Bonekeeping on the Homestead

I know it has been awhile since either of us have posted anything, a couple months really, but things have been rather busy and well, other things have simply taken priority. However, I have been wanting to talk more about ‘pagan homesteading’ and our current urban-homesteading journey, and again… haven’t found the time. Hopefully posts will come more often now that we are teaching and getting some things underway. Today’s post, is one of Life & Death, and gives a bit of a window into what it means to be a Bonekeeper (my–Wren’s– personal path-title).

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Homestead Diary Entry

July 27, 2015

Two weeks ago we welcomed three young female ducks into our family. Two days ago chicks began hatching underneath the ruffled feathers of our broody hen Golden. And today, today we ended the day honoring the Dead. In the afternoon, upon realizing I had forgotten a sprinkler on, I headed out to turn off the water. And while doing so, had the thought that I should go check in on our two small hatchlings (only two, so we had thought, had hatched out of 12 eggs). As I walked towards the coop, I noticed the smaller coop door ajar for the second day in a row, and then I saw a pile of… something… off to the side of the coop, and for a split second thought it was the red hen that had been missing for two days now. The landowner’s dog skirted by me, head down, tail tucked and slightly wagging. And then as I neared the pile of what was, yes, feathers—and lots of them, I realized it was not the red hen. Nor was it a hen at all. It was one of my ducks. At that moment I began to panic, and could hear no others squabbling as they should be. I rounded the other side of the coop and found the broody hen jammed part way under the coop trying to get into the fence, making quite a ruckus, her two chicks tucked up under her against the wiring instead of nestled safely in the coop where they should have been. Looking past her I saw another pile of grey-brown feathers. A second victim. But where was the third? For a split second I hoped she had gotten away somehow, escaped into the hedgerow. But then I thought… and I opened the larger door to the coop. There lay the body of our third duck. My heart sank like a stone.

Because there were yellow jackets and hornets buzzing around the carcasses, I had to wait until dusk to move them for burial. My anger at the dog began to be replaced by a welling-up of grief. Tears finally came, running down my cheeks. He knew he had done wrong, and I took him up to the inner yard and leashed him to a pole until I could deal with the situation. I was definitely going through the “Stages of Grief”, and pretty quickly. Coming back up to the house my small son met me with worry on his face. “What’s wrong mama?” he asked. And I told him. Because why should we hide the ways of living and dying from our young children? He had already experienced his own dog killing a chicken when we first arrived here, he could know about this. With his adorably simplistic child-logic, he informed me “That’s ok mama, we’ll just go back to the farm and get some more duckies and then everything will be ok.” I didn’t want to make him upset and tell him that no, we probably shouldn’t get more, and just held him and let him hug me. When Midnight came home a short while later and I went to go show him what had transpired, I discovered a fourth body: that of a new chick. I don’t know where it came from, as I hadn’t noticed it the last two days, and I don’t know how it died, but its tiny black and white body lay limp in the back of the coop, and simply added to my sadness.

At dusk came the task of Bonekeeping. However we found that our parched earth, even the ground beneath the massive walnut tree beyond the coop where green grass still grew shaded from the scorching sun, our shovel could not break the surface, and what little digging was accomplished, was interrupted by roots of that massive giant. There would be no burying these feathered creatures here, where we had laid to rest a songbird a couple months before, nor anywhere. And so, befitting birds that were as wild at heart as they were—they had come to us untamed—we lay them to rest on a bed of freshly cut wild blackberry vines at the back of the property along the creek. Buried with them were our offerings—blackberries, plums, and four apples from our trees—to feed their spirits on their journey across to the Otherworld. Another layer of thorny vines atop them, and more fruit, along with a rustic bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace flower umbels, red clover blossoms, wheat, and a sprig of pink-petal blackberry blossoms.

Father and child left me in the faux-silence of the twilight, to say my words and do my work. At first I could do nothing but apologize. For bringing them here only for it to end in their deaths, for not keeping them safer, for the small chick who had not even known life. Then I breathed deep the intoxicating scent of creek-water and vine-ripening blackberries. I raised my hands, and spoke.

                Befitting creatures of water, we lay you to rest here on the creek-bank.

                Befitting creatures with wild spirits, we wrap you in thorned blackberry vines.

                May they deter molestation by creature, wild or tame, unless that is the way She will take you.

                We give our offerings, harvested from this land that was your home for a short time,

                That they may feed your spirits on their journey Across to the Otherworld.

