I’ve always had animals in my life. Growing up on a ranch in Santa Paula, California, I was surrounded by dogs, cats, chickens, lambs, calves, and horses. Even now as a (ahem) middle-aged adult, I have a dog, a cat, and eight backyard chickens.
Animals have always given me great joy, but for me, at least, there is always a bit of underlying sadness. Those dear pets will leave, through death or changing circumstance, and I will miss them; miss them terribly.
I was reminded of this very recently when one of my teenaged chickens disappeared. I had started my flock two years ago and had become quite attached to the critters, especially a voluptuous buff brahma hen I named Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was quite possibly the most beautiful chicken in the world or at least on the street in Ventura where I live!
When Marilyn died unexpectedly several months ago, I decided to find a replacement. With chickens, however, you don’t just add one new bird to the flock. The older girls can be quite nasty and gang up on the newcomer. So, four new chicks were added. Their first several weeks were spent in the laundry room under a light, but when they were about two months old, I constructed a separate pen within the larger enclosure and moved the kids outside. This way I hoped the two groups would get used to each other.
I integrated them when the youngsters were about four months old and it went pretty well. That pecking order thing is the real deal, however, and although they occupy the same general space, they are still two very separate tribes.
When pretty little Princess, a silvery Columbian Wyandotte, disappeared, I feared the worst – opossums, raccoons and a persistent Cooper’s hawk check out my girls regularly.
Then, two days later I got a call from my neighbor saying there was a chicken in their yard, could it be mine? Yes, it was Princess, but then followed the darndest chase I’ve ever been on.
Usually docile, Princess was thoroughly spooked and not about to be caught. While the three of us waved our arms and chased her around the cul de sac, Arrow, my usually mellow Portuguese water dog, became terribly upset and ran around barking madly. We were soon joined in the pursuit by two more neighbors and then another couple out walking their two dogs.
Poor little Princess had meanwhile ducked down into the steep barranca in front of my house and was taking refuge amongst the dense bird of paradise plants that grow there in abundance.
At one point seven adults and three dogs were staring intently into the barranca hoping for a Princess sighting. Suddenly one of the men shouted, “There she is!” and you would have thought Capt. Ahab had just spotted Moby Dick!
Princess had traversed the entire barranca and was making her way up the hill towards the coop. The crowd of chicken herders dispersed and I went over to see if I could urge her up the hill and home. Big mistake. I should have just let her find her own way because as soon as I interfered, she fled back down the hill. It was quite dark by now, and the last sight I had of her was a flash of silver disappearing into the bushes.
This morning I checked the chicken yard hopefully to see if she had returned, but she had not. The longer she is gone, the less likely her chances of survival, but, in the meantime, I plan to take Tom Bodett’s advice. I’m going to leave a light on for her.
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