Free Range a.k.a Heartbreak #FarmlifeFriday

This is an “In Memoriam” post.

We’ve lost a lot of birds. This whole farming thing has taught us and our eight year old daughter a lot about the circle of life.

When we first got birds back in Arizona, it was an impulse buy, of course, because they had just built a new ranching store in town and they sold chicks. Why wouldn’t we get a couple? We bought two Cornish cross chicks with the intention of eating them. We thought it would be a good lesson for our daughter; she could see where her food came from, how it was raised, and how it was slaughteted. Knowing where your food comes from is just a tiny piece of our healthy lifestyle. Long story short, those chicks lived out their lives without being slaughtered but died within about 2 months because those chickens are bred to grow rapidly and if you don’t kill them they’ll usually die from heart attacks. We hope we gave them an enjoyable 2 months. So far we’re up to 2 deaths in this bird adventure.

Flash forward to this year in Virginia. We started with 5 chickens and 2 ducks. We had them free range around the yard. They loved it. More grass and bugs then they could ever eat. And free range should equal happier birds!  (Below is all the birds right after we got them)

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Happy birds… until they’re eaten.

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This was Henrietta. She was MY bird. She would ALWAYS come over to me and sit on my lap or on my head. She loved me and I loved her. She was our first girl to disappear. One day in the mid afternoon I went outside and she was gone. No feathers or anything. I suspected she was taken by a bigger bird because of the lack of evidence. 

Within a week, all but 2 were gone. We still aren’t sure but we think either fox, raccoons, or coyotes were the culprits. We were left with 2 hens, Daisy and Caramel.

Then we moved to the house we live in now. Within a couple weeks Caramel was taken. RIP.

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Poor Daisy! She had seen so much death in her short life. At this point we were making sure all the birds were locked up tight at night but we still really wanted them to be free range.

We got more birds.

Then an owl happened and killed 2 ducks. We know this because owls rip the heads off of their prey. We found 2 headless ducks.

Then this happened.

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That’s an approximately 7ft black racer. He slithered into our coop and ate 2 of our bantams, Willow and Tough Nut. That day, we revamped the coop and installed smaller wire.

Then a hawk happened. This one really got to me. I was putting the birds in early one afternoon because I was going to be out late. It was maybe 4pm. I called everyone in and I couldn’t find Spicy. I called her and looked all over. I went around to the front of the house and watched the hawk fly off. All that was left were feathers. I cried for an hour. I was so devastated.

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A week later the hawk was back and took Rough Nut, our last bantam. That was wasn’t as devastating to me as Spicy but still sad because she was a very unique chicken. We called her our “duck chicken”. We aren’t sure why but she thought she was a duck. She followed the ducks, walked in line with them, slept in the duck house, and even cleaned her feathers when the ducks did. The hawk that got her was most likely a Cooper’s Hawk: small but very deadly. (Below is Rough Nut snoozing with the ducks)

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We asked everyone what we should do. The general consensus was, “You’re birds are free range? Then you’re never going to have birds.” And we also learned that once a hawk knows you have food they’ll hang around. So now the birds live in the coop unless we’re outside with them. We’re on the process of building a big, covered run so they have more space during the day. We haven’t had a death since. But we’re still on high alert. The other day we looked up and saw an eagle. A freaking bald eagle. While majestic and awesome to see in your yard, we don’t want them around. Even though we only have big birds left we’re pretty sure an eagle can handle them.

So while we want our birds to have “extremely” enjoyable lives free ranging, we are settling for giving them “very” enjoyable lives… where they’re kept alive. We think we are doing a pretty good job. But it’s sure been difficult on the heart. You think you’re doing the right thing and then nature reminds you that it’s in charge.

And good ‘olev Daisy, our runt, is becoming such a beautiful hen despite her own heartache watching her friends die. If only she’d start laying eggs!!!!

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