Poultry Ownership and Dealing with Loss (From a Tenderhearted Farmer)

By orrpeople · Jan 17, 2017 · Updated Jan 17, 2017 · ·
  1. orrpeople

    There really could not have been a worse scenario for the first death we experienced in our backyard flock. Prior to owning chickens, I had read and understood the risks – the fact that just about everything eats chicken, that predators fall from the sky, come creeping out from behind every bush, and wag their gleeful tails while moments later wreaking carnage on beloved hens. I also knew, at some point, even I would be eating the birds I raised by hand. I’m an educator – I taught the food chain.

    It was a beautiful spring day and a beloved friend and chicken lover had come to see our new birds. We went into the coop together, and were being swarmed by the “we know you have a treat for us” gang, when suddenly my dogs pushed through the partially closed gate and dove after the first birds they could get their maws on! I was terrified and ran to rescue one small pullet, already under the paws of my normally docile pup, somehow snatching her from a certain death. Then, between my friend and I, we managed to wrangle and drag both dogs out of the pen. It all happen so quickly! When I turned back to survey the damage, I felt that sickening realisation that all chicken owners have felt, or will feel at some point - one of our little pullets was dead. And, worse than that - it wasn't the dogs that had killed it. In all the chaos and confusion, I had stepped on it. It was me - I was responsible for the first death in my flock.

    As time has passed, we have lost other birds (hawks seem to be the nemesis of choice on our little farm, although we also have a marauding mountain lion that got one of our goats), and each time, we grieve. Granted, we don't grieve as much, as we have accustomed ourselves to the fact that loss is indeed, part of the poultry owner's lot in life.

    So, how do we respond to this inevitable attrition of our flocks? I have witnessed a wide variety of responses, from friends who have a relatively high predator quotient and view their free ranging flock as purely an egg and meat commodity (we jokingly say that their farm is the place chickens go to die), to others who keep their birds so tightly confined in fear of loss, that it takes an IQ higher than mine simply to open the gate! There are also those of us who refuse to even name a bird, because predators just "sense" the affection on that hen (I am convinced 'love' must have a particular scent!) and inevitably choose that girl for their dinner.

    After our most recent loss (Hawk! Grrr), my teenaged daughter made the suggestion that we should leave the chickens in their coops from now on. She reasoned, and logically so, that they would be safer and that she wouldn't have to go through this grieving process again. (She really loves our birds, no matter how much I try to turn her into a pragmatic farm girl.) It wouldn't be a terrible thing to coop them up. She had a point.

    However, our loss rate has never been terribly high during the day; and, although it does hurt to lose one, our chickens love to be out grazing. They, quite literally, "yell" at us in the morning to be let out. So, we continue to send them to pasture, knowing the possibilities. We do our best to protect them (roosters, lots of places to hide, etc.), but ultimately know today might be someone's last. And, if it is their last, let's think about their quality of life.

    The BYC website is proof positive that "backyarders" tend to take great care of their chickens. We dutifully practice biosecurity, clean coops, change feed and water, watch for signs of illness, monitor social interactions and behaviors, dole out treats, and yes, even have full-blown conversations with our birds. Say what you want, all of these are the very expressions of the love we have for our social critters out back. It will always hurt, in some way or another, to lose one. But here, my friends, is the silver lining on the cloud of grief - your flock is loved; every day they spend in your yard is a gift - better than a thousand in a cage or a factory. Take comfort in that fact; and don't hesitate to tell them they are loved - today may be a "last day" for one of them, but it should, at least, be a good one.

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    "Well said and done"
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    I enjoyed that very much, very well said. I also enjoyed the charming photo.
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    Healthy slant on a worry for me. I will keep this wisdom in my head and heart.


