29 January 2012

And Then There Were Two

The cats and chickens got along great.  Thankfully.
One of the staple livestock of any hobby farm are chickens.  It wasn't long after we settled onto our acreage that neighbors and coworkers were offering dozens of varieties of poultry for free.  We took one woman up on her donation and inherited forty hens and one old rooster.
The flock's king and queen: Derek (the big guy at the left) and Queeny (far right)
Our flock consisted of everything from Barnevelders, New Hampshires, a pair of buff ameraucanas sisters named Henrietta and Georgeanna, a benevolent silver-laced Wyandotte called Queeny and a gentle giant blue Cochin rooster named Derek.  Overwhelmingly, our collection consisted of leghorns who spent their retirement from commercial production hens at our farm.
The twins: Georganna and Henrietta
With such diversity, the eggs we collected were naturally as colorful as an Easter basket and fresher than anything served at the grocery store.  At peak production, a hen can lay an egg every 26 hours.  Even in their old age, the girls produced more eggs than we could possibly eat.  We collected recycled cartons and handed out farm fresh eggs by the dozen at church, work and around the neighborhood.

Once Derek went the way of all the earth, we picked up another gratuitous rooster.  I should have known by the crazy look in the young leghorn's yellow eyes that he'd be a handful.  Robbie quickly became infamous for chasing down small children, stalking unsuspecting victims and sparring them from behind.  Still, he did his duty watching over the hens and crowed occasionally to make our farm feel a little more quaint.

As long as the girls and Robbie had fresh food and water, hay in their nest boxes and clean bedding, they were content to wander about without much attention.  In a way, that was their downfall.  Before we noticed that their numbers had been severely reduced, we had less than half the hens we'd started with.  Once in a while, a hen died of old age but our flock was beginning to be culled by a clever predator.

Though the hens figured out how to climb a rickety ladder to roost in the rafters for safety, the sneaky fox or weasel figured out how to scare them down.  There were never any bodies in the morning--they were just gone.  I closed the door at night but it was to no avail.  One by one, they disappeared.  The morning Robbie didn't crow was the morning we knew he'd met his fate.

And then there were two.  Our once flourishing retirement community had been devastated in a matter of weeks.  As sad as it was, that's life on a farm.  Without a dog to protect them, there was little standing in the way of the mystery killer and a quick meal.
We'll have hens again someday.  When we do, I'm hoping we'll have learned a thing or two about keeping any tricky predators from making dinner out of our hens.  That or get a reliable watch dog.

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