Tag Archives: Stacy’s Funny Farm

Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

Standard
Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

Yes, in fact Princess Blur is still living in my bathroom. She gets two different heart meds, three times a day, so it’s nice to have her conveniently located. At night we can hear the wheezing that is a symptom of her heart murmur. She hops up to her roost with ease, but has never in five months hopped out of the bathtub. The loose feathers redistribute when she flaps and I noticed recently that The Bartender has moved his toothbrush into another bathroom. She is well into her slumber when I go in to brush my teeth in the dark. I don’t want to disturb herby flipping on the lights.

Princess Blur evaluates the clean blanket prior to strategizing its fall from grace.

When I first brought her in, I toyed with the idea of making some chicken diapers, but I wasn’t that optimistic about her diagnosis. She hangs out with me as I work at my desk, but I am getting tired of washing unspeakably soiled fleece blankets. I guess diapers are my next project.

The latest hurdle was beak trimming. When you spend your days on fleece blankets instead of dirt, your beak will grow long and interfere with your bite so that it’s hard to take your meds. Trimming her beak was even less fun than it sounds, so the goal is not to ever have to do that again. Online, I learned that the common solution was to give her a brick. The Princess was almost as insulted by that brick as she was for the beak trimming itself! I took a walk around the house looking for a suitable brick substitute. If you have seen my house, it will come as no surprise to you that the perfect object was sitting on the same shelf where I put it in 2008 after I bought it in Mexico City. My pig-faced metate makes a perfect seed dish for Princess, and with any luck it will wear down her beak as she digs through for the sunflower seeds.

Samantha, looking perky at the prospect of an afternoon out of the infirmary.

And yes, Samantha, my Little Dead Hen, is still out in the infirmary, getting meds once every five days. An impossible regimen but it’s on my calendar and I usually remember. The lymphoma is ever-so-slowly taking her down, and she is painfully thin. She wants to be out with the flock, but she is so frail she falls over at the slightest breeze. And then can’t get up. In the infirmary, her food and water is efficiently located, she has a heated pad, and she can see and hear everyone, day and night.

She cries for me in the morning when I deliver her breakfast: a little dish of rice, pancakes, or her new favorite: corn muffins. She also gets yogurt, cottage cheese, scrambled or hard boiled egg sprinkled with probiotic powder. Topped off with frozen corn or peas, maybe some fruit. She eats less and less of it, to the delight of my hen Angel, who hops up for first dibs on yesterday’s leftovers. Still, Samantha looks forward to her breakfast every morning, and digs right in.

Samantha and Princess enjoy an afternoon snack together.

Suddenly, our late-season snow melted, the ice thawed, and the sun came out. When the flock invades the back yard for the afternoon Garden Party, Samantha takes over a small corner of Dobby’s old pen. She has a heat lamp, food and water, and nobody can bump into her. When it warms up nicely, I even bring out Princess. They are both lonely but essentially bedridden and they have fun chatting and sitting in their rocking chairs together. We’re still going to have wet and chilly spring weather, and I will have to decide every day whether it is worth the risk to put them out. I will be rearranging the furniture out there so they have access to a larger covered area, and I can add another heat lamp if they use it.

Coffee Bean, Windy, and Angel are shocked to discover that Princess has magically reappeared. They hadn’t seen her for months.

I also have a little dove who commutes. It seems like every winter there is one who has a tough time and ends up on the ground. They came in as an established flock in 2008, so none are younger than eleven years old, and most are much older. Anyway, this little bird went into a heated cage in the barn before the snow, but she still isn’t flying much. Putting her straight back out with the flock was not successful, so I have fixed up a transitional cage out there for her. She first spent days there, returning to the barn at night. When it warmed up, she spent the nights in the outside cage. Finally, I have started letting her out during the day, and the flock is more accepting, though she still can’t fly very high. She’s trying harder now, so even though I am still caging her at night, I think she’ll soon be flying back up to the high perches.

Doves in a cage looking at a dove in a cage.

So now I have two hens going out to the backyard every afternoon, and a dove commuting between her flock and a night cage every day. Who else has cabin fever?

Fat Bonnie is bored.

How about Fat Bonnie? She used to join the Garden Party every afternoon. After she picked up three botfly larvae that had to be $urgically removed, I swore she would never see the outdoors again. That was several years ago, when the rat situation had reached epic proportions. The risk is much smaller now. So out she goes. 

