Lessons in Letting Go

When it comes to the farm, there are certain things I would like to have control over. For example… ah… everything.

You’d probably never know about my control-freak tendencies if you talked to me, or even if you’ve worked with me. I’m not a perfectionist in any area of my life, and I’m 100% accepting of the fact that I can’t change or control things that are outside my sphere of influence. But the farm? This is my place. And even more than that, it’s my responsibility.

And, honestly, after a decade of tearing houses apart and putting them back together… I got this. There’s not much that can happen on a house–even a temperamental 150 year old one–that I can’t handle. But the farm? The part outside the house that includes maintaining the land, and wildlife, and planting and harvesting, and farm animals, and the effing weather? Holy shit, that’s a lot of things I can’t control.

It’s also a lot of things that, well, if I make a bad call–if I’m negligent or uninformed or make the wrong decision–it’s not just wasted money or tearing something out and starting over again… if I fuck up, something dies.

The Nugs–bless their little feathered hearts–are a great example. Every day I weigh the inherent risks of letting them free-range against the risks of confining them to a coop or run. Free-ranging they’re happy, have a diverse diet, and are able to follow their instincts to protect themselves (staying hidden under pine trees, or hedges, splitting up when they see a predator, etc.) But I’ve also lost Nugs because they free-range… one to an actual predator last year, two that were hit by a car on my road earlier this year, and one that was attacked by a dog that someone was walking down my street off the leash.

I’ve also heard stories about people losing an entire flock–20 birds or more–when a predator gets into a coop, because the chickens have nowhere to run or hide. So I wonder… does losing one chicken to a dog in my front yard mean I’m doing it right or wrong? And I realize they are just chickens— hell, if you go out to a bar and eat a basket of wings and you’ve killed half a dozen of them–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t my responsibility.

So I often question myself but I also often feel I’m doing a decent job. I know how chickens behave, how to train them, how to nurse them back to health when possible. Most days I feel pretty good about chickens.

But then there were these…


NOT CHICKENS. These are definitely not chickens, you guys.

I expected them to at least be chicken-like, and this was my mistake. I know they fly, and prefer tall grasses, and like roosting up high. I thought a week in their new coop would be a decent amount of time to acclimate them to their new home before letting them out, so last week I put a several decades worth of pillow-fort-building skills to good use and managed to rig up an enclosure for them to explore…


Exactly 5 minutes after I opened the coop door one had flown over the fence, one had wiggled under it, and all three were squawking like the apocalypse was currently occurring inside the fifteen square feet of their enclosure.


Doc is wondering how in the hell those little birds make such big noises.

I spent thirty minutes trying to catch them and get them back into the coop that first night (guineas have some speed in them) but the second day I let them out they found a way to wiggle underneath the fence into the tall, unmowed grass next to the barn, made a little bird-cave, and refused to leave it.


Here’s where I have to start balancing my inner control freak with the fact that I don’t know what the shit I’m doing. I mean, the guineas are obviously doing the things that make the most sense to them in their tiny little guinea brains. Willingly going back into the coop is not on that list, and while it feels to me like it would be safer, I’m also not a bird.

So I’m doing a something that’s difficult for me… letting go.  I decided to just let the guineas be guineas. It’s been a few days and I don’t try and catch them and lock them up in the coop at night. They still stick close to it (where the food and water is) but mostly they like hanging out the tall grass, they seem to be happier, quieter, and they’re eating bugs which is basically the whole reason I got them.


It turns out they aren’t totally averse to the coop at night, just to being inside of it…


(Yeah, they’re on top of the net I originally put over the pen to keep them in… Guineas:1 Fort-Building Skills:0)

That feels like a more exposed spot, so I’ve considered moving the entire coop over by a bush or somewhere they might have a bit more coverage but I’m not sure if moving them around the property is a better or worse idea right now while everyone is getting settled in.

And I’m in the mode of second guessing myself at the moment, because of this…


I lost this little Nug yesterday.

Not because she was sick (or for any natural reason) but because I made the wrong choice. I set them up in the dog crate I’ve used for all 12 chickens that I’ve raised. I even thought (since the chick was so small) to wrap some chicken wire around the bottom half of the cage to discourage any sneaking between the bars.

When I got home from work yesterday, things were unnaturally quiet, and Eva was all alone. It took me a minute to find the chick, dead, tangled up between the wire cage and the nesting box I’d set up in there. I don’t know how it happened, or why it killed the chick, but–hindsight being 20/20– I know I should have taken the time to build a better set-up for them (or even just remove the nesting box they weren’t using.)

So this is the hard part about learning to let go. Worse than nature taking its course, or than actually losing the chick, is that I made a bad call. Or maybe didn’t spend the time I should have taking care of my flock. I don’t know.

I do know that there are lessons for me in all of this, and that hopefully they make me better at being the kind of person that can live and work in a space–and make the best decisions for it–without needing to control everything.

19 Responses

  1. Awwww. Little Nug. I’m sorry. Those little creatures are so cute. I envy you and your farm. I don’t know which way I would go, either. More protection, or more freedom.

    How do you find time to do all these things? And you have a full time job, too? I’m amazed and envious. Or maybe lazy. Not sure.

  2. Sorry to hear about your Nug! Learning to let go is the hardest thing ever.

    On a happier note love the blog! I rediscovered it a few weeks ago and have been reading through it. I plan on stealing a lot of your ideas cuz they are awesome! Keep it up!

