Everyone said owning chickens is great but you've got to watch out for predators. I took this to heart because we share our wooded mountaintop home with hawks, raccoons, foxes and feral cats.
I bought a custom-made coop from a guy who builds them in Michigan. The little green, wooden house has screened windows, a door with a hasp, and a hatch that lifts open to the nesting box where you collect eggs. The run, which is attached to the house, is made up of two wood-framed galvanized wire triangles that form an airtight enclosure.
Reading up on chicken predation, I learned that a raccoon can use its tiny hands to open a hasp. For peace of mind, we installed a simple gym lock on the door of the run. It looked a little odd, but, hey, I'm originally a city girl who's accustomed to living with three bolt-locks on a door.
We brought six hens home on a beautiful Saturday in June. Like a new mother who constantly checks to make sure her baby is breathing, I took to counting six pecking hens every time I came in and out of the house. Two Rhode Island reds. Two black sexlinks. Two barred rocks.
On day five, I returned home from an errand early in the afternoon. I walked past the coop. One, two, three, four, five, six -- all there.
Three hours later, I went outside and looked into the run. One, two, three, four, five. I looked inside the coop and then in the nesting box for the sixth bird. But there were only five. It appeared that one had literally flown the coop.
But this seemed impossible. A hen would need to be a super-avian superhero to lift the door of the run. There's no other exit.
Running around like a chicken with its head ... no wait ... like a mother who has lost her kid at the mall, I tried to think who would steal a chicken. A prankster? An angry neighbor? A poultry thief? And in broad daylight?
So I did what any concerned mom would do: I called the police.
"I'm reporting a stolen chicken," I said. They had a good laugh. An officer arrived 30 minutes later.
I could swear the cop was trying to suppress laughter when he asked, "Are you sure you're missing a chicken?" Then, gesturing with his flashlight, he asked me to open the egg-box hatch so he could look up in the rafters of the coop. Five birds.
"Are you sure one of the birds didn't escape on its own, ma'am?" he asked. "Quite sure," I said.
Here's the thing about reporting a missing chicken. A police officer doesn't understand that losing a chicken feels the same as losing a cat or dog. A police officer wants to know how much you paid for the chicken, so he can qualify the crime as petty larceny.
Even though the hen only cost 20 dollars, which is expensive for a chicken, the cost was immaterial. I was devastated; I had horrible visions of what might have become of her.
The officer filed a report but told me there was nothing more he could do. "It's not like I'm going to put a detective on the case," he said.
The next day, I called ADT, the home security company, to evaluate security options on my property. My husband added a couple of locks, turning the coop into Fort Knox. Every time I went outside to throw the hens some feed, I felt terrible. "I'm sorry," I told them. "I'll do a better job protecting you from now on."
At 4:45 p.m., the phone rang.
"Ma'am, this is officer so-and-so from the police department," he said. "Someone down the road has reported a chicken on the loose."
I got the address and called my husband, who'd just backed out the driveway. He whipped his car around and I jumped in.
Four doors down, in front of a multi-unit apartment building, stood a bemused woman looking down at my Rhode Island red on the grass. My husband grabbed the bird by the feet and cradled her. While stroking her feathers, I broke into sobs of joy. The woman who'd found my chicken hugged me.
We took the hen back to the coop. I'll never know how that bird got out, but I suspect there was human intervention. It took a kind neighbor and some decent police work to get it back.
Now if I'd only gotten the woman's name and address. I sure would like to bring her a basket of eggs.
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