So I went down at 6 to put the girls to bed, it's getting dark so early with the time change. What we've discovered is you don't have to shove chickens into the coop for bedtime. You just leave the light on and when it gets dark, they go inside and put themselves to bed. Then you secure the hatch and turn off the light. That's it. We have this weird habit of counting them just before we turn out the light. So I did. And counted 11 girls. And counted again. And again. Look, I do this with E all the time. You begin to doubt whether you know how to count to 12 any more once you've listened to your child get it wrong over and over and over. There were only 11 hens on the roost, no matter how many times I counted. Someone was AWOL. This was a first.
So I fetched two of the power flashlights (the kind with the big battery you can use for star-gazing) and I checked where J was on his drive from the train...still about 20 minutes away. The dog and RT and PD came with me to search the area. They were company, but not much help. One of the hens had flown out earlier in the day. Chances were it was the same one. Probably Walkabout, who has by now forgotten her encounter with a fox in the early summer when she decided to leave the coop on her own.
I searched the orchard and the paddock. I looked for feathers, for signs of a break in the fence. I searched the barn. I put all the lights on down there and opened the doors wide, hoping she would come home on her own. But it was already too dark and she was probably in some temporary roost. So I started to search trees and bushes with the flashlight. They do talk to you in a sleepy voice when the light is on them. So I bawk-bawked and coo'd my way around the yard. Yes, I sounded like an idiot. But by now, after six months, I talk chicken pretty well. Hey, I even talked to the barred owl the other night and he/she answered.
The only answer tonight was the crashing about of 2 cats and a dog. No chicken. I was devastated. She's a pet. I'm responsible for her. I thought she could find a pretty safe place for the night, but in early morning it would be dangerous for her. The fox would be out still, no people around to keep her safe, no other hens. After all, one hears the birds for at least an hour before the sun actually comes up. She would be up and about much too early for her safety.
And I'm wondering how long I'm going to keep this up, wandering around the yard with two flashlights, two cats and a dog, making chicken noises. And I've circled around the barn for about the fourth time. And I'm checking the lilacs between the garden and E's house, right near the coop, looking in the branches. And something caught my eye across the fence. Mid-air, so to speak.
There she was, clinging for all she was worth to the top wire of the coop fence, about 5 feet off the ground. This fence is supposed to be too high for them to fly it. But she got up there somehow. And then her pea brain failed her. If she had just let go, she would have been in her run and could have gone in the door to the coop which was still open. But apparently, once it was dark, she couldn't let go and go down. She had to stay up. So there she was, barely balancing on a single wire, knowing where home was and not quite able to get all the way there. Talk about happy to turn the decisions over to someone else. She was so happy to be picked up and carried into the barn and put into the coop. Not a struggle. Hopped right up on the top rung of the roost, home with the flock.
But just wait. Tomorrow she'll be trying to get out again.