I promise I won’t always write about the chickens but they are providing so much entertainment and material that I can’t resist.
We noticed a couple of weeks ago that our chicken Salt was spending a lot of time in the nesting boxes. Over the course of the week it became clear that she was not just smitten with the box but in fact was obsessed with it. If I opened the nesting box she gave me the what-for with lots of clucking and puffing of feathers and some mock pecking for good measure. She only left the box if I made her and spent very little time eating and drinking. Salt was broody. She had the undeniable and totally normal need to hatch herself some cute little chicks. I don’t blame her. The maternal instinct can be strong and add to it the cuteness of fuzzy little chicks and I would probably sit on a clutch of eggs for three weeks if it meant I got to have a bunch of little fuzzy chicks following me around. But, alas, we don’t have room for anymore chickens.
Poor Salt had no idea that the bunch of eggs she so desperately wanted to hatch was full of duds. No rooster, no chicks. Remember, chickens are as smart as rutabagas. After more online research (my Google search history is embarrassing…all chicken related), I found out this is a common problem and most resources started by saying, “If you have room, it’s probably easiest to just get some fertilized eggs and let her hatch some chicks.” We don’t have room so I moved to the next option and separated her from the nesting box during the day by keeping her in a separate pen and then putting ice packs in the nesting boxes at night so she would stay out of them.
I was skeptical, especially when on the first night of letting her back into the roosting coop with the nesting boxes now filled with a combination of flower pots and ice packs, she wedged her way into a tiny space, right on top of a frozen water bottle and slept there all night long. When I checked on her in the morning she had laid an egg right on top of the still chilly water bottle. I decided to hold fast to our strategy for another couple of days and I put her in her separate pen anyway.
Eight hours later while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, I went outside to put the chickens into their roost for the night and she was gone. Gone. Nowhere to be seen.
Salt had literally flown the coop. The last I saw of her was around lunch when I had gathered eggs. She was nowhere to be seen. Justin was on his way home from work, dinner was on the stove, the boys were engrossed in some elaborate fantasy world of trains, volcanoes and space ships. And I had a missing chicken. And it was getting dark.
I literally wrestled the boys into the car, a feat made only a little bit easier by the motivation of a missing chicken and the need for a search party, on a train, to a volcano, to catch a space ship. On the way out the door we saw our mail person. I decided to deputize her as part of our search party. Her English is very limited. The conversation went like this:
Me: “We lost a chicken. If you happen to see a black chicken with white spots on your route today, would you come tell me?”
Me: “Yes. We lost a chicken.” (Now making chicken wing flapping gestures with my elbows.)
Her: “Chicken? Dead? To eat?” (Flapping her arms, as well.)
Me: “No, no. A live chicken. Black and white. Bawk! Bawk!” (Still flapping my arms.)
Her: “Chicken?” (Still making chicken flapping gestures.)
Me: “Yes! Chicken!” (Still gesturing and almost shouting, partly out of excitement and partly out of urgency…the clock was ticking and it was getting dark.)
Her: “Chicken? For dinner tonight?” (Now using her pointer finger to make a slashing gesture across her throat.)
Me: “No, no. She’s a pet. We need her alive.”
Her: “Chicken? Pet?” (Pointing to kids and making chicken gestures)
Me: “Yes! Pet chicken. Come tell me if you see her.” (Still needlessly flapping my arms but relieved we had come to an understanding.)
Her: “Chicken. You eat for dinner.”
It was a command, not a question. Yes, she and I understood what the immediate issue was but she was offering a more long-term solution. We both moved on to our work at hand.
I jumped in the car and drove around one block. I spotted one of our neighbors and rolled down my window. I related our dilemma and she said, “Yes! She’s in our backyard! My son called a couple of hours ago when he stopped by the house and said there was a chicken in our backyard. I didn’t have your number so I couldn’t call.” I jumped out of the car, leaving my two boys wailing (they get very upset when I leave them in the car alone, even for a few seconds). I sprinted to the backyard. No chicken.
I got back in the car. The kids were only moderately comforted by my return. They took turns wailing and admonishing me, “You CAN’T leave us alone in the car!”
Yes, I know, but I had to find the chicken. It was getting much darker and a chicken left out overnight was surely fox or raccoon breakfast.
And then I spotted her. About 3/4 of a block away Salt was sitting on the corner of a busy street. Sitting. As in nesting. Totally calm.
I slowly drove towards her, turned the corner, parked, got out of my car (ignoring the wailing in the backseat) and walked right up to her, picked her up and put her under my left arm. I was half-way back to my car when I realized I had absolutely no plan of how to get her home. I had no cage. I couldn’t leave my kids in the car and walk home. It was too far for all of us to walk back together, never mind where would I put the chicken while I got the kids unstrapped from their carseats.
So I secured my grip on Salt under my left arm, climbed into my car and rolled down the window. My instinct was that the chicken would feel better with the window down (dogs like it, right?). I put the car into gear and started to pull out into traffic. As soon as Salt felt a little wind come in the window she freaked out! She got one wing loose from under my arm and started flapping wildly. I couldn’t see, the kids started howling with laughter. I had to pull over. In the meantime, neighborhood rush hour traffic swirled about us.
I rolled up the window, re-secured my grip, screamed at the kids to be quiet and then tightly gripped the steering wheel with my right hand and drove home. By the time I got home there were tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard. I was nearly hysterical with laughter!
Oh, domestic life that I imagined in my younger days…afternoons baking with my kids, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard, movie night, dinner parties and PTA meetings…you are a long ways from here but here is pretty great, too.
Now, on to the next broody hen remedy…