My Lord of Beasts, please take their spirits into your fold, into your eternal forest. May they be at peace.

My Lady of Bones, devour their flesh, may the earth swallow their remains that they be reborn from the world anew.

May you rest in peace. May your journey be swift.

And as I will it, so mote it be.

And before I walked away, I petitioned the Spirits. “Spirits of Place, please protect them, keep them safe, and aid their spirits on their way to the Otherside. I ask this of you, with many thanks.” Again I breathed deeply the scent all around me. Two wild ducks flew overhead, crickets sang from the hedgerow, the last calls of birds fighting the coming darkness echoed from the trees nearby. And I began to cry again, my heart heavy and aching, my mind weary. Two tears fell to wet my cheeks, and so I wiped them away and flicked them onto the thorny grave before walking away.

Farewell then, dear ones, farewell.”

First Day Home~ Flower, Daisy, & Blue... RIP...
First Day Home~ Flower, Daisy, & Blue… RIP…

5 thoughts on “Bonekeeping on the Homestead”

  1. No, you don’t give up just like that. It came in through the door? Put a better latch on it. Better yet, put two on it. One at the top one between the middle and bottom. Replace that less than worthless chicken wire with something stronger. Rebuild and make it stronger. Giving up gets you nowhere.

    It hurts every time you lose an animal in your care. That doesn’t change. You just have to pick yourself up by the tail feathers and make changes. Make a safer home for your birds.

    Don’t give up. I lost an entire hatch this spring after the duck was scared off her nest. She didn’t give up. She tried again. Ducky hatched 14 babies on her second try. We lost 10 of them to an unknown sickness. Didn’t bother the hen and drake, the four we have left, or the chickens. It swept through and killed those 10 in two days. I still don’t know what happened.

    On the bright side three are hens. They’ll be kept for line breeding. I said my prayer and moved on.

    There is always a disaster around the corner with birds. Predators, sickness, pests. You give it the finger and push past it. Homesteading becomes impossible when you start giving up.

    1. Not giving up, just don’t think it is a good idea. It is an old coop, the original on the property, not ours. And there isn’t much to do. The smaller door (that he fit through– I didn’t think he could, he is a medium sized dog and it is a small opening) has no latch. It is a slide-and-pin door. And we leave it open all day so that the chickens can come and go, they free range over the property. And also so that if I, for whatever reason, don’t get out to them in time, they can put themselves to bed inside the coop instead of roosting somewhere away from the coop which puts them at risk of predators (the neighbor behind us has killed three or four raccoons that broke into her chicken barn) which has happened a couple times. This dog had already killed a duck before, he was being dog-sat on someone’s farm and he attacked and killed one of her drakes– everyone assumed it was because it was an aggressive duck bullying the others. The two weeks we had the ducks, he stalked around the pen all day every day scaring them to the point that they laid eggs only *one* day out of those two weeks. And per his owner’s request, I’m to let him have free range of the property as well (unlike our dog, which has to be kept in a small fenced inner yard, partly because if he gets out he will wander and partly because he will go after the chickens– he killed one within a couple weeks of us being here). The only other thing I could do to have ducks is to build them their own enclosure, with ‘blinds’ on the fencing to keep them from seeing the dog and the dog seeing them, but he would still hear and smell them and know they’re there, and right now we don’t have the money to build a whole new enclosure. I couldn’t handle losing another batch of ducks to him. Once was enough….. I’m sorry about your losses, that’s so strange, the sickness. This morning we found another chick had hatched, I’m glad I didn’t remove the remaining eggs like I had planned. I think what happened was some of the eggs were laid at differing times, so they’re different ages, so we’ll see if any more hatch in the coming week. She’s still sitting on them, so that’s good. Thank you for your support 🙂 Maybe down the road if we stay here past the fall we can figure something out and get some ducklings to raise over winter so they’re used to people (and the dog is used to them, he was raised with the chickens here) and laying by summer. We’ll see.
      [We are renting the house on this land, caretaking the home and property in exchange for a cheaper rent. The owner left her dog here to be looked after, and he is the one who went after the ducks… I also don’t know that the woman I got the ducks from would be fond of providing me more knowing that I have a duck-killer that I can’t really do anything about…]

      1. I’m glad you aren’t giving up. It sucks that you can’t do anything about the dog.

        Hens are crazy. XD I’ve had a few do the same thing.

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