Mo Bloggin'

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Letting go

img958I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. A mundane, everyday occurrence. Except when it’s not. You see, I (finally) gave up all my chickens a couple of weeks ago, at the direction of my doctor. After dragging my feet on it for six months, I placed an ad on Craigslist and they were gone in less than 24 hours. It was a good time to do it, just as we head into the winter months. They weren’t laying much (I was getting 1 egg a day from 18 hens) and the winter months are hard on them – they don’t enjoy the 6 months of rain any more than I do. Caring for any livestock during the winter months is more work (thawing frozen waterers when it freezes, replenishing straw regularly to help combat the ever-present mud, etc.), so getting rid of them now was a little easier, in theory.

I got an incredible response to the “Free Chickens” ad–over a dozen people, with half of them in the first three hours after I posted, and more coming in until I pulled the ad about 10 hours later. I had no idea old hens would be such a hot item. I replied to the first person that responded and said he wanted them all. He was close, only one town away, and was able to come after church on Sunday.

I went out mid-morning to shoo the girls into the coop, where they would be easier to catch. I donned my respirator mask, tucked my hair under my cap, and got to work. I moved them to the old chicken tractor I bought when I first moved here and needed a place for the hens I’d moved in with. It went quickly and easier than I expected. Then the tears came. I stuffed them back – I didn’t want to be a mess when the guy got here. But I had to go inside for a while.

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Loaded up and waiting.  Trying not to cry.

The fellow got here and got out of his van with three young boys, stair-step in height from age 6-ish to age 12-ish, each armed with a fishing net. We didn’t need the nets, but it was cute that they were ready for chicken catching. We loaded the hens up–there were 15 of them going—into the assortment of boxes the fellow brought and before I knew it, it was done.  I sent them off with 14 free hens,* plus my 25# feeder, the rest of a bag of feed I had, and three waterers. And it was over. After 34 years—most of my life—with anywhere from 6 to 26 chickens in my backyard, I was now chicken-less.

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So quiet and sad.

So now it’s just the adjustment to life without chickens. I know it sounds ridiculous in many ways, but it’s a huge change for me. They weren’t pets per se, but I loved having them in my life. Their simple pleasures in a good sunbath, a juicy worm, scratching in the garden, and dusting in the dry duff under the cedar trees were my pleasures, too. They are entertaining to watch, and their busy little lives were always an enjoyable way to wind down after a hectic day at work and a lousy commute. Plus, eggs. Delicious, free-range eggs on organic feed. These purchased eggs have a funny taste in comparison, and even though they’re pastured, organic eggs (at $6 a dozen) they’re not as rich or egg-licious as mine were. 20161120_123149I wake up in the morning and look out the bathroom window to the empty coop and run, so silent in the morning gloom, when it should be filled with the waking flock, clucking and pecking and preening. I come home expecting to see them come running to the fence, eager to be let out (I kept them penned when I wasn’t home, to keep them safe from predators). While raking leaves I am struck by the silence of not being surrounded by a happy flock scratching around in the leaf litter and filling up on all the goodies they find. A favorite activity was to dismantle a pile of leaves I’d raked up; they were quick and industrious, and could take down a pile in short order (like, while I briefly went to get a bin for the leaves). I feed the sheep after work and think about checking on the hens for a half beat before I remember they’re no longer out there. The coop is deathly quiet now.  It’s even noticeable at night, when they’d normally be quiet anyway, roosting for the night; my coop full of contented hens is no longer there and it’s almost ghostly.

It’s ridiculous how many tears I’ve cried, not realizing until they were gone how they infiltrated my life so completely. I knew I would miss them, but I didn’t know that virtually everything I did outside would be permeated with their loss, even as it was filled with their presences before. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this; perhaps because I never imagined this scenario. Even now, looking out my office window as I type, the vacant run is still and the emptiness is wrenching. I used to look out at them as I worked here, a moment’s respite from my labors at the computer, reflecting or looking for a word, thought, or sentence in my mind as I watched them being all chickeny, happy in their little chicken lives, providing me with entertainment and solace, de-stressing me with their calming, bucolic presence. Plus, eggs.

