Thursday, 12 June 2008

Hatchings and dispatchings

Today was the day I was going to tell you about the chicks growing up. I was going to tell you how funny it is to go out in the morning to the broody coop and find the hen still sitting as if she were on her eggs, no sign of a chick anywhere. Then a little head peeps out, and another and out from under the mother come the chicks one by one. Surely they must get squashed you would think but they seem quite happy, squeezing themselves out and striking out for the food bowl. Often one of the chicks would climb onto the mother's back and sit up high in the corner, cheeping away to itself. Then down it would come, sliding down the smooth feathers like a child in an adventure playground, the mother all the time seeming to ignore that she was being used as a climbing frame.

Sometimes she would take them out. She would walk them round the outside of the coop. A quick repeated cluck seemed to be an instruction to come here, to scratch here, to gather round. It was funny to see in our own garden something that was part of the books of my childhood and my children's childhood. I went to my grandson's and read to him about the mother hen who lost her egg:"I've lost my egg" said Mother Hen. "It's not in here" said Big Dog Ben. The story has a happy ending.

I went out at about eight o' clock this morning and checked they were ok and had water and food. We had been putting bricks around the edge of the pen in case something dried to dig its way in and when I had finished giving them more chick crumbs I put them back again, having shut the run tight. There is a cover for the run which I lifted back on as the feed bowls were outside the coop and it was raining very gently. At night we weight the roof down with large stones but I didn't do that, knowing I would be out again soon.

At about ten o' clock I peered in as I wandered the garden with my cup of tea, taking a break from work. Pecking, cheeping, scratching. All was well.

At half past eleven I picked up the bag of chick crumbs and thought I would replenish supplies. As I came through the gate I clocked that there was something lying on the grass by the raspberry canes - a large piece of bark? something blown in from the field? As I walked down I saw simultaneously that it was Edith, the mother hen, and that the two young dogs from next door were bouncing about in the corner of the garden. There were feathers everywhere. I bent over her. She was quite dead.

"Robyn" I shouted and the younger dog turned and ran, the older one racing after it up the drive. The roof of the run was skew whiff but the run was still standing and still closed. A frantic peeping from the coop revealed a single tiny chick, squashed into the corner and shouting fit to burst.

I went it and picked it up. It's tiny body trembled in my hand and it continued to peep. There was no sign of any others. As I came out I saw first one and then another, wet and dead on the ground. I carried the living one up to the utility where, one handed, I found a cardboard box, covered the bottom with wood shavings and gently placed it inside. I installed the cardboard box in the greenhouse and went back for food and water. The chick squashed itself into the corner of the box and continued to cheep.

Outside the garden was noisy with birds. I walked back up to the coop, my throat thick, looking for any sign of any more dead or dying. Flattened into the grass by the raspberry canes I found another tiny body. I picked it up but this one wasn't wet so hadn't been in a mouth. It was still soft and downy and perfect. It cheeped faintly at me. I was quite unreasonably cheered by the idea that there were two living, rather than just one. A chick is not meant to be solitary. Gently I put it in the cardboard box with the other one and it burrowed immediately underneath its sibling, looking for protection perhaps but failing to find much.

I wondered if there was any chance of finding the other chicks and whether there might be any more alive. Behind the coop is a area thick with nettles and brambles and bordered by a holly tree. Standing looking down at the tall grass I decided that one of the noises I could hear was the persistent distressed noise of a chick cheeping rather than birdsong or the cheeping of other chicks in wild nests.

For an hour and a half I worked my way through the grass and nettles. I found one quickly and, encouraged, decided I could hear another. I went back into the house to put on a jumper to cover my arms which were tingling with nettle stings. Slowly I found more, two together, one so far under the holly I had to lie in the dirt, an old curtain over my head to stop my hair tangling in the dense prickles. Back and forward I went to the greenhouse. The chicks were still terrified, piling one on top of another in the corner of the box, trying presumably to recreate safety and warmth but creating a tottering tower of frantic yellow chicks, peeping incessantly.

