Poultry and Heartbreak



Petra’s pets are a bit unusual. They are our chickens, in particular the Golden Comet chicks we’ve been raising. They started out in a box in the bathroom, and now (some of them) live outside with the big fowl. She calls them her “baby peep peeps.” Most evenings, she kisses them goodnight.


She feeds them every day, and gets angry if someone else tries to do it instead.


We’ve never had chickens who were this docile. They’ve had a lot more handling than any of our others did.


I’m thrilled that she’s so excited about them. She is genuinely helpful with them, and nothing stops a tantrum (of which, it seems, we are in a three-a-day phase) like an offer to go visit the “peep peeps.” Even when she doesn’t have a feed bucket, they flock to her, and her delight makes my heart explode.

That one on the right is Pickens.

Her favorite one is called Pickens (from Petra’s chicken). We have a rooster named Sooster (Silas’ rooster), so I guess it’s tradition. Pickens will actually let Petra hold her, although, unfortunately, her claws are getting a bit sharp for that to be as fun as it once was.

A boy and his rooster (Sooster)
A boy and his rooster (Sooster)

Unfortunately, as I said, poultry comes, of necessity, with heartbreak. I’d say the breakdown is about 20% fresh eggs and morning crows, 80% vigilance and devastation. The flock is dispersing–some attrition planned, some less so. Two of the little red hens are now living at Kirsten and Jason’s house. Petra went along to see them settled there, and she seems satisfied with this arrangement. We never planned to add six birds to the flock anyway–it’s a bit much for the space we have–but you can’t buy fewer than six chicks.

Other departures have been less happy. We’ve had, we’re pretty sure, a possum situation. One of the “peep peeps” was nabbed and eaten the other day. We found a baby possum in the hen house the next day, and Ender killed a possum just after that. Luckily, Petra can’t count, and it was, as JC said, “one that hadn’t found a name.”

This morning, though, JC found Dabby dead, tangled in the fence and headless, and both drakes looking pretty beat up.

Dabby, on the left, following the white chicken (Sasha) into the henhouse.

Dabby had taken on the responsibility of fostering the chickens’ eggs. For at least two weeks, she was setting on a nest in the duck house, but as far as we could tell, none of the eggs were hers. We didn’t even know if any of them were fertile, but we figured she wasn’t hurting anything, and maybe she’d hatch out some chicks, so we left her alone. I should note that, in four years of poultry husbandry, this is the first mama bird we’ve had who actually put together a clutch of eggs (this is mostly because we’ve eschewed roosters and drakes as much as possible, and it takes two to tango…). And there she was dead, and the eggs cold. We brought them in and put them under a heat lamp, because…well, maybe? We’re trying not to get our hopes up, but we can’t help it. Chickens and ducks are so nice in the yard, they make us forget how close we are, every instant, to losing all of them (it’s happened more than once).

Dabby was Silas’ special duck. He named her after Abbey Cadabby (from Sesame Street). This morning, he seemed completely unphased when we explained that Dabby was dead. This evening, he asked me when Dabby was coming back, and I had to explain that she wasn’t–dead means never coming back. And that’s when it hit. The sadness, the questioning, the bargaining, the anger. Better to learn about death from a missing duck than a missing person, but still hard.

The day before Dabby’s demise, Pickens sustained a head wound, we think also from a possum or raccoon. All I could think was that I wasn’t ready to talk to Petra about death. I scooped Pickens up, asked Dr. Google what to do, and, before I knew it, I was swabbing Neosporin on a chicken. Pickens is recovering, slowly. She’s mad about being back in a box in the bathroom, which I take as a good sign. Petra is back to frequent visits and story time. A few feet away, Dabby’s eggs bask in the heat lamp.

I cross my fingers.


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