Home Chickens The Harriet Houdini of Hen House Row

The Harriet Houdini of Hen House Row

The Harriet Houdini of Hen House Row
Brown Betty scoffs at my deer fence protecting my greenhouse
Brown Betty scoffs at my deer fence protecting my greenhouse
Brown Betty scoffs at my deer fence protecting my greenhouse.

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.

brown betty and buddy
Brown Betty in search of fine dining

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.

buddy brown betty path
Buddy encourages her to move along, nothing to see here.

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.”

Betty make her position clear on returning to the coop.

Score: Betty 25, Tom zero.


  1. Oh, I did so love this! You have a way of spinning a tale.
    Enjoy your Houdini chicken…….and eventually, I’m sure there will be a book there…

  2. Best post ever!!!! I have 7 babes just newly out in the coop. No roosters allowed in the big city. I know for a fact that chickens have their own personalities and Brown Betty is but one example! Maybe you need to invent a chicken leash!

  3. You brought quite a chuckle to my day, friend Tom! I’m still laughing over her mooning you in defiance! Cracked me up.

  4. Oh Tom you do make me laugh! That is one smart hen…she certainly knows how to outsmart you that is for sure! And I think she may well have outsmarted Houdini too. 🙂

    • Ina, just today I got home and she had managed to get into my worm bin. I surprised her head didn’t pop off from her excitement of hitting the mother lode.

  5. Tom are you sure that Brown Betty and Buddy are not in cahoots together to keep you occupied? Just think of all the schemes that they could come up with while having a chuckle about their human believing he is so very, very clever.

    V and the Furry Gang

    • I’m beginning to wonder V. Time for me to pay closer attention to their whereabouts and question those powerpoint presentations and flip charts they’re poring over.

  6. Tom, your writing is pure joy to read. Thanks so much for the smiles it brings. The pictures are always choice, too.

  7. Ha ha! Ahh great post Tom. You have this dry wit, I would say it is the “Tucson of wit”, and it is certainly on display here in these ultra dense paragraphs. I love spotting Buddy in the distance in the second photo from top.

    As a writer, I wonder if you know one of the most fantastic poets to walk this earth lives just a bit north of Seattle in Langley. I’m referring to David Whyte, and my first introduction to him was when a long haired, unnecessarily fit, wild eyed Irishman stood up and recited “Song for the Salmon” aloud to me at a Starbucks in San Diego not long ago. It remains the finest poem I’ve ever encountered and I encourage you to find it online.

    Anyway, best wishes 😀

    • Forrest, thank you for sharing “Song of the Salmon” with me. Uh, wow. I was introduced to David Whyte’s poetry by two friends who spent time at a retreat he was hosting on Bainbridge Island. They glow when the talk about the experience. I only regret that you don’t have a video clip of the wild-eyed Irishman bringing his poetic performance and license to Starbucks patrons. In my mind, he’s standing on the table, a la Celtic Thunder. 😉

  8. Great post, Tom. I chuckled all the way through. I think you have indeed met your match in Brown Betty. Your posts always start my day off right – I opt for Tall Clover Farm over CNN every time! Real values, real people and a really fantastic writer!

    • Thanks Sandra, you made my morning. Yep, Miss Brown Betty has just recruited a French Ingenue Cuckoo Maran to dine alfresco with her, sans confinement. I hope this is her last recruit, my flower beds can’t handle the attention.


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