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  1. mcclucker
    I lost 11 of my 13 girls last week to a weasel (we think). It was so shocking and awful. My beautiful birds lying dead everywhere. I have to make myself remember what lovely, happy, cared for lives they had with us and not about their terrifying violent end :(
    1. orrpeople
      Oh no! That is just devastating! I am so sorry for your loss, but glad they had you to provide them a good home while they were with you!
  2. IrishGardener
    This is the hardest part for me. I thought my girls were secure, and something got into the coop and took out 2. We made it more secure, put them in at night....a racoon actually opened the door. We were heartbroken. I didn't even want to get more, but we had just one. I felt so bad for her. So, what can you do? You just have to dry your eyes and go on. So Wednesday I bought 3 more. 2 were 5 weeks 1 was 4. The oldest I could get so our remaining hen, Lottie(black star), wont have to wait long for company. I now have a Partridge rock cochin(Grace), black Austrolorp(Astro), and an Amber link (Mavis). We spent today buffing up security for them. We're covering the top of the run to keep racoons from climbing in, and we put more secure locks on all the doors. Next week we will try the littles in a divided area of the run so they can get safely acquainted with Lottie. Hopefully it will all go well!
      orrpeople likes this.
    1. orrpeople
      Raccoons are hideous creatures... We had one just grab a leg from a gap of less than 2 inches and start eating. I am glad you started again, though, with better security. That whole "live and learn" thing is sometimes very frustrating!
  3. Reno
    Been there done that. I too have dealt with Hawks , feral cats , raccoons , and Opossums . I know though that my chickens lead a good life , free to roam when I'm out there with them and feeding them well. They reward me with their eggs and all the insects they eat and the fertilizer they provide for my garden. They are worth it.
      orrpeople likes this.
  4. Noellereagan
    What a great article. I so get what you’re saying here.
      orrpeople likes this.
    1. orrpeople
      Thank you!
  5. Kathy Sistare
    Well written.:thumbsup
      orrpeople likes this.
  6. madisonjh95
    I lost my only baby chicken (and my sweetest, most friendliest chicken) today to my very own vicious pupper. I'm sure she sounded just like a squeaky toy): I cried and cried and cried! My boss didn't think a dead chicken was painful enough to warrant a day off though. Great article, made me cry and cry again! I am so sad!
      orrpeople likes this.
    1. orrpeople
      Oh no! I am so sorry for your loss! It is especially hard, I think, when it occurs at the hands (or maws) of one of our other pets!
      I also think bosses need to know that we need days off for all chicken issues... Death, hatching, illness, first egg... :)
      Chickencountryuk and madisonjh95 like this.
  7. ChickenyChickeny
    i haven't lost any chickens yet, but i worry about their various issues
    coryza that wont go away
    leg mites
    suspected egg binding
    raising chickens is stressful!
      Noellereagan and orrpeople like this.
    1. Shezadandy
      Just read, read, and read some more. Read through threads on the Emergencies forum- go to wonderful sites with lots of concise and usefully organized material like the-chicken-chick.com -- read up on everything, then when the emergency happens to you - it won't be as scary. Youtube is great too - watch someone drain ascities with a single poke using a 14 gauge needle - watch someone use PRID to coax the cause of bumblefoot to the surface with no 'surgery'. There is so much to know! I'm so glad we live in an age of information sharing and excellent digital pictures that upload in a jiffy. Literally lifesaving stuff. =)
  8. Okiedori
    We have done 2 things to keep hawks away. First I feed peanuts to the crows to keep them around our property. I have seen crows gather up and chase hawks away. I also put up cheap plastic pinwheels every five feet along the fence line. It seems to help reduce hawk fly overs. Our next predator problem was a coyote. While I respect the skills of a coyote, I dislike the half dozen chickens he ate at the local all you can eat buffet. He was just climbing the farm fencing. We had to put up electric fencing. I felt bad when a neighbor came over asking if we were having a coyote problem. Apparently he went across the road.
  9. Okiedori
    We have done 2 things to keep hawks away. First I feed peanuts to the crows to keep them around our property. I have seen crows gather up and chase hawks away. I also put up cheap plastic pinwheels every five feet along the fence line. It seems to help reduce hawk fly overs. Our next predator problem was a coyote. While I respect the skills of a coyote, I dislike the half dozen chickens he ate at the local all you can eat buffet. He was just climbing the farm fencing. We had to put up electric fencing. I felt bad when a neighbor came over asking if we were having a coyote problem. Apparently he went across the road.
      Noellereagan likes this.
    1. Noellereagan
      I’m borrowing your tricks! Thanks!
  10. CCUK
