Today I released the new pullets into the society of the four older hens, and into the wide open spaces of the regular pen and the much larger temporary pen that is attached to it. I watched for a while and made sure that my placid Buff Orpingtons had no desire to murder the new arrivals, then left them to get acquainted.
You should know that yesterday one of the little Barred Rocks died. I found her by the feeder, with no signs of external trauma, but dead as a door nail. I performed our usual dead livestock ritual and flung her into the woods. I checked the spot today and sure enough, she was gone–a good meal for baby racoons or fox kits or God knows what. Still, her death upset me. I\’ve never lost a young chicken, not even that most fragile of creatures, a day-old chick.
I half expected to find the remaining three pullets in extremis this morning, but they seemed fine, and I decided it was time for them to experience not only the society of the older hens, but direct sunshine. They thought this was imprudent nonsense, and quickly scurried under the shed, where they spent this entire glorious April day in the dark, huddled and peeping.
7:00 p.m. I go to check on them. They are nowhere to be seen, or heard. Possibly, I worry, whoever has gotten their dead sister has come back for more. I entice the older hens into their room by means of that opiate–sunflower seeds–to get them out of the way. Then I peer under the shed and see a flash of yellow leg–the pullets are there, in the darkest recesses. I need to get them out of there, up the steps, and into their room for the night.
Armed with a handful of Chick Grower crumbles, I sprinkle some just beyond the shed. Miracle of miracles, they hear the crumbles fall and come out of their refuge. I sprinkle more of the stuff on the steps and sit down to wait.
There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a chicken to come inside a building. The first thing she does is walk away, but just as you are about to give up hope she turns her head, then takes a couple of steps in the right direction. You coo encouragement, but she doesn\’t like that, and goes back where she started. Seeming to sense your despair, however, she pecks her way slowly towards you, then stops, turns around, pecks some more….
I run out of patience. I turn on the light in the chicken house, hoping that the energy-saver bulb will function as a beacon pointing the way home, and go inside to start dinner. I really don\’t want those pullets to spend the night outdoors.
7:55 p.m. It is still light. I go back out to the shed–no pullets in sight, but I hear desperate cheepings from way over near the wood pile. And that is where they are, huddled and pathetic, so much so that they let me pick them up (usually it\’s not that easy to catch a chicken in daylight) and carry them to the shed. There is a thick bed of nice clean hay for them, clean water, more Chick Grower crumbles. And a door that I close against weasels, foxes, owls, raccoons, possums, rats, bears, mountain lions (\”catamounts\” in these parts), coyotes, coydogs, dogs, fisher cats, bobcats and house cats.