So, last night, my chicken Black Chocobo did not come home to roost.
I often let them out to roam and forage once they've laid their eggs and had their lunch–always in the later part of the day so they don't stray too far, because we live on the edge of a forest where small ravenous beasties (and labradors and tabbies and horses) wander about who would love a nice chicken dinner. They slurp worms and kick up leaves and have a great time, and then, with their Chikken Superpowerz, come right back and put themselves to bed in their coop by dusk.
Except when I went out to check on them and close the gate, Black Chocobo was gone.
Now, they always come back. It's a Chikken thing. And the other two were back, and they had been out less than an hour, and I had watched them–they hadn't left the vicinity of the patch of backyard where the coop lives. And yet, Black Chocobo had done a disappearing act.
Time for Chikken Social Observations.
Chocobo is low hen on the totem pole. The other two sort of lazily harrass her from time to time–they're not putting in their full effort, but chica eats last, and Billina fluffs up and pecks her occasionally and otherwise generally acts like kind of a dick. (Her personality is basically identical to her namesake. She also crows when she lays her egg, which neither of the others do.) Also, Chocobo is easily the dumbest. She often runs back and forth along the fence for ten minutes looking for a way in before being all DOH and finding the open gate. Pertelote and Billina exhibit problem solving skills–they hop on the coop and over the fence, onto a stump and the ground when they're feeling I haven't been quick enough with the letting them forage. Black Chocobo just barrels up and over. But they really haven't done that lately. Also Chocobo lays the smallest eggs–but she's a beautiful Australorp and I was really worried about her. Chickens are hard to love, but I'll anthropomorphize the shit out of them. And Chocobo is my underdog hen.
Some of you know we had egg-laying ducks who were pretty brutally eaten by owls last year right in front of me–I was pretty convinced something similar had happened, a bare three weeks after getting these girls. She'd been gone for almost a day. Needless to say, it was a hard night hoping she'd turn up in the morning. I AM A TERRIBLE BIRD MOMMY.
So, searched with flashlights last night; come morning I looked around again and no bird. Took a nap, as I'd been pulling an all-nighter. Finally, I went out to feed the remaining hens, who were acting very stressy and running back and forth along the side of the fence and–a tiny, pathetic little cluck sounded from near the feed bin. I looked down and if not for her red comb I never would have seen her–black feathers blend really well into the ground.
Black Chocobo had somehow wedged herself between two heavy wooden pallets–incredibly tightly. She looked pretty wrecked in there, her feathers a little shredded and her body compressed–but I pulled a pallet away and held my breath stepped back to see if she could get up on her own.
You guys, I really thought she was done for.
She couldn't walk right, her leg wouldn't support her weight. Her wing was sort of permanently extended and she made little miserable cooing noises as she tried to get moving. Flashes of my poor ducks–I may be .25% Mainer, but I am not up to wringing the neck of my poor bird to put her out of her misery.
I poured out the feed with some extra seed-treats in the pen and left the door open, gently making my own little cooing noises to coax her in.
And it took a minute or two, but that leg righted and she folded her wing back in and slowly, but steadily, walked into the pen with her feathers a hot mess and her head held high, at which point she more or less instantly laid the egg she must have been holding for hours. Then she drank and ate and Billina harrassed her and the horror of the moment she will never, ever forget.
I figure something must have chased her in there, or she chased something–but she was so tightly wedged in I think a dog or something domesticated scared her into hiding and then she couldn't get out. We had no hope of finding a black hen at night if she didn't make noise to alert us, and chickens are very drowsy and soporific once the sun goes down. I suspect it must have been a dog or an unmotivated cat–a fox or raccoon wouldn't have stopped–getting stuck just holds dinner still. And after twenty hours in one position, the circulation to her leg and wing must have been totally cut off (not to mention the pain of an egg you can't lay) and it took her a minute to get her blood going again. She seems fine, she's walking around, and I am greatly relieved.
And this has been your day on the farm–no casualties, one chicken dignity slightly dented.