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The Cost Of Freedom

Find the cost of freedom,

I mentioned that we recently switched our chickens from a small yard to a much larger pasture system. We loved giving our girls more space to forage and rotating them to a new area when one was hen pecked. They seemed healthier for having the freedom to roam around.

Buried in the ground,

But last Wednesday, we experienced the devastating cost of such independence. A quick and thorough predator slaughtered our entire flock save one hen hidden in the nest box.

backyard chicken slaughter

The attack happened just after I let the birds out in the morning, a time I've never been worried about predators. The culprit, likely a fox or family of hawks, only took two bodies to presumably eat. When I returned to the yard to feed kitchen scraps, I found fourteen dead or dying bodies scattered like a crime scene.

Mother Earth will swallow you,

My heart raced, momentarily unable to believe my eyes. I didn't know what to do next. No one does in the face of such devastation.

In the end, with the advice and assistance of many friends, we buried the bodies. Our sweet rooster Shakleton, who by the dispersal of feathers clearly fought the predator, lived another eight hours but ultimately succumbed to unknown internal injuries. We buried him as well.

Lay your body down.

As overwhelming as losing the entire flock was, we have always been aware of the possibility of predator attacks. Foxes, raccoons, and hawks all frequent our property. The only way to truly protect chickens would be to confine them completely and that's not the way we wish to raise livestock. So we submit to the occasional interruption of natural predator and prey behavior.

A whole-flock loss, however, especially when the birds weren't even consumed, cannot happen again. We extended fencing on the run to make it a little harder for predators to climb and rehung buntings to deter hawks. We will add geese to the group because they will alert and possibly fight off small predators. And when we return from summer vacation, we'll adopt a dog to help guard the livestock. We're already rebuilding the flock with some chicks raised by our neighbor.

Grief over losing so many favorite birds, including our last remaining chicken from our very first group of hens, ebbs and flows but is generally abating. What still brings tears to my eyes is the outpouring of support. A half dozen friends showed up to help on the day of the slaughter and many more offered their assistance. Hundreds of friends spoke or wrote words of sympathy via social media, at the farmers market, and at our OEFFA tour. We are humbled by the number of people who encourage us.


NB. The interspersed lyrics are from the song 'Find the Cost of Freedom' recorded in 1971 by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Listen to a live 1971 recording re-released last year. I fully realize that writer Stephen Stills was likely expressing a reaction to the tragic losses in the Vietnam War and a few chickens is no comparison to those events. My father's band sings 'Find the Cost of Freedom' at the end of each performance. Practicing and performing small gigs since I was young, their rendition of this song has helped ground me through losses my entire adulthood, and the lyrics ran through my head for days last week.