The Feral Chicken
Last fall the residents of a house about 3/4 of a mile away moved out. We didn’t realize it at the time, but they just left their small flock of chickens and geese to fend for themselves. (Don’t get me started on how cruel people can be when it comes to animals.) While poultry are great at finding food and water, they aren’t so skilled at avoiding predators. By the time we learned the birds had been abandoned, weeks had gone by, and we knew it’d be too late to rescue them—they would have either left the property in search of food or been eaten.
But then one evening Melissa saw a chicken in some woods bordering our north pasture, far from where our chickens live, and not that far from the abandoned house. Minnesota isn’t known for its feral chickens, but I think this chicken qualified.
Melissa tried trapping her in a cage, but the wily bird didn’t fall for it. Melissa grew increasingly worried about the bird surviving predators and the winter, so she started visiting the area at dusk, watching for the hen.
Finally one evening she saw the bird about 30 feet up in a gigantic pine tree. When it gets dark, birds find a place to roost and are easier to catch.
Did I mention the bird was 30 feet up the tree? Apparently, if one easily climbed trees at age five and fifteen, it’s nothing to climb 30 feet up a tree at age 50. Lordy, if I’d known what the woman was up to, I’d have thrown a fit.
But instead, Melissa returned to the house on her 4-wheeler, triumphant, with pine bough scratches all over her arms, and holding the feral chicken.
Having been on her own for so long, the chicken had some adjusting to do when put in with the other hens. She was defensive and hard to get along with, but at least she had food, water, and a safe place to roost at night.
Early this spring she began spending a lot of time in the shed. In fact, she hid back among the junk and started spending all her time there. When we’d open the shed in the morning, the hen would dash out and head to the barn for food and water.
Then one day our friend Mary was in the shed and heard peeping. Turns out our feral hen had been sitting on a nest, and hatched out 8 little chicks.
Not surprisingly, she’s a ferocious mother, and keeps the cats at bay. Although one day I did see Eddie stalking the little family, so he and I had a serious discussion about this topic. I had to have the same discussion with Maisie the other day. Hopefully they both got the message.
Because the little chicks were sitting in the water bowl, Melissa was worried about drowning (it’s happened before) so note the rocks in the red bowl below…ensures the chicks can easily get in and out of the water.