Sunday when our son Mark was visiting, he and I were outside working in the backyard. It was time to put our four heritage Rhode Island Reds back in the run, so I called out "Let's go home" to the quartet, and the chickens immediately walked back inside the enclosure on their own.
Mark expressed amazement at how well trained our chickens were and asked "Do they always behave that well?"
Turns out, the answer is no.
Tuesday, Elaine and I observed the opposite of good behavior in our birds. We let our flock out at 4:00 P.M. and at 5:00, I called out "Let's go home."
Boss, Johnny, and Baby headed back toward the run with Sweetie Pie lagging behind. As the first three reached the doorway, one of the trio gave the alarm cluck which sent Sweetie Pie into full-blown panic. As I shut the door on the lead three chickens, Sweetie Pie ran into the woods to the right of the driveway.
I quickly followed her into the woods, meanwhile calling to her and calling out to Elaine to come help. But this woods was clear cut four years ago and has grown back extremely thick. Soon I lost sight of the hen.
For the next hour we called to Sweetie Pie but she never responded. Our son-in-law David came over and he, Elaine, and I searched in vain. I then had the idea of playing a tape of a rooster crowing, the hope being that Sweetie Pie would come to that sound - a forlorn hope as things evolved.
Then we asked our neighbor Kim and her daughter Sarah to come over with two of their dogs for tracking purposes. That scheme failed as well. I did glimpse Sweetie Pie one time in the thicket, but when I called to her she went the opposite way.
Knowing that Sweetie Pie was unlikely to survive a night in the woods (given all the predators about) and with just about 15 minutes of daylight left, I had one last gambit to play. That is, Elaine and I would continuously circle the clearcut with the hope that Sweetie Pie would panic and begin alarm clucking when she realized that she was all by herself in a darkening woods.
Sure enough, Sweetie Pie did begin alarm clucking, and I ran to the sound. I spotted her through the undergrowth, and deciding that calling would be futile, I scudded toward her. She bolted and I chased her for about 40 yards until I made a leap over a deadfall and ran her down. Tucking her tight to my stomach, I held her firmly as Elaine and I walked back to the chicken run.
We opened the top of the henhouse and deposited Sweetie Pie inside, where Sweetie Pie once again emitted the alarm cluck. Johnny walked over to her and pecked her three times hard on the head.
"Serves her right for misbehaving so much," said Elaine.