Have you ever heard a chicken in distress?
It sounds like a newborn pig being clawed to death.
Go ahead and imagine that for a sec.
That’s what I woke to 12 hours ago.
It sounded like this:
Heeeeeelll heeeeeellll squeeeeeeeeee
I felt it in my guts. So my eyes popped open. Really. A very upsetting sound. It almost sounded like HELP. Heeeeellpppppp sqqueeeeeeeee squeeee. Ugh! I pulled up on my elbows.
Was it a puppy?
The neighbor’s kitten?
Whatever it was, was putting up a good fight.
I knew our chickens were locked up.
But the poor thing continued wailing — maybe a squirrel?
Please put it out of its misery, I thought guiltily. I hate waking in the wee hours. Once I’m up, I’m up.
It sounded farther away than my yard, but —
I heard rustling downstairs.
Then my phone pinged.
A text from my neighbor.
I tore off my covers and ran downstairs to find Sophia at the back door, peering out.
“There’s something out there, Momma. But I’m scared to go out.” She handed me a flashlight.
I opened the back door, trying to pull a robe around me. I got one foot on the porch when a fat raccoon bolted across the yard then wobbled up a tree. I ran-hopped to the chickens, acorns stabbing the bottom of my feet. Mystery yuck squishing through my toes.
The coop was locked. Secure. Thank God. Three chickens on the roost . . . Wait.
Why was Wanda on the ground?
I shined light on her.
And my insides slid south.
Her entire side was ripped away, dripping fresh, thick blood. Her torn skin dangling in a vulgar way.
Kinda puts you off chicken, right?
(This is after we cleaned her up.)
“MOMMY, THE RACOON!” Sophia warned from the porch.
I spotlighted the tree. Bastard thing was watching me, little black marbles for eyes. Waiting.
How did —
I saw the back of the coop. The trap door Christopher crafted so we could reach in for eggs? OPEN! Damn thing figured out the latch!
I can’t go through this again, I thought, looking at poor Wanda.
You’ll recall this happened earlier this year with another hen, Beryl — that time due to negligence. Beryl suffered deeper, scarier wounds so we moved her inside, caring for her like a child until she was well enough to rejoin the others.
Wanda splattered blood as she walked, bumping into chicken wire, clearly traumatized.
It took FOUR WEEKS for Beryl to heal. But it was our fault so we did what we had to do. Well-documented, round-the-clock care in the CHIC-U. For a month. I dragged the Facebook community with me. It was exhausting.
I picked Wanda up, her little heart thrashing. Her flesh against mine.
“I can’t go through this again,” I told Sophia, who had 5th grade in 6 hours. Wanda’s blood mapped down my arm.
“We have to,” she said, already laying towels in the bath.
Yes. We have to.
Wounded chickens aren’t safe outside. Even among peers. We cleaned her up the best we could, then settled her in Ollie’s old cat bed, which serves nicely for chicken confinement.
Today we got a trap from the City and hopefully we’ll catch that raccoon tonight. I’ll keep you posted.
But please keep Wanda in your thoughts. I know she’s just a chicken and dumb as a box of rocks. But she’s our chicken. And as we learned with Beryl, chickens have feelings and a will to survive.
Beryl’s story I secured in a manuscript and we’ll see what happens there. In the meantime —so you don’t leave feeling icky— here she is, back on her favorite guy’s arm.
I’ll keep you posted on Wanda.
I’m so clucking tired.