Morning Horror


All seven

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.


Who me?

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.


5 thoughts on “Morning Horror

  1. Hi Deborah,
    I met you at the Writers’ Institute conference in Madison last weekend, and we exchanged cards at the memoirs lunch table, so that’s how I came upon your humble blog 🙂

    I just wanted to give you my condolences for what happened to your dear chickens. I’ve never lived on a farm or raised those kinds of animals, but I know very well the feeling of responsibility and caring for animals that are dependent on us for their well being (I have a cockatiel and two guinea pigs), and I respect your devotion to them. It is so unfortunate what happened, but I encourage you to remember that this was not something you ever would have intentionally let happen — there are always random risks that living beings take just by virtue of being alive, and no parent/caregiver, no matter how protective they are, is capable of preventing 100% of them. I know it feels terrible, but you learned a valuable lesson from it, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for it forever.

    Best of luck to you and your writing endeavors, and I will continue to read your blog! Courage and strength to you!


  2. Hi Deborah,
    I stumbled across your blog post while searching for a photo of Light Brahma chicks and was so sorry to read of your loss. I fear this kind of mindless killing where we are as well. Though we seek to protect our animals, I can sort of understand a coyote or a fox taking one bird for food but for a raccoon to kill all of you magnificent birds at one go, is just heart-breaking.

    I realize that a few months have passed since the attack. I hope that you do consider replacing the birds. I find that having hens around adds such humor, and in a weird way, peace, to my life. I love sitting in with them as they turn in for the night.

    I picked up a few Buff Brahmas last year and just love the breed. One of my Brahmas has gone broody and when I went into the coop tonight, she’s taken over a quail nest and is incubating a dozen bobwhite eggs. This cannot end well. 🙂

    When I increased my flock this spring, I added five Light Brahmas to the mix. They are a week old and already they are starting to get the Brahma look and stature.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you aren’t sending your posts out in to the abyss 🙂 Interesting blog, I’ll check back.

    • Laura,
      Thanks for your lovely comments. The hen incubating the nest of bobwhites made me laugh (LOL). Let me know how it comes out.

      You are right about missing my hens. Every time I walk by the empty pen, I am flushed with the memory of losing my girls. It’s a bit late to replace them now, but I’m sure I will next Spring. My only hope this year is to find someone who raised Brahmas and don’t want to keep them over the winter.

      We’ve put in a vegetable garden again, and I will miss feeding the girls all the leftovers and damaged tomatoes.


  3. I’m so sorry to read this story of your loss. I lost 5 of our girls to falcons only a few weeks ago. My children were horrified. It’s also check an awful hopeless feeling.
    We have a few light brahma chick’s now, a few days old. That’s how I came across your blog. I hope you don find some lovely chicks to love on this spring.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ve pared down the demands on my time so I have time to finish my Young Adult novel. It’s about a girl trying to come to terms with her estranged mother with the help of a colt born the same day her dad died. Light Brahma chickens and other birds like pheasants have a prominent place in the story, so if you are interested in reading it, stay tuned. It’ll probably be a while, but I think it will be worth the wait.

      Enjoy those eggs. We have to buy ours now, but we pay for the organic, hoping they treat their hens with care. They certainly do have the best packaging to protect the large brown eggs (maybe from Light Brahmas).

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