Sometime while we were away Dusty, Cou and Zippy were taken by a fox. Cou was attacked in the coop, Dusty was hit near the pen fence and there was no sign of Zippy at all, not a ginger feather anywhere until we found her remains over the fence in the back hedge. I can only assume she was snatched without a struggle. Dusty put up a hell of a fight - it's heartbreaking to see the whole horrid drama laid out in an extensive pattern of feathers from the initial attack site all around the garden from top to bottom. But no blood, not a spec anywhere.
The fact that the fox got them was our fault - before we went away we switched the ducks and chickens around, brought the chicken coop out of the pen and put it in the garden to give the girls a chance to free range while we were away. We thought they'd really enjoy the freedom with the garden in it's spring state with all the new growth.
It was the opportunity the fox needed. We don't know why after having chickens and ducks in the garden for so long the fox had never visited and taken them - lord knows in our complacent moments it had the chance - but whatever the reason it's shaken us to come home and find an apologetic note on the kitchen work surface from our neighbours. We know we can't get any more chickens for a while, as the fox will now return to the garden periodically to check for new food. We need to leave some time.
That bothers me, as caring for chickens is a complex but rewarding experience that I will miss. Their ability to communicate is much more basic than a cat or dog and their behaviour far less easy to interpret. I'm sure I've grown a new network of brain neurons over the years figuring out their needs, and the brush with infectious bronchitis wrung emotions out if me I didn't know existed.
We all need the opportunity to stretch and grow that animals provide. Humans need animals to learn how to be human, to teach us how to love and empathise. Without them we languish into a self-absorbed selfish state where according to Thomas Aquinas "cruel habits might carry over into our treatment of human beings".
So we face the task of cleaning up the feathers, then finding out where the fox got in and blocking that off to protect the ducks better. We buried Zippy early this morning in front the willow hedge that she loved pitting her chicken wits against to reach my vegetables, and later on I'll go down to the garden centre and find a nice plant to mark the spot. I went into the back field to scan the hedgerows for any remains of the others but there was nothing. Georgie came with me all the way, there and back, trotting at my heel. Such a long walk for such a small pussycat. He was very nervous and skittish at the fenceline where the chickens we dragged. Probably the smell of fox musk and death still lingers.