Our backyard chickens have been enjoying the 3 acres we now live on, foraging for bugs and eating the tops off freshly sprouting grass and weeds. Each day, they venture further and further away from the safety of the coop. In the back of my mind, I worried about them being attacked by a predator, but so far, I have not seen anything in the area except a few hawks, and they have always kept their distance.
I should have paid attention to those fears in the back of my mind. The other night, as we sat down to eat dinner, my wife just happened to look out the window at the right time to see a fox on top of a chicken. She bolted out the door, scaring it off. Rosy, the chicken that had been attacked, sprang up and headed for the coop. My oldest daughter, Brynn, started to freak out and cry, as these chickens are more than just chickens to her; they are her beloved pets.
She spent all last summer playing with them, teaching them to roost on the trapeze bar of her swing set so she could swing them. She has also taught them to sit with her calmly while she paints their toenails. Understandably, she panicked, waiting to see if they were all okay.
My wife and I headed out the door searching for our chickens to see if they were all okay; we had three total: Heart, Rosy, and Sally. Heart seemed to be okay as she headed around the shed towards the coop. As I headed down the hill, I saw Sally, a lump of white and black feathers, lying in the grass. I called out to my wife, who now was trying to catch Rosy to see if she was okay, telling her that I found Sally and it didn’t look good for her.
My wife looked up at our daughter, who was standing at the patio door, to see if she had heard me. Sally is Brynn’s favorite chicken because she is the friendliest of the three and likes to be held. This chicken will let Brynn hold her like a baby and go to sleep in her lap.
As I continued towards Sally, I thought for sure she was dead. The sinking feeling I had in my stomach got worse as I approached the bird. How would I tell my daughter that the chicken she loved so much was dead? Should I tell her to go back into the house as I clean up the mess and dispose of the body? Should I let her hold Sally one last time to say goodbye, and if she wants to hold her one last time to say goodbye, how will she react if Sally is badly mauled?
Anxiety was setting in as I came up on the lump of feathers. To my relief, Sally turned her head and looked at me. She was alive but still lying still. I bent down and gently picked her up. She didn’t struggle, attempt to get away, or move much at all. The anxiety rushed back as I picked her up. Now, what am I going to do? What if Sally is suffering and on the edge of death? The humane thing would be to kill her to stop the suffering. I`m not a chicken farmer. These are our pets; how do you humanely put down a chicken? How do I tell my kids why I had to kill Sally? I looked up at the house, and Brynn was now crying even more historically, seeing me hold a motionless bird. I called up to her, saying she was alive and okay, not really knowing if she was okay or not, but in the heat of the moment, I wanted to comfort my daughter.
I headed up to the house carrying Sally in my arms. This was the longest walk ever, as Sally was still not moving much more than her head, dreading the thought that I may have to tell Brynn we will have to put Sally down. I reached the door and proceeded to lay Sally on the patio so I could inspect the damage. To my relief, Sally stood right back up as if everything was okay. Rosy and Sally had lost a bunch of feathers and had torn skin, but most of the wounds seemed superficial. I think Sally didn’t try to run from me because she was in shock or playing dead. The most concerning injury was with Rosy. She was sneezing a lot, as if she had fluid in her lungs. I wondered if she had a punctured lung. We made sure to give them some scratch and water before locking them up in the coop for the night. All night I was hoping that my assessment of their injuries where correct and that they would survive the night. I was still worried about Rosie’s sneezing, wondering if she had a punctured lung.
In the morning, I made sure I was the first one to the coop to check on the chickens. I wanted to prepare myself to tell the kids if any of their chickens didn’t make it through the night. I was relieved to find all of them happily clucking about, ready for some fresh scratch to start the morning out right.
After surviving that event, we are much more careful when letting our chickens out to forage. Unfortunately, this means less free time foraging for bugs and other tasty tidbits. However, we still love to garden and spend time outdoors, so we let them out to the free range when we are outside.
My next backyard project will be to build a more extensive run, so when we are not able to let them roam freely, they will have a large protected space to hang out in.