Final tally: one mother dead, two chicks dead, seven chicks living, one chick not accounted for. The garden is quiet now. Whatever happened to the last chick I do not think it is still alive. But seven still are, so time to turn to how to keep them alive without the mother hen who, although this was her first brood, clearly had all the instincts strong and true. A friend sent me a weblink to a useful site. I consulted my books. They are a week old and they still need heat for another month or so. Another friend says she has a heat lamp and will bring it over.

I have just moved them into a bigger box and they are still in the greenhouse. Every time I reached in for one the noise was frantic but now they are quieter, they have eaten and scratched and, while close to each other, are no longer trying to disappear into the corner of the box in a pile of fear.

I suppose this is how it is when you raise things: creatures die. You wonder what you could have done differently to protect them. Younger daughter is coming home for the weekend tonight and was so looking forward to seeing them. I do hope they make it through the night. I might just need to go out and check up on them again. Edith was a great sitter and a great mother hen. I am so sorry to have lost her. Let us see if we can raise the chicks that are left.

28 comments:

  1. What a vile heart-stopping shock that must have been. Horrible dogs. The scene of devastation left by a few moments play sounds horrific. And poor Edith, poor you. But take heart, you have a good stock left, a good percentage given what could have been, and you will raise them - but what happens when you are in London?? Good luck, cheep cheep.

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  2. I'm so sorry. It's devastating to find dead the little animals that you care for and love.

    Dogs can be terrible. I had a heifer when I was a young girl that was run to death by a pack of dogs. Big or small, it doesn't matter. The dogs can eventually kill them given enough time.

    I do hope the little chicks make it through the night for you.

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  3. I have every confidence in your abilities to be a surrogate mum...needs must and all that.
    Such a dreadful... shame so sorry

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  4. What can I say? I am the owner of a would-be hen murderer but keep him firmly in a dog-proofed patch. Just so so sorry for your lovely Edith (as you know I'm not really a hen fan but she struck a chord). Our neighbours reared chicks without a hen - with the help of a heated box. they are now all strutting great big creatures - so it can be done and will be done and you will be a wonderful surrogate mum.
    Not for the first time does the phrase 'berludy dogs' come trotting out.
    Big hug. Janexxx

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  5. Oh I'm so sorry. I really dont like dogs, and now like them even less. I so hope your babies survive.

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  6. That is so deeply sad, I do hope you can bring the remaining chicks up by hand.

    Thinking of you with love
    Muddie X

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  7. It's terrible that this has happened. You must be incredibly upset. I have around 30 hens which cluck around me in the morning and then again at tea time when I re-fill their water bucket and give them extra pellets. They are lovely creatures.

    CJ xx

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  8. I'm just so sad about this - I really feel for you. I would have felt like murdering the dogs. Poor tiny babies - but I know you'll be a great surrogate mother to them and keep the 7 babies warm and safe.

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  9. You did so well to persevere with your searching and rescuing. I know that the little chicks will get the best of care, and hope that they will soon be young chickens laying their own eggs.

    Best wishes to you on this day of trauma. xo

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  10. Do your best - and I know this sounds crazy but if there is anything I can do to help - please ask.

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  11. Dear Elizabeth,

    As much as I love dogs usually, this is sooo sad that your darling Mother Hen and two of her chicks have been killed by horrid Retrievers. I would weep buckets, know how much you love your Hens.

    Hope all is going well with the heat lamp Elizabeth, and I know that you will be a wonderful second Mother to surviving chicks.

    My love and hugs to you.

    Love and Hugs,
    Camilla.xx

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  12. Awful, horrible. Poor chicks, poor you. You'll be able to take care of them - for sure. You'll raise a good little flock.
    I hope the neighbour is told what his dogs have done.
    xo

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  13. This is sooo sad. It brought tears to my eyes the thought of those little babies crying out for their mother who would not return.
    What have the dogs' owners said about it?

