Like perched gargoyles

In a reverse sequence of what we do in the spring, we’ve spent the last couple weeks moving the laying hens from their mobile coop on pasture back to their winter quarters in our high tunnel greenhouse. This is a multi-step process, as the habits of a stubborn laying hen are very hard to break.

As I’ve explained before in other posts, laying hens are the most idiosyncratic of all the poultry on the farm, and their quirkiness and odd behavior is on full-display when you require them to change their routine. Even a small change in their surroundings will elicit odd behavior.

Throughout every stage of their move, many chickens “flew the coop”. On the first night, I brought our old  tractor out to the field so I could hook up the chicken coop to the draw bar and be ready to drive it up to the greenhouse once it was dark and I could secure the birds inside. But as I opened the portable electric fencing to drive the tractor into the chicken pasture, about a dozen hens escaped.

Trying to wrangle escaped hens while the sun is out is somewhat futile, so I just let them roam, figuring they would cluster-up at the fence once dark settled in, and then I could easily scoop them up and put them in the mobile coop for their end-of-season move.

But to my surprise, there was only a single hen sitting next to the fence, and the rest were nowhere to be found.

I shone my headlight around the pasture and couldn’t find a single one, so I figured that maybe they had flown over the fence and climbed into the coop on their own. So I headed over to the tractor to hook it up to the coop, and that’s when I found where they had all gone.

Perched in every nook and cranny – on the large rear wheels, next to the radiator and belts, inside the front-end-loader bucket and even on the seat – were the missing hens. The were motionless and stoic, seemingly pretending that they were just standard-issue John Deere tractor parts and I wouldn’t see them and realize their game and just go about my business.

So two-at-a-time, I gathered up the feathered gargoyles and brought them into the coop, and proceeded to drive the tractor up to the greenhouse so the hens could find their way into their winter quarters the following morning.

It’s been a week now, and 99% of the hens have gotten with the program and are now settled into their winter routine, scratching through wood mulch and hay, eviscerating discarded rutabagas from a local veggie farm,  and enjoying the sun that shines through the translucent greenhouse roof.

As for the wayward one-percent of the hens? They are still trying to roost in oak trees, trying to dig up our recently-planted garlic, and picking through the residue of our summer garden, attacking shriveled tomatoes like carnivorous velociraptors.

One of these nights I’ll venture out in the dark with my headlamp, find where these hens are sleeping (and likely laying eggs), and then carry them two-at-a-time into the coop to reunite with their better-behaved friends. But for now, with unseasonably warm November temps, we’ll let them peck and scratch around the yard.

Thanks for reading!
Farmer Andre

Leave a Reply