unbelievable tragedy

Above: my babies.

One month to the day after they were hatched out into this world, twenty four chicks lost their little lives to a marauding fox.

Last night, as I was getting into bed, I had a bad feeling. This happens a lot to me, though, so I dismissed it as simple overworry. But for some reason, I found myself thinking about how protectiveness of my chicks had made me second guess my previous pro-wildlife-at-any-cost stance: specifically, I thought, Heck, I think I could actually bring myself to shoot a fox if it were going after the little ones.

I never got the chance. This morning, twenty-four of my babies were dead or missing. A predator — presumably a fox — had dug underneath of the coop, deep enough to avoid the coop’s chicken wire skirt.

Last night, Emmett and I tucked them into bed. We made sure they were all together to stay warm, moving the four chicks on the top floor onto the ground floor with the rest of their buddies. Where the chicks were huddled — underneath the ramp, in a warm all-wood section of the coop — was precisely where the fox dug. Our decision to move four chicks (including my favorite, Buffy) down to the bottom floor may have cost them their lives.

Emmett’s dad was the bearer of the bad news; he couldn’t reach Emmett by phone, so he actually stopped by the house to tell us. Emmett and I raced over to the coop, combed the surrounding area, calling out “here, chick chick chick” through our tears, to no avail. We found one White Leghorn dead inside the coop; two others were left in a nearby salad bed, along with one wing of my favorite chick, Buffy the Buff Orpington. The predator didn’t even bother to eat them, just kill them.

The sole survivor, now named Hope, was found huddling beneath the coop’s ramp. Nobody noticed her until I moved the ramp to check for more bodies — and to my surprise, heard a little “cheep cheep cheep” emanating from the coop’s first floor.

We swabbed Hope’s wounds — bite marks — with Neosporin, and put a heat lamp over her to warm her little body. She’s now in a box with two other Araucanas for company; we’ll see if she makes it. She’s a bit wobbly and lethargic, but she drank water from the waterer, ate food from my hand, and snuggled against my neck the entire car ride home.

I can’t quite express the horror of losing 24 chicks that I’d doted on, lost sleep over, and — most importantly — grown to love and know, as bird-brained and silly as they might be. A number of the ones I lost had names and distinct personalities; all were very friendly, and would come right over to say hello when I stopped by the coop.

I understood, going into this, that predators could be a problem — but somehow I didn’t think it would happen this suddenly and this severely. Every single chick but one? I’m lost: I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I still can’t look at the old pictures of the chicks without tearing up…

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “unbelievable tragedy

  1. Erica

    I am so sorry you guys. I just shared your news to my mother and we are both feeling deeply along with your loss. Seems fox and raccoon are all over right now. I feel privileged I had the chance to meet your babies.

    In great support, E

  2. I’m so sorry for you, and I do know how it feels, having lost a goose once to an opportunistic fox and a careless ex.

    The weird part is, even in the case of layers, these animals we mourn are also animals we are raising to kill. But my plan was always to give them a good life and a good death, and the fox robs them of both.

  3. Jenn

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your chicks! My husband and I used to have 3 “ladies” and we lost two of them within a week to a raccoon. It was devastating! Feathers everywhere, and the raccoon – like your fox – didn’t even eat them. We finally figured out how the raccoon was getting in (through a loose spot on the roof) and fixed it, but I will never look at raccoons the same way again.

    By the way, I really like your blog. I recently started reading it and your small farm sounds beautiful. Someday I hope to be doing the same thing.

  4. That’s terrible! My heart goes out to you guys, and best of luck to Hope.

  5. Kathie Meyer

    I feel terrible for you guys. A friend here who has had chickens forever says she has built “Fort Knox” to keep the predators away. I’m going to check it out soon, and I’ll pass on anything I learn.

    Would it be totally gauche of me to say that all is not lost because you still have Hope? You know how us news reporters are (especially at The Leader)…not very reverent, I’m afraid, when there is an opportunity for wordplay.

    Seriously though, I’m so sorry for your heartbreak.

    Take care,
    Kathie

  6. chicken girl

    So sorry about the tragedy. That is devastating. I recently got my first chickens (0nly 4) and we put a wire floor down (1/2 ” hardware cloth plus a layer of concrete reinforcment) and covered it with dirt. I can only imagine how it feels to lose all those adorable babies.

    The neighbors pit bull broke through the fence when the chickens were out of their run, and scared the heck out of the chickens and me. Fortunately, she did not catch any chickens, but one had to spend the night outside the coop because we could not find her. I worried about her all night and fortunately we found her hiding in a corner in the morning. I’m grateful the racoon did not find her first.

    My sympathies.

  7. Oh my GOD! This is terrible!

    Oh I’m so sad for you and the little chicks. Poor babies.

    We lost all of our chickens to a predator one time. I will never forget coming back from an overnight trip with my parents and finding them dead. And what bothered me to most was that they were just killed- not eaten. The poor things…

  8. Hoss

    Sorry about your chicks. My grandparents have a very large farm, so I grew up never having any compunction about the loss of a predator crossing the line.

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