Monday, July 14, 2014

July South Roanoke Circle Article

As I have been told by several friends, this article is old news. And it is - I got bumped from the last issue for a time sensitive piece. But I thought you might enjoy it anyway!

The Peepers Have Come Home to Roost

Tim loves to read about urban homesteading. Sometimes, this research leads to container gardening on the deck. Mmmm, organic arugula. Other times, it leads us to own a flock of chickens. He and Morrigan cooked up this idea a while back and part of their sales pitch was, “It will be great. And if we don’t like it, we can kill them and eat them!” Really, with that kind of plan, how could things possibly go wrong?

Soon we were the proud owners of six chicks. As luck would have it, both Morrigan and Tim were gone when they arrived, leaving me to stress about their brooder and its heat situation. The whole chicks in the family room situation was quite unsightly, involving a stepladder, a large plastic box, and never-ending dust. But by the time they arrived home a week later, the rest of us were in love with the chicks. These babies were never going to be dinner.

As they grew over the next few weeks, I found out I really knew nothing about chickens. They all had little personalities, the strongest of which was the bird we named Putin, as she was the bully of the bunch. They would play games, stealing a feather from another bird and then leading a chase around their box. And there was the constant, soothing, peeping chatter, which led to their group name, The Peepers.

Just when the dust and mess were reaching critical mass, the weather turned warm and all the birds were fully feathered, meaning it was time to move into their coop.  Being nervous new fowl parents, we checked on them often and worried the transition would go poorly. But they took to their fenced-free range life easily and were a happy bunch.

Until tragedy struck.

After being out for the morning running errands, I came home and found there were only five birds. They were all huddled in the coop, which was unusual for daytime, and had what appeared to be blood on their beaks. We never found any remains of the vanished bird, ironically named Lunch, and had to come up with theories about what had become of her. My official party line was that some predator took her while the other birds valiantly defended her, injuring the guilty party in the process.

But in the dark recesses of my mind, I always worried that the flock had turned on poor Lunch and had killed or maimed her. It seemed we would never know the truth.

A month passed and we had no further attrition. We convinced ourselves it was an anomaly. But then came what we refer to as The Hawk Incident. I was with the birds in the backyard, cleaning out the coop, when they seemed to all be in a noisy scuffle. Now they sometimes have little tiffs establishing their pecking order, so I didn’t think much of it but admonished them saying, “Ladies, let’s all get along.” But the noise level rose and the interaction suddenly seemed quite violent. I yelled much louder and to my surprise, a hawk emerged from the sea of moving feathers and flew away. Four chickens dispersed and one limped back to the coop, bleeding.

Over the next few days while she recovered, the uninjured Peeps became her caretakers. Putin would walk slowly with her across the yard in the morning, rather than be a part of the coop exodus, always a flurry of flapping and run-flying. If you approached the hurt bird, the others would all position themselves between you and her, dishing out some stink eye to boot.

I felt terrible ever having even contemplated the idea that they could have hurt their own. Here were some birds who, in the face of mortal danger, banded together to try to save their sister. I tell you, it makes a Mom’s heart ache. As silly as it sounds, we were so proud of our chickens.

Birds of prey are protected, so we had to stick with non-lethal deterrents. Since The Incident, Part Deux, we’ve added some very menacing looking plastic owls to our deck, hoping they will scare the hawks away. [Maggie’s response was “Really?”] Reflections also, according to the chicken blogs, tend to freak out hawks. So I hung several old cds under the deck to let them know I really meant business. [To which Maggie then added, “Really?”] Admittedly, I did go a bit overboard – several in this case really means about 30. Thank goodness no one can see my backyard. It is sixteen shades of crazy and looks like some kind of low-rent homemade disco down there.

It has been over a week and we’ve had no further attacks. Clearly my ferocious maternal instinct and hawk repellent system are having an impact. Or luck is with us. We’re just enjoying our flock, so much so that we’ve expanded it. But that’s another story.

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