Roughly this time last year…
The dogs and I were all napping in the living room, when outside we heard a cat screech. Everyone bolted out the open back door and to the front gates to see what was up. I wanted to be certain the noise had indeed come from the front and not the back where the chickens were free ranging. When I made it out to the deck I looked out at the back, able to see the chickens in the tall grass at the edge of the woods, confident the noise came from out front, I looked that way and was bit flummoxed to see Surry in the driveway.
The people gate was shut and latched. Then I noticed the 10-foot farm gate ajar. I had unhooked the chain weeks ago, probably months ago, when Craig from R&K was coming to check out my yard and septic system. I clearly had never bothered to re-latch it. That gate is heavy and difficult to move, but when Surry barks at that gate she bumps it, somehow today she used the force she carried bolting off the deck to nudge it open just enough.
She stood by my car contemplating her freedom. I had not chance if I gave chase now. Plus at this point, she was not my concern, the chickens were. But she didn’t seem to head straight for them so I paused. She darted around in the woods a bit and it appeared she had headed next door, so I went to the other side of the woods expecting to see her at their gate wanting to go after the cats, which had been her typical plan when escaping before. She wasn’t there.
Time to go round up the chickens. The Littles had already been crated as they were wandering too far into the woods for my liking earlier in the day. These chickens had only been living outside for a couple of weeks and me still being a newbie at this, it did not occur to me to take treats with me to round them up. They were not interested in me one bit. The woods were filled with bugs and grasses and I was empty-handed. I continued my efforts to do an end-around and herd them back toward the coop. There was no sign of Surry, yet.
I contemplated what to do. There was no food in their feeder to use to entice them. All treats were at the house. Could I actually get to the house, retrieve treats and get back before Surry arrived. Honestly I was floored that she was not here yet, so I actually started to head back to the house. Fortunately I wasn’t even out of the chicken yard when I heard the rustling of leaves and branches and soon the squawking of terrified birds.
I turned as fast as I could, the chickens were running everywhere some toward the coop, but no one went in, they scattered, Gertie made a run for the bamboo, but Surry was on him (Gertie was a roo) in a flash. I got there horrified. Surry’s big coonhound paw had the chicken pinned to the ground. Feathers filled the air where Surry had already gotten a mouth to his neck.
“Surry NO!” I grabbed her collar, but it was too late, besides, stopping her now would only cause Gertie to suffer.
I hung my head and let Surry run off into the bamboo with her kill.
I could neither see nor hear my remaining five. I said a prayer grateful that the Littles had been safely tucked away. It appeared my remaining flock had fled. I pulled back the brush and brambles not caring one bit about any scrapes or scratches, I was getting, but grateful it I had tall muck boots on.
I felt solemn and sick to my stomach that I had caused the brutal murder of one of my chickens and it was one of MY animals that did it. Starting to worry that I had set the rest of them up for a similar demise I finally spotted them huddled at the base of a tree in the middle of the woods, where just moments before they had been munching and scratching happily along the edge. This time they complied with my herding efforts and dashed all the way up into not just the run but the security of the coop. I closed all doors and took a deep breath.
I had no idea how long Surry would spend with Gertie. I walked into the bamboo and ankle deep water from the previous day’s deluge. No sign of Surry or parts of a chicken. I had no idea how long it would take her to devour Gertie. I expected to see her covered in blood.
Coincidentally I walked into the house to hear my phone chirp with a text message from the friends who had helped me erect the coop asking how the chickens were. I felt so defeated, like I had let them down.
I sat on the deck with my phone nearby and Surry’s leash. I wondered how long it would take her to return, that’s when I saw her by the fence. I grabbed the leash and walked slowly over to her, she darted behind the compost bins and looked at me, almost laughing and then took off back into the woods. Not at all in the mood to give chase I just went back to the deck and sat down in my Adirondack chair with my beagle boys nearby. So many thoughts raced through my mind as I waited for the phone to ring with one of my neighbors reporting of Surry’s whereabouts. Would she come home? Would she go off in search of the neighbor’s chickens?
I heard activity over at my neighbors’ to the north, their Lab was barking and I heard the clanging of a gate chain, so I half expected Junior to walk down the road with Surry in tow. I found myself staring aimlessly at the woods that separate our properties when my eye caught something. Not movement, but a rich red color, that once focused upon, stood out among the lush greenery. Surry was just behind the seating area eating her kill. She held Gertie firmly in her mouth, the chicken’s head dangling still attached by a tendon to the rest of the body. I was shocked at how little blood there was on Surry or the feathers. Gertie had obviously drained well and quickly. The flesh was fresh and pink, highlighted by bright red organs. Surry dashed away from my reach and surprisingly headed around the front of the house and to the main gate, the walk-through gate we use every day for our walks and my entry and exit from the car. She wanted into the yard with her prize.
Surry pranced around impatiently on the deck wanting to be let into the house. Then she started digging behind the miniature rose bushes and frantically trying to cover her chicken up with mulch and mud. I got the leash on her and made her go inside. I returned and flung Gertie into the woods.
I was spent, totally defeated…”at least it was a rooster” everyone said. Yes, Gertie had been a rooster and likely destined for the freezer anyway, but certainly much more humanely.
Every time a breeze would come up the air would fill with downy feathers. They looked like dandelion seeds, but I know that is not what they were, they were most assuredly down. Every time I looked up today and saw them, I was certain it was down from Gertie.