The Case of the Missing Muriel
It always seems to happen whenever my dad goes to check on the chickens or lock them up for the night. He pops his head in the front door and says, "There's a chicken missing." Oi! It has happened before, actually, a few months ago. Two hens were missing. I had been picking out late in the field and wandered up to the coop to lock everyone in for the night, including the kittens. It was later than normal, pitch black out, well past the time they usually head in for the night by themselves.
I turned on the coop light to take a head count and there were 15 hens perched amongst the tools. They were on shelves, on the hay bales, attached to rakes, on the nesting boxes (the human side), and in the cat beds. I was so confused! Why had they not gone into the coop like normal? I walked out to the run, where I met a few more hens bolting for the light of the tool shed, and saw that the door was closed. They hadn't been able to get in so they made their next best choice - go to the secure access of the tool shed. I gathered everyone up, all the while yelling for assistance. Everyone I could find was inside, and I made the head count: 23. We were missing two hens, a Buff Orpington and Golden Laced Wyandotte. Not too difficult to find in the dark, at least.
We spent well over an hour searching the yard with flashlights. All seemed lost when someone finally called out, "Found them!" and they were perched in a short shrub right by the front door of the farmhouse. Clever girls. They hadn't made a peep.
When my dad popped his head in the door Saturday evening of last week to say, "A hen's missing!" I headed for the various small trees and shrubs in the yard. But she was no where to be found. I counted the flock at least 20 times, trying to figure out who it was that was missing. Down to 23 again now that Roo Roo had died. It was a Muriel hen. Those are what we call all of the Barred Rocks, after our first flock at the Little Homestead. They're too difficult for me to tell apart, so they are all just Muriel to us!
We searched for a while and found no evidence of a struggle, not even a feather. She wasn't perched anywhere or hiding in the brush. We even went into the aronia thinking she may have wandered off too far and lost track of the time in the twilight. After no luck at all it was time to head in for the evening and wish her luck. I felt awful, but it was also getting easier, losing chickens. I think it's starting to be more of my pride that hurts. But I suppose that is the price you pay for free ranging your flock. We spent the rest of the evening trying to guess what might have happened to her. We never heard a commotion from a predator, nor had we seen any signs of activity around the farm at all. We spend most of the day, especially the evenings, outside working and playing with the hens nearby. They seem to want to forage where we are, which makes sense.
Our best assumption was a hawk, eagle, or fox. They tend to take their prey without much commotion or evidence, preferring to eat their kills back at their home or elsewhere. This again was feeling far-fetched to me considering no member seemed to make any hint of being attacked, especially since the flock forages together. Wouldn't there have been a bit of a struggle or at least some squawking? I went to bed hoping that she'd turn up in the morning outside of the run trying to get back in to her family.
When the rooster's crow forced me awake on Sunday, I instantly looked out the window and down to the run just outside of my bedroom. Nothing. No Muriel. What had happened to her? In my curiousness, I decided to perform an internet search: missing chicken no evidence. Most of what came up were my own assumptions, fox or hawk. But they made another comment that often chickens can disappear for days to sit on secret nests or become trapped under equipment without making a noise. Weird. Our hens weren't all laying yet, so I doubted that she was broody... that doesn't tend to happen within the first weeks or even days of laying a nest as they want it full of eggs. But it wasn't impossible. Still, she didn't come out at least searching for water.
We let the flock out for the day, but left them in the run. I wanted to see if any predators stalked up to the hardware cloth in broad daylight, if a hawk perched over the edge. Later in the morning after breakfast, I heard a commotion happening in the coop. Could it have been a snake? I made my way out to the tool shed. The hens were in the nesting boxes singing the egg laying song, a rooster following suit. Nothing was amiss.
Then the metal garbage can that holds their feed shook loudly right beside me. I jumped a mile! What in the world... The lid was turned upside down and sitting inside of the can. I hesitantly reached out to lift it, praying there wasn't a skunk or possum inside. I peeped over the edge and found no one other than Muriel, squatting her fluffy fat bum in the bottom and eating the rest of the feed.
The bottom of the can was pecked clean, all except for her droppings. Lifting the lid of the can, she bawked at me indignantly, hopped right out onto the hay bales and promptly left as if to say, "Finally… and goodbye!"
What a lot of worry for a hogger of the mash!
All of this to say that if you are missing a hen, it’s always a good idea to check inside of the feed bin.