I’ve tried to rationalize it every which way, knowing that I had to do this for my health, that it’s for the best, that it will save me money at the feed store, that it be easier to have fewer animals to care for (whatever), but nothing is breaking the desolate void of not having them. Except my heart.

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*I’d withheld three hens for a woman on a local FB group I belong to, who’d expressed interest in them; they went to their new home on Tuesday morning, plus one who’d escaped on Sunday.

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14 thoughts on “Letting go

  1. Ugh, I am getting ready thinking about the big void those busy chickens have left. Hugs.

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Thanks, Bliss – it’s bigger than I expected for sure. Through it all I keep thinking of that pact we make with our animals, to always care for them to the end (even if I am that end, in the case of the sheep and chickens!), and that only makes it harder. Gah.
      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Maureen

  2. I just went out to my chicken pen (7 a.m.) and found another one was caught and eaten by something–a hawk or owl this time, I think. I’ve lost eight birds this year to predators–raccoons, foxes, coyote, hawk. I’ve struggled to keep my girls safe, but I’m starting to think I’m going to have to give them up like you did, because it just seems cruel to keep feeding predators.

    • mcfwriter on said:

      I am so sorry to hear of your losses, Kathy. I was lucky to have had relatively few predator issues over the years. I know my dogs kept the raccoons wary and I only rarely had hawk problems. Bobcats have been a problem here, but again, the dogs keep them wary (and my dogs are inside pets!). My first couple years I had minks come in and massacre most of my first flock, and when we moved once, neighborhood dogs killed some. 😦 The only “good” thing about most predators is it’s fast. With the bobcats I don’t think the chickens even know what hit them. I hope you are able to find a solution – I loved having chickens and miss them terribly.
      Thanks for writing – it’s good to hear from you!
      Maureen

  3. I am so sorry to hear this, although it was something you had to do for your health. I have only had my hens for five years, and I know how much I would miss them, especially the feel of a warm egg in my hand.

    • mcfwriter on said:

      They are wonderful little beasts, and very good to me over the years. It will be nice to get off the medication (steroids) but oh, how I will miss them.
      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Maureen

  4. Oh gosh I would go crazy if I had to give my babies up, but I understand why you had too. You gotta do whatcha good do, but boy ole boy is it hard. Hugs and prayers that you will get thru this. 🙂

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Thank you for your kind words, Trish. It’s been harder than I imagined – every time I reread the post (always checking and double checking for errors, or ways to improve) I end up with tears in my eyes anew. Hopefully cathartic, but after so much time, I know it will take some time to “unidentify” with my life with chickens.
      Cheers,
      Maureen

  5. You’ve had a major “death in the family,” giving up those chickens. I can only imagine how hard it is; I hope the dogs are snuggling close, feeling your pain as they do. (Your writing process sounds like mine!)

    • mcfwriter on said:

      I never thought of it like that, Michelle – that’s a good way to put it. It does feel like a death or loss of a beloved pet, even though they were never really pets. The one at the top of the post, Speck, was one of the few that made it to pet level (a name!) due to her friendliness. Somehow they became intrinsic to who I am (I guess after 3+ decades that will happen) and I wasn’t really ready to give up that part of my life.
      And heck yeah on the writing. No matter how often I reread or preview before I hit “publish” there are always a half dozen things I only see AFTER it’s gone live. What IS that? LOL!
      Thanks for writing!

  6. It must have been really hard getting them crated up and sending them off with someone. I think I’d miss mine greatly if I had to give them up- they are real characters. I hope that it does help ease your lung issues. Wishing you a great Thanksgiving-

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Thanks, Denise. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving too! With the recent cold and rain, it’s been a little easier this week, if only for the fact that I’m not outside so much. But I expect this will go on for some time. Thanks for writing!
      Maureen

  7. So sorry Maureen. I know it must be hard, even if it is for the best.

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Thanks, Donna. I keep thinking it will get easier, and in some ways it does, but every time I go outside and see the quiet coop… Sigh.
      Maureen

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