Tricky Chickens

I have always loved a good detective story. When I was a child, I could read Nancy Drew books all day, and I devoured all of the Alfred Hitchcock series, Helen MacInnes, then started on the British drawing room classics and progressed cheerily to blood-curdling thrillers. As an adult, one of my favorite story tellers has been Tony Hillerman, whose stories take place in Navajo country, a part of the US I’ve not yet been able to visit. I don’t know how accurate his portrayal of Native American spiritual practices is, but certainly the notion of shapeshifters or skinwalkers he speaks of in numerous books is fascinating and creepy. Call me European, but I always thought the idea that someone or something could transform shapes at will was cool. Mystical – and not necessarily of evil intent. Well, I hope not, anyhow, because this business of seeming to be one thing and turning out to be another seems to plague my farm with some regularity.

I suppose the most notable occasion was when a duck turned into a rabbit while crossing the West Virginia border. Now, it’s common enough in rescue work that a number of animals will be seized at one time and even transported together to various locations. But it’s truly amazing how when animals enter vehicles en route to their new haven, they manage to spawn offspring, clone themselves and, yes, actually shift shapes into some other type of being. This was what happened with Juancito the bunny, who, though very cute in appearance has honestly never been very nice – I suspect a frustrated inner duck may be at the root of his personality disturbance.

Juancito was also the rabbit who bonded with Adelaide, a female adopted from a bunny sitting client. Except that when Adelaide passed away, it turns out that Adelaide was most assuredly a boy. This kind of framework change is not easy for a simple farmer.

About a month ago we took in two birds from DC animal control, a duck and a hen. Gloria the duck blended beautifully with the small duck flock currently squatting on my back porch, but Heather the hen immediately came down with a respiratory infection that was hard to beat. When she finally did recover it was, so she said to me, much too cold to ask her to go outside. And so she has been an indoor hen for most of the winter. She’s earning her keep by taking little orphaned Luciano under her wing and, if not exactly motherly, she is companionable to him.

But last week we had one beautiful day of sunshine, so I put Heather outside to peck at bugs and absorb some rays. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was just after dark and getting cold as I arrived home from work, and I could not see Heather anywhere in the front yard. I was getting ready to haul out the whip I keep handy for myself for the occasions that I do stupid, unhelpful things such as leaving an indoor chicken outside too long, when I stepped inside and nearly tripped over her. It seems that Heather, tricky chicken that she is, had said “enough of this cold weather, I’m heading inside!”, and had simply let herself in through the dog door. She was enjoying the warmth of the alpaca carpet underfoot and the wood stove’s happy glow. Obviously she is a chicken used to making executive decisions.

Now, here is the real mystery story: currently there are four chickens living in the bunny motel. Rafael the rooster and Bertie the hen – both too susceptible to the cold and Boots the Bad Rooster’s shakedowns – and Heather the hen and Luciano the little orphaned rooster boy. Every morning starting at about 5:30 Rafael serenades the house about every 2 and a half minutes. I should mention that every rooster has a very distinctive crow, hitting the same notes each time. They have a wide vocabulary when talking, but when crowing, they each have one song and that is it. Rafael’s crow is a high pitched dotted eighth and two quarter notes. Quite recognizable. It’s woken me up every day for months now. But yesterday I heard a different crow. Rather hoarse, a basso profondo crow with only 2 notes. “All right now,” I scowled, as I slunk into the bunny room, “who did that,” and all four chickens looked at me, “wha?” I know Bertie is not a rooster. She lays eggs, and that is good enough for me. Luciano is far too little to do anything but peep. It’s true that Heather has not laid any eggs. Animal control repeatedly assured me, “yes yes she is a girl, she has a small comb” (small comfort, that!), and she also has no spurs. She has no tail feathers. She doesn’t dance like a rooster. She looks and acts like a hen, for Pete’s sake.

So, who will solve the mystery of the two-note crowing chicken?

Till next time,

Farmer Anne
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats
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