Today was the first day on pasture for the first set of broiler chicks. At four weeks old, these chicks now have enough feathers to keep themselves warm without a heat lamp.
I moved them into the chicken tractor last night, because darkness minimizes their fear. This morning, I let them out into the grass, showed them the waterers, introduced them to real dirt–it was all so idyllic. I left to buy feed and was gone for about an hour. As I drove up to the Shire, I saw a bald eagle being harried by two ravens, which is not unusual.
But when I scooted into the chicken tractor with the feeders, to my horror I was met with bloody carnage: two headless baby birds, and a whole group of traumatized chickens.
It’s the kind of situation that strikes a person into immobility. WHAT am I seeing? HOW can this be? I was JUST HERE with them all, alive and well! HOW can this happen so fast?
The horror of it was that two birds were killed right inside the chicken tractor, the one place they should be totally safe. It should be said that never have I had a problem with chickens being attacked from above. Yes, I’ve had raccoon pressure, and some feral dogs attack, and that’s why they were in a carefully fenced area, with the additional protection of a secure chicken tractor. I had left the front door open so the birds could go in and out, like I always do.
But the eagle must have seen an opportunity of smaller birds that are clueless to the ways of the world, and it made its move. Another horrible aspect of this is that these four-week-old birds are completely guileless in this brand-new situation, with no idea how to protect themselves. So suddenly a big bad bird drops into their midst, starts ripping apart their classmates, and they are helpless. Sitting ducks, so to speak.
And I wasn’t around to protect them. Poor babies. Oh the guilt.
There were two more birds outside, partially eaten. I counted all the birds and found six missing. The annual rye grass, which I’ve been carefully saving for these babies, was quite flattened in one area, probably in a titanic struggle. I started lifting the blades to see if any other birds were dead, and I found one hidden under the tall grass. Oh no, not again! But this one moved in my hands; upon examination I found it completely unhurt. Smart baby, to hide!
So in all I’ve lost, in the very first day on pasture, five birds. Not a happy situation.