A few years ago when I first discovered permaculture, I did what most of us do. I made a wish list of all of the things that I would need to make my landscape a proper permie homestead. Near the top of that list was to obtain some chickens. Specifically, I wanted a mixed flock of hardy birds that would survive my cold, cold winters. I spent all that winter planning for the day when I brought home my first chickens. I was as ready as I could have been on the day I went out to purchase the flock. I had it ALL and then some.
I went to my local hardware/feed store and there they were... all those little day-old chicks just peeping away under the heat lights just screaming to go home with somebody. The store clerk got me a box and I spent a few minutes looking over the birds and trying to make wise choices based on all sorts of criteria I thought were important at the time. I had my 2 year old daughter with me at the time so basically she just blurted out colors followed by the word chicken. So that's how it went. She said, "Brown chicken", and I picked up the brown one and put it in the box. Then "Yellow chicken". Got it... in the box. We (she) chose a good assortment of about 10 birds and then closed up that box and brought them home.
Anyone who has had chicks, knows a few things about the surprises that await a first time chicken owner but suffice it to say, we made it through without any losses. One thing about a small flock of birds it that you notice that they have personalities all their own. Each bird lives it's own way and no two are quite alike. As it would happen, that first brown chick had quite the personality. I don't know if it was because she was the first chick we chose or because she really was something special but "Brownie" would become everyone's favorite chicken.
Brownie, -an Easter Egger hen- was kind, independent and brave. She always spent her time wisely and never took any crap from other birds, even roosters. I don't think that Brownie ever allowed a rooster to mount her, yet she laid an egg daily for quite a long wile. She spent time in many different systems, as we learned how to best apply a flock of chickens to the landscape we were working with. She lived in hoop-coops, ramshackle shelters, mobile coops and just about every sort of thing in between. She even spent a few nights away from home as she decided how "free range" she wanted to be. As time went on we found that a paddock shift system with electric netting was a good choice for us and I made a rather respectable coop that can be disassembled and moved seasonally.
Despite all of my efforts Brownie would often decide to leave the fenced area in search of "something else". One never knows what a chicken is thinking but something motivated her to hop the fence even when there was no clear reason to do so. But that's just Brownie. She knew she wasn't supposed to be out of the fence but she did it anyway. On a few occasions I would catch her out and she'd see me. Her immediate reaction was to run to and then jump/fly over the fence to the security of the electricity and the roosters. She was no dummy. She also knew that the garden was off limits. I have a 3 strike rule about my garden. Strike three and you're soup. Brownie only had one strike in 4 years. She was a smart bird but sometimes over confident.
Yesterday morning I was surprised to see and hear that one of the roosters had somehow gotten out of the paddock and had somehow ended up near the duck pond a few hundred feet away from his flock. He was a little rugged looking and he seemed stressed. The ducks were a little put off by him, but otherwise fine. Hmmmmm So I grabbed him and started walking him back up the field to his house. Then I saw a small pile of feathers... then... more... and another pile. All downy, brown feathers mixed in with tail feathers from the rooster I was carrying up the hill. This was still before morning coffee so I just brought him up then went back to chores. Now I had a mystery on my hands.
As the day went on I was able to put it all together. I only have two hens with brown feathers so doing a head-count would be pretty easy. Sure enough, there was only one brown bird there and it wasn't Brownie. My heart sunk a little but I've come to expect these things over the last few years. It's nature and we play by nature's rules.
My best guess is that sometime in the early morning Brownie hopped the fence and did her normal thing. This time though something scooped her up. I'm pretty sure that a hawk or falcon is to blame because the path they took is a straight line downhill and each pile of feathers was at another potential launching point for a bird of prey. The grass is only disturbed in the areas with the feathers so I don't thing she was dragged by a ground predator. There's no clear path for such a critter. The best I can figure is that she got hit and then the rooster went ballistic trying to save her. He jumped the fence and fought whatever had his girl, with everything he had. He tumbled downhill doing battle all the way down but once they got to the road, the predator and Brownie were airborne and gone for good. Knowing Brownie, she probably had no idea what hit her, otherwise she would have made enough noise to wake us all up. The predator had a good clear open field and a good amount height to finally take his prize. And there she went...
So that's the story of Brownie, my first chicken. She was awesome and special and I always knew something like this would happen to her. I'm a little sad but I'm also happy that my first chicken had a good life here. She wasn't the first to go. (nearly a hundred have come and gone since I got her) She wasn't the first to be carried away in an instant either. She was just my first chicken so I feel like I had to tell her (our) story.
Thanks Chad. Despite being one of the smallest chickens I've had, she was super hardy. She's one of the few birds that didn't take any frost damage during the -30F weather we've had here at times. Most of the others have a toe, comb or waddle damaged by super cold weather. I think she knew how to make the other hens do her bidding. SHe was always in the middle of the huddle during the crappy weather. Warm and dry. smart bird... just didn't look up at the right time... one time.
I hate losing birds, our last house was on the edge of a swamp, during the lean months if the chickens left their coop they would get snatched up by foxes, during the middle of the day, didnt matter.
The new house isnt as bad but we are starting to get hit by predators, the electro netting only does so much, especially when the birds get out of it. I need to invest in a couple of livestock guardian dogs.
Brownie turned out to be only the first of the flock to be dealt a death blow from above. Over the last week or so, all of my fence jumpers have been taken out. It was only five birds in total and considering that I wanted to downsize the chicken flock, the hawk just helped me make some decisions a little faster and saved me the plucking. So now I'm down to 23 layers, two roosters and zero fence jumpers.