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?”
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…