It's not all fun and games.

After the adventure of getting a dog, there was much discussion as to how we would tackle this predator problem. We met someone who is raising heritage chickens and she suggested, 'get a rooster'. Friends and other said, 'no way! roosters are nasty'. But Down By the Bay Backyard Poultry convinced me otherwise. She hand raises her roosters to ensure lovely temperaments. A rooster will guard his hens and fight to the death if the coop is invaded. A rooster will seek out food and then call the hens and allow them to eat first. A rooster will keep the girls in line which means, bullies are not allowed to bully other members of the flock. A rooster will ensure that a bullied hen gets her share of food and water. When free ranging a rooster will keep watch and alert them to hide when he senses danger. And he'll keep them all together. It sounded like this might be just what we needed. One hen, Joan, is always bullied and chased from food. She goes off on her own most of the time choosing not to stay with the flock.

Enter the new member of the flock, Belvedere. And what a handsome fellow he is! He has a funny crow but he only crows once in the morning and once in the evening.

The girls lost no time in beating him into submission. He was totally hen pecked. They would jump up and drop kick him with both feet like Kung Fu artists and send him running to hide in the coop. The chased him from the food. Now Joan on the other hand only joined in when the girls were looking. When I'd let them out to free range, keeping him in the pen so he has a bit of peaceful time, Joan would hang back and keep him company. They wouldn't let him roost so I installed a second perch for him and Joan would roost there with him at night. What a scaredy cat he was indeed! He's twice the size of the hens but what mushpie. He likes to be held by humans and is very friendly. But at the moment, a guardian he is not. Of course he's only 6 mos. old and hasn't even grown his spurs yet so he's just a baby. Hopefully when he matures and the hormones kick in, he'll man up and be the flock protector. It took about two weeks before the girls began to ease up on him and let him join the family and now he runs around with them like one of the gang.

Things were starting to mesh and although we'd gone from 5 girls to 3 they were laying regularly but supply was not meeting demand. So we  made the decision that in the spring we'd replace the hens we'd lost. Little did we know we'd lose yet another.

The temproary chicken run was torn down to make way for the permanent run we had always planned on. Something large and framed in so that we could cover it with plastic over the winter and create a snow free space for them to still get out and stretch the legs. And since we decided to build it on the front of the coop it would also serve to protect me from the wind and weather when I'm in the coop collecting eggs, feeding and cleaning out. The problem with a small compact coop is that it isn't big enough for humans so my head is in there while the rest of me is hanging out. Not a problem except when it's raining, snowing, blowing etc. We did put up a small ring of fencing elsewhere but a that crazy tail end of Mathew brought on a stormy day that demolished the flimsy thing, And so for a few days while finishing the run, the gang would just have to free range.

We were entertaining guests for the day with the gang running free. All seemed to be fine until I went to get everyone in the coop before dark. There was Belvedere the rooster in the coop Uh oh...that didn't seem promising. It took some searching and calling before we found Joan hiding under the trailer and if she is hiding, it means something happened. My heart started to sink. And then we found the pile of feathers and nearby poor Blondie tucked under the grass hiding. She was alive, alert and able to stand, but her entire back had been ripped open to the bone. All the flesh and skin had been ripped away. This was not something I could fix with a bandage. And so a quick decision to do our first mercy killing.

I've never killed a chicken and so, being stymied about the method, in the heat of the moment I took the suggestion of the guest to just wring her neck and break it. His neighbour across the road had chickens and this was what he did. So I looked her in the eye and petted her head and said, 'sorry sweetie', and then I screwed up my courage and did it. It was the hardest thing I could imagine having to do. Just an hour ago she was squatting nicely asking to be petted, as she always did. She was a cuddler, that one. She went limp and I let go of the breath I'd been holding and then I saw it....she was still breathing! Oh crap! Now pandemonium ensued and an attempt with a shovel failed and then sending the hubby to the shed for the axe, the job was finally done. But rather than the quick, humane end I planned on, I bungled the thing and prolonged both her suffering and mine. Albeit only a minute or two but in a crises a minute just feels like an hour. For me, the bungled attempts only served to leave me traumatized for two days but at least now I know next time, just get the axe right off. Hopefully I never have to do this again!

As Blondie was being carried off to be disposed of, I turned to lock the coop doors and there was Jessie waiting to go in. Thank goodness! We couldn't find her and assumed she had been taken. But there she was all in one piece and anxious to get inside. So now we are down to 2 hens and a rooster. A pretty darn pathetic flock size if your looking for a supply of eggs. And with a mere 3 bodies to huddle together, it's going to be hard for them to stay warm over the winter. We'll need replacements sooner rather than later.

The following day, friends came over to help get the chicken run further along to completion. It's not done, but enough of it is done now to keep the crew confined to a space where they are safe.

I'm still feeling a little sad over what I had to do, and when I stop to think about it, my stomach ends up in a knot. R.I.P. little Blondie.

In the six months we've been doing the chicken keeping we have dealt with scaly leg mites, shell-less egg issues, predators and first aid to fix a cut on Joan's foot. Now we can add mercy killing to the list and I have to say, I had no idea it would be this much work and drama. I thought it would just be feeding, watering and cleaning the coop. Hopefully once we get the coop winterized, the run complete and new girls added to the flock, things will settle down to a comfortable routine.


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