Holding a cup of coffee, Lissa stared out the kitchen window and wondered at the change in the weather.
Fall had snuck in right behind summer as it always does, but it never failed to shock her. It was, of course, not as abrupt as it seemed but it still made her…just a little…sad.
“Time to move the chickens,” she said to no one in particular.
Later that afternoon she donned her rubber boots, denim coat and gardening gloves and met her husband out at the coop.
“Let’s let them run around the yard a bit,” he said.
Lissa thought that sounded like a good idea. They could use some exercise before being “cooped up”.
Side by side, they worked together pulling all the birds out to run the yard. Most of them stayed as close to the coop and pen as they could, trying to figure a way back inside, but there were a few ladies who ventured out into the pasture, knowing they would find the good grub in the tall grass.
They were the smart ones, thought Lissa.
It took longer to get the coop situated than Lissa had planned. The tires were flat and needed to be changed and the watering system needed to be dismantled so the lines wouldn’t freeze.
It was tough work, not helped by kids and chickens trying to get into the coop and cats trying to get chickens.
At last the coop was moved, the heated waterer plugged in and the chickens safely back in their home.
Lissa always did a final head count of the birds before heading inside.
“Uh oh,” she said.
“What?” asked her husband.
“One hen is missing. There are only 7.”
They both started to walk the property, looking for the missing hen. Lissa saw a flash of red out in the pasture.
“Found her!” she called to her husband. “I’ll get her, go ahead and start trimming the fedge.”
Lissa trudged out to the pasture calling “chick chick chick”.
After a few minutes of looking, she saw the bird pecking and scratching in the swale. She walked slowly and bent to pick her up but the old girl squawked and quickly waddle-ran away. She moved quickly, but Lissa was still able to make out the red spiral band on the chicken’s foot.
“Mabel,” she sighed in frustration.
Mabel was their most aggressive and independent hen. She was constantly challenging the other birds and had pecked Lissa’s hands on more than one occasion. She was also their best layer.
Lissa knew that if Mabel didn’t want to come back in, they would be hard pressed to force her. She sat in the tall grass for a little while trying to think of a way to trick her into the coop…without getting pecks all over her arms.
They used to have a big fishing net they used to round the girls up, but Mabel had rendered it useless when she went berserk and ripped it to shreds and they hadn’t yet replaced it.
She tried shooing Mabel, but the hen just zig-zagged around her with threatening squawks coming from her beak.
She tried sneaking up from behind and grabbing her under the wings…that resulted in a few sharp stabs to her hands…one that drew blood.
Cursing under her breath, Lissa decided that her best option was to wait until nightfall. Mabel would have to go somewhere to roost, and it would then be easy to catch her. She might even return to the coop on her own when finished exploring, scratching and eating fresh bugs in the swale.
She told her husband her idea while helping him stake blackberries in the fedge. He nodded his head, thinking it sounded like a good plan.
Dusk had started to come earlier and earlier, so after dinner, Lissa once a again pulled her boots on and headed outside to search.
First she checked the coop to see if Mabel was waiting to get back in. No luck.
There weren’t a lot of places for Mabel to roost. They had just a few trees in their yard. One by one Lissa checked the trees, not finding Mabel anywhere.
On a whim, she went out to check the wood pile. Sure enough, there sat Mabel…sound asleep.
Smiling, Lissa reached to pick her up gently.
Just as she closed her hands under the wings, Mabels beady little eyes snapped open…a look of rage pointed directly at Lissa.
It was not a pretty sight. Feathers and hair were flying in every direction. Determined not to let Mabel win, Lissa almost strangled the biddy right then and there.
Finally, Lissa was able to hold Mabel so that the talons would no longer hurt and the beak would not peck. She ran back to the coop, opened a laying box and forced Mabel in, shutting the hatch quickly.
Lissa leaned her head onto the coop, breathing heavily and taking stock of her battle scars. She heard the sliding door open and her husband’s voice calling out.
“Everything ok out there?”
Lissa walked out from the coop and slowly climbed up the steps.
“Yep,” she said, breathing heavily. “Everything is just fine.”
And with that, she walked into the house with feathers stuck to her hair and clothes and blood oozing from wounds on her arms, her husband staring at her in shock.
“Oh,” she said over her shoulder, “I’m going to go ahead and order that poultry hook.”