"Morning Light" - Story about losing our first chickens...

Discussion in 'Pictures & Stories of My Chickens' started by Dacy Meadow Farmer, Aug 16, 2010.

  1. Dacy Meadow Farmer

    Dacy Meadow Farmer In the Brooder

    Jul 9, 2010
    As the cries pierced the night, the fairy tale was interrupted. The chicks had been happily raised in our living room for the first 5 weeks of their life. Our daughter would stand at the side of the brooder with her arms raised in the air wanting to be lifted in. She had learned somehow that the nonverbal gesture got her in the brooder more often than actually asking. I would lay some fresh shavings down for her to sit on and she would play Barbie Doll like games with the friendly chicks. Even as they got larger and would occasionally peck at her freckles and pull at her hair she would always want to go back in, for hours if you let her.

    Nearly 12 years ago my father and stepmother came across an old hayfield where our house now sits. 72 acres with a great view of the Green Mountains of Vermont had lain unused for many years. There were no great dreams or visions back then of what to do with it. So it sat fallow for several more years. Then small farms and eating local started to grab headlines. Landing a job in the area, a pregnancy, and with a lot help from our family, we raised a small house over looking the hayfield.

    I had spent the late winter and spring building a large coop on wheels. The coop was a conglomerate of all the things I had seen and read on the internet. I had built my house by googling each step and the coop was no different. As a Generation X’er, I had little opportunity to learn or value practical skills. They were usually needed for those first few summer jobs and were dreaded: painting, shoveling, dragging brush, stacking, raking, and mowing.

    Like many, the green movement captured my wife and I. Movies like Food Inc, Zero Impact Man, and What the Bleep do we Know made us think about the way we were living and eating. We surrounded ourselves with a few like minded friends and soon there was no turning back. Chickens were a natural way for us to start eating our own food.

    The email said that the chicks would arrive between Sunday and Tuesday. I didn’t understand how they could arrive on Sunday, but when the U.S. Postal Service Distribution Center 50 miles away left a message on our cell-phone Sunday afternoon I found out. The nice gentleman, with chirps in the background, said that our chicks were there and that we could pick them up to avoid another day of travel if we liked. My adrenaline starting pumping and I called him back. He must have heard the excitement in my voice and in a very grandfatherly way told me to drive carefully. My 4 year old daughter screamed as I ran down the driveway. She was worried that I was going to leave her behind on what we called the “rescue mission”. Her arms stretched out, her fingers splayed wide as she hobbled on a half put on boot chasing after me.

    Raising the chicks in the house was not smelly or noisy, but it was dusty. A fine film of sawdust settled on everything. As destructive and unsanitary that the dust was, I figured a lifetime of telling people about raising chickens in our living room made it worth it. At 5 weeks old, 40 of the original 42 chicks moved out of our home and into their own.

    Not all of the chickens were for eggs. We had ordered a straight run of a dozen Silver Grey Dorkings. I had googled ‘best tasting heritage breed’ and had come across a site mentioning Dorkings. We had voted against raising Cornish Crosses as we felt they were a dead end bird that always had to be purchased from a factory; perpetuating factory farming. We wanted to raise our own meat birds that were healthy, active, and that we could breed ourselves.

    After a few weeks of being locked in the coop, they were allowed out in a small run. Once they were fully feathered a few weeks later, they were free to roam. Right away, there were a few nights when several Dorkings decided to roost in the trees instead of returning to the coop. The romantic thoughts of heritage breeds shunning a coop in order to sleep in the fresh night air overcame the fear I had for them. In the end, this would be their demise.

    We had set an upcoming Saturday as the day that we would slaughter our Dorkings. A heat wave hit mid week and 3 Dorking hens and 2 Dorking roosters decided to sleep outside in the trees again. I figured it was their desire to avoid the stuffy coop and I admired their free spirit. I put the danger deep in the back of my mind and went to bed.
    Sometimes the chickens would let out cries that got us running to the window only to find a rooster harassing a hen harmlessly. When in the jaws of death, there is no mistaking the seriousness of the cry. I jumped out of bed so fast that my heart hurt as it tried to catch up. I grabbed the shotgun and flashlight and walked to the tree where the chickens were roosting. I had remembered that 1 rooster was in a branch lower than the others. He was gone. I searched the woods and fields close to an hour before I stopped looking. The other four were tucked close together looking cozy, but vulnerable. They were out of reach and I figured if I tried to get them down that they would scatter into the woods and be put in more danger so I returned to bed.

    A short while later the same awful cry woke us. This time both my wife and I hurried to the roosting spot. All were gone. Another search commenced, this time we felt there were survivors and the search would be tenacious. About a half hour later my wife spotted a rooster in the field about 100 yards from the safety of the coop. She walked slowly to him and he simply sat still and let her pick him up. She said his body was incredibly hot as she walked him back to the coop.

    I shined my flashlight over the many yards of field. Suddenly, on the dark horizon, bright eyes slinked smoothly in my beam. Fear embarrassingly struck me. I felt deflated and fearful even though a shotgun was in one hand. In the morning, where I had seen those eyes, I would find the feathery remains of 3 chickens.

    At 4 in the morning, having scoured the fields for over two hours we went back to bed deflated. After some brief sleep I awoke again barely able to focus my eyes. As I stood at the side of the pasture in the dim daylight, the last survivor of the night made her way across the field back to safety. As she walked along pecking at the ground I wondered if she had a sense of the danger she had been in. Even more so when I found she came from the very direction that the predator had dined on the unfortunate others. The night was over and peace returned.

    That night will always be remembered as a night blessed with an authenticity of experience often missing. Rushing off on a Sunday evening to “rescue” chicks, setting my child in a brooder, watching chickens bring an old hayfield to life have a beauty and tranquility to them unfounded in many of our modern ways of life. Even a violent night of life and death has an intense realness hard to capture in the day to day. Finding the rooster hunkered down and returning him to the coop, watching the hen walk across the field back to safety in the earliest morning light, seeing the predatory eyes shining back at me and feeling the fear woke me to a more meaningful and present reality. I felt deeply connected to my wife as she searched the fields with me, I felt a seriousness to my purpose rarely felt, and I felt fear that my daytime life gives me little access to.

    On that Saturday, as planned, the blood dripped down the comb of the rooster we had saved only a few days before. I pardoned the remaining 2 Dorking hens. One had remained safely in the coop all night, but once the survivor returned to the flock I would never be able to tell which was which so both joined the group of egg layers. Part of me looked at that night with my human emotions, hence the pardon. Another part of me looked at the night with more eternal eyes. It is we humans who bring these grand notions of the future and the past to the world. Our animal friends live an enviable ever-present state. In one eternal moment my wife was able to pick that rooster up from the dark and dangerous field and in another eternal moment that rooster would give the gift of nourishment to our family. Those two moments were not contradictory, only our human thoughts and emotions would see and feel that. They were part of the same eternal moment that we all live and die in.
  2. rooster lover 119

    rooster lover 119 Chirping

    Aug 8, 2010
    that was a wonderful story. i'm so sorry about your chickens that did not make it. i cannot even think of a world without our featherly friends.[​IMG]
  3. sonew123

    sonew123 Poultry Snuggie

    Mar 16, 2009
    onchiota NY
    Gavin! That was beautiful! [​IMG] yet so sad-Im sorry for their loss and yours

    On a good note though [​IMG] 6 weeks and 6 days to go!

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