Being a farmer is not always fun and we have some seriously crappy days where even the best laid out plans go to sh*t and our entire day is thrown off. This week we had one of those days.
The week was going to plan. Today was supposed to be an easy one of knocking things off the to-do list and getting ahead of the game as winter is around the corner. I woke up early, Ryley was ready for school early, I was going to get hen chores done early and start my to-do list early. Today was going to be great! Well that was a big fat…..PLOT TWIST!!
I went out to do chores; my girls all met me at the gate as usual excited for breakfast but they didn’t follow me into the coop like usual. I stopped for a minute and looked around something was off. I saw a small bunch of feathers on the ground and just stayed very silent and then heard a whap whap whap on the back side of the coop. I knew something was wrong and momma hen instincts kicked in. I went running to the back side of the coop to find a sight I never could of imagined would be part of my daily.
I have hen pinned to her back and a hawk standing on top of her with his wings sprawled wide as he tries to kill her for his breakfast. It’s now me against this hawk. My hen was still moving so I knew she was still alive but it wasn’t going to be long, I charged at the hawk and he seriously just looked at me and wouldn’t move. It wasn’t until I was within reaching distance did he lift up to sit on the fence before eventually taking off.
This is now when my next moves as a hen farmer can possibly make the day better or make the whole situation worse. First and foremost this hen that is half dead needs to be removed from the coop before the other girls see her. Hens are attracted to red, just like bull, and they will peck it. Once they start pecking it can turn into an all-out pecking disaster and they can and will start pecking each other and we will end up with more dead hens. This is my primary concern. They are also extremely hyper sensitive so if they get scared they will stop laying (which us egg lovers don’t ever want this to happen) and they will take their emotions out on each other through pecking. Keeping the flock calm and happy is our #1 priority.
I picked up the hurt hen walked out of the coop and chicken run and just sat with her in my arms as she took her last breath. The hawk did enough damage and attacked enough vitals in her neck that there was no chance of survival but she also didn’t suffer. Now that my hen is dead, I can turn my focus to the rest of the flock and make sure everyone is good. To ensure the girls would be safe and there would be no more dead birds I had to move all the girls into the coop. This is where I am so grateful for my panels that move easily to help herd the girls in, because 1 person against too many hens to count, a run that makes a giant circle around a coop….you get the picture. I would probably still be out there trying to get them in to the coop long into the evening with all too many choice words. Once the girls are safe it’s on to the next problem.
How do I prevent this from happening again?! Bird net for over top of the run. Sounds simple, but a net this big, as a 1 person job is going to take some time. Hours of moving panels, hours of trying to string this massive net up, hours I just simply don’t have today. Today I have meetings and classes to teach, things that can’t be cancelled. So this is tomorrow’s job and today we will just ensure the girls remain calm, have everything they need and we will get some of the smaller tasks done as we are already hours behind schedule.
Just like you I am thinking awesome this is the end of the story, yay! Nope!
This hawk is mad I didn’t let him have his breakfast he thinks he deserves. So while I am out in the big coop, hours later, I am hanging up lights for the girls for winter and I hear our small flock of leghorns in their coop freaking out completely. Jumping off the ladder I run out the coop to find this jerk of a hawk sitting on the ground and jumping at my leghorns in their run.
Cue, the redheaded rage!
It’s one thing to kill one of my hens when I am there it’s another thing to come back when I am there again and try and take another one of my hens. I knew my leghorns were safe. They have protection from all angles and this hawk cannot get in but they don’t know that. Walking up to this hawk I am pissed off. I once again can come within 2 arms lengths of him and he just lifts up on to a tree branch about 6 ft in the air.
I stood there for a moment and thought, “wow…..I am having a stand-off with a hawk today”. For a girl that grew up in the suburbs I could have never predicted this is what life would be like when I grew up. But this life is where I am happiest and even though today is not going to plan, I can still sit back and smile knowing I truly enjoy this life.
Birds of prey are not something I can fix in a day and it is something I will be battling for as long as I have hens. These amazing graceful creatures are a protected species by the Wildlife Act, and quite often I have seen them in a field and watched them swoop down and catch a mouse and just truly amazed at their grace. But today I was not admiring him. I was cursing, yelling and truly wanting to ring the neck of this majestic beast. Our hens are not just an income to us, they are part of the family and they are treated with the utmost respect, love and care. They provide us, and many other families, with food every day and every day we will protect them the best we can. This is not our first loss to a predator and it won’t be our last but for today it’s over and tomorrow we work on setting up more protection for them.