Our chickens aren't having the best time of it lately. The main thing I feel bad about is how much time they've had to spend confined to their coop. See, the older hens are great about coming back when I call them, so a few months ago I though nothing of letting them out first thing in the morning, even if we were due to leave the house at 9:00 or something. They could get a few good hours foraging, then when it was time for the humans to hit the road they'd happily return to captivity for a treat of scratch. The four young hens aren't anything like that though. In fairness, it's because the coop is much less comfortable for them: the older hens bully them unmercifully. So there is no chance they're going to come back voluntarily. Instead, one of us—maybe two or three!—has to spend five to twenty minutes getting them all secured. Needless to say, that means I'm not as ready to let them roam.
Take this morning. Our plans included a mid morning trip to Costco and an early afternoon errand to the farmers market in Lexington. Even though the hens were awake by 6:30 and could have enjoyed three hours of early-morning frolicking, I didn't want to deal with the struggle when it was time for us to leave. The four hours before our next outing didn't seem worth it either. So it wasn't until 4:00 that we were finally ready to let them out. I feel like our schedule is a little full for the humans in the household—and look, it's even affecting the livestock!
We also lost one hen about a week ago. She was looking sick, and I figured she probably wasn't long for the world. I couldn't do much for her—our hens aren't at all comfortable being handled, so when I tried to examine her and move her to a more comfortable spot she freaked out, and I was afraid I was going to kill her trying to help. So I let her be, chilling out right outside the coop next to the compost pile, with plenty to eat. When I went to close up the coop after dark she wasn't there, so I figured she was better enough to have gone in with the others... but then in the morning she wasn't there. Or anywhere, that I've been able to find. We've certainly had chickens spend the night in the open before without anything untoward happening, so it's not like being outside the coop after dark is a death sentence—but I can only imagine that in this case an opportunistic predator was there ready to take advantage. It's sad; but then again, I don't mind not having to dig a grave. And I like foxes and raccoons fine, and they need to eat too.
But needless to say I like chickens—my chickens at least—a lot better, and I'm thinking about what I can do to improve their lot this fall. They may have been stuck inside—well, in their capacious run—most of the day, but I made sure to give them a big pile of straw to scratch around in before we left. Maybe I'll get a squash or a melon for them next time.