Fat Bonnie, eating again, of course.

The Graveyard used to be her favorite place in the yard, and now it is conveniently fenced. This means that when it is time to take her indoors, I need only chase her around The Graveyard instead of the entire yard and aviary. Lucky me.

At dusk, send your thoughts and prayers to me as I herd the flock back into the aviary (and flush out the freeloading wild mallards), carry Samantha back to the infirmary, return the dove to her night cage, lift old Coffee Bean up to her favorite roost (Didn’t I mention that spoiled hen earlier?), bring Princess indoors, take a breath, and chase Bonnie until she allows me to lift her up and toss transfer her back into the kitchen. Then Princess gets her meds, and I am grateful to have a bartender on staff.


Gratuitous Dobby photo:

Peek-a-boo!

This invasion took place during a Garden Party, long ago. This is the rabbit palace, but they are out in the yard. A couple of hens and a marauding capybara have taken up residence.

Advertisements

Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

Standard
Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? It was so fun to look out the front door and see bountiful snow: fluffy clean snow, looking like Crisco. It’s so quiet. I forgot about that part. You see, Seattle doesn’t get much snow. Not enough to justify snow plows or snow tires, so everybody takes the day off to enjoy the magnificence of it.

This was my front steps.

I got out my snow ruler: nine inches! (23cm) And started to watch the weather forecasts like a fiend. More snow? Freezing temperatures, too? Uh oh. I started to bring in the hummingbird feeders after dusk. Get up at dawn, throw on my flimsy robe, hang them back up, hummers buzzing at the empty hanger, as if to remind me where the feeder belongs.

My official snow ruler

The back yard wild mallards landed in the Crisco snow, rapidly sinking in up to their necks, trudging back up to the surface, flying back up to the roof. Over and over. So funny! I could be mean and toss their ration of cracked corn into the deep snow, but that would be wasteful.

View from the living room. You have to imagine the thunk! thunk! of the ducks landing on the roof.

They quickly learned that the wild bird buffet was being served on the deck, right outside the kitchen door, in dishes. They had the area trampled flat in no time. There are at least forty-two of them, after all. The original pair have been here daily for a dozen years, rain or shine.

Yes, in fact some of them do knock on the door.

Dobby would have been sequestered in the kitchen for two weeks by now. There’s still about six inches of snow on the ground. The bare patches are thawing and we’re supposed to have more rain before the temperatures drop again in a couple days and they start bragging about more snow. The Prince would have been perfectly miserable, cabin fever in spades. This is one of the many reasons why I am not considering getting another capybara. Our mild marine climate is no longer to be trusted.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

The graveyard‘s colors are muted, and the sun can’t illuminate the gems hanging from the arbor. The snow is so pretty, even the Dove dome is a masterpiece. That snowball in the foreground is a “Dogloo” turned igloo. The pigeon loft is behind it, and this morning I decided to take the eggs away from Phoenix and Cor-ten. Birth control is so easy for birds, imagine if we could lay an egg and simply walk away from it! Today there was a tiny fuzzy face looking out at me. I was too late. So they have a baby and I guess congratulations are in order.

The dove cage has never looked prettier.

When the snow first falls, the cats test it. Curiosity satisfied, Kitty Hawk rejoins his smarter half in the barn. The hens are smart enough to hunker down in the barn until it goes away. The ducks and geese have fancy feet and don’t mind the cold.

Goose and cat. Kitty Hawk is some kind of fool.

Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.

Gentle Norman. He didn’t sign up for this.

Even when there is snow, the ducks and geese prefer to sleep under the stars. In the morning, I can see where each one slept by the thawed  dirt ovals they create with their downy blankets. They pull their feet up inside the feathers, tuck in their bills, and they’re good for the night. In the photo below, you can see two ducks sleeping on the ground, and to the left, two thawed ovals where their friends slept the night before.

Tony and Vinny, snoozing midday. They are in the middle of the photo.

In the photo below, you can see the aviary netting is starting to sag under the weight of the snow. Look at the top rail of the fence, straight and true. The roof netting should be uniformly higher than that top rail, but you can see a droop near the center of the photo.

