The Chicken Learning Curve

A few days ago, we lost Jackie Sparrow, our beautiful black chicken with green shimmers in her feathers, a friendly personality, and the ability to lay a delicious big egg each and every day.

She’s the third chicken we lose, which makes this a particularly difficult blog to write.

Should we stop having chickens until we have progressed with our project and can build a permanent chicken coop, giving up on letting chickens free-range?

Having chickens was one of the things Francois and I were the most excited about as we embarked on our tiny house and farm life, and we did our best to make sure our chickens were both safe and happy.

Francois built a gorgeous mobile chicken coop that has a fully fenced run (even the “floor” is wire fencing to make sure that no predator could dig into our chicken coop from below). While we move it around regularly, it is always within eyesight of the tiny house which is where we live and hence our base of operations.

When I get up in the morning, I let the chickens out. They then spend the day free ranging, usually within a reasonable radius of the tiny house – with occasional forays into the compost heap (on the edge of said radius) and the nearby forested area (just outside said radius).

Whenever we leave the property, we bring the chickens back in. Bonus, it involves a bell and chickens running after us (thank you, Pavlov!). We didn’t do that at first, but lost our first bird – legendary Dread Pirate Roberta – one afternoon while we were away. (Technically, we lost our second bird – Rakam the Red – the same way, when a friend was house-sitting and forgot to put the chickens back in the coop before he went out for the afternoon.)

That’s what makes this loss so particularly painful: we were home all day!

So, whatever is eating our chickens – and how crazy is it that we don’t even know what we’re up against? Fox, ferret, bird of prey, something else entirely? – is getting bolder, probably convinced that we are running a private buffet for him or her.

I know it’s part of the circle of life, that at least our chickens didn’t die in vain as they were food for another living creature (and maybe its family), and that having animals means losing animals – at some point in time and in one way or another.

What got me this time around was the unexpected feeling of guilt peppered with remorse. Did we really do everything we could to keep our chickens safe? Or was this avoidable?

It felt like a failure. A big, fat, inexcusable failure.

The next morning, after a few tears of anger and frustration followed by a good night’s sleep, those feelings have been channeled into determination.

I don’t know what the future holds, and whether we will set up a mobile fenced area for the chickens to free range in so we can keep an eye on them more easily, or whether I will set out to design something like a hamster ball but that allows chickens to free range safely.

All I know is that I am now just a little paranoid about keeping an eye on the single chicken we have left, Blackbeard. More importantly, I love having chickens – from the clucking to the fresh eggs we collect daily, and how well they fit into the landscape of this world we’re building for ourselves – so I am not ready to give up on them. Dear learning curve, I am on you.