The Harriet Houdini of Hen House Row
I don’t keep chickens, they keep me. My healthy flock of 15 hens, one rooster and a clutch of nestbox eggs keep me busy. I don’t begrudge the ladies, gent and soon-to-be downy toddlers my daily attention and efforts, from opening and closing the coop, to keeping it clean, to enabling free-range forays, but I never thought I’d be out maneuvered, outwitted, and outplayed by a chicken.
Her name is Brown Betty. On the outside, she’s a fetching Buff Orpington of comely proportion, but on the inside, my plucky friend is a Thelma without a Louise, a Mae West sashaying unapologetically as the barnyard bombshell with a brain, needing neither man nor rooster to make her complete. And while I’m mixing metaphors, I’d have to say she’s a regular Harriet Houdini who can escape any pen, hen house, or chicken yard this chump farmer cares to erect. Electric fence? Ha, chicksplay. I bet I could tie Brown Betty’s feet together, drop her in a burlap bag, box it up, cover the whole concern in concrete, and drop her off the north-end ferry dock, only to return home and find her sunning herself on my front porch. Disturbed by my presence, she’d no doubt cluck, “Oh, you again.”
At the beginning of her escaping exploits she played it cool, finding her way out of the chicken yard, casually scratching my emerging seedlings into coleslaw. I’d dopily say, “Brown Betty, how’d you get out?” Nonplussed, she’d refuse to answer and let me return her to the pen, where I’m sure the other hens cracked, “Get a load of her.” Back in the pen, all was well or so I thought.
Then, escaping every once in awhile turned into busting out of the pen everyday and every time I returned her to her confines. She’d slowly strut before me, defiant, scratching, ignoring my presence altogether. What I perceived as the hen equivalent of, “Oh, are you still here?” I could just see her leaning on the barn door, clutching a cigarette, taking a drag and and spouting a line from the Maltese Falcon, “Keep on riding me and they’re going to be
picking pecking iron out of your liver.”
Perhaps, I’m being a little dramatic, but Brown Betty wasn’t like the other hens, nope. Most recently she managed to spend the day in my greenhouse after passing through, by and under an electric mesh fence and two deer fences. She dined on, well just about anything with foliage and flowers, and then chased it all with tin of alfalfa pellets reserved for my roses.
Ten minutes after reentry into the chicken yard, she was back in my garden, slipping under the gate and in hot pursuit of the worms in my flower beds. Buddy was no help. He just looked at her with one eyelid open. Now if she were a hoofed quadruped, Buddy would have mustered a modicum of interest.
Not to be bamboozled by this feathered femme fatale, I re-stretched the electric fence and patched any and all holes in the perimeter fence. A day went by, and no escapes. Success was mine. Ah, at last, I’d bettered an animal with a brain the size of a lentil. Darn tootin’ I did.
So this morning, sitting at the kitchen table, with Buddy sawing logs before his busy day of chewing, chasing and chomping, I could see the tall grass rustling outside my window. One eyeroll later, I’m watching Brown Betty dine on my strawberries indifferent to their level of ripeness. She sees me, and I see her, at which point she turns in a most purposeful way, not pecking, just standing with her tail feathers pointed in my direction. Her body language no doubt the chicken equivalent of “You can just kiss my big downy butt.”
Score: Betty 25, Tom zero.