Observing the aviary from the kitchen deck after the first onslaught of snow

From inside the aviary it looked like this. I tried to smack at the snow from below, to get it to drop off the netting, but it was so light and fluffy it wouldn’t fall through the big holes of the 2″ chicken wire. Seattle snow usually falls straight through to the ground. Only deep dry snow falling quickly onto the thin frozen wires will cause significant accumulation. Even so, our usual quick return to 40 degree weather melts it away.

Crisco everywhere: above, below, even on the vertical wire fence

We had deep fry dry snow, frozen temperatures, and frigid nights. Most of the hens sleep in the barn on heated pads. Adelita still prefers her roost, next to where Conchita and Jello used to sleep. The geese and ducks still preferred the frozen ground to the cozy barn.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got a couple more inches of snow. The net is relaxing under the weight of it. The duck pond is frozen. Beyond the fence, wild mallards gather the troops, ready to beg for cracked corn as I pass by for inspection.

Beyond the pond and fence, wild mallards accumulate with the snow.

The heat lamps come out and the Muscovy ducks come in. They are a South American breed and not as hardy as my other domestics. Their feet and caruncle can get frostbite and they love the heat lamps. The shavings in the barn don’t seem to freeze as long as they are dry, but like a fool, I provide drinking water in the barn during freezing weather and the ducks take care of the “dry” problem. It’s still nicer than the pile-up of snow outside.

新年快樂

The perennial Chinese New Year’s decorations are suddenly timely. Last night the barn lights didn’t come on at dusk. D’oh! They are on a timer and we had a six hour power outage. They have probably been cycling on in the middle of the night for the past week.

Her drinking water never froze.

About a week before the storm, I brought this little dove into the barn. She wasn’t flying up to the perches, and so I fixed her up with a cage that has a perch on the ground. Usually a week or so of R&R perks them up, but I’m also glad she wasn’t in the big dome during the storm. She’s cooing to her buddies in the dome so they all know she’s okay.

After all the snow, everyone was excited to finally see rain. It is Seattle, after all. It rained all night. In the morning, I was surprised to see robins gaily hopping in and out of the aviary. They are too big to get through the aviary netting, so that meant they had found a hole. It turned out to be a hole the size of a Mack truck. Several of them, in fact.

Coffee Bean and Grover learned to share this heated carrier.

Meanwhile, everyone became used to moving into the barn every night. When I gave the signal, Norman would march everyone in. When the netting collapsed, I realized the cats would be able to walk right out, so I locked them into the smaller portion of the barn during the day. Norman’s non-flighted flock would be okay waddling around in the wrecked aviary during the day while we worked on repairs.

Not only did the aviary netting seams rip open, each of the support posts poked a hole. The important central support was a tree that had died and was now rotten enough to splinter into several spongy logs. The central support cables tightly gripped the one remaining sound portion of the tree which was now dangling a few inches above the ground. We removed the other supports so that the netting would be easy to reach and repair.

It’s an eye test: can you see the pink flagging?

I built my first aviary in 1984 out of recycled fishing nets. Holes would rot out of it, unpredictably. The second one, in 1988, was smaller and I used Toprite aviary netting. Squirrels chewed it where it attached to the fence. I used sturdier Toprite for my third aviary, in 1991. It was an effective net, but the small holes clogged with snow quickly, necessitating hourly snow removal during the storms. A fallen fir tree once took the entire net out, ripping it to shreds. This 2001 aviary “roof” has a chew-proof stiff wire mesh edge with a 2″ chicken wire infill. For eighteen years, the snow has fallen through the netting, except where it is covered with twigs and autumn leaves. A yearly cleaning was all it took. Until Snowpocalypse.

No aviary repair kit is complete without a thousand zip ties.

I have a bartender on staff, and his job description is a moving target. I flagged all the holes with bright pink survey flagging. Where I could reach, we worked together to zip tie the holes. Then he went out the next day, like John Henry, and zipped the rest of those suckers right up. They didn’t have a chance.

Eye Test #2: Can you see the zip ties?

We put the supports back up, and Bob’s your uncle! Everything’s back to normal, and Norman can take a break. Sure, there’s still six inches of dirty ice encrusted compact snow on the ground, but I’m fairly certain it will go away. Someday.

Then I walked out to look at the still pretty clean snow in the front yard, and discovered that the core of my multi-trunked Flame Amur Maple had shattered. All of the branches have splayed out and collapsed to the ground as if a malevolent giant stomped on it. Oy vey, how is The Bartender going to fix that?

