Keep Raising Chickens
To those of us who spend our days with animals or have grown up around livestock, we sometimes forget what a huge step it is to take on something like chicken care. It is a huge responsibility, and a shift in how we live with animals. Most of us understand the pseudo-parenting of cats and dogs, but chickens (to most who keep them) are not pets; They are employees. Animals you raise with care and temperance with the intention of feeding and keeping safe in return for food. With chickens it is either meat or eggs, and both of those outcomes can turn into a fox dinner without much notice.
To those of you struggling with such losses I urge you to not let it get you down. In the words of Joel Salatin, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly first!" and I am a firm believer in that. If you lose your first flock (my Siberian Huskies ate my first chicks in my Idaho kitchen) do not beat yourself up over it. There isn't a single farmer, homesteader, or chicken keeper that didn't make mistakes when they started. Anyone who is taking chances and taking on new things makes mistakes. I have made many and have lost rabbits, sheep, chickens, and turkeys to those mistakes. It is not a good feeling, you will be told you are a failure and should stop, but it is a part of this life and a part of farming. Do not listen to your inner demons or the know-it-alls on Facebook. Where there is livestock there is deadstock, as the saying goes. You, Ma' Nature, or Murphy's Law WILL make things happen and they aren't all good. You need to know that any animal you take into your life will at some point die. That is part of the story, as it ever has been. Some die to be our food, some die of old age in their sleep, some feed the fisher cats, and some simply fall over for no reason but a cold snap after a bad cold. You can be a vegan with a vegetarian housecat on vitamin B supplements and that cat will die not matter how much Reiki or acupuncture you throw at it. All living things are on a clock, and when you begin homesteading there are MORE CLOCKS. There isn't a person reading this with animals of their own that doesn't have a story to share of losing livestock or a beloved companion. So understand you are not alone, you are not a bad person, and you are now another of the nodding heads at the feed store. Crap happens.
The point is to learn from your mistakes and to always improve. If you lose your birds in one night then do some research. Find out on forums online or at your local poultry club or extension office what caused the deaths and how you could prevent them? I recently lost a lot of chicks to a rat that chewed through a plywood brooder in ther barn. Next week I am getting more turkeys. Guess what? The brooder is being cleaned out, stapled all over with hardware cloth, and blessed before I set another poult or chick in there. There are many inexpensive and clever tactics out there, from blinking Christmas lights in July to radios blasting talk radio into the night (my own birds have never missed an episode of This American Life). It can all help. Just don't give up. And don't you dare let people tell you to stop raising animals because you made a mistake. If you need more validation read "The Dirty Life" by Kristen Kimball to see what can happen in the first year of a new Animal Farm. Her story has sick pigs, gored steers, infected cattle, escaped horses, the works. But that was their first year as a full-diet CSA and now a decade later they are still at it, wiser, leaner, and better. I am just grateful Kristen wasn't blogging then. She would have an earful from all the "experts" online.
Here's the bottom line: raising livestock means you will experience loss. There is no avoiding of it. There are stories I hear in hushed tones at the auction barn or in the hardware store. Folks dealing with all sorts of problems, predators, diseases, and bad decisions. Most of them have the good sense not to write about it on the internet but they are all learning. And when I talk to folks like my Hay Man, Nelson, who is nearly 80 and knows cows the way I know my own hands... I see what the endgame is. There is a point where you figure it all out and that is worth the effort. Till then, know husbandry is not perfect. People are not perfect. Be forgiving of yourself and do not give up. And most of all, understand that patience is part of the process.
Keep raising chickens.
P.S. If you are a part of Clan Cold Antler, start reading the clan blog starting tomorrow: big news there, personal news, long journey, play-by-play.