I've heard of free-range hens that will run off and make a nest in some hidden location, then reappear three weeks later with chicks in tow. Fortunately, I've never had that experience, since I'm trying to build my flock with outside additions and I need my broody hens to set my purchased eggs under. Besides, with all the predators around I'm surprised when any of my birds survives a night outside.
But when the egg collection from my two hens and four pullets dropped from four or five a day to two or three, and finally to one or none, I began to wonder what was going on. My first thought was that the hens were stressed because I noticed they were being harassed by the guinea cocks who share the same housing, and two of them had become very skittish.
Those two had begun staying away from the rest of the flock most of the time, and a couple of days ago two of them were running around in the coop all puffed up like a turkey and clucking agitatedly. I was especially worried when one of them, Demi, didn't show up at roosting time and couldn't be found anywhere.
After pondering this for a while I decided the best thing to do would be to try and move the guineas to another building that I've reserved for use as a chick nursery and brooding area. As I expected, that turned out to be easier said than done.
Guineas are harder to handle than chickens, and my efforts to catch the first one (by grabbing it off the roost after dark) resulted in its escaping and running out the open door. I managed to catch another one with the net and relocate him, only to realize that it wasn't one of the two aggressive ones that I meant to relocate.
Next morning the escaped guinea was nowhere to be found, so I assume something got him. Sad, and not what I intended, but at least it solved half the problem. When I let the remaining birds out of the coop I was amazed — not to mention relieved — to see my wayward pullet suddenly appear among them.
Now where could she have been? I guessed that she must have gone broody on a hidden nest somewhere, and set out to look for the nest.
Checking in back of the coop, something made me look up and notice a sort of hollow under a rock ledge, on the steep slope behind the building:
Here's another view of the slope:
So, I set out climbing up the slope on my hands and knees, sliding on the loose dirt and rocks all the way, and here's what I found:
Fifteen little eggs, mostly recognizable as Demi's, though I think another hen might have laid some in there too. So I decided to replace them with some fake eggs, thinking she'd return and that night I could get her and resettle her in a broody box. I'm not sure how I was going to slide down the slope carrying a chicken, but as it turned out I didn't need to.
Because when I returned somewhat later with a bucket and the fake eggs Demi was nowhere to be found. She must have already abandoned that nest and started another, because that night she still didn't appear. Meanwhile, that night the other skittish pullet was also missing!
Besides, I've noticed several times lately that one of the pullets will come running up from a part of the stream bed behind the garage, making a hullabaloo like they often do right after laying an egg. So I've searched that area before, looking in all the accessible places (plus some not so accessible) where they might conceivably be laying, and have found nothing.
Next morning who should I see but Demi pulling the same routine. So I set out for the stream with hand clippers, pruning away the wild raspberry canes and vines and made a more thorough search than ever, checking both banks, behind the garage — everywhere — and still no eggs. All I can think is that some critter (a snake?) comes and grabs the eggs as soon as they're laid, so that I never find them.
As for the guineas, the confined one and the one outside spent the better part of yesterday calling to each other, with the confined one doing nothing but running back and forth in front of the windows in a state of great agitation. Apparently guineas can't stand to be separated, as I realized when I finally let the prisoner out and he ran immediately to join the other one.
Things did seem more peaceful in the poultry house this morning, and Demi even flew up onto the roost for a while, before disappearing later. Now if that other pullet would just turn up, and everyone would stop laying in the stream bed!
Photos property of Jennifer Quinn.