Death came to the farm last night proving that nature is indeed red in tooth and claw in the form of some mangy, vicious foxes. We were appalled to find that all six of our chickens were slaughtered last night. We found two, headless but otherwise whole, and some entrails by our fence. The other four hens were gone, leaving only large piles of bloodied feathers. Today I’ve been swinging between being upset and furious. It was really hard telling our oldest about the hens (as he’s looked after them since they arrived and really enjoyed them) and I’m not quite sure he quite understands what it means for them to be dead and eaten.
We’ve now been on our smallholding for six months and the chickens were our first livestock. We rescued four ex-battery hens, and bought two fancy hens to act as mothers to the fertilised eggs we planned to hatch our meat birds from. We didn’t intend to eat them, so we named them, and we really enjoyed them. Snowy used to hop over the fences and wander the whole homestead – just this weekend she was pottering about in our old pond. Chancery and brandy used to like pecking at an old bin lid to play poultry percussion. All four of the browns used to come over to be picked up when we walked in and all of the hens used to run in their funny bumbling way towards anyone that walked into their paddock with a bucket. But strangely, although I enjoyed having them here, I didn’t feel like they were pets. I’m enormously sad but (don’t think me callous) it’s not because I felt enormously affectionate about these hens as individuals, it’s more because some creatures that relied entirely on us died, and because their last minutes would have been frightening and painful. The guilt is extraordinary. I don’t think I’m being too much of an urban refugee about this but I suppose I’ll have to become more stoic. We plan to breed and eat our own meat animals so I’ll have to be fine with death in creatures I’ve cared for, but it’s the waste (and the violence) that is upsetting. Why kill the extra hens they didn’t want to eat?
This weekend we had been clearing out an old compost area behind the barn to make a huge new enclosure for the hens (they’d still free range the paddocks in the day but would have a bit more space in their run). The idea was to use it for our chickens and future ducks and geese. We will still complete it, and we’ll replace our poultry stock, but we’re going to go all guns blazing up against the sodding foxes. Tonight I am genuinely sad. I’m very upset that the chickens died in such a horrible way, and that the stupid foxes went into a killing frenzy and killed more than they could eat. Poor, poor chickens. I try to comfort myself with the fact that the ex-battery hens would have been slaughtered six months ago if we hadn’t rescued them, but it’s small consolation. I took the dog up to the orchard after putting the children to bed and it was horrible to wander through a paddock filled with feathers, and not to pass by a house full of happily burbling hens. Farewell lovely chickens, for the brief time that we had you, you were valued.