It wasn’t that I was being a big chicken went I went in. But I was nervous when the automatic doors first opened. I stood there, like an idiot, just listening. I heard piped in music. I heard the cheerful woman at the checkout talking with a customer. I heard the squeaky wheels of a buggy (Yep. Here in the south those things are called ‘buggies’, not ‘shopping carts’).

What I didn’t hear was peeping. I was safe. I let out the breath I was holding and entered Tractor Supply – the only place I can find dog food that: a) won’t affect Hootie’s allergies, and b) she and all the other dogs will eat. Apparently, the Natchitoches store had sold out of all their chickens.

a black and white chicken in a cage

The Risk of Being a Big Chicken

With that temptation removed, I grabbed a buggy and headed off to the dog food aisle, taking my time perusing the sale bins to see if there were any potential stocking stuffers. When I finally made it to my destination, all I saw was bare shelves where my brand was supposed to be. I quickly moved to the main aisle, where I had seen stacks of dog food. And then I found an employee, and he regretfully told me they were sold out. Sigh…

Oh, well. I had to go into the office, and I could easily jump on I-220 and go by the store in Bossier. This was Wednesday, I had to go to Shreveport on Friday and I had just enough food left to feed the dogs until then.

Predators vs a Big Chicken

I arrived home to hear frantic squawking coming from the coop. When it comes to protecting my flock, I am definitely not a big chicken. Grabbing a rifle, I hurried. We have been having problems with a young coyote, a gray fox and a blasted hawk for a while. I had already lost one laying hen and one of the baby chicks; I didn’t want to lose more. I know I sound horrible, but I was praying it was the young coyote. Him (or her) I could shoot.

a baby chick drinking water from a red container with chicks behind it

Hawks and some foxes, on the other hand, are federally protected, and considering I think I have a serious allergy to iron bars and paying out huge fines, those I couldn’t. Did you know that because they are federally protected, legally you cannot even chase a hawk off with a broom????

It had to have been the hawk. Even if there were no signs of that mangy feathered predator, I noticed that my other two babies were gone, and Moose had been pecked pretty hard. She was laying on her side, her neck covered with bloody spots – two of which were raw meat where the feathers had been plucked away.

Since the babies and Moose were in a cage, it could have only been the stupid hawk. I ran back to the house, laid the rifle on the table, grabbed a towel and headed back out. Poor Moose. She immediately went into the hospital pen in the craft room. Surprisingly, she was very calm, and didn’t act anywhere as afraid as a human big chicken would at the doctor.

A few days later, we found another dead laying hen. In spite of us shoring up any space we could find that a predator could come in, making sure all of them were in the coop at night, and making daily passes by the coop, we were still losing chickens.

a group of white, red, and speckled chickens sitting on steps

I stood in the coop counting and realized that I only had about 20 hens left – and at least fifteen were our old girls, who really aren’t laying any more. I still had the five that were ‘donated’ through hatching for a friend, but they wouldn’t be ready to lay until at least early January, if not spring. I shook my head and mentally kicked myself for not buying more chicks at Tractor Supply when I had the chance. Oh, well. This is just life on the farm.

The Sweet Music of Tractor Supply

On Friday, I headed into the office, took care of business then set out to get dog food. As the automatic doors swooshed open, I heard the special music I wasn’t even listening for. I hadn’t totally forgotten about the chick fiasco from earlier in the week, but I have learned to compartmentalize the heartbreak.

As I barreled my buggy through the aisle into the center of the store, I had my happy on. Laid out before me, in glorious, galvanized water troughs, was a buffet of fluffy little chicks. After carefully selecting two dozen of those precious babies, I grabbed a bag of chick starter and headed to the checkout.

When the clerk asked me if there was anything else I needed, I just looked at her, that ‘deer in the headlights’ look, and choked a bit. “Oh. Yes. I forgot. I need dog food.” She was so kind. She had one of the guys go get me two bags of dog food.

a big chicken with white feathers and a red comb

I now have a good start on next year’s flock. Moose has healed well (even if the comb still shows evidence of the attack), but unfortunately, she has grown enough for me to realize that she isn’t a laying hen. (I had already noticed she was a big chick, hence the name, but I think I was in a bit of denial there…)

Apparently, she managed to escape her water trough brooder’s confines in the store and ended up in one labeled laying hens. Nope. Moose is a Cornish X – which means she is now at the size, age and weight to go into the freezer. It’s breaking my heart, too, as she and I have bonded through her ordeal with the hawk and her convalescence in the hen hospital. When I now go out to the coop to feed, she runs for me, and pecks me until I pick her up.

a cream colored chicken house with a red door and chickens in the yard

This is definitely going to be a job for the Country Boy – from start to finish. I just don’t think I can look into those sweet beady little eyes and do the deed. And she won’t be able to live, either. Cornish X get so big, their frame cannot handle the body weight. If you allow them to live, they end up suffering and suffocating to death.

Lessons Learned

And to allow that is just too cruel for words. I guess that’s the lesson I need to learn right now. Just because I think I have enough chicks and am ready to put aside raising more until the spring, doesn’t mean that’s going to happen. And just because my freezer is full of meat birds, doesn’t mean I won’t be adding to it. But it also has shown me that living on a farm can make you ready for whatever life throws at you.

But I think I am still going to make the Country Boy do the Tractor Supply runs for a while. My heart needs a rest.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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