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Tough (and Valuable) Lessons from the Homestead

by Victoria Gazeley

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The world didn’t end on December 21, 2012.  At least for most of us.

One of our little roosters wasn’t so lucky.

He was a beautiful boy – half Buff Orpington and half ISA Brown (which I guess means half Buff and ¼ Rhode Island Red/¼ Rhode Island White).  Lovely red feathers and a shiny red comb.  One of a brood of six – two roosters and six hens – raised by two of our favorite girls, Lucky Wattles and Miss Snooty Pants, in the summer of 2012.

He and his ‘brother’ were well mannered (as well mannered as a ‘teen’ rooster could be), easy to handle and not aggressive.  At least not yet.  But they were starting to do what roosters do, all randy and chasing our poor girls around the yard, and I figured the hens had enough harassment from our original boy, Tom Wattles.  So the young ones ended up free ranging most days while the rest of the flock stayed in the covered run.  They never ventured far, but  that didn’t seem to matter – the December 21 prophecy came true for one of them.

My son and his Grandpa were visiting the property to fix a carport that had been crushed by a snow-laden branch earlier in the week when they saw the culprits – two red tailed hawks hunting together.  Apparently this isn’t normal behaviour, at least as far as I’ve been able to find, so the sight of it was enough to stop my dad and my son long enough to check out what was going on.  It was then they saw the reason for the hawks’ visit, lying there in a mass of feathers.  Poor guy probably didn’t even see what hit him…

If you’ve never witnessed a hawk taking out another bird, it’s quite something – they ball up and hurtle themselves through the air at some crazy speed to the point of impact, where they attempt to disable their prey with a crushing blow with their breastbone.  Then they swoop back for the kill.

So after a bit of trauma and some scientific explanation, into a box the rooster went and back to my parents’ house, where I’ve been working out of their office during the day for the past two weeks since my satellite internet died (a story for another post…).

Suffice it to say that it was amazing to watch what transpired next.  My son, ever the scientist (I see it more and more every day), was visibly a bit shocked at the sight of the rooster he helped raise from an egg, lifeless in a Rubbermaid bin.  But the opportunity to see how the chicken was ‘built’ won out.  For the next hour, he and my father plucked, dressed and washed the bird, inspecting each organ and discovering how it served the chicken in its life.

Even more amazing was the opportunity it provided for my dad, who was raised in a rural area and has been hunting, fishing and dispatching chickens since he was much younger than my son at 9, to impart some of his wisdom and experience to the next generation.   Jonah was captivated by the whole process, gory as it was.  He told me afterwards that he’ll never forget that smell, and that he had to cover his ears and eyes a couple of times.

I like knowing that he’s still sensitive enough to have had to protect his senses.  I also like knowing that he’s comfortable enough with the cycle of life that the whole experience didn’t traumatize him.  He loves nature in all forms, and he loves the chickens that he feeds, waters and hangs out with every day.  He understands that the hawks are hungry, and that they were just doing what they had to do to survive.  He was fascinated at how they managed to kill that rooster in a confined area, and that they were cooperating and hunting together.   Most of all, he knows that life goes on, and that it’s no one’s fault.

I can’t imagine a better life lesson.

Things happen.  Sometimes there’s something we could have done, but other times, nothing can prevent the inevitable.  Animals die.  Friends do crazy things.  Family members disappoint us.  It’s all part of the glorious fabric of life.

We’ve had experiences with life and death here on the homestead before – watching baby birds hatch, finding piles of feathers after a coyote attack on a hen, observing the ravens teaching their young how to fly, watching a songbird die after hitting a window, holding a garter snake as it expires after the dog shook it lifeless… but this seemed more visceral, more real.  It was ‘personal’.

The lessons my son is learning here, on our little 6 acres of paradise, are lessons I can’t imagine him learning anywhere else.  Sure he could absorb these things in the city, but it wouldn’t be the same.  There’s something about living as part of the cycle of life and death, observing it daily, that makes us appreciate it all even more.  I can’t imagine a better way to grow up…

If you live on a farm or homestead with children, what do you think are the most valuable lessons they are or have learned in the process?  Please share in the comments below.

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Karen December 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

A couple of years ago we had to dispatch a falcon that went through the wire cover over the chicken run to get a dove. It was amazing that it literally folded up and dove through the chicken wire top! I also witnessed a hawk taking a dove from one of my magnolia trees. I still hear the sound and see the feathers in my mind.

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