Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either - to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.
We have lost a lot of chickens during the years - to predators, diseases, accidents, and sometimes for no visible reason at all. It's not as devastating as it used to be, but it's never easy. The predominant feeling, I guess, is that of guilt: if a chicken dies, especially because of something that was theoretically preventable, I feel as though I have let my flock down. And, for those who haven’t experienced this, it’s hard to describe the frustration of raising a chicken from an egg to point of lay pullet, and then unexpectedly finding her dead on the coop floor in the morning, just when you were about to begin enjoying her eggs; or carefully tending an incubator full of valuable purebred eggs for nearly three weeks, only to lose the whole hatch due to a lengthy power shutdown.
The losses go up dramatically if you free range and hatch your own chicks. We do both – and oh my, those little balls of fluff are as vulnerable as they are cute. Once in a while there is always an especially sneaky fox, or some thoughtless neighbor irresponsibly lets their dog off the leash. But raising our own chicks is too much fun to stop, and free-ranging means very substantial savings on chicken feed.
So what do we do about this? My advice as a longtime chicken keeper would be:
1. Bounce back. Resilience is the one quality that draws a line between those who quit poultry keeping after a short time, and those who stick it out. As a matter of fact, this is true for much else in life, too.
2. Think forward. Consider what you can do to reduce your losses. Is it a stronger coop, tighter fencing, better feed? Make sure you are doing what you practically can, as your resources allow, to become more successful in your venture.
3. Know when to draw the line. Like in everything, there must be some sort of reasonable ROI in poultry keeping (though what it is will be determined on an individual basis, of course). Maybe the only feasible way to minimize predator loss is a steel fence six inches tall, and you just can't afford it. Maybe you would have to invest in a Livestock Guardian Dog, and you just aren't up to it. So you might have to make the conscious decision of quitting for a time, or of only having a few chickens which you keep locked up. Or maybe you will do just one yearly incubator hatch instead of five, and raise up a dozen chicks like babies, keeping them at home for a longer time to top up their chances of survival. Either way, I hope you find the balance that makes you happy and enables you to go on with the fun and rewarding practice of backyard poultry keeping.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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