This Chicken’s No Chicken

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'Sugar' On the Balance Beam

‘Sugar’ On the Balance Beam

Some folks will think I am making too much of this…..but….courage and endurance are to be valued wherever you come across them. Ergo……this rather nondescript hen that you see pictured here, sole survivor of a raccoon raid in which her two companion hens were slain.

The mother raccoon must have pried open a hatch tensioned shut with a trampoline spring enough for one or more of her three offspring to flatten out in the loose-boned way these creatures can, slide in through the gap and gone to work on my birds. Amazing strength and persistence is to be found in wild creatures.

The hen pictured above did not escape altogether. She was badly beaten up, head bloodied, barely able to stand. I contemplated ending her life as an act of mercy, but held off, checking her regularly, open to changing my mind.

She held her own and then slowly, very slowly, over two or three weeks, came out of her daze. If she ate at all it was sparely, the grain in her pan not noticeably disturbed. I made sure there was plenty for her, and water of course.

I confess to not being particularly taken by her when first she came my way with another hen from the same large flock. Neither seemed to have an iota of character or personality. Many of the birds I’ve had over the years did. Flock mentality I suppose. Off-putting wherever you find it or its equivalent in our own species. But I could not help but admire the fortitude in solitude that she was demonstrating.

The latter I could do nothing about until she no longer showed signs of her ordeal. Hens, as anyone who has had them will tell you, ruthlessly cull the wounded and vulnerable among them.

But, common assumptions aside, weak or strong, this hen didn’t seem at all bothered by her solitary status.

I began to sense, accurately or not, that she found my few words to her at feeding time of interest in some undefinable way. Certainly she lost all timorousness where I was concerned. And then, amazingly I thought, an egg appeared beside her feed pan. And then another….until she began to pop them out at a rate of about two every three or four days. What a bird! Worthy of my rare use of one of the exclamation marks with which today’s prose is so extraneously plagued.

Still no companion hen could be acquired. A bout of bird flu here in British Columbia had led to constraints on the transporting of poultry from one locale to another. I wasn’t stressed about it……she wasn’t.

The ban is over now and I will seek to re-establish what for me is the ideal configuration of birds in my back yard: Two hens and a drake. This has worked well before, the duck cutting down the slugs inbound for my garden from the surrounding woods, a male avian presence of no bother to the hens and delightfully quiet, as no rooster would be.

Hen Run(1)

Before the Carnage

 

My long, curving hen run has heavy stucco wire for a skin, with apertures of one inch…too small for a weasel to penetrate should the one that previously plagued me return, or any of its offspring. The base is shielded by one-foot-wide galvanized roof flashing well into the ground with small rock and bits of cement in the ditch alongside it. I’ll put a layer of aged manure over that, and some soil in which I shall plant sharp-thorned gooseberries. And then, if I get around to it I’ll erect some electrified mesh fencing enclosing an area outside the pen into which my helpful consumers of kitchen waste and producers of an occasional egg can be released during the day when I expect to be working outside.

IMG_1125

By no means an impregnable arrangement, but pretty good. A daylighting owl or a red-tail hawk could still take toll. But the raccoons and probably the bears will not like my arrangement. Nor will the former be drawn to the vicinity by the fruit trees. I tied rose prunings up their trunks and along their branches last year with considerable deterrent success. This year the plan is to grow some very thorny climbing roses up them.

A lot of work and not inconsiderable expense I know. But I have always been drawn to competition, though I could use a long break from this one.

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