    This is a great article. I love each one of my hens even the ones that probably don't feel the same! When I lose one it always hurts. I deal with it but it hurts non the less. Luckily I don't really get predators but I have had illnesses. Losing one to illness that can be treated is tough. But with no vet and limited resources it is always a challenge. I do my best and always look here for help.
      orrpeople likes this.
  11. Urchickchic
  12. Urchickchic
    Well said.
      orrpeople likes this.
  13. Brahma Chicken5000
    Great article!
      orrpeople likes this.
  14. peachyduckies
    Thank you for writing this article. I lost my first bird ever while tending to my flock yesterday morning. Poor little guy had a seizure and died right in my lap. I know he had a good life though, and I know I tried all I could to stop the seizure, but it was too much for his little self to take. I did cry, but I know that this is part of owning poultry. Again, thanks for writing this article and sharing your own first death experience in your flock.
      orrpeople likes this.
    1. orrpeople
      I'm so sorry for your loss!
      peachyduckies likes this.
  15. Crow-ded house
    Nicely written. I greet my chooks with a good morning, visit and talk with them every spare minute and last thing is that little goodnight song I made up. Yes even with all the attention to detail we have had 4 hens and 1 roo get taken down by predators. Stripey really hurt as she was my fav. Not the best layer but just great personality.
      Mimi’s 13 and orrpeople like this.
    1. orrpeople
      Every day they had with you was a good day! Even a short life, in an environment of care and peace, is a good life!
      Mimi’s 13 likes this.
  16. michelleh2294
    i needed to read something like this today...i live in diamond springs , ca which is pretty close to you....3 years ago we got 4 chicks, only after a couple months of having them in their coop one was killed in the middle of the night....we then had our three lovely hens, luna , dahlia and ruby, they were pals and we loved them dearly....then this past march my boyfriend forgot to lock the coop up and something got in and got luna in the middle of the night, then in april 9,days later, something got in the locked coop middle of the night and got dahlia....so devastated by this and only ruby left by herself we got 3 9wk old hens and hoped that the four of them would become friends, it was working out....then 2 days ago i left ruby out to roam the yard like she has millions of times and i left for work at 11am, i thought my boyfriend was coimg home soon and could put her in our fenced garden area for the day , he didnt realize she was out and went to sacramento for a few hours came home looked for her and found just some feathers, this was my rhodey , then in the neighbors yard he saw a fox at 4 in the afternoon....i have been beating myself up for letting her stay out and wishing so badly i had put her away when i left for work.....she loved being out in the yard.....now the 3 new ones we have i think will mostly stay in the fenced garden unless we are out with them...i was so attatched to my first 3 and am feeling very guarded about these new ones not wanting to get close to them...and they dont have the personality that my ithers did at least not yet.. just really feeling alot of guilt and missing my life with my 3 hens that i had, thank you for writing such a beautiful article it made me cry
      Shepshill and lifetimechicklover like this.
    1. orrpeople
      Your three girls were loved - even one good day of love is more than so many birds ever get. Do not beat yourself up, even the very best chicken owners lose their chooks to predators (try building something a bear can't get into!) because of that whole "chicken is yummy" thing! I hope your new sweethearts bring you lots of joy! Give yourself permission to enjoy and love on them. Hugs!
      lifetimechicklover likes this.
  17. MamaPenguin
    Thank you for sharing your story! I never thought how much I would care and darn it - I love my hens! My hubby and I make sure that they have the best food and treats, clean their run and roost, clean water and lots of sunshine and exercise!! We take such pleasure when they are sooo excited and happy to see us with their treats or extra special food and they entertain us with their different personalities. Not really sure how I will handle losing one - we had to give up our cockerel who we thought was a pullet but we rehomed him to someone who promised he wouldn't end up on their dinner table or anyone else's for that matter! When they have the run of our backyard, we periodically watch to make sure that the neighborhood cats do not get them (altho they have been around and just showed curiosity not aggressive behavior). In any case, we only have 6 and hoping to add more :=)
  18. BirdieBirdie
    What a beautifully written article. I loved every word of it. Your story reminded me of my first loss... I cried for 2 days when I lost my favorite hen to respiratory issues. I couldn't save her and she died in my arms. I've lost a couple more since her... and while it gets easier each time, I still shed tears. They are my girls. My ladies. My babies. I was adamantly against backyard chickens at first but almost 3 years later... I can't get enough of them. They bring so much love and joy!

