It is so heartwarming to see hens pecking and scratching for worms and bugs; roosters flying up on the gate to crow; the wild, ungainly walk-run when they suddenly decide to get to the other side of the yard for no apparent reason. The freedom to roam across wide expanses of grass and herbs, to take a "spa" day and roll around in the dust, turn on their side and expose their underwing to the sun. They sing the most adorable little songs when they are happy, make a little grunting sounds then a loud cackle when they lay eggs. When I take a tea break in one of the little lounging areas around the farm, they always find me and just hang out for a while.
I had eleven of my original Mables left. They had been excellent layers until the weather reached triple digits for days on end. They were good little wives to Jack,their Banty Cochin Rooster. They came when he called; they groomed him every day; they usually acquiesced to his amorous advances and they cuddled next to him on the roost. He returned their devotion by warning if something flew overhead, a cat walked by or an innocent leaf floated down from a tree. He scratched up bugs, located new food scraps in the compost heap and defended their honor from the new adolescent roosters coming of age. I loved those little red hens.
Today, after having been out of town all day, I came home, changed clothes and when I fed the chickens I started counting, as always. Eight of my Red Star (Red Sex Link) hens were missing. Eight of my sweet Mables. Eight out of eleven. Hubs and I started looking and found three dead; obviously killed.
Free range has its drawbacks. We've always been around to drive off predators--scaring hawks by pounding on buckets (yes it works!) Trapping racoons and reprimanding neighbors dogs. The evidence points to the dogs which makes matters worse because they are sweet dogs.
So, it's a sad day here at the farm. But, the circle of life goes on and we have lots of little Mables (New Hampshire Reds), Millies (Jersey Giants), Lillies (Cochins) and Tillies (Aruacanas) who are almost ready to start laying. And, there are still three older Mables (Red Star) left.
So, tomorrow Hubs is taking some extra precautions with more fencing. But, we are still going to free-range...after-all, they are the best eggs in the world.