I was already in a frazzled state of mind because Gracie is ill (not eating, very lethargic) and has taken up residence in a cardboard box under the kitchen table. Then last night Ethel went missing. Ethel is one of our rescue hens (See Ethel was Poorly for an account of her illness), she is fairly slow and stolid, quiet and unassuming, a very sweet hen. I caught sight of her several times yesterday afternoon, out in the garden foraging, and once she came into the kitchen to check on Gracie and hoover up Gracie’s unwanted food. I was not concerned about Ethel’s appetite or health.
Shortly after sunset last night, I went out to shut them up. The original hens (the big girls as I like to call them) were in their half of the house – all but Lily who was roosting in the rescue hens’ half of the house – and rescue hens Ginger and Doris were in their nestbox snuggled together. But no sign of Ethel. Ethel usually goes to bed early, and although she may end up in the wrong half of the house and get pecked for her pains, she does at least go indoors. I re-counted, shone my torch into every nook and cranny, called her name – nothing. I walked up our drive shining my torch into the raspberry and current bushes, the large shrubs and clumps of herbaceous plants that line the drive – no sign or sound of her. I was very worried, and called Paul. Together we searched our land – under bushes, in the boggy area – and our neighbour’s field shelter and garden, calling her name with increasing urgency. At one point Paul went back into the compound where the hen house sits, and whilst fumbling around in the dark slipped over and landed amongst the tall crimson clover – I felt certain if Ethel had been there she would at least have chuckled!
After 90 minutes of searching, I was about to call it a day; the sky was darkening, our torch batteries were about to give out, and we had dwindling hope that she would appear. I walked back into the compound to give it one last sweep and walked into the tall clover. I nearly trod on what looked like a small pile of brown leaves, and thank goodness I didn’t because it was Ethel, flattened against the ground, very well hidden amongst the clover! Paul had fallen only inches away from her and she had not moved or made a sound! Indeed she did not make much of a sound when I picked her up and cuddled her. She did not seem to have any injuries, and appeared oblivious to the emotional wringer she had subjected us to!
We suspected that, when she had tried to enter the hen house, Ethel had been bullied by Lily and was turned away from the door, so she had gone to find a safe place away from the sharp beaks. We evicted Lily from the rescue hens’ house (to prevent a recurrence of the attack) and installed Ethel in her own nestbox. It was time for us to seek our bed also, as it was nearly 11pm!
This morning, I let the hens out, and Ethel hopped down the steps as though nothing had happened, tucked into her breakfast and then pottered around as normal. Hens are very resilient creatures; I on the other hand am a nervous wreck!