November 18, 2010 in Washington Voices

Pettit: A wet, cold hen would’ve been madder

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It was time to find a new home for Chicken.

This free-range barnyard bird who appeared in my yard nearly a year ago came through last year’s mild winter nicely – and with neither a covered/heated shelter nor a fenced-in area for protection. She roosted under our deck, under a spruce tree, 15 feet up in another tree and who knows where else – and wandered wherever she darn well pleased. Sleeping around like that probably helped her evade the raccoons, skunks and coyotes who travel the urban wildlife corridor that goes through my backyard.

Just about everyone I’ve talked to about the nearness of these predators and Chicken’s exposure to them has marveled that she’s survived this long. How much longer could her luck hold out?

And then this winter’s forecast for greater than normal amounts of snow caused us and our next-door neighbor – those of us who have been feeding her – to conclude that Chicken might be better off living some place safer, some place set up for chickens, some place where there are other chickens for company. Being an only child had been working for Chicken, but it’s really not a natural condition, I’ve learned.

So when I wrote about our decision last month, so many nice people offered to take Chicken in. Each e-mail I received spoke about why their location might suit Chicken best, and some laid out plans for how to best integrate her into the on-site flock. I was so warmed at this response. I had no idea how fond people are of chickens or of the interest so many had taken in this particular one.

Then, of course, came the problem of how to catch her. This is an animal who would come close to us, but any move in her direction would cause her to back off. And she could really move. One young man we know, who grew up on a farm, told us how to get close and pounce, being sure to keep her wings pinned close to her body. We figured we’d only get one shot at that, and if we missed, we’d not get close again.

We borrowed a big fish net from a friend, but we hesitated to go that route, afraid she’d move too fast and we might bonk her with the rim of the net. So we took one of our Have-A-Heart traps and began pre-baiting it. We put it at the spot where Chicken came every morning for chow, blocked the triggering mechanism so she could get in and out as she wished and put cut-up cucumbers and chicken chow inside right on the trigger.

At first, she just looked at it, stayed on the outside and went over to Marilyn’s house for breakfast instead. We then agreed that we’d feed her in the mornings and Marilyn and Wayne would feed her toward evening, hopefully forcing her to dine at Chez Pettit after she awoke in the morning.

Slowly she began to enter the trap for her food. Big girl that she is, her chicken butt kind of hung out the back end of the trap, so Bruce began putting big hunks of cauliflower past the trigger mechanism trying to lure her farther into the trap.

While this was going on, I began to make contact with some of the people who had offered Chicken a home. My initial plan was to talk to and visit everyone and see which location might fit our free-range friend the best. But after just a few contacts, I abandoned that plan. Frankly, every place I saw was wonderful. All of these nice people had great setups and clearly cared for their chickens. The more I saw, the more confusing it got.

I had heard from a woman named Joan early in the process whose care and kindness was very compelling. When I first wrote about Chicken last winter, Joan had sent me an e-mail right away, telling me even then that if I ever feared for Chicken’s survival, Chicken was welcome to relocate there and that she would be treated as a valued pet/friend until the end of her days. Foreshadowing.

And that’s the home we picked. On the designated day, just a few days ago, my husband set the trap for real. Lunch mouth that she is, Chicken went right in, and the door closed behind her. Joan had suggested that as soon as Chicken was trapped, we should cover the trap so she’d think it was night and would remain calm and quiet. We did that and then drove her to her new home.

I’m going for a visit in a few weeks (Joan has been sending me daily updates), and I’ll report back, including the story of the remarkable people who have made room for our gal.

Meantime, I catch myself looking out my kitchen window in the mornings to see if Chicken is out on the lawn. And yesterday at the store when I saw cucumbers on sale and started to reach for several, it saddened me a little to realize I didn’t need them any more.

No regrets. We did the right thing. But I sure do miss her.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ comcast.net.


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