Thursday, December 4, 2008
On the surface, Puff was nothing special, a plump little silver-laced wyandotte hen with that clear-eyed look that chickens sometimes get. She arrived in a peeping octagonal box with the rest of our first brood, resided in the basement a while, then the coop.
For the first three years of her life, Puff was as ordinary as they come. She didn't get broody or mean mean enough to remark upon. She didn't get friendly either, following around behind us hoping for a treat the way some of her sisters did. Unlike Fancy Feather and Brave Sarah, Puff was no child's favorite.
She lived through the rooster-reign of the nasty Archie, the somewhat-less-nasty Batman and the reasonable-most-of-the-time Batmandu. But when Stellar, a honking, Baby Huey of a bird, came to power, Puff did something quite remarkable for a chicken: She left the flock.
Now, it should be mentioned that Puff was Stellar's apparent "favorite". He'd seek her out for his roosterly duties with frequency and ferocity, and one warm summer day, after attempting to avoid Stellar in the driveway and side yard, Puff had had it. She struck off for territory of her own, territory totally free of roosters or fowl of any kind. She made a roost of the ledge of the utility sink in the barn and hung around at the far edges of the barnyard, in the woods and compost pile.
At first, we didn't understand the depth of Puff's voluntary isolation. We thought that maybe she was a little confused and tried to return her to the coop. No dice. As soon as she had a chance, Puff made a bee line (A chicken-line?) for her new home in the barn. When the roosters (Yes, we currently have THREE roosterS: Stellar, Little Jaguar and Otto Longlegs) came snooping about, she hid in the stalls with the sheep.
We wondered how long this would go on. Perhaps, as the days got colder, she'd end her boycott and return to the warmth, safety and guaranteed grain of the coop. But she didn't.
I took to scattering a few grain pellets for her and a bucket of fresh water. For a while there, I left a heat lamp over her utility sink roost but that was too much of a fire hazard and a crazy-bad waste of electricity at that. So Puff was on her own.
She disappeared during the first bad cold snap of the season, on a day that didn't make it past 25 degrees. The kids and I searched the edge of the woods by flashlight, checked out all her old haunts but there was nothing else to do. She was gone. Perhaps she decided to roam even farther, to our neighbor's coop perhaps, or off into the oblivion of a predator's jaws (This is the most likely fate).
At any rate, every time I go down to the barn for chores I can't help but cast a hopeful glance at the sink-rim roost and I think about Puff, an ordinary old hen that made an extraordinary decision. I realize that I am being anthropomorphic here, but how else can you explain a chicken resisting the strongest of instincts: the instinct to flock, the instinct to retreat to warmth and safety in favor of a lonely, danger-ridden no-roosters-land?
Posted by Perri at 12:26 PM