he saw another just out the corner of his eye in another direction. Still chasing the first, around the barn they went and he saw it climb atop the barn and run out of sight. Back to the coop he went only to find another trying to unlatch the coop door. The raccoons ran him ragged for some time, always just out of shotgun range.

We contacted the DNR to come capture our raccoons. They set traps all around the barn and nearby hollow. All they managed to catch was a young male raccoon and our dog, Thelma (several times). She loved the bait.

No matter what we did, the slaughter continued. Eventually, we were down to three chickens. They only survived because they decided to leave the barn and roost on our porch at night. One of the three disappeared, leaving only two - Sophie and Rosie. Yeah, we named them. They became almost part of the family. Dogs even allowed them to run free range unharmed.

During the day, they would go to the barn to share grain with the horses. Grazed all over, never too far from their humans. Sophie was especially fond of "bugging" with the lawn mower.

For a while they still laid eggs. Did become a challenge to find them at times. In the original Farm Journal reference to "one egg day or two egg day" told how the day went on the farm. A code of sorts.

Sophie and Rosie finally had a roost on wood box near the kitchen door. They roosted their every evening and during bad weather. Many a visitor stopped in their tracks when they were met eye to eye by two big fat hens.

"Do they bite?" was a frequent question. My answer, same as for dogs, "Only if I tell’em to." City folk respect that.

Summer of ‘96, we had to put Rosie down. Saw a red-tailed hawk strike a fatal blow. Broke her breast bone.

Sophie lived on several more years. Died a peaceful death, winter of 2004.
Attempted to repopulate with new chicks a time or two. Never made a go of it. Sophie’s death marked the end of our chicken saga.

Sophie’s Obituary

 

 

Last updated 23 February 2010

© 2001 - 2010 T.K.Ash