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Guess Who Ate Close Call?

June 6, 2010
Zimmy pauses to watch chickens

Zimmy pauses his kale snack to watch chickens

Keeping chickens and also dogs isn’t always easy. Two of our dogs ignore the chickens, but  Zimmy, the 2-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, is all too interested in little creatures that flutter and fly and try to run away. I’m so sorry to say, we fell down on management of chicken/dog interaction, and one of our pullets, Close Call, the little White Leghorn, was eaten by Zimmy. It was very upsetting to say the least.

This happened Friday afternoon as I was trying to finish up work and get ready to go to the Mendocino Film Festival for the screening of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (Fantastic movie, by the way.) Then I couldn’t find my purse or wallet, making us almost late to get to the theater, and I didn’t have any ID to pick up my Will Call ticket, but they looked at David’s ID and ushered us in, so it worked out, but misplacing my wallet  and running late was stressful to say the least. But most upsetting of all was the loss of little Close Call (the story of her naming is in my previous post, We Have Chickens! Oh, and I found my purse and wallet, whew).

One thing keeping chickens has reinforced for me: there is a thin line between life and death, and when you keep animals, you have a heavy responsibility to protect them. And this incident brought me in closer contact with death than I’m really comfortable with.

We noticed Zimmy was missing and one pullet was missing, and we easily put two and two together to realize they were together. We called and called Zimmy, but no response. We walked all over looking and calling. I climbed up on the picnic table in the yard, which gave me a vantage point and let my voice carry farther so Zimmy should be able to hear me wherever he was on the property.

I went looking in the east field, which the chickens access through the back door of their coop. There I finally spied Zimmy in tall grass under the redwoods, where he’d run to enjoy his little chicken treat with no fear of the other dogs trying to steal it away from him. I screamed at him to “leave it! leave it!” and to his credit he dropped what was left of Close Call and let me drag him away (he’s 115 pounds of muscle, so his cooperation is at all times necessary). All that was left was a couple of white feathers, and her guts. I suppose I should have just let him finish off his meal but I was just terribly upset and didn’t want him to be “rewarded” for sneaking in the chicken house and out the other side.

Of course, it was our fault for letting Zimmy wander around unsupervised while the gate to the chicken yard (and hence the coop) was open. I open it to let the chickens run around on fresh ground, the more bugs to find and to keep too much poop from building up in their yard. Usually I only do this when the dogs are away or shut inside the house or when we’re specifically watching Zimmy and trying to school him in the fine art of ignoring chickens, but I lost attention (I was working after all) and David was doing something and not paying attention, and Zimmy was probably bored and is eternally fascinated by birds, of course, being a sight hound who is set off by the fluttering of little prey animals. So, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Mea culpa.

The other thing I’m realizing from keeping chickens (aside from the fact that while I like chickens, they can be mean to one another, particularly if they’re kept in poor conditions, as these seem to have been before coming to David’s farm; they love the snails I toss them from the garden; and I love the little cooing, clucking soft sounds they make in addition to alarmingly loud, goose-like sqwauks) is how insulated we are, in modern life, from the reality of life and death in the food chain. It’s not literally a “dog eat dog” world, but it definitely is a “dog eat chicken” world, a “predator eat prey” world. Zimmy has always eaten chicken — in the form of dry kibble or occasionally chicken hearts and gizzards that I give him as a raw treat. He was always eating chickens, I was just never faced with it happening to a chicken I knew and had held in my hands as its little heart beat wildly, before.

No, I’m not turning vegetarian (been there, done that, still recovering) — and neither is Zimmy. It’s just a moment of sobering reflection on life, and death, and the interconnectedness of the two. We eat plants and animals, animals eat plants or other animals, and eventually the plants eat the animals, too. Eventually every body and every thing is eaten by someone else. Let’s hope we get a chance to do something meaningful and beautiful before it’s our turn to be eaten by the Earth.

Today I started harvesting compost from my black composter that’s been going since last summer, between the house and the chicken coop. The top of it has recent contributions from the kitchen (food scraps and used paper napkins) and bathroom (empty toilet paper rolls and used tissues) and some rotted straw that had been pooped and peed on by the goats. (Long story.) Out the bottom came dark, fragrant, crumbly loamy compost packed with red worms and occasional bits of twig, undigested egg shell and biodegradable compost bags (the latter bits sent back to the top of the composter to keep cooking). I took the compost and top-dressed my tomato plants, pole beans (what’s left of seedlings after snails came through), asparagus and newly planted artichokes (memo: last year’s are ready to be harvested again). I tried to pick out as many worms as I could to add to my big new compost pile in the garden. I love those worms. I wrote on Facebook the other day I’d only share my worms with my chickens, but I’d rather keep them composting and give the chickens the snails I pick from the garden instead.

We all  have our place. The worms belong in my compost bins and piles, the snails belong in the chickens’ mouths, and Zimmy belongs in the house if the chickens are out of their yard.

  1. That’s so sad! I recently lost the last of my chickens. Very, very sad.

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thank-you, Kimi. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Eventually Zimmy (the dog) will get over his excitement around chickens. The other two dogs, much older, pay them no mind except to occasionally watch respectfully from a distance.

      So you’re not raising chickens anymore? We’re actually picking up 3 new young pullets (not yet laying), a laying hen, and a cockerell tomorrow.

  2. Oh Jeanmarie, that’s so sad!

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      I’m still sad over it. Linnea of Laughing Frog Farm told me that the first time Zimmy got ahold of Close Call, I probably saved her life by holding her and calming her down, because in such situations chickens often die from shock. She barely opened her eyes and was mostly motionless for at least half an hour, and gradually started moving a little bit. I feel so bad that ultimately I didn’t save her but allowed her to be vulnerable. Zimmy was just doing what came naturally to him. He sits outside the chicken coop and looks in, even curls up on an old board right there and naps, no doubt dreaming of hunting chickens!

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