  3. Girl, guineas are mean little hens when threatened. Leave them out. They get territorial and can take care of themselves. People have them around here to keep snakes away and eat ticks.

  4. Ohhh, Bummer! It happens, it’s hard. Chicks can get stuck in the weirdest places. Not sure about your guinea chick, but chickens can literally be scared to death, they can get startled, panic and have little heart attacks and boom they’re gone. Birds can be tough but they are fragile too. Yes, inanimate objects are much easier to ‘control’.

    Give yourself a break, you made a mistake. If you have livestock, eventually you will experience deadstock….either from a management oops or a predator. You sometimes get some hard lessons via experience to learn about taking care of them, but now you’ll know not to leave spaces chicks can get stuck in. Yep, let it go. 😉

    Now, what are you going to do with that fluffy black bird thing?

    1. Trying to figure that out! Eva is an awesome Nug (and awesome mom, if I ever want to hatch more) but she is so much smaller than the other nugs, it’s hard to integrate her. I’m trying to decide if she needs more silkie companions at this farm– which means building yet another coop– or if she would be happier somewhere else.

      1. Well, you’ve got the non guinea coop, they’re not going to use it, hehe.

        Has Eva interacted at all with the other nugs, while free ranging maybe…or has she been confined with the guinea chick?

        Not so much because of size but one bird integration’s are hard….oops, there you go down the slope with more silkies!! But remember that sillies, I mean silkies, don’t see well because of that silly top know thingy so are more susceptible to attacks by both flock mates and predators.

        Best of CLuck with your decision!

  5. Losing a baby bird is always hard, regardless. It happens. So sorry! I had no idea guineas were so danged loud until my husband recorded some at one of his jobs. Right before that, I was considering them to help with ticks around the property. After that ruckus, we said, Heeeeellllll no! I’ll stick with the standard brown egg layers.

  6. I know how hard it is to lose something in your care due to not making the best choices. But you make the best choices with the info and experience you have, and if something dies, you learn and move on and try not to beat yourself up too badly. The joys of being human. Just give your other nugs, your donks, and your kitty extra big hugs and remind yourself that life is a learning experience.
    Not everyone would have gone to the lengths of constructing a giant net enclosure trying to keep them safe! You are doing awesome, Kit!

  7. I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said about your loss; I’m sorry for it. I’ll have you know that I am a total guinea freak. I love the things. We only have one and she’s a great girl. In fact, she’s the only bird laying eggs right now.

    They are wild compared to the chickens. Ours sleeps on top of the chicken coop every night while the chickens sleep in the coop. She was an adult when she came to us. I hope yours stay close to home. I think you’re on the right track.

  8. Hi Kit, my experience over the years (with dogs, not chickens/guinea hens) is that it was hardest to deal with the death of a dog where I felt responsible, even though it was an accidental, indirect situation like yours. I felt both the loss and a lot of guilt. So, I really empathize with your feelings about losing the chick. I had to think through the events and make my peace with my responsibility as a dog owner and what I was and wasn’t able to control. I’m sure you feel sad about the chick, but if you are feeling guilty also, let it go. Everything about your care for your chickens and guinea hens illustrates your commitment and thoughtfulness.

    1. Probably not right now. I have three already, I thought four would be nice, but we’ll see how these do in spring (and how loud they are) before adding any new ones. If I have both a male and female (its hard to say with guineas) they might take care of that for me!

  9. I will tell you that when my wife and I first started with our flock (10 chicks and 4 guineas), we had no idea what we were doing. We eventually let the guineas free range (at 12 weeks, from what we read online) and 3 of them lasted 3-5 days. They were almost full adults, but they wandered and eventually were found by the neighbor’s dogs. From my experience, you cannot control the guineas. We have tried… You win some and you lose some. Just do your best and things will work out in the end. We have one great guinea left and we look forward to next season when we get more guineas and try again.

  10. All, we struggle with the free range vs coop them all the time for our Chickens. Some of our chickens integrated better than others so there are usually one or two that roost in a tree at night, but the majority of our birds go up and we shut the door at dusk on them before we go in. (yes I have thought about making a automated door or one I can control via a phone app after looking at a live feed to see if they are all up). But anyways, as I was saying, We are struggling with our neighbor dogs coming on to our property and killing our animals. So far they have been understanding and have paid for the damages, but Our county has some simple laws that say if it happens more than once from same dog/person then you get double the pay for each offense. Either way we always loose some to coons, hawks, or something during the spring and summer; I am hoping fall is kinder too us.

  11. Life lessons can be tough but that is what makes us who we are. We know you started with the best intentions, that is what counts! Live your life with good intention and even if it doesnt come out the way you would have expected, you can still feel good! Love that you care so much about those animals!!

  12. Good morning! Sorry for the late response – I am catching up on the past few weeks of posts (and I normally only lurk). I know several of the comments are about losing chickens/guineas to neighborhood dogs. I thought I’d add my two cents to this one. My grandparents lived on a working farm for most of my life (cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, guineas) and they always had a farm dog. Their Great Pyrenees, Tyler never bothered the chickens or guineas, but he certainly discouraged neighboring dogs/coyotes from coming onto the property. Not that I’m saying you need another mouth to feed/pet responsibility… but it might be worth researching.

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