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Front Porch: Cold brings decision time for Chicken

Thu., Oct. 21, 2010

What to do about Chicken.

Chicken (so named because we couldn’t think of anything better) wandered into our yard from we-don’t-know-where 10 months ago and has been with us ever since. Her arrival and roaming antics here have given true meaning to the term free-range chicken, and we have enjoyed her stay with us. But now we need to think about her future.

I’ve written about her before and shared some of her exploits here. Haughty and arrogant, she is a fowl charmer and has developed something of a fan club. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in some time at Costco not long ago. No hello or how are you, just “how’s Chicken?” I am asked about her nearly everywhere I go. Our politicians should be so popular.

Last winter was pretty mild, and she got by quite well roosting behind some crates and cages under our deck. My next door neighbor Marilyn and I have been putting out feed and water for her, and we chat about her doings and comings and goings. Sometime in the spring Chicken abandoned her nest, and we couldn’t figure out where she’d set up housekeeping, though we did search.

Still, Chicken appeared every day – with a few absences – for chow. Sometimes she’d come by stealth, sometimes with an ostentatious display of cackling and strutting and scratching. Not one to miss a meal, she’s turned into quite a butterball. But she’s quick on her yellow feet and can do her running-flying thing with quite some agility.

We’re amazed she’s escaped the predators we see in the neighborhood – raccoons, coyotes, owls and others. For a dumb bird, she’s got some good survival skills.

There is no formal roost or fenced area for her here, but she’s made do. She seems to like her solitude and isn’t terribly approachable. She tolerates us watching her as long as we don’t get too close. And if I scold her for eating my flowers, an early summer habit she picked up, she really throws me some attitude. But all in all, she’s been a pretty low maintenance pet and quite a bit of fun.

This summer when Marilyn was working in her front yard, she discovered six eggs under the spruce tree near the curb. It seems Chicken has been roosting on the low branches that sweep the ground. When Marilyn dug around further, she came up with 10 more eggs. And here, all I thought Chicken did was eat and poop.

But now that it’s getting colder outside, Chicken is spending more time out in the sun – out where she is more exposed. And weather forecasts for this winter promise more snow and cold than we had last winter. We need to decide what to do about Chicken because she won’t survive without proper shelter and a limited-access enclosure, not this winter at least.

Some readers have offered shelter for her, one woman even telling me about what amounts to her home for wayward chickens. I’m not quite sure what a wayward chicken is, but I certainly know a single-minded free range chicken when one moves in. Marilyn and I are now looking into possible solutions. But I’m torn about it.

We have neither the room nor the inclination to build a large enough enclosure for this wandering bird who likes lots of elbow (wing?) room. And building a true chicken roost in an open backyard would be tantamount to inviting the predators in, too. Besides I do love how independent this bird is, how she escaped from wherever she came from and made a home for herself wherever she darn well pleased – which happened to be in our neighborhood. She comes and goes as whim dictates, and only needs a knapsack to put the finishing touches on her road warrior lifestyle.

But still, alive and constrained might be better than free and frozen. We’ll probably figure this out, Marilyn and I, and find her a proper chicken-safe and chicken-friendly home where she can learn to hang out with the girls, cluck about egg production and peck away in the yard as a regular chicken should do – once we figure out how to catch her, that is.

But, I wonder, when she is settled in her new digs, wherever they might be, will her beak always be pointed just past the fence, sniffing the great out-there and wondering what’s just beyond her line of sight. Will she remember her days of true freedom and wonder what’s for supper in the old neighborhood?

I’ll let you know how it works out.

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

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