Miss Emmylou Harris, Those Memories of You

Standard
Miss Emmylou Harris, Those Memories of You

Miss Emmylou (Harris) came to us in June of 2018. She and Bonnie (Raitt) were the last remaining hens in a small, aging backyard flock. The night before Emmylou moved in, hen-sister Bonnie Raitt passed away. It was a good time to transition lonely Emmylou into a new home. The weather was pleasant, the aviary mud had dried into scratch-able dirt.

“Pecking order” is a very real activity in the henhouse, and introducing a new hen takes care and time. I isolated Emmylou in the “Bully Pen” where she could observe her new flock from the secure side of a sturdy fence. She had her own food, water, and shelter and adjusted quickly.

Emmylou was one of my prettiest hens. One of the most curious, too.

Her owner inquired after a couple days and I reported the following:
“Emmylou is very content. She’s enthusiastic about the treats and has found a nice place to roost in the barn*. She hasn’t yet had contact with my hens but they aren’t too concerned about her so I should be able to introduce them- supervised- soon. Usually, one of mine will take an interest in the newcomer and I’ll put them together so Emmylou will have an established friend. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll be writing a blog this week, and she’ll get a mention there. I’ll send a link when it’s published.”
*An isolated barn area, away from the main roosting area

While waiting for their turn at the treat dish, Conchita and Adelita check out the new hen on the far side of the bully pen fence.

Emmylou was an Orpington. My previous Orpingtons have been buff, a buttery yellow color, so I was surprised to welcome another “brown” hen to the flock. Still, she was a beautiful not-quite-brown hen, colors grading from yellow to gray. She had that friendly, confident Orpington personality, though, and was eager to explore the entire aviary.

Seven brown hens gather for treats. Emmylou was eager to join the club.

Emmylou was never intimidated by my flock. Norman is big and loud, but he is a sweet and gentle gander. He checked out the new hen and never challenged her entrance into his territory. My favorite introductory trick is to serve up the treats on both sides of the fence so they have to approach each other to eat as a flock. As I watch their interactions, I can usually spot a “friend” and will put the friend in the bully pen with the newcomer. Then when they enter the flock they have someone to show them around.

Emmylou pauses atop the bully pen as she jumps over.

Emmylou had her own idea. On about the third day, she hopped onto the fence and then over into the flock. Everyone ignored her, except for Conchita, my boss hen. Conchita had recovered from her broken leg and had reassumed her position at the top of the pecking order. They had a couple of quick tussles and Emmylou conceded. All the other hens were satisfied with Emmylou as Number Two hen. I have never seen a new hen adjust so quickly. She got along with everyone. It’s a good thing, because there was no way I could keep her from jumping over the bully pen fence.

Frieda shows Emmylou around the barn.

Emmylou checked out the food, water, and the best dust bath spots. She would hang out with one little group of hens, and then another. She was very active, one of my more athletic hens, for sure.

Every time I look at that ladder, now, I expect to see her on top of it. Maybe I could crochet a hen and put her up there for good.

Roosting is a prime indicator of pecking order. The boss hen takes the primo location and decides if she’ll share it. The three fat hens roost in a heap on top of an old cage, though Windy now prefers the ground. Conchita and her sister roosted on a branch hanging right smack dab in the middle of the barn. Newcomers Angel and Coffee Bean kicked out the cats and roost on/in their heated cat carrier. They’re not fools. Princess was “over there” until she came indoors. Samantha hunkers down on her heated pad, safely locked up in the infirmary. Miss Emmylou? She chose the tip top of the ladder above the three fat girls, a fantastic location overlooked by all. Emmylou was probably the only one able to get up there.

I didn’t accidentally write this post in the past tense. One day, Emmylou was dead. Not the “pretend dead” like Samantha, who was subsequently diagnosed with Lymphoma, but the final irreversible variety of dead. I was crushed, but there was nothing to be done. If there was something to see or do, I would have done it, but sometimes the Grim Reaper is swift and sure.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

Daily Drama 74 – Little Dead Hen

Standard
Daily Drama 74 – Little Dead Hen

For a little dead hen, she looks pretty darned good. I deserve some credit for resurrecting her, but she has been very cooperative so if I continue to take good care of her, she’ll be talking back to me for a while yet. You can see in the photo below that she’s sitting down instead of standing up, scratching for bugs in the barn shavings like an old lady.

