by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
My husband, Zach, and I love to watch old horror films. Our favorites are the black-and-white versions from the 1950s, where there’s always some sort of nuclear mishap, and as a result, insects have grown to the size of small cars … or lizards … or, worst of all, zombies walk the earth! Zach and I sometimes joke that if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, we will at least have the eggs to sustain us. And while there’s been no signs of real zombies, we did have a chicken return from the dead. Well, sort of …
Our chickens, for the most part, are free range. Every morning I let them out the front doors of the coop into the yard. They can scratch and explore our 14 acres, take sand baths under the pine trees, and drink from the small fountain pond we have in the perennial flower garden. While the chickens are out, the doors to the coop stay open and they can wander in and out as they please. I keep their food and water in the coop, and the girls can use the egg boxes as they see fit.
When we decided to let our chickens free range, we knew there was risk involved. While roaming around the yard, they have little protection against predators. We’ve seen coyotes, foxes, raccoons, stray cats, stray dogs, hawks and owls on our property. Our chickens are left to the hands of instinct, survival skills, protection of the coop or tree branches, and a bit of fate.
Some of you might wonder why we would take such a risk with our birds. And, to be honest, sometimes I worry myself. But I see how much our chickens enjoy roaming, doing what chickens are meant to do. I would rather our flock live a happy, free life, even if it means that nature might come into play. We’ve lost a couple birds to hawks and coyotes. But I have respect for these beautiful predator animals. They are surviving off the land just like we are trying to do. They are trying to feed their families, just like we want to do. We brought the chickens here, so if we choose to let them roam, we must be ready to deal with the consequences. We moved to the country, to live in the country … all the country, not just the country that’s convenient for our setup.
We’ve seen tracks around the coop on occasion, so we will keep the girls in their “backup” fenced-in area. We let the dog relieve himself around the run in the hope that any hungry animals might pick up on the scent. When the threat of danger seems to pass, the chickens eventually get the run of the yard again.
Among our many chickens and varieties, we have one Silkie hen. She’s always been an odd sort of chicken. She keeps to herself, and marches to the beat of her own little drum. She’s never quite fit in with the rest of the chickens. On top of her quirky little personality, she’s just … well, odd-looking. She went through a molt the second year we had her, and her head feathers never grew back right. She is the most vulture looking chicken that we have, and has all sorts of “isms” that are just strange.
A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen her in the coop in a while. We waited until evening to do a head count. As the sun sank lower in the sky, one by one, the hens and roosters left their favorite scratching places around the property and started toward the coop. A couple of distracted hens that were chatting in the grass line, were soon rounded by one of our roosters, and sent running to their appropriate evening perch.
Once it seemed everyone was tucked in for the night, I went out to close up the coop and check on our Silkie. Much to my disappointment, she wasn’t there. I looked in the wing of the coop where we keep the teenagers, and sometimes the brooding chicks, and she wasn’t there, either. I checked the big barn, the corn crib, the silo and the turkey pen, and still no Silkie.
I watched for her over the next few days. I listened for her particular cackle, which is sort of frantic and high-pitched, but she was gone. Disheartened, we figured the worst and decided that a predator had taken our little Silkie away. It was sad, but part of the way things go sometimes.
Over the next couple weeks, we kept a close eye on the chickens. We kept them in their fenced run to see if we could spot a raccoon or fox returning to their place of capture. But nothing seemed to show. We figured it might have been a hawk or an owl. I’ve seen a Red Tail Hawk drop out of nowhere, pick up a bantam, and carry it away without even so much of a feather left behind.
Last Saturday, Zach went to let the chickens out for the day. I was doing dishes, and from the kitchen window I watched him walk out to the coop. He quickly turned and headed back toward the house moving at a brisk pace. My heart sank, I thought, “Oh no, now what? Has the killer struck again?”
I dropped the dish towel and ran outside to meet him halfway. “What’s wrong?” I called. He answered that I would just have to come see for myself. I braced myself, expecting to see blood and feathers scattered around the chicken yard.
But instead, I was greeted with just about the cutest thing I’d ever seen. Our Silkie had returned from the dead, and this time toting five adorable bantam chicks, freshly hatched and still boasting their egg tooth. She was proudly strutting around the yard, showing them bits of this and that, and squawking at our other girls to stay away from her newest accomplishment.
She must have set up nest in the tall grasses somewhere in the yard. She had been diligent to her babies and stayed on a nest for the whole 21 days.
I was so happy! Especially for our little Silkie, who is always out of touch with the rest of our chickens. She has never quite belonged, but now she has a little family to keep her company. I’m particularly interested to see what these little chicks will grow into. We don’t have a Silkie rooster, so they are some sort of cross between a French Black Copper Maran, a Lavender Orpington, Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, or a Coronation Sussex. So far, they are pint-sized and have feathered feet just like their mamma.
I’ll keep everyone posted on the Community Chickens Facebook page with photos and updates as the mystery babies grow. Maybe you can help me guess what breed they are mixed with.