THE OFFICIAL BLOG
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.
We have had a fantastic spring hatching African goslings. Not only were the girls laying like huge-honking, egg-laying machines, but the fertility rate of the eggs remained in the upper 90% for the entire nesting season. Add to that the fact that Emily and I seem to have settled on a rock-solid incubation technique for these eggs at our location, and what we have is a lot of goslings.
Saturday night we agreed that we should move some of the older goslings to a grow-out pen to make room for the younger ones in the cage in the garage. It would only be for a short night while we reorganized cages and kennels. Besides, they would be safer in the grow-out pen than free in the fenced front yard where their fully-feathered gosling cousins stay overnight.
We woke up Father's Day morning to horror. I do not know now how many goslings we had moved to that pen Saturday night. I suppose I could do the math and figure it out, but I have been unable to bring myself to think of any number other than the number lost. Four goslings were gone with only traces of blood and worse left where they had been pulled through the impossibly small wire and into the woods where they were partially buried. Two remained inside the enclosure, but only partially and in a state you do not want me to describe here. Another had survived the attack with a deep neck wound and a missing eye. The rest were panicked, but unhurt otherwise. Apparently, the weasel did not have enough time to get to them before sunrise.
I want to... And I will... burn that useless 'safe' enclosure to the ground.
I am not disparaging all fences, coops, runs, houses, and grow-out pens. Only that pen - that I do not want to look at anymore. We will continue to use the others as necessary. We will continue to secure them as best we can. But we know they are not ever completely safe.
Sometimes out here I become acutely aware of how dangerous nightfall really is. Maybe this is how our ancestors felt every evening when they lit their lamps and said their prayers. This is surely an ancient fear and helplessness that has been supplanted by a sense of security in the artificial light of our modern lives. Perhaps we are safe, but we have erroneously begun to feel as if the darkness itself is safe. And we lose the sense of relief that comes with a glorious dawn following a night survived without harm.
For weeks to come I will feel the weight of falling darkness each night. I will sense the unseen forces of nature pushing in from all sides -- on the fences and gates and the doors and windows. I will almost hear it knock on the walls of the barn and thud as it alights atop the roof peaks. I will restlessly dream of the onslaught - so determined and meticulous that on some night it will doubtless leak through and shatter the morning with grief and mourning again.
If there were many such mornings, I would at the very least pack my things and move back to suburbia with its amber streetlights and manicured lawns that provide no cover. I wonder if I could go back or if the fear would follow me? For now, however, I gently apologize to the little creatures that I failed to protect. I work to be more vigilant. I light my lamp and say my prayers every night. And I do not ever, ever, ever take the sunrise for granted.
Posted by Anita
Definitely still has a firm grip on her humanity.