I swear every animal on Earth bigger than a field mouse wants a piece of chicken.
Last week, Ann looked out the upstairs window in time to see a hawk flying straight down the pasture path, loosing altitude fast and heading straight for the girls, free-ranging their little oblivious hearts out on one of their afternoon play-times. (When Herself is home, these happen approximately hourly, alternating with the same opportunity for the dog. The two must not have free-play concurrently. We’re not sure if Gandy likes chicken as much as a field mouse, but her teeth are bigger.)
The three hens ran for their lives. I mean—what else is a chicken going to do to defend itself? It is the perfect prey animal: slow, witless, tooth-and-clawless. We have bred every last shred of street-smart out of this bird for thousands of years now. I think maybe the field mouse has a chance, now that I think about it.
But it was some other set of teeth in the henhouse Sunday night during the ice storm.
Seemed a pretty good chance I couldn’t—and a darn sure bet that I SHOULDN’T—try to get back across the icy creek to shut the birds in their house at dusk or to feed them the next morning. That’d have been a sight: a grown man home alone doing snow angels (ice angels?) on his back, fallen and he can’t get up, all for the comfort of three hens.
So I put out some food and water in their pen, secured the gate, and left them to go to roost when they decided to. The next morning, I’d not have to risk the snow angels. It seemed like a good decision at the time.
Later—not so much.
Actually, I’d curled up on the love seat with the dog around 9 and dropped off to sleep. Suddenly, the dog startled. Then I heard what she’d heard: defenseless chickens in distress.
Quick to the front porch: holler!!! clap!!! whistle!!! I fetched the million-power light and aimed it like a light saber at the intruder somewhere in the chicken’s safe harbor.
It is raining buckets. Freezing rain. It is cold. It is dark. There is chicken terror in the air. Out I rush, the hen’s only defense against field mice, stout hiking stick in hand, both for support and as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the marauding squirrels or insectivores or unknown others seeking drumsticks.
The gate is frozen shut. I encourage it to open eventually with my stout stick. The three shrieking wet hens are out in the cold rain, pressed hard into the corner nearest the gait, with escape their only hope.
I preferred they not escape into the predator-filled night, but holding the light and holding the stick and keeping three traumatized hens IN while I attempted to join them inside the fence took no small finesse. The hood of my rain parka (now how am I supposed to handle an umbrella?) kept sliding down into my face. My glasses needed wipers. The light saber lay in the ooze, its light careening unhelpfully off the rock foundation of the barn. I stepped on a wide ceramic food bowl under the straw. It crunched apart under my muck booted foot.
Once inside, I prepared to confront the intruder—raccoon, fox (less likely to dig or climb) or mob of crazed field mice. Nothing. I aimed the light everywhere—especially into the house. Free and clear. Whatever it was went out the same way it went in. We’re still puzzled by that unknown.
Meanwhile back at the gate, the PTSD chickens were still attempting to extrude themselves through the chain link.
Adding yet another trauma to their excitement, I had to pick each one up and carry it flapping and squawking out of the rain, into the relative dry under the tarp, and deposit it into the upper door of the roost box.
That wasn’t so hard for the first one—who upon opening the door for the second, wanting another run at the chain link. You get he picture.
Our neighbor says they have a weasel getting their chickens. Now that’s a field-mouse sized predator with wolverine capabilities. Where is Foghorn-Leghorn when we need him?
PHOTO: Chez Wyandotte is visible at the back corner of the barn in this pano from the morning after the storm. Click here for screen-wide version. You get some hint of the ice still in the trees at the far end of the valley.