I’m in the habit of giving the chickens a quick count when as I’m shutting the coop doors for the night. They’ve settled onto the roost by this point, so this is just a matter of shining the flashlight and counting to eight.
Last night, as I was counting, I only got to seven. “Pepper”, our black Jersey Giant pullet, wasn’t there!
We’d come home fairly late from a birthday party, so there had been hours of night with the door open. Could something have grabbed and pulled her off the roost and away? I felt awful — had one of our new birds just become something’s chicken dinner? Was she laying sick in a bush someplace, too weak to come home to roost?
I shut the coop door and took a walk around the run’s fence line. The chicken run fence is just poultry mesh and T-post — very much designed to keep chickens in, not strong enough to keep determined predators out. (It doesn’t quite keep chickens in if they’re determined, either – it’s there to make it more likely they’ll stay in the chosen area.) But I thought maybe I’d see evidence of a breach of the fence, find a sick Pepper, or (gasp) find her remains.
I saw nothing. No big black adolescent chicken. No signs of struggle. No broken fence. No mangled chicken carcass.
The kids were just getting to bed, and it seemed cruel to burden their impending slumber with the loss of chicken. Even though we’re trying (and I think succeeding) in keeping a pet/livestock distinction in the way the kids think about our animals, we care for the chickens, and care about them. Their loss may be more commonplace than that of a family pet, but it’s still sad. This could wait for morning.
I went out early this morning to see if I could make more sense of this in the daylight. Before opening the coop door to let the chickens out, I opened the gate of the run and walked in. Counter to my usual habit, I left the gate open, since there were no birds around. I took a slower, more thorough walk around the perimeter. As last night, no clues.
I was thinking about my imminent task of telling the kids we’d lost (literally) a chicken as I walked back around to the front of the run where the coop and gate are. And there was Pepper! Alive and well, standing around in front of the coop’s door, looking like she wondered where her friends were.
I’ve no idea where Pepper spent the night, or why. I’ll bet she’s got a good story, though. Apparently the chickens almost always come home to roost.