A Heart for Pain

There’s something they don’t tell you in all those articles about raising backyard chickens.

When I get up in the mornings, I go outside to let them loose. I feed them and spread birdseed or corn on the ground for treats. Check their waters. And as I’m feeding and watering, I count them. Six adolescents, one silkie rooster, two hens (where’s the other one–oh, there she is, sitting on eggs), three babies.

I count because sometimes they’re not all there. And when they’re not, it’s nearly always due to negligence. Something I failed to do. A gate left open. A wading pool left available to young chicks. And so I stand there and look at their beautiful, perfect little lifeless bodies, or the pile of feathers where once they stood, and say “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry” over and over again.

And then I come in the house and tell the children. And they cry. Eli says it wouldn’t be so bad except he feels so sorry for their mama. He stands at the window and says, “Poor Spirit. She’s looking all over for her babies.”


I cry while I clean up the bodies, put away the wading pool, replace it with several shallow water containers, review safety measures and make a mental note on what we will do differently from now on.

And then we get on with our day.

Because they don’t tell you everything in those articles about how to raise backyard chickens. They don’t tell you this: You must learn to have a heart for pain. You will need to learn to step into pain, and step back out again… to move into and then through it. Because if you plan to bring chickens into your life, you are going to have losses. And the more you raise them, the heavier you get into it, the more loss you are going to experience, and the more heartbreaking they will be sometimes.

And isn’t this what life is, too? Learning to have a heart for pain? To step into the pain, to step out of it again, to let it flow through and around you and then to get up and say, life is worth it anyway, let’s go, what’s next. Even though you don’t know when you’ll be stepping back into pain again, even though it hits you sideways when you least expect it. Even though sometimes it’s more than you can take. You take it anyway.

(I took this video yesterday morning. The chicks were six weeks old. Yesterday afternoon or evening, they got into a wading pool I had out for a water source and couldn’t get out again. I worked late and never noticed. When we locked their mama up last night, we assumed they were warm and cozy under her. We found them floating lifelessly this morning.)

7 responses to “A Heart for Pain

  1. Oh Heather, I’m sorry to hear about the chicks. I lost all seven of my chickens this winter to a weasel or mink. Besides pain, there’s anger at the senseless waste of life. Anger/guilt at myself that I should have fixed the holes in the foundation.

    And yes, this is part of what life is about. I’m so glad there are parents out there like you that let their children have these experiences instead of sheltering them from life. They will be better adults for the things learned now.

    • Thanks, Melanie. I’m sorry to hear about your chickens too. That’s the worst. I lost my entire first flock of laying ducks, right after they started to lay. A fox got in between the run and the coop–so of course I beat myself up about not securing it better.

      Yes, anger, guilt, and a fair amount of simple, practical frustration because WHY CAN’T SOMETHING JUST BE EASY.

      I agree about letting children experience pain, too. It’s one of the hardest things we do as parents, and I believe it’s powerfully beneficial.

      Will you replace your chickens?

  2. Thank you for posting this. Whenever I have loses I feel like I’m the only one who has ever lost a bird. Actually I got into a guilty tailspin that I won’t regurgitate here, but the point is: I’m learning to forgive myself. I like the way you put it, stepping in and out of pain.

    • Thanks, Gillian. I’m practicing that, forgiving myself. It’s hard. One thing I find: The more I forgive myself, the more able I am to forgive others. And that’s a good thing. Amazing the lessons we learn from chickens. 😉

  3. Heather, at this point, I have no immediate plans to get more chickens. The coop is over at my daughter’s place, and she will probably be renting out her house this spring, plus I’m gone from home 12 hours a day at the moment. Until that changes, I think I’ll keep extra work to a minimum. But, when time permits, I will get more chickens.

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