Bad Chicken Mama

At lock up time last night, it was pouring rain. The hens had been penned up earlier when I took kitchen scraps over to them, so I left them to their own devices overnight. That was a major error. Though the pen is fenced with an heavy erosion fence cover, a raccoon got in the coop. I didn’t even realize it until just a few minutes ago when I went to check for eggs. as I had seen hens in the yard today and didn’t even dawn on me that they had been penned up last night. Two followed me with the treat pail over to the run, one was in the vegetable garden and joined the other two. Several were frantic under the coop, but I figured they just wanted treats or to be let out as the strong wind today had blown the gate shut, though now that I think about it, I had rolled the rock that holds the gate shut against it when I penned them up late yesterday afternoon. That only accounted for 7 of them. When I opened the coop door, there were feathers everywhere and one dead hen, the victim that I could find. One is missing, probably frightened off into the woods or thickets, but so far she hasn’t returned.

The Marans that was in the garden went straight into the coop to lay an egg as soon as I did a little clean up. I hope the one that is AWOL reappears or my flock is down to 7. Nine was barely providing enough eggs for daughter’s family and my use.

They haven’t been providing that many eggs for the number of hens, aging out, I guess. but I had really hoped to get through this laying season before having to replace any.

I feel bad as it is totally my fault that they weren’t secured in the coop last night. Not wanting to go out in the storm cost me at least one hen and several eggs. It was easy to be complacent as the coop has food and water in it and with the rain, there is a tub of water outside in the run as well. Lesson learned. Regardless how nasty it is outside, the coop needs to be secured at night.

16 years ago

In June, I will have lived here 17 years. Coming out of my first retirement to re-enter the education field for an additional 3 1/2 years. The first autumn I was here, just a few short months after arriving, there was a shooting by a young man who escaped from a guard at a local hospital, went on the run and ended up killing a law enforcement officer on one of the trails we walk each week. Then 16 years ago this week, the shooting by a student at Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and faculty occurred. I wondered what kind of community we were moving into. The news media were relentless for weeks, every counselor in the region helping with first responders, faculty and students. My temporary apartment was very near the building in which it happened.

It turns out, it is a very close, supportive community. One that we have grown to love with the activity of so much youth, culture, and still a small town vibe with local businesses and restaurants.

Yesterday, the University held it’s 15th 3.2 mile run for the 32. This was on top of the football team’s spring game, and other on campus activities. The town was bustling.

Sixteen years ago, I resented the media attention not allowing healing, but over the years, I have witnessed the healing, the memorials, the activities that are reminders, but also letting the families of those affected by the two events know they are remembered and that their hurt has not been forgotten.

This is not a political statement, as we live rurally and guns are a part of the life here for hunting and for protection from animals that destroy livestock and crops. But the wonton gun violence in this country is heartbreaking. The two events 16 years ago were my first encounter with it, but it now seems to be a daily news occurrence. It needs to end, there are other solutions besides gun violence to solve problems.


We live in the zipcode of a tiny Village. On April 1, 1901, almost the entire village was destroyed, leaving only a couple residences, two churches, and a stable. Two stores, a tavern, a hotel, the drug store, and a tannery were among the buildings destroyed.

“Newport was a thriving community with many businesses. An iron foundry, located on Sinking Creek, made pig iron from ore mined near Newport. A woolen mill in Newport obtained power from a 37-foot diameter overshot water wheel. The mill was later converted into a woodworking plant, then into a blacksmith shop and then into an automobile workshop. There were several mills including the Zell Mill and the Payne Mill. The town had three distilleries, each with a bar room.” Keister, Susie Reed (1969). A History of Newport, Virginia. Virginia Leader

The village now is a handful of houses, a US Post Office, a small general store with gas pumps, and two churches. There were two professional baseball players and a nationally known songwriter that called Newport home.

The village is surrounded by National Forest and farmland that is usually a mix of pasture and wood lots. With all of the woods, when we see smoke or a scene like the one we saw last night, we alert.

This was seen when I went down to make a late evening cup of tea, to the south east of us, just over the hill at the back corner of our farm. Knowing that the neighbor back there has recently cleared areas of woods for more pastures for his cattle, I texted him to see if he was burning piles. Since there is an open burn ban until after 4 pm, he had to wait until then to start the burn. We had a few light hearted text exchanges and he let us know that there were several more big piles, so we will see more nights like this.

Almost exactly a year ago, our sons helped me pull Autumn Olive bushes in the area where the bee yard was going to be placed and we piled them in the yard away from the house and the woods. That night, the guys tried to have a bonfire that was less than successful as the bushes were green. A second attempt latter in the spring or early summer still didn’t get rid of the pile, but left a ring of trunks and branches that the grass grew through. Today, I piled it all into a teepee type pile and mowed the grass as close to the pile as possible. This afternoon, that pile was burned.

Continuously dragging in the unburned portions until the pile was reduced to cinders. The cinders were shoveled into the burn barrel and allowed to burn down until dark. It was then thoroughly doused and lidded. On another day, when more time can be spent monitoring it, more small wood will be added to the burn barrel and allow it to burn down to a layer of ash. The barrel isn’t considered open burn. That area is in the upper edge of the hayfield, so it is good that it is now gone and the hay can now grow there and not be a mowing or haying hazard. Once the burn barrel can be moved, it will be placed a bit higher on the property and used to burn pruning from the fruit trees.