Dusk is a noisy time in the henhouse. Roosting locations are allocated according to strict rules based upon hierarchy. In spite of that, last minute jostling as the sun sets is accompanied by complaints and disputes. Then there are the spoiled hens, Samantha and Windy, who require the personal touch: I have to lift them up to their respective roosts. Samantha arrived here from a residence where her roost was near to the ground and she can’t quite grasp the concept of “up.” Windy is a heavy breed, and seems to have developed a stiff little waddle rendering her quite incapable of reaching the roost preferred by her sisters. I pick up each hen and plop them up by the others and they generally stay put until morning. Fortunately, they can jump down on their own.
In the aviary I’ve got 9-1/2 hens (little princess is only half-sized and anyway doesn’t consider herself to be poultry), 10 ducks, 2 geese and the 2 cats running around. I don’t do mornings well but I toss food around and check waterers while I make certain nobody looks out of sorts or sulky, and check for holes in the protective wire netting above me. In the afternoon I open the gate for the Garden Party and they stampede for the treat dishes and dust baths. It’s at the end of the day that I perform the “head count” to make sure I didn’t leave someone out when I shut the gate for the night.
Last Saturday night a hen was missing. Windy, where’s Windy? No, not already in the aviary. I went back out the gate, did a sweep of the yard. She’s often the straggler, but not Saturday. The yard is very secure, entirely fenced, some fences are 10′ high because they are above retaining walls. Windy is a heavy breed, a Golden Laced Wyandotte, and anyway, not inclined to jump, let alone fly. I searched the aviary one more time. Sisters Eartha and Frieda were huddled together, as if to illustrate that Windy was missing. I went back out to the yard, looked under every shrub, behind every pot, poked around between fronds, called out The Bartender. We both looked but found no Windy.
In the morning, I fed my flock, minus Windy. I checked the yard again for tell-tale feather explosions or spare parts, but thankfully found nothing resembling pieces of Windy carcass. My volunteer, Dechen, arrived and we went out to the aviary. I told her about the disappeared hen, and in demonstration of how I had looked in every conceivable hiding spot, peered behind a cage into an impossibly tiny gap. Large enough for a dove, but not for a fat hen. And there was a big fat Windy hen silently peering back out at me. We pulled the cage away from the fence and got her out. She was compressed like a four leaf clover in a diary. She bravely hobbled a few steps and teetered over. I picked her back up and checked her over a bit more carefully: I do know what broken chicken legs feel like, thanks to Conchita. Windy had an abraded shin, not even worth messing with, but she was still kind of folded funny. That’s what the infirmary is for, so in she went with food and water and treats. Dechen and I pushed that cage back, jogged it a bit to the side of a post so we could snug it right up to the fence.
Thinking back, I couldn’t recall the last time I had positively seen her. Had she come out to the Garden Party the previous day? Did she come over for her morning treats? The Bartender’s eyes opened wide when I reported finding Windy. He reminded me that on Friday night (FRIDAY! It was now SUNDAY!) the hens had been cackling at bedtime to a ridiculous degree. I had already lifted up Windy and Samantha to bed, but Conchita was hollering from her roost at a volume certain to attract the attention of nearby mothers with small children trying to sleep. I had thrown on mud boots and gone back out there to check, seen nothing (“nothing” as in oblivious to the missing hen . . .) Conchita recruited her sister Adelita into the cacophany and it had taken quite a bit of discussion and admonishment on my part to calm them.
I spent the next couple of days setting up a low roost for Windy and Samantha. They still prefer to hunker on the ground, but as the weather deteriorates, they may decide to hop up 6″ to the fabulous bamboo roost I fashioned for them. Or maybe they’ll continue to squeeze under it to the darker corner.
What a fool I am. After 35 years I should have more respect for the opinions of my flock. I was lucky this time because Windy spent only one day in the infirmary. The following day, I took her out, set her down for a moment, turned my back to grab her water bowl, and she sprinted for the common treat bowls. She’s fine. She has totally fluffed out again, pouffy, if you will. And she has forgiven me.