The Starter Farm


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We lost a chicken today, not “runaway lost” but “died lost.”  Since I’ve had the farm we’ve had to say goodbye to one chicken but it was not one that I brought to the farm, it was Mary Ann’s.  When her chicken was sick and not doing well we debated our options.  There was talk of letting it go by the river for it to meet its maker by coyote but I thought that was too sad.  It had lived a life of care and pampering and I thought that a death of being hunting down was a terrible way to exit this world.  We researched other ways.  A wring of the neck, a chop of the hatchet and even a shot to the head were suggested.  We were new farmers and this was the part of living life that we had yet to face, until now.  We both decided that we could not go through with the aforementioned but something had to be done.  I chickened out to be clichéd.  Mary Ann, not wanting the girl to suffer anymore, sent her on her way in her own way and that was that.  Sad, and that was for a chicken that I barely knew.

            In the spring, the tiny chicks of Francesca, Sophie, Lucy and Rita were delivered in a makeshift cardboard box. I had researched online a chicken farm nearby that personally delivered the breed of your choice to your doorstep.  Francesca and Sophie were Barred Rock chickens with black and white feathers.  An American breed, these girls looked Italian to me so they needed Italian names.  Lucy and Rita, New Hampshire Reds, of course needed two great redhead names to match their fiery plumage and personality.  My first chickens, my first animals on the farm, of course they needed to be cherished.  I become the doting parent checking their progress daily as I experienced my first foray to Farmerhood.   They grew, became “women” and started laying.  I called them the first girls, my first girls, another set would soon follow and our flock grew.  We were happy.

Now autumn is upon us and the chickens are molting.  It’s a time when the girls lose their summer plumage and the winter feather start to grow.  This in-between stage is strange and this year is the first year it has become so obvious because chickens do not experience their first molting until about a year and a half.  Yesterday Francesca looked different but we thought it was just her “molting period”.  She was huddled under the heat lamp with puffed up feathers that we attributed to dealing with the cooling weather, just a temporary stage like being caught without a winter coat by an early chill we thought. 

            Mary Ann found her.  I was late this morning for chores and did not notice a change or a missing girl.  I usually only count them at night to make sure they are safe.  She had to tell me and I thought she was talking about a wounded girl that is hanging in there that I thought had finally given up the fight.  No she said, it was Francesca, she had to tell me twice for it to sink in.

            The loss of this girl has really shaken me. She was the first in my entrance into animal husbandry and part of me feels like I failed her.  I read the books, I followed the advice, I feed the right food, I kept the coop clean and yet she still died.  She was not even the friendliest bird but I still liked her and now she’s gone.

            We always get chicken breeds in sets of twos.  They always pair up at night and hang out during the day with their breed and I have never figured out why.  I guess they recognize each other.  I wonder what her roommate will think tonight when she cannot find her.  At the end of the day I know that I have to deal with this loss thing if I am to be come a real farmer.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.



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