    Thank you for sharing your story. <3 <3 <3
      Urchickchic likes this.
  19. chixmaidservice
    Thanks for such a wonderful article! I feel the same, everything seems to be out to get my flock, but they take so much joy with them when they scamper out into the fenced backyard. I have 2 good roos, lots of brush and thick tree cover and blackberry thickets along all the fence lines. I have made several pallet "teepees" for them to escape under out in the open yard, plus my kids long outgrown trampoline. We take as many precautions as possible, but in the end, it is up to them to get to safety.
  20. CuzChickens
    Very well written and heartfelt article. My first poultry keeping death was also from my dogs (they decided to play tug-o-war with a pet duck). I am glad you continue to free range them, they are lucky to have such wonderful owners. :)
  21. carlsaSC
    I have a friend whose parents had kept a journal. Although she does not remember it, they wrote about having tried to keep chickens. They decided to stop because of the many deaths within their flock. This was probably pre-WWII times
  22. arrowti
    Oh man it's so true... I lost my beloved duck Fatty to a loose dog - we had over 40 chickens, and 5 other ducks, but out of every one of those birds the dog took my most loved bird... it's always hard to lose them, but it's a good reminder that they lived a good life (up until their untimely deaths) that they might not have received somewhere else.
  23. twinsmom6
    this is why I love chicken people. They are beautiful animals with an eagerness to see me (or at least eat every snack that I bring with me) .. I am grateful for every day that they have.. I have lost some too.. but when you put it that way it is very encouraging.. we improve their quality of life and they TOTALLY improve mine.
      Urchickchic and Shepshill like this.
  24. AmberSchmieg83
    What a fantastic article! I think about these two things too: That any day could be one of our chickens last day and how thankful I am they get to free range every day. Thank you for sharing! So well written!!!
  25. boskelli1571
    A thoughtful look at love and loss - good read, thanks
      Shepshill likes this.
  26. Kershylyn
    Wonderful Article! I loved it! Thank You!
  27. BuffOrps416
    WOW. Amazing article, really touching.
  28. KoopOnTruckin
    That was a beautifully written article, very nice! I think this way every time I let my chickens out, they may be in more danger outside, but they are SO much happier. Way better than a life cooped up in a stuffy warehouse. Thank you for taking the time to write that.
  29. Ren2014
    Fantastic article. Thank you for sharing and helping us to look at loss in a comforting way.
  30. room onthebroom
    Great article! Thanks for posting!
  31. littlejohnacres
    Thanks! I try to remind myself of this daily! I am battling with the hawks right now too!
  32. Nardo
    Thanks for the reminder; I have to keep mine cooped up until the oaks leaf out. In summertime, the hawks have a harder time seeing them and swooping in for the kill.
  33. EggSighted4Life
    Well written and touching! Thank you for sharing.
  34. RodNTN
    What a great article! Especially since we keep losing chickens to coyotes :(
  35. N F C
    Good article, I especially like the way you wrap it up.
  36. Dmontgomery
    Excellent. Thank you for this reminder.

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