The First Loss

Today was the first real test of my ability to handle the harsh realities of farm life.

I’ll admit, there’s a large part of me who is still the kid that obsessively read Ranger Rick magazines and tried to “save” all of the worms that would get run over in the driveway when it rained (and still relocates any and all confused insects in my house back outside instead of sucking them up in the vacuum cleaner.) There’s also a part of me that, over the last year, has begun to respect the fact that farm life is about life. The breathtakingly awesome parts of it, and the sacrifices required to sustain the balance of, well, everything.

So. I lost a Nugget.

I don’t mean lost as in “able to be found”, lost as in “no longer a part of the flock. Or existence.”

Because my work days are getting longer and the daylight hours are getting shorter, it was well after dark when I arrived home last night. The Nugs were in their coop as usual, waiting for me to lock them in for the night. I shut the doors, sang them a little song, my usual nightly routine.

This morning, because I was in the middle of herding an escaped donkey back in to the pasture while wearing only a towel and muck boots (it happens), I didn’t count how many chickens came out of the coop in the morning. When I left the house I only noticed five, but there’s usually a straggler, so I didn’t think much of it.

When I got home from work this evening–while it was blessedly still light out– I noticed only five nuggets again. No straggler.

Then I saw this…


And knew one of the Nuggets was gone.

While this was inevitable, I still expected to feel sadness or guilt. Instead all I felt was acknowledgement. This happened.

There was no body, just a trail of feathers leading out to the Back Four. Part of me just wanted to say, “well, that’s that” and move past it without really thinking about it. Instead, I found myself tracking the feathers back through the field, wondering if it was just morbid curiosity leading me out there, because really, what good could come of following those feathers to their inevitable conclusion?
But I realized as I walked through the field in the fading light, following each feather to the next, that I wasn’t looking for what was left of her. I just wanted to acknowledge that this was where a creature who was under my care lived the last minutes of its life. It’s okay that I’m not sad, but that doesn’t mean I need to be dismissive. That I can’t honor her life.

I understand that this is the cycle of things. There is a coyote nearby with a full belly, and I’m not angry about that. Accepting it doesn’t mean that I won’t try to be a better caretaker to my flock. One day I might raise birds to eat them, and then it will be me with the full belly, and that’s okay too.

I want to be strong enough to handle the reality of farm life, but today also reinforced my belief in respecting life in all of its many forms. It’s not always easy, but it is something I’m learning from this land every day.


20 Responses

  1. Aw… I’m sorry to hear about the loss of a nugget. See, this is why I could never do what you do. I’d be a complete, bawling mess. You’re an awesome and strong lady.

  2. *wince* Oh boy is this a familiar experience.

    It always sucks when it happens, but yeah, it happens.

  3. Well said. And when you do raise chickens to eat, you will be conscious of where your food came from. More than most of us can say.

  4. I feel your pain. I have had six hens for two years and call them “my girls”. They have names. On Sept. 22 my first one died, not violently like yours, but gone from some unknown ailment. I still have a feeling of loss.

  5. Even though I was raised on a self sustaining farm where we butchered all our own meat and now as an adult I am the female, redneck, farmer, superwoman, just me and the donkeys against the world kinda gal if one of my chickens or other kiddos on the farm go to live with Jesus I will admit the 5 year old in me comes out. It is inevitable after caring for their every need and plenty of whims that you obviously get attached. From the horses to the calves and chickens I name em all and truly love my diverse family I created here on the farm. If we didn’t appreciate and love the land and its inhabitants that sustain us we wouldn’t live in the boonies breaking our backs every day. Your living the dream!

  6. Poor nugget! We’ve lost 6 of the 11 that crawled out of an egg this spring. A few to a marten and more to a Buteo? We were forced to make a small coop with a net on top of it to stop the bird from eating the rest of them 🙁

  7. I have a friend who has a flock of about 10 chickens. This is the hardest part. You get used to their little personalities, and it IS sad when you have to say goodbye.

  8. My parents keep a lot of cats around on their farm and this is the reason why they stopped naming them. I’m sorry about the nugget. 🙁

  9. Living in the boonies next to very hilly rural, wooded terain in Western Kentucky we struggle on our farm with predators. Coyotes, opossums, raccoon, fox, hawks and recently a rebirth of cougar populations just to name a few. I know it sound silly and somewhat too simple to work but to help save our gardens and livestock from deer to coyote here’s a couple of suggestions that work for us year after year. Make sure your coupe is accessible by the donkeys. They are naturally great guard dogs for other livestock like cattle and goats against coyotes. We make sure we blend a couple in all the pastures. Second and very effective is a radio. Left on in the yard/pasture the predators mistake the noise for human interaction and deters them from coming close. A good old am talk radio station is a good choice. Make sure your on a station that changes its programs throughout the day so they don’t become accustomed to it like background noise. We place it inside an old grill and shut the lid to keep it safe from elements. It also sets the mood for great dance parties in the garden with your nuggets!

  10. You are so much stronger than me and have such inspiring perspective. I on the other hand would crumple to my knees with a handful of feathers and bawl my eyes out and then move the remaining hens into my house while guarding the front door like Gandalf screaming “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” at every possible predator.

  11. I’m really sorry for your Nugget. But life is so that you can never expect anything. I mean farm life is rather difficult in case of such losses. I believe you’re strong person to have this lifestyle. I would probably be insane if I saw what you saw. But maybe everything that happens happens for a reason. Did you think about that? I wonder how many times people in farms have to get adjusted to the situation of this kind…

    1. Sadly we deal with it more often than we would like to admit. Luckily the blessing of new life on the farm seems to overshadow those times. I will admit there are those times unfortunately that I have wondered why I continue to put myself through such an emotional rollercoaster. And then new chicks or the birth of a sweet baby donkey reminds you of the reasons we stay.

  12. So odd to read about “Nugget”. Friday night there were TWO neighbor dogs that had some fun with another neighbors chickens. She had 12 in all. She still has 12, one pretty badly injured that she is doctoring, and feathers from here to kingdom come! They ARE her babies, and the badly injured one was her special pet! Would sit on her lap and coo when petted. This was NOT a coyote, but neighbors dogs! Grrrr! WE have a fenced yard for our dogs! NOT ONE of two neighbors that has a “PACK” of dogs has a fenced yard, and therefore, ALL Run amuck!

  13. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost a number of chickens in the 4 years I’ve had my little ranch. I’ve lost a few to hawks, but mostly I’ve mostly lost them to the neighbor’s dogs who think chasing and killing them is fun sport. I just lost 3 hens (half my flock) a few nights ago this way. Mine are fenced off in the garden, but I have (had) some hens that would fly over the gate to forage and then return, only this time they didn’t get back inside in time. Luckily my own dogs have no interest in chasing the hens, but they don’t protect them either.
    When it comes time for you to get new hens, I recommend getting them in different breeds. When I had to start replacing my flock (a couple times the dogs wiped them all out until I reinforced the fencing enough to be dog proof) I got each one in a different breed. I found them so much more entertaining when I could tell them apart and really see their different personalities. I also became a little more attached and my sense of loss a bit greater when they were killed, but it was worth it for the amusement they brought me.

Comments are closed.

I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.