We live a bit out in the country just beyond Ithaca, New York. It's a lovely area surrounded by rolling hills and woods and farms. There's lots of wildlife right outside our door -- deer, turkeys, possums, raccoons, skunks, rabbits. We've also got two cats, two dogs... and a bunch of chickens.
Last year our flock was all black australorps -- big plump hens with an irridescent sheen to their feathers. We let them free range in the yard and woods during the day and shut them in the coop at night. Every now and then one wouldn't make it back home at night, and we'd find a trail of feathers where one of the girls had met her demise from a fox or coyote or bobcat.
Lynn saw a black australorp rooster was up for adoption at the SPCA, and we thought it might be worth a try to see if he could protect the hens from predators. So we brought him home, much to the delight of the girls. William was quite a handsome dandy, and for a while it seemed he might have been just the champion the hens needed. I know he came after Lynn and I a few times -- he even managed to rip through her boot one day.
As the winter finally started to warm into spring, there were a few nights where we heard the shrieking of a vixen in heat near the house. It's a bloodcurdling sound. We even saw her a time or two as spring went on, skulking out on the edge of the woods and looking round in the belly.
Then sure enough, a hen went missing. And another. And another. And then the day we heard a ruckus and ran out to find William's mate, Peggy-O, dead, the fox running away with a hen, another hen mortally wounded, and William injured, running around in a blind panic. He and the wounded hen both had to be put down.
I know the fox had a family to feed. But it was a sad day to see all that carnage, and the poor chickens suffering. Now they're confined to the coop. We expanded their enclosure and they seem content enough, but they've lost their freedom.
I'd like to sit down with that vixen. We've both got families to feed, after all. And that's the story of Difficult Conversations #2.