Last Saturday morning I went to check on the new baby chicks, as I did most mornings, and saw that one of the cute, speckled brown ones was missing from the coop. Super bummed, but knowing that there was a chance we might lose some of them, I unlatched the door of the portable enclosure and went inside to see if I could find the sick or dead bird. I didn’t want the others around it, and intended to remove it.
Once inside the 4 x 8 feet structure, I moved the bag of shavings slightly from under the nesting boxes to see if the chick was there. It wasn’t. Still wondering what had happened to her, I looked up and, within inches of my face, saw a snake coiled up in one of the nesting boxes.
I did yell. Quite loudly, I’m sure. I called Houston to come get the snake. Using his snake pole - a farmer and rancher’s best friend in cases like these - he got the intruder outside the coop. A quick glance and we were able to see what had happened to our little lady. A chick-size bulge about halfway down the length of the constrictor was all the proof we needed.
Raising animals on a farm is a two sided coin. There’s new life, which is exciting and precious, but the other side is death. And we’ve had our fair share of the latter. Our animals spend their days pecking and grazing in open pastures. It’s not a bad way to live. It’s especially good for the chickens and ducks. They get a varied diet and may go wherever they choose. The hens lay delicious and nutritious eggs. The downside is that their life expectancy is shorter than if they were caged or in an enclosed run.
Our ducks are a case in point. We’ve discovered that the hens (females) are more vulnerable than the drakes (males). Three years ago a friend gave us two Rouen hens and one drake. The hens were picked off within a year - hopefully by a hawk, and not Samson, our livestock guardian dog, who in his early days on our farm had a taste for fowl. Then in January, 2022, we acquired four Rouen hens and two drakes. Now there’s just one of the females. Plus, our neighbor’s male ducks, two of hers and three that used to be ours (the Rouen we had a few years ago and and two Muscovy) have shown up. Our poor little hen is getting more attention than she deserves.
As new farmers, we’re always learning. One of the things we’ve learned is the proper ratio of male to female birds. And this week I learned to always look before entering the chicken coop or reaching my hand inside for freshly laid eggs. You better believe it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.
This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the May 6, 2023 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.