Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tragedy at the Harris Farm

Today at work I got a call from Shannon. "This is so sad," she said. I could hear Emma wailing in the background. "An animal got into the chicken coop and ate two of the chickens."

Shannon put Emma on the phone. She couldn't stop crying. I tried to console her. "Sweetie, maybe God knew that animal really needed to eat," I said in a soothing voice, using that special "daddy wisdom" we're given in these moments. "But it didn't eat them," she sobbed, "it just killed them." Um, okay, never mind.

Last spring Shannon had what I thought was a crazy idea: we would get four chickens as a homeschool project. Our neighbors were going to get chickens. It would be fun. I relented. One day we got four fluff balls with legs. They were undeniably cute.



We named them Fluffy, Afro, Nelly and Slowpoke. They lived in our kitchen, then in our basement. They grew and they began to stink up the whole house. So we hired a friend from our church to convert half of our shed into a chicken coop, complete with an outdoor cage section. The chickens grew past the cute fuzzy stage to the awkward chicken-adolescent stage. But somehow our affection for them grew.



We fed them, we gave them water, we cleaned up their poo. Our reward? For three or four months, there was no reward. No eggs. The neighbors had eggs we had none. This was a difficult time. I'd rather not talk about. But, finally, they started laying. We'd get three eggs a day. Not bad, huh? I've done the math and figured out that when you figure out the cost of the coop and the feed each egg cost about $50. Man, those were good eggs.

Then this summer my chicken, Afro, was lost to a fox. He was the slowest of the four and often left out. One night he didn't come back to the coop with the other chickens. Was it despair? Was it rebellion? Was he hanging with the wrong crowd? We'll never know. The next day a fox got him. At least that's what we guess happened. All we found of Afro was a pile of feathers.

We hoped tragedy would only strike once at the Harris Farm, but then came today. I thought losing two chickens was bad. Then tonight, actually just an hour ago, I went out to check on the lone chicken. I opened the door and found her on the ground ripped open. I heard scampering in the outdoor cage section of the coop and ran outside. Sure enough Mr. Racoon was still there. He was trapped.

I was so pickin' mad I started swinging at him with a hammer I had brought to try and patch up the coop. If you're a big racoon fan you should probably skip this part. I was doing my best to kill that little beast. The funny thing is that I actually like racoons. I read that book about the pet racoon when I was a kid. What was it's name? I can't remember, anyway I don't mind racoons but tonight all the fatherly, protective zeal of a chicken farmer came out in pure rage. I swung that hammer like an insane man. The racoon would climb up the side of the coop and I'd knock it down. I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the cops. It was totally dark and my flashlight bobbed around, spot-lighting the racoon every few seconds and then "Wham!" It finally ran back inside the coop and climbed out the front window before I could get to it. In an instant it was gone.

I went and cleaned up the chicken with a trash bag. Gross. Earlier that night our family had held a chicken memorial service where we talked about what we liked about our chickens. Emma was doing better. Shannon had told her she could get a rabbit. Joshua Quinn was happy because his chicken was still alive. Tomorrow morning I'll have to tell him the sad news.

I know most of you are just laughing. You cold heartless brutes. But all my chicken-keeping friends around the world understand. I know you mourn with me. Goodbye, Slowpoke, Nelly and Fluffy. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the eggs. Rest in peace.


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