Stand up, you lazy bum! (9/28/18)

Samantha came to the Funny Farm a little less than a year ago. She was the last of her flock and the bobcat circling her coop every afternoon was not an incentive to increase the chicken population.

Samantha, otherwise known as Miss New Hampshire

Samantha is a very shy hen. She was excited about joining her new flock, but there are rules about seniority. Establishing the “Pecking Order” is a serious undertaking and I am careful to sequester new additions to the flock. They can get acquainted through the fence without any casualties and once everyone is bored with the new denizen, it’s usually safe to introduce them, with supervision.

Not ready for Prime Time, Samantha looks hopefully at the gate into the communal barn area.

Samantha made friends easily, and Eartha politely asked to join her in the Bully Pen. They were inseparable and this partnership helped Samantha to be accepted by the rest of the flock.

L to R: Eartha and Samantha, BFFs forever

It didn’t hurt that Conchita was still in the infirmary, recovering from a broken leg. As the Boss Hen, she determined whether the pecking order met her requirements. But not from the infirmary. With her status in limbo, the remainder of the flock had settled upon an easy democracy, with no single hen taking leadership.

Samantha taunts the Boss Hen, Conchita.

Almost as soon as Samantha left the bully pen, Conchita moved in to complete her recovery. Samantha continued her induction into the flock through the fence. The other hens were deferential to Conchita, even in her diminished capacity: limping and sequestered from the flock.

Obligatory photo of Dobby, Samantha in background.

Recently arrived hens are reluctant to join the garden party outside the aviary each afternoon. Wild beasts populate the back yard, after all. Three months after her arrival she was as eager as the rest of them to dash out and destroy the back yard in search of bugs and greens.

She’s not ordinarily mud-colored (2/8/18).

The photo above was taken in early February. She isn’t the chubbiest hen I’ve had, but she looked okay then. She has never been as heavy as my Wyandottes, who remind me of the Chicken Run hens. Bend your knees when you heft those beauties.

Looking decidedly scrawny (6/28/18).

Look at Samantha in late June of this year. Can you see her sunken chest? I had already become concerned about her weight loss, but most hens come to me at an advanced age, and they are notorious for not living much past 5-6 years. They have been bred for either meat or eggs, depending upon the breed. Samantha was a five year old New Hampshire. She hadn’t laid for a year when I received her and she has never laid an egg for me. That’s not really the point, here, and what makes it a sanctuary. We don’t judge hens based upon their egg laying skills. All I ask is that they make me laugh once in a while, an easy task for hens.

Samantha is on the left, acting perfectly normal (7/13/18).

The photo above was taken in late July. August was the same and then I found her dead on September first.

This dead crow photo illustrates the position I found her in, wings splayed out, head at an awkward angle. Tiny Princess Blur was clucking over her and several other hens looked on from a safe distance. Except that instead of being on display like this crow, Samantha was in a drainage ditch, covered with mud, looking more like a pile of debris than a little red hen. It honestly took me a minute to figure out I was looking at a chicken, so throughly camouflaged was she (that’s the gecko photo), a trickle of muddy water displaced by her ghoulish presence. I picked her up by the feet, as one does with a filthy dead chicken, and set her on a picnic table. I quickly looked around to see if a raccoon was in the aviary, or if there was any other collateral damage. When I saw no other carcasses, I returned to the table.

I turned over the corpse to look for evidence of an attack but her head didn’t flop like a dead chicken. I nudged her noggin and felt a very slight resistance. She was alive! Her eyes were closed and her head was covered with mud. Her feathers were so caked with wet mud I could see her skinny breast and protruding breastbone, skin visible between the matted feathers. I took her to the infirmary and set her under a heat lamp. I didn’t dare add to her misery by trying to clean her up. I syringed some water over her muddy eyes but they didn’t open. Her breathing was shallow and I feared that she would aspirate any water I tried to get down her throat. I shut the infirmary door and continued my chores, assuming she would die.

At noon, she was still alive. I syringed her eyelids clean but she didn’t open them. At the end of the day, her feathers were dry so I removed the heat lamp and set her prone body onto a heated kennel pad. I didn’t want the heat lamp to roast her. I worked some more on her eyes and cleaned her face a bit and said good night . . . and good-bye.

