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We no longer have chickens, but please enjoy their stories!
The chickens, some thirty birds, needed my immediate attention. The prior owners had suggested ordering new ones because they hadn't bought any in a few years and the hens were getting old. Hens have a limited number of eggs inside them - similar to human females. Typically, a mature hen releases an egg every other day. The owners left me a note describing how to cull out the old maids. "You have to check the vents," it said! Hens have only one opening, and it is their owner's job to determine whether it is dry or moist, large or small. This is how you learn the egg-laying activity of a hen. New to farming, I wasn't sure I was ready for such close inspection, which involved first catching and then pinning down the hen for closer examination.
I ordered new chicks from the McMurray Hatchery catalogue. When they arrived the post office called to alert us, and there they were: small puffballs huddled together in a cardboard box. They immediately went into the warm brooder and their twittering filled the kitchen with new life. My daughter and her friend chose their favorites and would hold them softly cupped in their hands.
Of the twenty-four, two died in the first few days. They lay there on the newsprint, simple little beings stepped on continuously by their hardier sisters until removed. The rest grew each day - eating and drinking - their dust covering the mudroom adjacent to the kitchen.
After a month, the chicks had outgrown the brooder and they moved to the coop. As the weeks passed they turned into awkward adolescents with large feet and long legs supporting small bodies. Their tail feathers came in, followed by real feathers. They were such amusing creatures, poking and prodding their way around the coop.
Then one morning, bringing a bucket of fresh water into the henhouse, I saw a dead chick. Around the coop they lay - twenty-one dead chicks in all. What a ghastly sight! A few had had their heads removed, but most had simply had their necks bitten through. They had already grown cold and hard. In shock, I filled a five-gallon water bucket four times with the dead birds, carried them to the field and buried them.
By whatever means, the voice on other end assured me, I would need to catch this pest because he would certainly be back for more.
I borrowed a Have-a-Heart Trap - not knowing what I was going to do once the culprit walked into it. When I next checked, the evildoer; a small, frightened skunk, was huddled in the end of the trap. I gingerly approached, lifted the door with a broom handle, and walked away. A few hours later the skunk had vanished.
Out of all of those chicks from that first Murray McMurray Hatchery order, only one survived. I named him Lucky.