One, two, three, four, five…fourteen, fifteen, sixteen…Wait! OK. One, two, three, four, five…fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. I’m missing one chicken!
This is the story of my life. I have to hunt down “one more” chicky girl at least two or three times a day.
When we ordered our chickens, we wanted a dozen but ordered fifteen in case some didn’t survive the shipping. About two days after we got our chickens, my husband announced that we had seventeen, not fifteen. It seems the company sent us extra in case some didn’t survive. We’ve been counting to seventeen ever since.
Counting chickens has become such a regular part of my day and my husband’s day that all we have to do is shout to each other, “I got seventeen,” and we know what we mean, and we can relax—for at least the next little bit.
Our girls have a beautiful coop my husband built and a “run” that is surrounded by a very tall fence for chicky-girl protection, but our girls, our Rhode Island Reds, have strong spirits, free spirits, and they want to free range as much a possible.
Since we live right in the middle of some Maine woods, this means I live in constant fear of hawks, eagles, foxes, and weasels, and mysterious forest creatures of my imagination, all of which have a taste for chicken. If you know me, you know I’m a worrier. So I worry about our girls.
But, to be fair to myself, though I love my neighbors, they don’t help my worrying. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that it’s “just a matter of time” before we “lose a few.” And one of our neighbors even told me a story—twice—about some kind of creature that killed most of his chickens and left their heads in a pile!
All I could do was make my “tragic” face and say “oh dear!” I mean, what kind of serial chicken killer lives in these woods?
So you can see why I worry—and why we count. On an average day, I’m not sure how many times my husband counts the chickens, but I’ll bet I head outside and count about ten times a day. And this takes some time. They’re never together and can be in all kinds of places on our property. They’re also extremely wiggly. It’s a job.
I used to be able to bribe the girls. I could bring out a small piece of bagel or fruit, call for my girls, and they would all come running. Now, I get like twelve when I do that. The other five make me hunt them down and worry.
The worst counting incident came in the late fall. It was early morning, and the girls were out in an open area to be in the sun. I was in the kitchen making breakfast when our youngest came running in to say he heard “a commotion” with the chickens. My husband and I ran outside just in time to see what looked like an eagle flying away. I didn’t know how long the “commotion” had been going on, but my heart sank. I figured it was “the matter of time” our neighbors had been telling us about.
Some of the girls were hiding in the garage, and they were very upset. We had thirteen in the garage, and some were so scared they were hiding within my husband’s tools on his shelves.
When I found three more girls hidden very deeply in some shrubs near the eagle sighting, I knew we had sixteen, and I was just sure that was it, that we finally lost one. My husband and I continued to search everywhere to no avail, and I began to cry. After a pretty exhaustive search, I headed back to the shrubs where I had found the other three, thinking that since I had not seen those girls originally, maybe I had missed one more. But nothing. No more girls.
As I walked back toward the house with a heavy heart, I can’t even begin to describe the beautiful thing I saw. My husband was coming from the backside of the house, and he was carrying number seventeen. I couldn’t believe it!
Sometimes, I think my husband is a super hero. He is a saver of days for sure. But this was big for me. He was the saver of chickens as far I was concerned. Now, I don’t mean to make it seem like my husband is always a super hero. I mean, he does leave the coffee grounds on the black granite in the kitchen most mornings, but, well, mostly he is a super hero. He just is. He was totally a super hero to me anyway as he carried that shivering chicky girl toward me.
He said he found her way down under the back steps of our deck. I don’t want to jinx us, but our girls are pretty smart. They seem to be good hiders.
Since that day, we make sure our girls have lots of places to “duck and cover,” and they do a pretty good job. Still, there is a lot of counting work to do each day.
Interestingly, even though the new babies we got last week are all contained in a temporary brood in my husband’s office, we find ourselves counting them too. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. They’re always all there—at least for now.
And, in the evenings, after the big girls have put themselves to bed, when I go out to close up their coop (and let me tell you it is like the Fort Knox of chicken coops), I do one more count—all the way to seventeen.
And I say goodnight to the girls, and they make their sweet, sleepy chicken noises (they coo). In my mind, as crazy as it sounds, I’m sure they’re saying goodnight and thanking us for worrying about them.