About 3 weeks ago, I lost a chicken to a neighbourhood dog. It was pretty upsetting, and I had a bad feeling the dog would be back, but I tried to keep vigilant and keep an eye out for it, and I listened intently for chicken screeching. Everything seemed OK, and I think the dog was on an unauthorized walkabout.
But then, unfortunately, early last weekend (I think it was Saturday), 2 chickens went missing. I always count at night when I lock up. There were 16 instead of 18. I looked for signs of a struggle. I looked for feathers. I looked for dog footprints...but we'd had an unusual quick thaw, and there wasn't much snow left. I could not find a trace of the 2 hens. They were small ones - from my 2012 spring hatch. Both likely had a bantam parent on at least one side, so they were easy prey. I wondered about eagles...hawks...raccoons? They get locked in at night, but in the daytime, they do free range. It's a risk, but I prefer having my birds roam around and enjoy their freedom. For several days, I was vigilant about checking for predators. I saw a fox on Sunday morning last week (I know because that's the day I downloaded the photographs) and I wondered at the time if that fox had taken the chickens, but of course, I had no way to know one way or the other. Here's a picture (yes, distant, and during fresh snow) of that fox.
The fox picture is my only marker as to when the chickens went missing, because it was before that day, given that I immediately wondered if he (she?) was the culprit, upon the sighting that morning.
So. That was that. I kept an eye out for the chickens, in case they had decided to bravely sleep in a tree one night, or hatched some other silly plan, but there was no sign of them. I was sad, but these things happen.
In the meantime, we had a brutally cold week, last week. Night time lows were in the -20 range Celsius, which was in the range of -4 F. The wind chills were even colder. There were 3 or 4 nights like that, and then the temperatures warmed a little on Friday, just ahead of the big nor' easter blizzard. The snow started Friday night, and went all day Saturday, and continued today. Here's what it looked like when I opened my door this morning. The winds were so strong that my orange 'puppy' was relatively clean and ready for later use. I just wanted to wait until the snow stopped.
I was thrilled to pieces when my neighbour showed up later this afternoon with his tractor (much larger than mine) with a nice warm cab on it, and a snow blower attachment! Hooray! He did in about 10 minutes, what would have taken me at least 2 hours. Amazing. I need one of those snow blower attachments!
I donned my insulated coveralls after he helped out, in order to make a path for the sheep and goats to get to the barn. I knew that it wouldn't take too long for me to do that part, and I was pleased at the prospect of not having to spend quite so much time outside. So, off I went, riding the orange "puppy" for a while, clearing a path and slip-sliding away on the fine, crystalline snow.
As I approached the barn entrance, I found the snow getting deeper and deeper due to wind drifts. I had to spend a lot of time in the area, and I deliberated over just giving up for the day and finishing tomorrow, but I decided to just get it done. I was running out of space to put all the snow, so I pushed a roll of wire fencing off to the side with the bucket. At the base of the roll of fencing was an upside-down plastic blueberry harvesting tray. I didn't even see it under the snow, but the tray lifted on the edge of the tractor bucket when I was moving the fence roll (which was also mostly under snow).
That green thing in the picture below is what a plastic blueberry harvesting tray looks like when it's upside-down. Not very big.
As the tractor bucket lifted the plastic tray...I saw a movement. I stopped lifting. Disbelieving my own eyes, I saw a chicken head pop out of the snow. Stunned, I thought I'd missed an adventuring flock member as I was going forward, but then I realized, I hadn't yet opened the barn door today, because I fed everybody indoors, due to the weather. There was only one possibility. This was one of the hens that had been missing for an entire week. I immediately slammed on the tractor brake and rushed over to uncover the poor bird. She was covered in ice, shivering, and definitely underweight. Her crop was entirely empty. She was weak, and a little bit listless, but alive. I rushed her into the barn and went back to dig in the snow. I quickly found the second, amazingly still alive, chicken. The two of them had been under that plastic bin for an entire week. All they'd had was snow, and maybe a little grass if they had scrabbled down far enough. I can't be sure because their shelter was disrupted by my plowing.
To say I was surprised is a vast understatement. I was absolutely stunned. I can't believe they made it through that incredibly cold weather and then the depth of snow that was on top of that tray, and made it out alive. I can't believe the tractor caught the tray at just the right point to reveal them. I can't believe I didn't hurt them with the tractor. It's just incredible, it truly is.
This little survivor is a wee bantam that I'd named "QB" which stands for Quarterback. I don't like football, and I don't know much about it, but one of the few things I do know is that the quarterback is usually a small player who always runs with the ball and dodges everyone else. QB always grabs treats and runs, and she's so small that she skirts around everyone, so that's how she got her name. Here you can see that she has some bedraggled looking feathers. They'd been inside the barn for about a half hour by the time I took these photos so they looked better than when I first found them. She has a little frostbite on her comb tips.
This is the other little trooper - as you can see, a bit the worse for wear. She had some frozen tail feathers.
She's mostly black, but with a little bit of gold in her neck feathers. She needs a good name now that she's proven herself to be such a remarkable survivor. I'm leaning towards "Klondike" because of the gold neck feather touches, and the fact that she kind of struck gold in her luck of being discovered today. She was the one who stuck her head out.
After having her fill of pellets, QB retreated to a quiet spot to recuperate, and Egwene came over to check her out.
Most of the others were eating snow where it enters the corner of the barn. I give them water but it freezes so quickly these days, so they seem to adapt to eating snow.
Nidia was checking out little Klondike. Nidia is my most talkative hen, and she was chatting up a storm while all this was going on. It was as if you could tell that there was excitement in the flock.
Klondike headed over to the same area that QB had chosen, being checked out by Cashew along the way.
It was then that I began to notice....all the birds were gathering near QB and Klondike. A few at first....
I still can't believe that they lived together under that plastic box for over a week, with just snow and maybe some dead grass. It's a testament to their hardiness, and hopefully also the fact that they were healthy when they first got into that mess. They will certainly be well fed in the coming days!
So if you find yourself missing a chicken, look long and hard. Look under things. Look inside things. If you don't find feathers or obvious signs of distress, they may still be around. Don't give up! Amazing things can, and do, happen!