After about 25 years in restaurants, I can safely say that Mother’s Day brunch is the worst possible shift the industry has to offer. It is stressful for a number of reasons, but mainly because EVERYONE thinks that THEIR mother is somehow older, more frail, more needy, you name it, than everyone else’s mother. We actually had a script in the last restaurant that employees could use as Mother’s Day approached to tactfully deal with people who had “extraordinary” needs for that particular Sunday brunch.
So, waking up on Mother’s Day and not having to even think about working that unenviable shift is a gift in and of itself. The farm, however, had it’s own little Mother’s Day surprise today.
As it turns out, something is eating our chickens.
It started about two weeks ago when, in the middle of the night, the dogs woke us up in an insane frenzy of barking.
The middle-of-the-night barkfest is not an exceptionally rare occurrence, but this one was different. There’s a quality to the barking that is more desperate when THE THING triggering the barking is unusual. This amped-up howling roused us, and got us out of bed and to the windows. It was hard to see whether anything interesting was out there, but the dogs weren’t calming down, so we keep looking.
After a few minutes, I saw one of our Brahma hens careening, full bore, out of the coop (which we only then realized we’d never closed up for the night) followed immediately by what was, presumably, a hungry fox.
Dave grabbed some shoes and a dog and ran after them, following a trail of feathers, only to arrive at the scene of the crime in time to find a freshly-dead hen.
That was the first one.
We really felt that was largely our fault for having left the coop open overnight. It was a veritable poultry buffet in there and any predator worth his or her salt would have accepted our inadvertent invitation to eat our chickens.
The next one happened right in the middle of the day, though.
Sometime between Dave going out to the hoop house to water the seedlings and me getting on the tractor to mow (about an hour, mind you), something made off with another bird.
This time, there was no carnage, just a tell-tale scattering of feathers where mere moments before there had been a bird.
So, that was the second one.
Now, here I will interrupt the story to explain that we are currently in the midst of Broody Hen Season. This occurs every spring when, one by one, certain hens decide that they are going to hatch some eggs and nothing anyone says or does is gonna change their minds.
For the past couple of weeks, two of our hens (one Brahma and one Olive Egger) have been sitting on eggs in the garage barn. The Brahma set up camp in the back of a dog crate and the Olive Egger hunkered down on some eggs in a cat carrier on the floor. They chose these spots, rather than in the relative safety of the chicken coop, because they are complete and total morons.
Of course, the dog crate and cat carrier are in the top five of Favorite Places for Hens to Lay Eggs these days. This means the broodies have monopolized valuable real estate and the laying hens have to find new digs. The only way we can prevent the laying hens from simply climbing in with the broodies and laying right into their egg clutches is to close the carrier doors until after everyone has laid her eggs for the day. At that point, we open the little gate doors for the broody mamas to be able to come out for food, water, and pooping.
We leave the carrier doors open overnight and then close them back up in the morning when the process begins again.
When I went out this morning to open the coop and close up the broodies, all seemed well. The dogs had been calm overnight and so I had absolutely no preparation for what I was to find when I went into the garage barn.
Brahma Mama was alive and well and sitting on her clutch in the back of the dog crate, but the cat carrier was overturned. There were FEATHERS. Everywhere. There was such a profound magnitude of chicken shit it looked as though there had been a well-attended Teach Your Chickens to Shit in a Giant Pile seminar overnight in the space.
The overturned cat carrier was chicken-free and the egg clutch was cold and no longer viable.
Someone had gotten themselves a free Mother’s Day brunch and I imagine the Olive Egger felt briefly like a tortured restaurant worker.
At least it was a short shift.