(Photo used with permission)
We had two hens of this breed, until a few days ago. Their names were Penny and Not Penny, but your guess is as good as mine which was which. They were both terribly ragged, with clumps of feathers missing -- victims of Chicken Dinner, The Rooster I Never Wanted (he was dumped upon us by The Chicken Fairy, and you can read that story here). Neither Penny nor Not Penny was particularly photogenic in their beaten-down state, so I opted to use a photo of the supermodel pictured above.
Penny had had a bad year; she was never the same after being mauled by A Beagle Who Shall Remain Nameless last summer, and almost dying. Against the odds Penny survived, but ever after all of the other hens picked on her (probably sensing her weakness) and she became a loner. She avoided the coop during the day, preferring to lay her eggs in the storage room or behind my car tire, and she wandered far afield by herself and seemed to enjoy the solitude. Last fall I was driving down our road with my sister in the car, and there in the middle of the road was Penny, not budging. I pulled the car up inches from her, rolled down the window, looked down on her bedraggled head, and said, "Go home, Penny." To my sister's great amusement, Penny went home.
When Chicken Dinner, the aforementioned rooster, matured in the fall, he began to bother Penny, so Penny started bunking on a four-inch shelf in an open-air shed, five feet in the air. It couldn't have been comfortable, but she preferred it to the coop. I knew something was wrong and started paying attention. One evening around dusk I plucked Penny off the shelf while she dozed, walked her into the coop to gently put her on a perch, and locked her in. Within a few minutes Chicken Dinner had roused himself from sleep, hopped down from his perch, chased Penny into a far corner, pinned her to the dirt on her side, and was savaging her for no discernible reason. I marched into the coop, picked up the terrified hen, backhanded Chicken Dinner, and whisked Penny back outside to the shed to sleep on her shelf. "I'll never make you go in there again," I told her, and I didn't.
That shed shelf bedroom would be Penny's undoing. Penny always rose with the sun (unlike the rest of the chickens, who stay locked up until midday so at least some of them have to lay eggs in the nest boxes instead of the garage). She would hop down to start her endless search for seeds, bugs and veggie scraps. The other morning our new fox neighbor was waiting for her.
This is all that remains of Penny.
Or, it could have been Not Penny -- I'm not sure. Either way, they're both gone, and so is the Buff Orpington hen who made a beeline for the pasture every day. I don't know why she did that; chickens must have their reasons. In any case, McGillicuddy also became a to-go meal for the fox.
Just after sunset tonight I saw the fox from my kitchen window as he trotted west along the berry hedge. He disappeared behind the big hay barn, but on a hunch I went outside and stood by our fence, watching. Sure enough, in a minute he reappeared, trotting toward our yard. He was coming surprisingly close for a bright orange animal in the half-light of dusk. I called to him.
"No chicken tonight," I taunted. He didn't hear me and kept advancing. "Go on, beat it," I shouted again. This time he heard me, and froze in his tracks. One more word from me and the fox sprang back toward the berry bushes, covering a great distance in a few leaps. He's gone, but he'll be back every day until he gets all the chickens. I'm afraid their carefree days of freedom are over, poor babies.
Except maybe for Chicken Dinner. I think I'll let him out nice and early.