How the Hen House Turns: Time to Go Sleeping

How the Hen House Turns:
Time to Go Sleeping
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.
Los Alamos

In winter, at night, a flashlight beam is enough to guide the little ducks to the warm Hen House. Lucy goose doesn’t object when they dash through the door and between her legs—probably because she raised them. Lucy gives the chicken some trouble in summer, but Gwendolyn has learned to avoid Lucy, and the hen hops up onto the roost when the goose is being bossy.

Lucy and Bobbi, the geese, also follow the beam of light into the Hen House for the night. They are the only ones who stay up outside until I get there. Are they waiting for me to put them to bed? Or is it their nature to sleep outdoors, safe in the middle of a calm lake? If it’s very late before I get to the pen, they do retreat to their straw nest to sleep.

I don’t like to leave the birds loose in the pen after ten at night. That’s when the raccoons or bears do their hunting. Chicken wire is no deterrent. I’ve had raccoons pull the slats off a sliding door, break a door that is too thin, and snip a raccoon-shaped oval out of the middle of the six-foot chicken wire fence.

Why raccoons attack chickens is beyond my understanding. They don’t eat their kill, just leave it to die. They no longer prowl our neighborhood, and I’m glad. They seemed to fade away after the last fire—or is it the drought that has changed their routine?

In any case, the ducks, both large Khaki Campbells, obey a simple arm signal and “time to go sleeping.” Of course, that is after they have asked me to dig up a trowel or two of mud. If it’s too dark, they can’t see the worms. But with enough light still turning the sky a nice peachy red or yellow, I cave in give and them an “okay” to their polite “mack mack mack” request. When the flashlight comes on, they head for the nest box.