A tiny account of our daily happenings with our little flock of backyard chickens.
Part 1 of 2 (due to character limitations) A cautionary tale that is totally true:I too was once held captive by the trance of newborn chicks. The sweet odors of feathers still moist from the inner sanctum of the egg may start in your nose, but they quickly grab a hold of your heart.I remember it like yesterday, bringing home the chicks, setting up the coop, and watching the wonder of nature play out before my very eyes. That’s when the good Lord changed the course of my plans as He has been known to do from time to time.I was walking through the woods that bordered my property when I heard the distress call of a tiny bird coming from the thicket up ahead. Acting on instinct I raced ahead and brushed aside some thorny branches only to see a helpless hatchling chirping with all the voice it could muster. It was chirping for food, for mother, for…a chance.I scooped up the baby bird and brought it back to my coop, determined to raise it as if it was my own (not that the other chicks were literally “my own”, but you get the idea). The baby certainly didn’t match the chicks, but it took to the warm light of the incubator just the same. And though it was bigger, its egg tooth was just as fresh and it was just as helpless.The days passed and it became clear that this little bird was not just not a chicken; it was indeed not not a chicken hawk. The unmistakable head of a raptor and rapidly developing talons were telltale signs that I had a Buteo jamaicensis on my hands. I immediately went dizzy as the realization of what responsibility laid ahead hit me smack across the face.The next few months were challenging, but the chicken hawk and the chickens seemed to come to understanding that, though they might be mortal enemies in the real world, in the shelter of this backyard coop there would be a détente of sorts. By constantly monitoring the diet of the natural predator, he was free to turn his attention to understanding his coop-mates and appreciating their lifestyle. As the chickens and the chicken hawk moved into adolescence, I was proud that in my backyard utopia, there seemed have been a peaceful niche carved out in an otherwise predatory world. I would soon learn that you can subvert nature for only so long. Actually, two years, one month, and four days is actually how long you can subvert nature.I still remember the cool spring morning when I discovered that life would never be the same in the backyard coop. The chicken hawk (since named Big Red on account of his big red tail feathers) had his wing over one of the hens (since named Hen #12 on account of the “12” sharpie-d onto the top of her head). It was the unmistakable embrace of affection that comes only in the post-coital moments of avian life. Big Red and #12 had done the unthinkable, and now I would once again have to pray that nature would be kind to the unnatural alliance that I had fostered.Soon after Hen #12 laid two eggs two days apart. One was noticeably larger than the other and they differed greatly in color. I breathed a sigh of relief as it appeared that nature, in its wisdom, had not created some sort of beastly hybrid of chicken and chicken hawk. Whether it would have been called a chicken chicken hawk or a chicken hawk chicken, the potential for a defilement of all that is holy in animal husbandry had been averted (as well as having to choose between the two name iterations). A month later a chicken and chicken hawk were born hours apart. One a perfectly normal chicken hawk and the other a standard chicken, though both with a shock of red under the neck, just below the beak. I decided I would attempt to recreate the success of my former experiment and raise the two together in one coop.
Part 2 of 3 (due to character limitations)A few weeks passed and it was obvious that the young chicken hawk felt the need to test his now sturdy wings. It was time for Big Red to accompany his fledgling on his first flight. Lil’ Red took to the air like a bird, and it was immediately obvious that he would not be content to hang around the chicken coop like his father had over the years. He wanted to explore his new found freedom. Days would go by and we wouldn’t see Lil’ Red at the coop. His brother, meanwhile, never strayed very far from the brood. He was developing as a young rooster should. He was gaining the confidence to strut his stuff and the whole coop had come to accept him as their leader and symbol of strength.As the chickens and Red would stray into the yard each day, it became clear that Lil’ Red and Son of Hen #12 would not grow up in the same world. Indeed that world was changing rapidly as Big Red was aging and had lost his normal zest for living. Hen #12 had suddenly passed away. When chicken hawks mate they mate for life, even if they happen to mate with a chicken. Big Red was slowly dying of a broken heart.Two months later I buried Big Red out by the still in the woods. When I looked heavenward to say a prayer, I saw Lil’ Red watching from the trees. It was obvious that he had been totally assimilated to life in the wild. I doubted that he even remembered the circumstances of his birth or his old home in the coop. He must have remembered his father, though, as I could see a look of uncontrollable rage in his eyes. Given his strong binocular vision and relatively large eyes, he could certainly see the fear in mine.The next day started like any other day around the old coop. I was spreading feed and the chickens were eating it. As usual, Son of Hen #12 was keeping the pecking order in line. Coop life was humming along in an orderly fashion. Just then a shadow passed over the ground. It was unmistakably that of Lil’ Red. He had come to pay a visit to the chickens he blamed for the death of his father. Swooping down Lil’ Red landed in front of the flock, spreading his wings in a menacing fashion. He was daring any chicken to step forward and take him on. The hens scattered as one chicken stepped forward. It was Son of Hen #12. The two birds cocked their heads at each other as they prepared to square off. Any familiarity had long since disappeared. This was an ancient blood-feud that could only be settled one way. The two birds leapt into the air, each eliciting a shrill sound that served notice that this fight would be to the death.
Part 3 of 3 (due to character limitations)Their talons locked and their heads reared back. For one moment each caught a glimpse of something that gave the two birds pause. That telltale shock of red feathers had been exposed as the two prepared to go for the kill-shot. As they spun in the air, wings flapping and feathers flying, time surely slowed down for the two adversaries. A quick flash of realization took place. They recognized that though they had been split from each other long ago on the evolutionary tree, somehow they were brothers. The memories of Hen #12 and the formative weeks in the coop returned to Lil’ Red and Son of Hen #12 remembered the brother who had left his side so long ago. The die had been cast, however, and the two birds plunged their beaks toward the very same spot under the neck of the other that linked them together. Both let out a cry as they buried their beak as far as they could into the flesh of the other.The two birds fell to the ground in a crash. Both laid motionless. Then Lil’ Red stirred, got his bearings and arose. He walked over to Son of Hen #12 and proceeded to rip open the chicken’s carcass with his razor like beak and talons. Let’s face it a mere rooster never stood a chance against a hawk. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. The other chickens found the same fate over the next twenty minutes or so.I watched, paralyzed with utter disgust, witnessing the painful ending to the tale whose first chapters I had personally authored. Right then and there I looked into my soul and made a solemn oath that I would no longer raise chickens ever again. A couple years later I did have a similar story with pigs and a coyote, but that is for a different time and a different blog. My only point is that you are dealing with powerful stuff when you raise chickens. I hope that this cautionary tale helps you realize that you hold feathered lives in your hands. True story.
Anonymous, I salute you. That was epic.
That was......AWESOME!Who among you has the stamina for such epic nuttery?Show yourself, stranger!
My money is on Jacob or James...This thing has James's finger prints all over it. But how on earth would he have found this blog?Or maybe Andrew has an awesomely screwy friend who I haven't met yet??
This is indeed a stirring tale, and at the same time a lesson. We shall heed your words, dark stranger, and we understand that you must move on, to share your wisdom on other blogs. Godspeed, Anonymous. Godspeed.
Let's just say I borrowed a plot twist from a certain Law & Order episode you two have been pondering. Glad you enjoyed it.