August 26, 2009

The Great Chicken Roundup

One evening recently, as we came up the hill from feeding the horses, K pointed and told me that several of the hens had escaped from the chicken coop. They were on the edge of the pink bathtub that we use as a water trough for the horses, dipping their beaks into the water and pointing their heads up to the sky to swallow.

We immediately began the Great Chicken Roundup. The three Great Pyrenees, not used to free-ranging birds, decided to join in this game. They quickly scattered the hens in several directions, but because the chicken coop is located inside the goat pen fence, the hens did work their way back to relative safety from the dogs.

Typically, when a couple of my mixed flock escapes, it will be one of this breed and one of that breed. For some reason, this planned and carefully-carried-out breakout was performed by five of my six red star hens, the only ones that are laying right now (the others are not quite old enough to lay yet). K found the hole in the chicken wire run where they'd made their escape, and I set a large rock in front of it to keep the others in.

Next, a scoop of chicken feed brought the rest of the flock from the outside run into the coop, and I shut the door from coop to run. Next I opened the gate to the run and hoped to herd the loose birds back inside. However they were enjoying their freedom and had gone through the fence into the woods, where the cats were keeping them company. I'm not sure what the cats were trying to accomplish, but they stuck with the hens through this whole escapade.

I climbed the goat pen fence and crawled through the woods, hoping to avoid what I feared was poison ivy, breaking spider webs with my face and getting caught on dead branches. I herded the birds back over to the fence, and climbed back into the goat pen again.

Eventually, one bird went into the run. I followed her in, closed the gate, and opened the door to the coop, herding her through the door. I closed it again and tried the next bird, which was eventually returned to the coop.

At this point one of our cats, Sugar, decided that she wanted chicken for dinner. Since Sugar is barely bigger than a kitten and the hen is at least twice her size, this was rather amusing. I finally rescued the hen from the cat and herded her back into the run and then into the coop.

Since it was dark by now, I gave up on the last two hens and did the goat chores. One hen flew up on the fence to roost for the night and was easy to pick up and return to the coop.

In the morning the last errant chicken was pacing impatiently in front of the coop door and was easy to get back inside. All are accounted for.

For now, the hens are locked up in the chicken coop until I can fix the fencing. After five years, it's more patches than fence. No wonder they were able to make a run for it.

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