And then there were very nearly sixteen. Again.

I tell you, it’s a good thing I have a strong heart and low blood pressure. This chicken thing is stressful. Before I describe last night’s drama, please know from the get-go that no chickens were harmed in the making of this blog post. She’s okay.

I’m not a big fan of winter, so going off Daylight Savings Time has but two consolations for me: a) an extra hour of sleep, and b) sundown, and, by association, chicken bedtime, moves from 6ish to 5ish, well out of the way of dinnertime preparation. I can get everyone to bed and come in for the night.

The downside of b) is that putting the chickens to bed has been sneaking up on me as I’ve been getting used to the change, and I have been getting to the coop on the late side, which is to say, on the dark side.

I looked out a window with a start yesterday at about 5:15; I was late to put the chickens to bed. Again.

When I got to the coop, it was very difficult to see, as I’d forgotten to bring a light source. Again. No worries: I have a non-visual counting system. I lightly count the hens by feel, first checking for nine on the roosts above the poop pit (1.0), then for six plus two on the new roost on the opposite wall of the coop (2.0 & 2.1). This has worked very well for me. Until last night.

It seems that the colder nights we’ve been experiencing have inspired initiative in some of the Silver Laced Wynadottes to roost with 1.0. Because the two roosts above the poop pit are spaced nine inches apart, huddling for body heat is a more three-dimensional experience. The older girls weren’t protesting the interlopers (testimony to the cold), but I was; it was messing up my count.

I placed indignant, squawking Alice and Dorothy back on their appointed roost, and began my count. Six plus two on the new roost, and eight on the old, which is fine because Tallulah needs a boost and is waiting for me on the lip of the poop pit below.

Except she wasn’t.

I suppressed panic. I had just seen her with the rest of the flock, having a pre-bedtime graze in the field outside the run. Had she been caught outside by the pop door closing? This happened to Hermione once, a long time ago, and I found her inside the darkened run, crouched against the outer face of the pop door. No, Tallulah wasn’t there. Where else would she possibly be?!

Chickens have a few irresistibly strong inner voices. Roost as high as you can. Squat for your rooster. And, for the love of The Great Chicken, get home and roosted by the time it gets dark. I have never had a chicken caught in the dark away from the coop. And she had just been with the rest of the flock. Something was very, very wrong.

It was about this time I remembered a conversation relayed to me by The Man, half an hour previous, between himself and the fellow who is cutting wood for us.

Woodcutting Guy: “Does the eagle ever get your chickens?”
The Man: “What eagle??!!”
Woodcutting Guy:” Ummm…the one that’s been hanging around your barn all afternoon?”

Now, if I were a bird of prey, and I were looking to a meal, I wouldn’t choose Tallulah. She is a Light Brahma and a big girl. But…she was the one missing. They say that white birds are more vulnerable to predation. Could the eagle have picked Big White Tallulah?

I rushed back into the house to let The Man know that we were missing a chicken, an unprecedented event at bedtime. Flashlights in hand, we starting scouring the property.

The Man: “Which one is missing?”
Me: “Tallulah.”
The Man: “What colour is she?”
Me: Facepalm. Sigh. “White.”

We’ve had 1.0 for eighteen months now, for crying out loud. Never mind. He’s good for other things.

It’s a good thing, if one had to go missing, that it was a white hen and not a black one, because it was dark by this time. If we found her at all, I reasoned, she’d be dead or injured. I could think of no other reason she wouldn’t be in the coop.

I searched Junk Jungle; I searched Fox Woods. I was shining the flashlight across the surface of the pond to see if she’d drowned when I heard The Man call, “Here she is!”. He provided no further information, just stood there, shining his flashlight at, of all places, the front porch. I approached nervously, preparing myself for the worst.

What I found was certainly not the worst, but it was, arguably, the weirdest. On the front porch, leaning against a drawer unit we’ve been meaning to get upstairs but the thing is too damned heavy…was Tallulah. Just lying there, and, to all appearances…uninjured.

I reached over to pick her up, still expecting evidence of a predator. She was pliant and glassy, as chickens get in the dark. I carried her into the coop, and placed her next to her 1.0 sisters. She seemed neither agitated nor relieved at my intervention, and a quick exam of her white feathers showed no evidence of foul play.

