For the last few months, there has been a requirement to keep poultry indoors because of the annual risk of avian flu. There were a couple of outbreaks some twenty miles away and I haven’t heard of anything nearer but, of course, I wouldn’t want my chickens to be at risk in any case. So I stopped letting them out in the mornings and gave them lots of greens to eat and they got used to it, apart from one young hen called Mary. She’s quite distinctive because, though buff-coloured overall, she has a black and white feather on each wing that shows as a bar. She’s also a bit bigger than the rest. She was an only chick and her mother lavished attention on her.
Mary got out every day. I never found out how. One other managed it too, in fact, but I’m sorry to say that she vanished. I suspect she was washed away in the floods just before Christmas, but I let Mary in every evening and this one was too wary. In the cold weather, Mary stayed indoors but, yesterday, I found her wandering outside again. She was happy to come in but I still had no idea how she got out. This morning, while feeding the cats, I heard some crooning coming from the big coop in the Dutch barn. Sure enough, Mary was busy laying an egg in the bedroom compartment. I fetched food and water and shut the door, to her protestations a few minutes later. She’s very unhappy about it.
Tim and I have searched the chickens’ greenhouse yet again. It’s a big 40 feet by 14 feet greenhouse, some of the glass has been replaced by netting or wire. There are a few gaps high up where panes have slipped, but nothing big enough for her to squeeze through, even if she could get there. It’s a complete mystery. While clearing out the hen house (a shed inside the greenhouse), I found three eggs hidden behind a box. They probably haven’t been there very long but, all the same, I’ve given them to Mary in exchange for her two fresh eggs, to keep her happy.
I don’t know what to do. The greenhouse is no thing of beauty, it must be said, but it’s pretty sturdy overall. I can’t keep them in there all summer, though, they so love to be out of doors. But they will keep laying away and I’ll have loads more chicks and hardly any eggs. I just don’t know how others manage with their free-range chickens, though I realise these ones are particularly maternal by nature. Anyway, I suspect Mary will be given away, as soon as lockdown is over and I can arrange it. I just wish I could find out how she’s doing her Houdini act first.
Having given the matter some thought, however, I think that Mary herself will have to show us. If any of you can think of a way for me to mark the outside of the greenhouse so that I’ll see a trail where she gets out – this could be a heavy dusting of flour or something like that – then that might solve the problem. On three sides there is a path, on the fourth there is rough grass. I’d have to put it down in the evening, when I know she’s indoors, and leave it overnight, so it would be no good if it were to blow away. Overnight rain doesn’t seem to be expected next week. Of course, other birds would walk in it, seems to me that it has to be dusted all around the sloping sides of the greenhouse. Any suggestions, please?