And then there was one

Lounging
Content murderess.

I think I have always known that this would happen. Eventually. I had just hoped I was wrong. On Friday afternoon, Pyrrha killed Mayumi, one of our remaining hens.

Mayumi was our rebellious soul; she was the one who liked to escape the garden fence and fly into trees, and occasionally, into the backyard where the dogs run and reside. She was generally able to fly back over the fence into safety, but on Friday, she was too flustered to save herself. And I was not fast enough to intervene.

I had just come out onto the back deck, and I saw Eden chasing the hen at the end of the yard. Eden, unlike her elder sister, is a terrible hunter and seemed merely to want to pin her down. I started yelling and running down the stairs out to the yard, but I am not as fast as Pyrrha. Unfortunately. Before I could even get down the stairs, Pyrrha had Mayumi in her jaws and I watched her give the chicken a good, strong, murderous shake. I was still screaming at this point, and I grabbed Pyrrha so hard that she yelped and dropped the hen. I dragged both dogs indoors and then came out to assess the situation. It was too late for little Mayumi. But she met my gaze, which was horribly sad, as she slowly died, and I felt like a huge failure. I called Guion, breathless and trembling, and he came home from work. By that time, Mayumi had died, and he did the man’s work of confirming her state. We left her body in the alley, where the hawks and foxes roam, and something picked it up by early morning.

So, now we just have one, the long-suffering and surviving Fumiko. It is not good for chicken, like man, to be alone, so we are trying to rehome her. If you or anyone you know in the area would like to add a sweet Japanese bantam to his or her flock, please let me know.

Sigh. I think we will try chickens again next year, after we get back from London. And this time, we are going to target the big, fat breeds who can’t fly.

An urban farm tragedy

Home and garden, May 2015
Our fenced garden area. Coop is on the right behind the shed.

On Friday afternoon at lunch, I went to check on our chickens. I could only find one in the fenced garden area, which was strange. All three of them are usually happily pecking around or hiding under the woodpile, especially during the heat of the summer. But I could only spot one, and she was hiding near the shed, curled up underneath the sprawling mint. This seemed odd, but I thought nothing of it. Sometimes they like to wander and do inscrutable chicken things.

An hour later, I went to check on them again, and once more, I could only find one. This time, she had migrated outside the fence to the shade of the neighbor’s boxwood. Still curious. Still couldn’t find the other two, but I couldn’t detect anything awry.

Two hours later. I opened the back door to let the dogs out, and I heard the horrible sound of avian screaming. Serious distress noises. I started cursing under my breath and booked it to the back of the yard.

Breathless, I rushed into the garden fence, looked left, toward the sound of the shrieking. There, to my horror, was an enormous, gorgeous red-tailed hawk on the ground a few yards from our fence. Eating one of our hens.

Red Tail Hawk.JPG
“Red Tail Hawk” by Kfearnside at en.wikipedia. Public domain. Not the killer of our hen, but I wanted a good photo to display how BIG and INTENSE this bird is.

(Insert many more defeated, sad-sounding curse words from me. Like, really sad, morose f-bombs.)

I lacerated my hand trying to open the gate. I scared the hawk away, but it was far too late for the hen. But her screaming sister, who was less than a foot away from the dining hawk, hidden in some brambles, was unscathed. I’m sure the hawk was just eyeing her casually under the foliage and saying, You’re next, my pretty. 

Guion mercifully came home right at this moment and retrieved the traumatized but unscathed hen from the brush. I was convinced at this point that we had only had one chicken left. But when we brought her back into the coop, her sister crawled out from under the shed, where she had apparently (intelligently) been hiding during the entire bloody ordeal.

Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.
Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.

So, now we have two, Fumiko and Mayumi. (We have decided that it was Chiye who died. We really can’t tell any of them apart.)

In all honesty, I am impressed that they lasted this long. Backyard chickens in this town seem to have a lifespan just slightly longer than goldfish. I expected a fox to get them first, because I’ve seen a few in the neighborhood. I didn’t anticipate a hawk. I was lulled into a sense of security by the hens’ constant access to the woodpile, the shed, and the coop, which all keeps them out of sight. (They free range during the day and then we lock them up in the coop at night.) Alas. Hawks also apparently like to target bantams because of how small they are. They are much easier to take down. In some ways, it was gratifying to see their beautiful killer. So many have lost chickens to unknown predators.

We are weighing options. I know murder is just part of the backyard chicken gambit, but I am still sad. You get attached, when you feed a creature every day and concern yourself with its livelihood on a daily basis. Should we let them free range again and risk it? A flock of two isn’t ideal; three is apparently the smallest recommended flock. Should we rehome them to a larger, more protected flock? Should we totally redesign the coop and build a giant wire structure so they can range in safety? Not really sure what tactic we’ll take at this point. We are somber, but we knew this day would eventually come.

The urban farm grows

Newest additions (chickens)

… with the addition of three Japanese bantams, acquired from the Montgomery family, who also gave us their amazing coop.

Newest additions (chickens)

Andrew is an architect by trade, so you know we’re getting a top-of-the-line construction here. Isn’t it great? These are very trendy hens with a high standard for interior design. I’d like to get them a Bauhaus era chaise lounge…

Newest additions (chickens)
Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi.

I’m pleased to introduce Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi!

Newest additions (chickens)
Mayumi and Fumiko.

Japanese names were chosen over Indonesian, once I learned their specific breed, which I am clearly thrilled about. I’ve been speaking to them exclusively in Japanese, so that they will feel at home. And I think it’s been working, because we got our first egg last night! Such a darling, cute little egg.

Newest additions (chickens)

I was hesitant to jump on the backyard chicken bandwagon, because of the fact that we house two high-energy chicken predators, but our garden fence serves as an excellent barrier.

Newest additions (chickens)

And we’ve positioned the chicken mansion behind the shed, so the dogs don’t have a clear view of them. We’ll let the ladies run around the garden fence when we’re out there and when the dogs are safely barricaded indoors. No plans to introduce the species.

Newest additions (chickens)

We’re very grateful to the Montgomery family for jump-starting our chicken-rearing dreams with this magnificent coop and the well-reared brood. More to come, certainly, on our continued adventures in urban homesteading and gardening…

Newest additions (chickens)