Back in August, Gabe and I got to be farmers. Well, he was a rancher and I was the farmer because, technically, we were farmsitting on a ranch. Anyway, it was completely beautiful and delightful, our own little on-the-land vacation, up until I lost a chicken.
Gabe was in charge of the ranch land surrounding the farm. I was in charge of the animals: 2 horses, 1 donkey, 3 biblical sheep, 1 llama, 1 dog (3 dogs for one weekend), and 8 chickens. For two weeks, I kept these guys safe from harm (I didn’t actually do anything. I didn’t even have to feed anyone but the dog and chickens because all those hoofy animals feed themselves in the pasture. I did see a lynx/cougar…Lygar. Counx. Clynxar. Chupacabra…creature and I promptly took its picture
then yelled at it because I obviously believe in personal safety. That’s LIKE protecting animals) As you can tell, I had the more sensitive job because what can really go wrong if you’re just watching land, right? Still, my job wasn’t THAT hard; I should not have been able to screw it up.
I’ve just mentioned the Lygar/Counx/Clynxar/Chupacabra in the area. There are also coyotes; we heard them at night making their yappy ruckus. There’s a husband-and-wife hawk team that live near the barn in the big, old cottonwoods. Aaand there’s at least one owl. You’d think with so many predators nearby, I’d have hesitated to let a chicken wander about the grassy yard, let alone 8 of them. But, see, chickens need fresh greens and they need to stretch their legs. Their coop and fenced-in pen might be bigger than my bedroom but there are 8 girls stuck in there together. Think about that.
So that last morning on the farm, I let them out for their daily exercise and grass-eating. 7 went strolling and 1 stayed in to lay an egg. The dog and I played with the hose water, I picked some beans, tidied the yard, pulled some weeds and then it was time to put the chickens away; 7 went in and I shut the gate. I figured the 8th was still inside the coop laying her egg. I thought I’d check in, see if she was having any problems. After all, they’re all new to this whole There’s-an-egg-coming-out-of-my-chicken-butt thing. I went around to the coop door and peered in only to find nothing. 0 chickens in the coop. I looked back into their pen. 7 chickens. I opened the coop door and went inside. I looked up into the rafters (they hide there when the Chupacabra comes ‘round)
and down under the water tray. I looked in the nesting boxes, in the corners, and back up into the rafters. There were no extra chickens in the coop and there were only 7 of them out in the chicken yard. That means there was 1 missing chicken (see, Mrs. Zimbrick [my first- and second-grade teacher], I did learn basic math!)
I called the dog to me. “Find the chicken,” I cried like a General in a war…a war that involves chickens. “FIND HER!” The dog looked around, all excited. I gave her some auditory clues. “BAWK BAWK! Where is the chicken that says BAWK BAWK?” The dog, who is pretty damned smart, looked at the chicken pen and all but said, “They’re right there, moron. Riiiight there.”
I started searching for the AWOL bird. I searched the roots and root caves of the shrubs that are by the stream bed. I looked up into the cottonwoods and willows because I know chickens can fly high enough to get up to a branch. I hunted through brambles, over and under rocks, through the garden. I walked the perimeter of the yard calling, “Heeere, chicken chicken chicken. Bawk bawk bawk bawk” (I can actually do a fair chicken noise imitation so those “bawks” sounded convincing and I was sure she’d answer back)
Here’s an aside: I know chickens. I am wise to their ways. Despite knowing that we were in dangerous territory with chicken-eating predators lurking around every corner and under every leaf, I was confident that this chicken had not become a meal. First off, neither the dog nor the other chickens had freaked out at any time and they would have done so had a coyote ambled into the yard to grab a bite. Second off, the hawks are ridiculously loud when they swoop down to get a meal and the two in the area are always shrieking about something so I’d have heard them if they were around. Third off, the chupacabra already knew about my crazy and would not even risk me yelling at it again. And fourth off, I know chickens love to hide. I know this because I have been around many chickens – I even raised one from the time it was laid to when it was viciously murdered by my aunt and uncle’s evil terrier from hell (in case anyone from that part of the family is reading: NO, I will NOT ever get over that. EVER) – and they have all hidden at some point. Seriously. It’s what chickens do.
Ok, back to the story: I guessed the missing fowl in question had made a nest somewhere and was hoping to have egg-laying time in private. I decided I’d wait her out. I sat in the grass and told the dog to come sit by me. We cocked our ears and liiiiiissssstened. That’s how Gabe found us. He asked what we were doing. I told him. He said, “There were only seven chickens, Erica. Not eight.” I rolled my eyes and said in my snottiest voice, “I’ve been taking care of the chickens for two weeks. I know how many there are.” He said that if it had existed, it had been eaten and we shouldn’t waste our time sitting on the lawn using our dumb-looking listening faces.
That’s when she started screaming. Chicken screaming is melodramatic. She was all BAH-GAWK! BOCK BOCK BAH-GAWK!!!! as loud as she could yell. Her voice lead me to a post by the cattle/horse/animal chute (the ramp animals walk up to get into trucks)(they don’t just climb into trucks on their own, in case you were wondering) that I’d walked past at least 93 times in my searching. She’d found the one area where the grass grew long, long enough for a chicken to hide beneath. I was quite impressed with the nest she’d made herself; it looked rather cozy. She calmed down when I picked her up, hunching herself into my side, and I carried her to her home. I told her she was a moron and that she was lucky I’d found her first because she’d make a delicious meal and that if she didn’t settle down, I intended to find out just how delicious of a meal she’d make. She gave me the Chicken Eye and did some more clucking, all happy with her lot in life. I tossed her into the coop and yelled as I slammed the coop door (I actually had to kick the bottom to get it to shut so I wasn’t slamming it because it felt good; it really did have to be done), “And STAY there!” Like she had a choice. Still. It was the principle of the statement that mattered.
And that’s how I solved the mystery of the missing chicken when I was being a farmer (evidence of farmertude below)
**This post is dedicated to Caiti who didn’t seem at all put off by my homeless-like outfit that I wore to our lunch date because I got my good outfit dirty while hunting for an MIA chicken.**