The next morning, she was still laying there, but she tried to move her head when I spoke to her. When she didn’t choke on the water I syringed down her throat, I gave her some pain meds (meloxicam). Then I finished cleaning her face and turned her over on the kennel pad. When I checked on her in the afternoon, her eyes were open. I started her on antibiotics (enrofloxacin).

The following morning she was struggling to sit up. I righted her, gave her more water, pain meds, and antibiotics. I made up a tray of food: layer pellets, bird seed, and lettuce. I went in to get some rice, her favorite, from the refrigerator. By now, her former owner had texted, recommending grated cheese. I added a little slice of The Bartender’s Famous Cornbread and took it out. She took a few excited bites and was done. She should have been hungrier.

Seriously, this girl is skinny.

On the fifth day my little dead hen stood up. Her feathers had started to fluff out and she tentatively explored the infirmary. She was still on antibiotics and I attributed her lack of appetite to the meds. I added yogurt to her meals, along with mealworms and dried shrimp, some of Dobby’s leftover probiotics, oyster shell grit, an apple from under the tree, and some other fancy chicken treats, no longer an item to scoff at. She was very interested, but not ravenous.

Decidedly more animated, nearly one week post-death (9/7/18).

She looked- and looks- perkier every day. She’s skinny, though. Also, she is molting, always stressful and never a good look.

Get out a black crayon and color everything black, even her eyes. You can even color outside the lines, that’s how bad it was.

I pack her a fancy lunch every day. Today she had scraps of whole-grain bread, frozen peas, LMF Digest 911 (probiotic powder), honeydew melon, and cottage cheese. No hard-boiled egg today. She scampers over to look, takes a few pieces out, and then she’s through eating. What more can I do?

The Avian Hilton breakfast buffet

I took out Conchita’s abacus. If I set it up perfectly, I can tell when/if she’s pushed the markers around. They have been moving, so it must keep her busy for a couple minutes a day. I ordered her a xylophone, The Bartender is going to buy her a cabbage to hang up.

The heated kennel pad blanket is in the foreground, by the door. She sleeps on it, as close to her friends as possible.

When the abacus and mealworm cornbread failed to do the trick, Samantha went to the vet. Her recovery had reached a plateau. She was not dead, but she had not improved beyond where she had been before her death. Dr. Vincenzi is the best veterinarian in the world, (he kept Dobby going for many years) and I had done all I could do.

“Where the heck are we?”

Samantha was very well-behaved and several assistants came through to meet and pet her. She left a stool sample, and I folded the towel over it, so as to preserve it in pristine condition for the vet.

“I don’t know. It’s grocery store corn, isn’t it? Not from the farmer’s market?”

I had brought a fresh corn-on-the-cob for her, out of habit, I suppose. What self-respecting hen doesn’t attack a piece of corn? Samantha stared at it while Dr. Vincenzi chanted incantations and performed some ritual voodoo outside of the exam room. He returned with the verdict: Lymphoma. Samantha has lymphoma.

Everything tastes better at home.

I am crushed, but I will give her the best care I can. No wonder I found her face-down in the big muddy. No wonder I couldn’t make her gain weight. She will spend time in the barn (out of the infirmary) while the others are having Garden Party in the back yard. Today I put Eartha in with her, sprinkled dried shrimp on the ground for them to forage. I’ll pack Samantha an interesting and tantalizing lunch every day. I once had a hen, Lula, who took metacam every day for two years, for arthritis. I can do this, too.

Daily Drama 73 – Mystery of the Missing Hen

Standard
Daily Drama 73 – Mystery of the Missing Hen

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.

That’s Windy, front and center, in better days when I had expert help rounding up the flock at the end of the Garden Party.

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.

Cropped so that you can't see the chickenshit on the top of the cage . . .

The funky cage on the right has been pushed to the side of that fence post so that only spiders can squeeze between it and the fence. Several hens roost atop the cage on the green blanket, and up there is where I had been stashing Windy and Samantha.

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.

Ground perch solution fail. It’s a beautiful maple branch, but short enough so that both CMU supports sit squarely within the hens’ squatty bedtime positions.

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.

Potential final ground perch solution. The CMU supports now fall closer together and allow space for Windy (left corner) and Samantha (right corner) to hunker down on the ground. The bamboo roost is long enough to extend the full length, putting the ends tantalizingly close to the hens. You can lead a hen to a perch, but you can’t make her roost on it.

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.