Today, she is fine. I have no reasonable explanation. Why she would have left the safety of the flock, by the coop, at dusk, without a threat of some kind is completely beyond me. It is clear that, trapped away from the run and coop when night fell, for whatever reason, she could not find her way back, and she made herself as safe as she could (which was none too safe, exposed as she was to both predators and the elements, and molting, to boot).

Get chickens, they said. It’s easy, they said…


10 thoughts on “And then there were very nearly sixteen. Again.

  1. That’s happened to me ONCE. I flipped. Cried the whole search. Damn Skittles was roosting in a tree. Why now? It makes no sense! Well we found her.. Phew..

    But the deck? That’s weird. Really weird :P

  2. I understand completely! Darkness comes an hour early now, and I’m pressed for time too. Tonight it’s raining… and two birds are not in their nest. Great… the hunt was on, I’m cold, wet, and it’s dark. There was about a billion things I would have rather been doing than carrying two soggy hens back to their house. Oh brother.

    • Oh, wow, you just totally made my day. I write to amuse myself, and everything else is a bonus. Glad you’re along for the ride!

      • You’re amusing the heck outta me. All too often you find blog writers that take themselves too seriously. Might as well be real about it – because a lot of it is funny and frustrating all at the same time. You’ve got it covered!

  3. Oh yeah, we have 2 predator hawks AND an eagle that hang out around here! (The eagle sleeps overnight in the tallest pine about 100 feet from our house, and about 200 feet from the chicken yard.) Talk about changing your mindset- before chickens, we thought it was the greatest blessing to see the eagle in that tree (I have pictures aplenty to prove it). After chickens, he becomes someone to watch with suspicion and to time their letting out by… ya know?

    The hawks have actually been worse this year, and one actually tried to scoop up my one white rooster (a silver spangled Hamburg). After several chicken squawks alerted me, I saw the hawk as he swooped OUT of the coop yard having just missed! So up went threads of fishing line, like spider webbing across the coop yard. (wagon-wheel shape).
    It seems to have done the trick; apparently a hawk won’t chance a dive if the escape route is iffy. The clear fishing line kind of does that. (I have a few strips of sheet tied onto them so I can see them).
    The flock pretty much kept to the coop or hung around it’s door for HOURS after the hawk swooped (and several attempts afterward outside the coop yard where I couldn’t spread the line out to)… And that once I discovered my favorite hen alive after being missing for hours, like you did- in an unlikely place. I could figure it out easily: once a hawk/predator threatens them, they’ll scatter to the quickest place they feel protected, and stay there.
    I think your hen kind of dodged that bullet, so to speak. If this is what happened, then for your hen perhaps the closest refuge was the porch, for mine it was a clump of brush… which totally kept her hidden although in plain sight… like a shadow.
    By the way, after 2 weeks of stringing the fishing line up, the hawks have moved on.

    The eagle I can’t say yet- it’s here from late November thru March some years, and other years only sporadically. Perhaps it depends on their life cycles and mating/mates or territories? Sometimes other eagles come to challenge it for the favored branch or to flirt…
    So I’d say just keep an eye out and try the fishing line if you have to!

    • Oh, MY. INSIDE the coop??!! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we have been SO fortunate here with predators, or the lack of same. I’m not sure what the magic alchemy of our little corner is, but I just keep knocking on wood.

      If it was a hawk that chased Tallulah, he’s one who needs glasses, or one who is too ambitious for his own good. She wouldn’t be the easiest one to carry off!

      Glad to hear your fix is taking care of things. INSIDE the coop, indeed…

      • LOL not inside the coop itself! The hawk attack took place inside the coop YARD- the fenced area that serves little purpose but does come in handy from time to time since I can enclose most of the hens inside that yard where predators would have a much harder time accessing them (because of the fishing line all strung up). I have a few birds that fly over the fence because they are such inherent free-rangers… including my favorite hen (a little brown mix breed). I think I’ve got photos posted on the fishing line if you want to take a peek at my blog. It really seems to work – but obviously the area is limited because I didn’t expand it outside that coop yard.
        Good luck to you!

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