I don't usually turn any of my chickens out until three or four o'clock in the afternoon, often even later than that, because that's what my grandma did; I think she had figured out there was less chance of chicken hawks snatching her hens late in the day. But the kid I babysit and I were working in the garden around 10 A.M. and I decided Mama Hen and her babies looked hot. I knew we had no plans to leave home today after spending several scorching hours at the zoo yesterday, so either Cliff or I would be outside a good part of the day. I turned them loose and then turned on the garden tiller and began tilling between the rows to get rid of the weed seedlings. Baby Girl played, sometimes running up and down rows and sometimes stepping over them. She shoveled dirt into a bucket and, in general, had a great time. I kept a good eye on her and tilled away, not giving a thought to the chickens.
In fact, it wasn't until almost lunch time when we were back inside that I thought about Mama Hen and her brood: She is never too far from our yard these days, and I realized I had not seen her since I first turned her out. I went looking a couple of times, being sure to check in the open part of the barn where she and the chicks eat beetles like crazy every evening. Not a feather did I see, nor a cluck did I hear. And Mama Hen NEVER stops her constant clucking when she has babies.
"I have a bad feeling about this," I said to Cliff. "Something isn't right. If something got her, the chicks don't have a chance out in the big world."
We ate dinner and I put Baby down for a nap. While she was still asleep, I went out and looked in all the usual places once more, being sure to check under the big Spruce trees behind Cliff's shop, because she hung out there often with last years' babies. I had wondered if perhaps a hawk had swooped down and tried to get her, and maybe she felt safe under the close cover of those tree branches. I really didn't have to look once I got there, because there was no cluck-cluck-clucking.
I strolled over to look behind the open shed near the hen's little cottage, started to turn toward the house, and suddenly heard the welcome, distant "cluck-cluck-cluck" I had been yearning for!
She WAS in the shade of some spruce trees, only she had chosen the five- and six-year-old Norway spruce trees just beyond the garden. I tried to get her to come to me, saying "chick chick chick", but she wasn't budging. That verified to me that something had scared her, because she always comes when I call: it usually means I have some sort of treat like stale bread and other leftovers, or chicken scratch grains. The chicks were complaining. You can always tell by the tone of their peep-peeping whether they are happy or not. I got the waterer out of their pen and carried it to their safe spot, where the mood of their peeping changed to happy as they quenched their thirst. I came to the house and grabbed a couple of left-over biscuits for them and counted them as they were eating: All nine were present and accounted for.