For 4 days and 3 cool nights our friendliest chicken, the petite Rhode Island Red with black tail feathers, was missing. She stopped returning to the coop in the evening. We both leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark, so we looked around the property with a flashlight everywhere we could think that a chicken might fit. No chicken.
Gwen had a hunch that she was on an illicit nest somewhere on the property, but we had looked everywhere. There was nowhere left for that chicken to hide. I figured, “Score one for the coyotes, finally.” We had yet to lose any layers to wild animals, but have lost two to other causes: one to illness, and the other to our own pet dog, Dusky. Dusky, I believe, had the best intentions of returning a wayward chicken to the coop one night, but didn’t quite give it the safest lift in the dank of her jowls. She ended up puncturing and likely breaking the back of one of our cuckoo marans so, we had to transition her to deep-freeze status. The chicken, not the dog.
Even after 6 years of raising chickens, I still take these “failures” pretty personally. So, when Red hen was gone for an unprecedented amount of time this week, I really felt bad. I wondered if it was indeed best to let the gals free range wherever they darn well please.
But, I just can’t do it. I can’t coop them up. I am a firm believer in the benefits of movement. And, man, do these birds move! From dawn to dusk they are scratching, leaping, running, flying, dust bathing, pecking, flapping, tilling, laying.
We’ve gotten lots of eggs this fall (in the coop, in the chicken tractor, on the hay bales, in the feed trough, behind the fencing, etc), but still we couldn’t shake the feeling that there ought to be more eggs. Surely all the young ones are on a five-a-week schedule…right?
Well, we redoubled our efforts to find Red today (aw crap, now she’s got a name…). Armed with a high-powered flashlight we peered under Barn One to the furthest back dark corner and saw a beady and somewhat guilty looking eye reflect back.
We ran around to the barn side closest to her and saw a few eggs that had rolled out from under the barn. Mystery solved!
Oh, and what a stash it turned out to be! She was trying to sit on 2 dozen eggs. What dedication! I wonder if she ate or drank at all for 4 days?
A chicken who is dedicated to sitting on and hatching a clutch of eggs is called “broody.” Our chickens don’t have a rooster (yet), so those eggs were never going to hatch. Poor Red didn’t know that she was on a failed mission from the get-go. Gwen locked her up in a dog crate inside of the coop with food and water to “break the broody.” Broody chickens get weak because they don’t eat and drink much. We have a cold snap coming up, so that chicken cannot continue to spend the night alone under the barn.
Some of those eggs have been under the barn for almost a month, so we couldn’t eat them. Lucky pigs get hardboiled eggs for dinner!