By May, one of the snowiest winters in Pennsylvania’s written weather history was gone, and it was time to move Little and her flock mates outside. We shoveled out the big green coop that came with the farm. Down came the old chipboard nest boxes, and up went new roosts. I built new nest boxes, painted pastel green and pink and yellow, and installed them after Mark freshly whitewashed the interior. Finally, I carried the eleven pullets, three at a time in a cardboard box, out into their new home. Although not impressed by the decor, the girls were much intrigued by “outside.”
The rear of the coop adjoins two large pens, used by the former owner for goats but now serving as safe pasture for the alpacas that had moved to the farm the previous autumn. The pullets and the alpacas grazed and played there by day, and returned to their secure buildings at night. No little girls were stepped on by the fiber boys, and no predators seemed to be lurking in the nearby woods. Life was good for Little, who followed us around, chirping and clucking for attention, often jumping up into a lap for petting and conversation. She seemed more social than some of her “sisters.”
As the summer progressed, the pullets learned to jump over the fence rails and out into the barnyard. And into the barn. And into the front yard. And up the driveway onto the front porch. And up the stairs to the backyard, and onto the back deck. They ate all the reachable grapes off the vines in one afternoon. They dug up the flower beds. They frolicked in the creek. They added a new dimension to our understanding of what “free range” chickens do. They disappeared in the morning, and appeared at sundown, hopping up onto their roosts to be secured for the evening.
One evening at chicken bedtime, we did roll call … and came up one short. Little was missing, and we were frantic. No predators had had any success with this flock, and they could NOT start by taking Miss Little! We reviewed our day’s movements, and realized the doors to the shop building had been open for quite a while. I dashed over, shouting “Little! Little!” all the while. I burst in the door, and there she was, sitting on the painting table. A few feet away was a small pinkish-tan egg, which could only have been laid by Little, the workshop hen. She was praised for her output, scolded for her misadventure, and carried to the coop for the night, as she could not be trusted to get there independently.
One August afternoon, while her girlfriends were all dashing about the barnyard, snacking on bugs and weeds, Little was nowhere to be found. I called and called this chicken who comes running at the sound of her name. A squawk had me high-tailed it into the coop, where I found Little, puffed up in a nest box, pulling out her feathers. She pecked frantically at my hands when I reached in to her and discovered her hoarding four eggs, which obviously were not all hers. As new chicken keepers, we needed help from Google: apparently, Little had received a message from an alien poultry mothership, and had gone broody.
Although we had removed the eggs, Little was still nesting the next morning, but with one side of her face bloody from the pecking of her suddenly jealous, mean girl flock mates. She needed to escape danger from her kin and condition, so we fixed up an isolation pen, sans nesting materials, in the front entryway of the coop. A few miserable days later she was off on new “henventures,” including hiding in a nest box with a breast covered in blood. Although I feared the worst again, it was just a broken toenail. A dab of Quikstop on the remaining nail and a wash up by the water pump, and she was right as rain.
This winter was the first outdoors for our flock, so Mother Nature gave us Jonas and 32 inches of snow in 24 hours. Little and her sisters were confined to the coop for 8 days, emerged unscathed with help from a lot of straw insulation, frequent warm water changes, and a variety of food “toys” to keep them from attacking one another from boredom. They produced a few fresh eggs every day of the wintry scourge. As expected, Little was the first hen to venture into the snow.
Then, as we approached the first anniversary of our flock’s move to Hard Hill, a series of unexpected events left us with someone new on the farm: a rooster. How do you suppose Miss Little felt about THAT?