Back in the spring of 2012, when we first welcomed our laying hens to their new home, I pondered aloud what we might do with “our girls” when they ceased laying eggs. We had chosen hybrid chickens for a variety of reasons, knowing that while their production was good, their egg-laying days were numbered.
“You won’t have them long enough to worry about that,” a knowing friend commented. “Around here they don’t usually make it to the second year.”
At the time I thought her comment pertained only to those farmers careless enough to put chickens in a pen without adequate protection—backyard greenhorns who didn’t know that danger came equally from above, aloft on silent feathers, as it did from below. Surely our movable electro-mesh fence circumvented by an eight-foot, page-wire fortress was enough to keep out determined predators.
Three days into our chicken-rearing, we learned that we were en route to a popular bald eagle nest. Our developing farm was also excellent habitat for hungry barred owls and red-tailed hawks, who are beautiful to look at when they aren’t glorying over bloody chicken feathers.
After figuring out a workable solution for overhead predators, (something we shared on www.eartheasy.com) we thought we were in the clear. Our chickens thought so too, until last week.
That’s when a black bear stopped by and took more than we anticipated. After crushing the page-wire fence, he barrelled through the electro-mesh as if it were a gauzy spiderweb. He smashed our robust watering bucket, and mangled our overhead protection system.
My husband chased him away the first day, but that bear had already eaten enough to know a good thing when he tasted it. On the second, he came and went with such stealth we marked his presence only by the crushed fence and the dwindling bird count. On the third, we locked the chickens in the coop all day and night—and on the fourth, we moved them to a friend’s vacant chicken run for absolute asylum.
Now I think back to my wise friends’ comments and wonder how we might do things differently for our chickens, who we would like back with us where they belong. We have many ideas thanks to the fantastic resources available. But ultimately we are learning what any good farmer knows—that nature is part of this grand equation we try to calculate and manipulate so that we may produce food. Pay her kind attention, because she is the one in charge.