This is a sad blog post to write, because once again tragedy has struck here at Bumblebee.
Almost since our chickens arrived, we have been in the habit of letting them out of their Palazzo and fenced outdoor run to have a walkabout in the afternoons for a couple of hours.
T. Boone prior to the attack
Their habits are fairly predictable. Once the gate is opened allowing them the freedom of the yard, the hens immediately charge toward the compost bin closest to their Palazzo to see what goodies I have thoughtlessly thrown in there rather than giving to them. The two roosters follow. But having little patience for salad treats, the roosters soon grow tired of waiting for the hens to finish their first course and leave them to go to the bird feeders, where they hunt and peck at the seeds the birds drop.
Come rain, come shine, since last September that has been the routine. Only twice did we have alarms from predators. Once, I happened to see a fox in the Back Forty while the chickens were on their walkabout. Another time a large stray dog wandered down the driveway just after I had let them free.
Thankfully, the chickens are well-trained to come when I call and will follow me like I’m the Pied Piper. This visitor-pleasing trick was easily taught after I realized that my chickens are corn addicts. They will do anything or follow anyone they think has a can of corn. Apparently, when they see me, their first thought is “CORN!”
Last week while I was in Annapolis on errands, Ben freed the chickens as part of our regular routine. When I returned at sunset, though, it was clear that something very irregular had happened.
There was a large collection of white feathers in the middle of the front lawn—the kind of feather that could only belong to T. Boone Chickens.
T. Boone was always the odd chicken out in the pecking order.
Knowing something was wrong, I parked the car and yelled inside for Ben to come out. The chickens were not in the coop. The chickens didn’t come when I called.
We began circling the house and calling “Chickens! Chickens!”
In the back yard, there was another enormous collection of feathers—these blue-black, clearly belonging to Johnny Cash.
Soon after that, Maude, one of our little egg producers, came out of the woods looking frightened but otherwise unharmed. We guided her into the Palazzo and went off in search of the other chickens.
Ben found Myrtle in a state of panic. She had taken refuge high in a tulip tree at the edge of the Back Forty. Although she is a corn addict, she wouldn’t budge from her perch for even that tasty treat. We ended up gently nudging her down with a long stick, but then she couldn’t be enticed to leave the edge of the woods, which were on the opposite side of the house from the Palazzo. After several unsuccessful attempts at luring her and then trying to capture her, I ended up getting Maude, Myrtle’s best friend. I cradled Maude in my arms while she clucked and cooed. Myrtle followed us right to the Palazzo.
About that time Ben discovered a whole new area of white feathers at the end of the Back Forty. After some more calling, T. Boone came limping out of the woods. Clearly, he was injured. We guided him into the Palazzo where I found he had deep, bloody puncture wounds on both sides of his body, suggesting the culprit was either a hawk or an eagle—both of which routinely fly over the hay field in front of our house.
Judging from the massive feather patterns, I think that the predator started by attacking T. Boone in the front yard, picking him up and heading south toward the Back Forty. T. Boone is a huge rooster and, I expect, put up quite a fight. The predator probably dropped him, creating the second massive patch of feathers and allowing him to escape into the woods.
We never did find Johnny Cash. Since all the other chickens had scattered in different directions to find refuge in the woods, I kept hoping that JC would come storming out of the trees like one of those movie heroes, a little battered but defiant.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Although we called and searched for a couple of days, there was nothing left of Johnny Cash, the chicken in black, but a collection of black feathers.
Ironically, Johnny was carried away and on to chicken heaven on the singer’s birthday.
T. Boone Chickens was so critically wounded that I didn’t think he would make it through the night. He settled into the Palazzo and hunkered down, keeping his head low and refusing to walk, eat or drink. He, in fact, did make it through the night although the next day he was still immobile and seemed dazed.
Ben dug a hole for his grave and I discussed the possibility of putting T. Boone out of his misery with my husband. But since none of us have the stomach for performing the act, even in mercy, we settled for making T. Boone as comfortable as possible, watching and waiting.
T. Boone following the attack. He is still recovering.
Never underestimate the regenerative powers of a rooster. Although we had given up T. Boone for dead, he continues to rally and improve daily. He is still slumped and is limping badly. But he is eating and drinking. As perhaps an even more encouraging sign that he is on the mend, he has taken over the roosterly duties with the hens previously performed by Johnny Cash (if you get my drift). Perhaps in this new pecking order, T. Boone will not be the odd chicken out that he has always been.
T. Boone Chickens may never regain his full strength and, in fact, may become our resident handicapped, or differently-abled, chicken.
I haven’t yet allowed the chickens out for a walkabout. It will take some time and chicken sitting before I think I’ll ever be comfortable with that habit again. And though I had previously enjoyed the sight of the hawks circling above, their presence now takes on a whole new meaning for me. I believe the whole Circle of Life thing is vastly overrated.