Sunday, April 27, 2008

Drama, On Stage and In the Pastures

Last night we went to see "Last of the Breed," a new play premiering at Boise Contemporary Theater. It ends May 3rd, and if you haven't already seen it and you like comedies, I highly recommend it. It was described as having to do with eminent domain - it doesn't, really, but it was very funny and there were many great moments. The acting, directing and script were all excellent. It was a great night out.

This morning I went to let the chickens out to range the pastures, as I've done for several weeks now without incident. I let them out 6:40am and it was light out. Around 7ish I heard some chicken calling that sounded loud and distressed. I heard it again, immediately, so I thought that I better check it out as maybe Sarah was picking on the others or there was some problem.

I found a fox, and he chased Samantha and grabbed her while I watched. I yelled and ran towards the fox, who then dropped Samantha. Samantha is my favorite chicken and the only one that lets me hold her and pet her and always comes to see me. She ran straight to me for safety. I could see Athena in another pasture and I could see Sarah huddled down near the barn, not moving but appearing to be alive and still. I didn't see Gwen anywhere.

The fox ran off but waited a long while at the back of the pasture. Athena got far from me in a far pasture and the fox advanced towards her a little, but I went towards her and the fox ran off. I had Samantha tucked into the coop so I went to Sarah. I woke my boyfriend up to help me assess the injuries. She had two beads of blood on her comb that were bright red but I saw no other blood. There were a TON of feathers all over the pastures though. I could see a place where Samantha clearly got a ton of feathers taken out, one for Sarah and one for Gwen.

Since Sarah seemed basically okay except for the one minor comb wound, I put her back in the coop, and chased Athena in too. I looked for Gwen for awhile but I couldn't find her anywhere or hear anything. Eventually I assumed the worst.

I love all animals, and the fox was thin and needed to eat, so I figured at least she went for a good cause, to feed the fox. I assumed there must have been two foxes, maybe a pair or young pups, as one had to carry Gwen off and the other one was after Samantha. I figured Gwen was gone for good, and I felt very bad about it. I had intended to make a chicken tractor but they were doing so well free ranging I had thought I didn't need one after all. Clearly I was wrong, and responsible for Gwen paying the ultimate price.

I went back in the house and took a shower and wondered if the fox was feeding pups, and how long it had been since it had eaten. I tried to think positive.

Then, as I got out of the shower, I heard the chicken squawk again that I'd heard earlier. I went out and there was the fox again - with Gwen in tow. The fox would drag her a few feet and then stop and look at me. Then drag a few more feet. I saw him take a few mouthfuls of feathers out of Gwen and I assumed that the fox was attempting to eat her. The fox ran a few feet away and sat on my bridge, looking through a gate at the end of the bridge at me and at Gwen. I went in the house to get the camera to take a photo of the fox so later I could look and try to determine it's age and gender if possible. I thought it was too late for Gwen, and I may as well have a record of the fox.

I took a photo, above, of the fox waiting and thinking about what to do. Gwen is laying in the foreground on the left - a few feet away, not moving. You can see her better if you click on the photo to make it bigger. I also took a close up of the fox, looking pretty forlorn and hungry.

The fox decided to run off. At that point I decided I needed to make sure Gwen was not still alive. I truly believed she was dead since I'd assumed that already earlier, had never seen her move the whole time the fox was dragging her, and she had lain still for at least 5 minutes with me and the fox in a standoff. But, when I got to her, to my shock and amazement, she stood up!!! She stumbled and seemed drunk and had trouble holding her head up but she took two steps. She blinked and she made two really loud sqwaks that sounded desperate and awful - almost agonizing.

I wrapped her in my shirt, raced in the house, past the dogs, yelled for my boyfriend to meet me at the car and raced to Westvet. Gwen doesn't trust or like people too much and wasn't comforted by me like Samantha would be. I tried to hold her, keep her warm and close to me and comfort her as best I could anyway, so she wouldn't die alone and would hang in there if she could.

Westvet doesn't treat chickens as far as I knew so I was prepared to say I thought she was a canary. Not that they would buy this - but I would say anything to get her treatment. I wanted them to either put her to sleep so she didn't suffer or save her if they could. They took her - telling me they were not chicken experts. They were excellent - as they always have been. The nurse was great. I could hear her yell back "We have a red assessment on a chicken!" Followed by "WHAT?" She asked how much they should do for her - and of course, I said whatever it takes, I'm responsible for her.

They put her in an oxygen tank to help her with the shock she was in. They gave her some pain medicine and worked to get her stable. They assessed her - no broken wing or neck. She was very lucky. They said there were some punctures but that they think they can pluck her a little, clean them, give her an antibiotic and she may pull through. But she needs to be in the oxygen tank at least six hours to help with the shock. Cost to treat her is expected to be $330. Expensive if you view it as for eggs, but certainly I am willing to pay it to save the life of Gwen, which I am responsible for.

Sarah seems fine and so do Samantha and Athena. The fox went right through ranch panel and have the coop on a ranch panel so the fox could clearly dig in, so I need to reinforce that or put the chickens elsewhere tonight. Obviously they are staying IN the coop today.

I showed the fox photo to the vet and it's a pup. The fox is too inexperienced to hunt and kill the chickens yet - so they lucked out, and I did too.

I don't fault the fox. He or she was gorgeous, and only trying to live. He/she needs a meal, and I'd provide one except that I know that is a BAD BAD BAD thing to do. Feeding wildlife disturbs their habits and hunting, can make them aggressive, would make them return all the time, and can throw all their nutritional requirements off by feeding non-natural food or too much/too little of something. Better that the fox learn to hunt and try again another day. Better that it stay wild. While losing Gwen would have been sad, I would have accepted it as the way of things if I had to. I am glad I get a second chance to learn how to keep chickens. Not growing up on a farm or ranch I am learning everything from books or the hard way and there's quite a learning curve.

Gwen should be released this afternoon but may need to stay longer, or if she gets worse, may need to be put down peacefully. That would be a shame - I am hoping for the best.

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