    Hugs
    Wx

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  14. A terrible event - but what a rescue! We used to keep hens - lovely rare breeds but we had trouble with foxes and crows. On the whole we outwitted the fox but the crows used to enter the hen house and pinch all the eggs and in so doing infecting the hens with some disease (forgotten name). In the end we managed to outwit the crows by making a maze of bricks and netting from the henhouse door. The hens would come out in the morning to a different maze but remember their way back - the crows took longer to learn the way in. Eventually all hens went one terrible snowy night - the carnage was awful to see next morning - the fox won in the end.

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  15. This is so sad. I can only imagine how you must have felt on your terrible mission to retrieve the missing chicks. What an appalling experience.

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  16. I am so sorry to read this awful news, it must have been so distressing for you.
    I do hope the dog's owners are suitably apologetic.
    Fingers crossed that the chicks have survived and are coping without Mum and you are getting over the ordeal.

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  17. Goodness, what a gripping saga, I read it hoping so much you would find more of them - good luck with rearing the survivors.

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  18. I am sorry Elizabeth, what a shock for you to go through all that. Keeping animals is fraught with worry. Round here there are red kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks, polecats, rats, voles etc etc and foxes of course. I have learned to harden my heart and we have given up keeping chicken now because we have lost so many to foxes.

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  19. Good luck with the chicks - am sure they will be fine if they have a source of warmth and don't get dehydrated. But once they grow their feathers and start running about they may be vulnerable to predators and the dogs again. Fingers crossed for you.

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  20. Poor poor Edith and chicks. And poor you.

    Just been catching up on your other blogs and it doesn't seem appropriate to leave comments.
    It is so lovely to hear tales of your chickens...but not this.
    I can feel your affection for them and see your interest in your writing.
    How sad. How cruel nature can be.

    You can only do what you are doing for the remaining chicks.

    Fingers crossed that they all come through...and best wishes from me to you.


    xx

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  21. So sad, but good news that you found the seven. Hope they thrive. R

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  22. THis is so sad. I felt so much for you.

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  23. It's even worse because the berluddy dogs don't even eat them, they just play around with them and bugger off. Poor, poor Edith, and babies.
    My 5 year old's class has just done a hacthing experiment in their classroom and successfully raised 8 chicks - all without their mother. (Not sure of their origin.) They definitely needed each other but seemed to do fine with just sins.
    Good luck.

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  24. I am so sorry to read this . We had a similar experience years ago now, when we had quite a few hens, and several broody and sitting on clutches of eggs. One of the chocolate Labradors from down the hill came around the farm yard and in the back way to our land. She found the broodies, sitting tight, and bless them, they didn't budge, and were slaughtered, along with a dozen or so others free range outside. One of the broodies had been my children's favourite little Silkie cross, Dotty. It broke my heart to have to tell my children (10 and under) that their favourite had been murdered.

    I hope that the 7 chicks survive and perhaps help to replace the loss of Edith . . . Jennie x

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  25. Oh elizabeth I've just read your posting - I'm so very, very sorry. I can resonate completely with that awful stomach-lurching disbelief as the reality of a situation like that sinks in.
    It's now the weekend and I expect the shock will have lessened a little. I hope the little chicks are going from strength to strength...good luck, thinking of you.

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  26. I remember quite clearly the carnage that a fox left in our garden after it had finished playing - ducks and hens half-dead so that Tom (the only one at home) had to kill them to bring them some peace. The little duckiling we had incubated and looked after from the egg stage was alos dead; all quite horrific. I do feel for you Elizabeth. The very best of luck with the remaining chicks xx

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  27. Nature is so fragile and when you keep animals there are so many heart stopping moments - I have often wondered if I would be better off just not having animals - but life would be the poorer for it. Although after nine years I have decided to have a rest from chickens.

    I know from above that your chicks are surviving and I hope you are getting over the shock of what happened.

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  28. Aaaw, i feel for you, i had a similar experience with mine and my cat, but fortunately mine were older and survived, although they did have some awful injuries. I'm so sorry you lost your hen, what a shame. Good luck raising the rest of the little critters :)

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