Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inherent Dangers

This summer, I had two little flocks of chickens.   The six laying hens I got as chicks a few months ago were living in the "summer cottage," sort of an enclosed lean-to at one end of my garden. My six bantams, who've been around since last summer, reside in a corner of the garage with an opening to an enclosed outdoor run.   I sometimes store straw in a wheelbarrow in the garage.

One day, as I emerged from the bantam coop, I noticed an egg in the wheelbarrow.  Thinking that I must have left it there the day before (but having no recollection of doing so), I ditched the egg.  The next day, I found another egg in the same spot. This time I knew I hadn't left it there.  I counted hens in both coops, and everyone was in the right place.  None of my neighbors keep chickens, so this egg in the wheelbarrow was really befuddling.

This went on for several days, and I was really perplexed.  Meanwhile, the hens in the summer cottage were starting to lay.  The white hen lays white eggs, but the rest lay eggs with deep reddish-brown shells, just like the ones I was finding in the wheelbarrow every day.  I just couldn't figure out how they were getting there.

After about a week of discovering an egg in the wheelbarrow every day, I went out to work in the garden a little earlier than usual.  I was quite surprised when one of my young hens came up to me with a friendly, "Hi, got anything good to eat in that pail?" kind of greeting.  Mystery solved.

Pretty and independent, Lucy didn't exactly follow the chickenyard rules. I never did figure out exactly how she got out of the pen, but every morning she would spend an early hour wandering through the garden, foraging for her personal food preferences.  Then she would escape the garden and make her way to the garage (which I leave open in warm weather, since the other chickens, living in the back corner, need the ventilation), lay her egg in the wheelbarrow nest, and then make her way back to the coop.

We have two chicken-eating dogs, so I knew this was risky behavior for my favorite hen.  But she looked very pretty in the yard, and obviously enjoyed her "alone time" every day, so I kept the dogs in  every morning until I knew she was back in safety.  So all summer long, she took her daily walk, visited her own private nest in the garage, and returned to the coop.

As time went on, though, Lucy started spending more and more time wandering around the yard.  One afternoon I forgot the check on her whereabouts when the dogs asked to go outside.  A little while later I went out, only to find the dogs.... well, never mind the gory details, but I was very sad, and Lucy's gone now. 

I miss collecting her eggs from the wheelbarrow, and I miss her quirky little chicken personality.  She stood out from the rest, and her persistence in being different put her life at risk.  I guess I should have protected her, should have found out how she managed to come and go from the coop and closed up the space.  Or maybe not.  I could go either way to create a moral for this story.  As a person whose natural tendency is to avoid risk, I could berate myself for allowing Lucy to expose herself to danger.  On the other hand~ she was one happy chicken, and she gave me great pleasure during her short life. 

Maybe we should just get rid of the dogs?  (Only kidding.)  I've combined both flocks into the more secure coop now, and don't let anyone wander the garden unsupervised.  Safer for them, even if a little dull.