I raised them from chicks.
This morning, I went to the barn to feed. I was met with piles of white feathers stained with blood, strewn across the chicken yard. Four Light Brahma egg-layers were dead. I ran inside the barn and into their coop where I found the other three. All seven slaughtered.
Horror seized me. I closed my eyes and then the door. My guilt would not so easily be confined. I had been careless and had forgotten to secure the chicken hatch to the inside coop. But I thought I had built in a cushion of safety for hurried nights when the little door was left ajar. The outside area was completely enclosed with small mesh wire and a roof. The fencing was intact. What got in? How? Where is it now?
Raccoon, said Greg when I called him on my cell. Then silence.
He was two thousand miles away. I would have to deal with this myself. But not know. I can’t right now. I managed to feed the barn cats, who all seemed unmolested, and the horses who were restless to get out of the barn even though they could defend themselves from claws and fangs with the strike of a hoof.
As I tossed fresh hay out on the flat for them to nibble, I imagined the panic in the chicken coop during the night while I slept comfy and warm on the second floor that overlooks the north end of the barn where my chickens reside. I envisioned the flurry of feathers and the loud squawks as they helplessly fell to the offender who rejected their meat as sustenance on a less than cold winter’s night. They must have been disturbed. had I just missed the chance to save at least one or two? What a waste.
As I returned to the house, calculating the clean up, I saw the overlapping sheet metal along the bottom of the barn inside the chicken’s outside run. The foundations stones that held the closure secure had been removed, why I can’t remember. Stupid. It was my responsibility to keep all my animals safe. Am I getting too old to be trusted with their care? One mistake and terrible things happen. No more chickens. They’re too vulnerable, and age has impaired my attention to be sure all is secure each night before we head up stairs to bed. I’ve left it to Greg whenever he has been home. Good thing he was gone when this happened. I would have taken out my anger on him. It could have happened any night…to either of us. But it happened on my watch.
It’s why I don’t like to travel. I don’t trust easily. Never have. Experience has taught me well. There was the time Greg and I went to Florida in the van. We lived in a house in town then, in Indiana. We drove straight through, a twenty-four hour drive each way to where my family had gathered. Mom and Jack were out from LA visiting her sister. We took Tanya, our sable German Shepherd with us and left behind Beau, our Burmese cat that I found on the day I met Greg. We left him in the care of a neighbor who promised to come in to feed him and give him fresh water and cat litter.
When we returned home a week later, it took thirty minutes to find him–trapped in a four foot tall empty card board box in the basement. We had no idea how long he had been in there. His caretaker didn’t know either. If only I had taken him to the vet that day. But there were no visible signs of injury and we were exhausted from the long trip.
He was dead by morning. Dehydration. Too long without water. He must have been trapped in that box crying for help for days. No one heard. Just like the girls screaming for rescue last night.
No more travel for me. Not until I have fewer animals and a means to assure their safety while I am away. Not an easy task to accomplish. It’s a struggle for me and I really care. People don’t get my love of animals. Some do, but they have animals of their own to care for. So many animals suffer at our hands and need help. Mankind is the vermin destroying the natural world. Arrogant, we only care for our own needs, our own luxuries, regardless of the cost to any of the animals with whom we share this fragile environment. We need to change our ways. And I need to find a better way to secure the animals under my care without harming the wild place outside our walls.
First I must secure any food in the barn, and return the dogs to their patrol outside. They’ve been confined to a yard for their own safety, but it’s restricted their ability to protect the property from encroachers. It’s a difficult balance living in the country, dealing with life and death, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
I’ll need a little more time to gather the courage to clean up the scene of the crime. The ground is too frozen to bury the girls so I am left with the dumpster as my only choice. I cringe at the thought, but something has to be done to clean up the devastation. I can’t leave them their to rot and be picked over, even if it is the more natural way. There is nothing natural about being trapped in a cage with no chance of escape. My imaginings of their struggle will rob me of sleep for many nights to come, justly so.
I’ll miss my girls…every time we have scraps from the garden or kitchen. I guess they’ll just have to go into the compost. I won’t have to worry about blowing grass clipping toward them when I mow. They devoured the fresh grass. Maybe I can find a chicken or two who need a good home, but first we’ll have to coon proof their space.