THE OFFICIAL BLOG
It is the strangest thing to me that all winter long I see reminders on the news and social media to shelter your pets and other animals from the cold - yet when summer comes there is basically silence. Personally, I find it a lot easier to warm up than cool down... And my experience has taught me that a lot of my fur-covered or feathery companions have much the same problem.
Aside from breaking up ice in stock tanks and hauling around buckets when our hoses are frozen, winter is fairly easy around here. I am probably only able to type that out at the moment because it happens to be July, but I am going to go with it. Check back with me in December and see if I have changed my mind. We have never lost an animal to cold weather. As long as they have shelters with some deep (and actively composting) bedding, full bellies, and a few companions to snuggle with - they do just fine. I have heard otherwise. So much so that I was pretty shocked as a novice chicken owner to find my first Buff Orpington hens dust-bathing in the snow for the first time on a particularly frigid January morning.
It should not have been so surprising, I suppose, as Buff Orpingtons are a cold-hardy breed. Which is great! In winter. Summer, however, poses quite a few challenges for our extra fluffy and often broody hens.
It does not matter how long we have been doing this, or how many times things go horribly wrong and we get through it. When we lose any animals, the heartbreak is the same. It means we are human, I tell the kids, We know by the pain we feel that we have lost none of our humanity along the way. And none of that reassurance in our humanity dulls the ache -- or quells the fear.
When I tell people that we inevitably lose some poultry each year to predators, I do not often see any surprise register on their faces. Honestly, I think I might be able to hear them thinking: "Sure. That's what happens when you insist on free-ranging your animals, you ding-bat." Sometimes my confession is followed up by their testimony (which confirms that my mind-reading skills are on target), "We will be keeping ours in a safe coop and run. So, no worries."
No worries. If only.
While it is true that we have a chicken missing periodically - the likely victim of a hungry hawk or a late morning fox on the prowl for a snack - most of our losses have not actually had anything to do with free-ranging. Nothing compares to the losses we have sustained inside safe enclosures. And I mean nothing compares - by any measure and not just quantity. The chicken who comes up missing at the mid-morning roll call does not compare to the discovery of an entire grow-out flock helplessly torn to bits. Waking up the morning after your safe enclosure was no longer safe is a punch in the gut.