It is, as the title of this post suggests, 5:00. Or 5:21, to be exact, and the house is dark. I have a mountain of homework still to do but it will have to wait. The chickens have taken to roosting near the house when it gets dark, as opposed to going into their coop as they usually do.
The last time the chickens avoided their coop like this it was because a rat had taken up residence in the gap between the top of the nest box and the roof. Our rats, it seems, are somewhat wimpy and had decided that there was no reason to spend the winter in a muddy tunnel under the shed when they could luxuriate in the warmth of the heated coop. This was fine for the rat but it made the chickens understandably nervous to be shut up in their house with it all night long.
So when the ladies started hanging out near the house again I went out and checked the coop: no rat above the nest boxes and no rat in the straw underneath the nest boxes either. Why the chickens are choosing to roost on the deck, then, I do not know. Maybe they see the ducks getting to come inside every night and have decided that having a coop all to themselves isn't all it's cracked up to be. This would be fine if it weren't for the coyotes, opossums (North America's only marsupial!) and raccoons who would love a chicken dinner. So the ladies have to spend their nights in the safety of the armored coop (so named because it was built with at least 100 bolts and all ventilation windows are covered with 1/2 inch hardware cloth, to keep raccoon paws out), no exceptions.
How then do you get three chickens to go into their coop when the don't want to? Strategy number one, the strategy currently being employed, is to turn on the light in the chicken coop (we keep a light in the coop when it's cold to heat it up at night for them) and turn off all the lights in the house and hope that the girls make their way to the coop on their own - they seem to be attracted to light when it gets dark out. Strategy two, assuming strategy one has failed, is to go out with the flashlight, find the chickens wherever they've decided to curl up for the night, pick them up and carry them to the coop. "That doesn't seem that bad," you may now be thinking. After all, how hard is it to put a chicken in a coop. Ah, you don't have chickens, yourself, then. If you did, you would realize that this is easier said than done.
First, you must find three relatively small birds in a fairly large yard, and chickens rarely come when called - especially at night. Then you have to catch them. I can carry three chickens at once, but actually catching all three at the same time almost never happens. What usually occurs ends up looking something like this: approach chickens with flashlight. Chickens see you and take off running in three different directions. Follow chickens, leaving flashlight behind in order to have hands free to catch birds. Chickens run under bushes and trees. Human crawls under said bush or tree only to see the chicken's tail feathers running out the other side. Human crawls out from under the bush and chases another chicken. Second chicken runs under deck and comes out on the other side of the yard. Human follows and chicken runs under a tree on this side of the yard. Human yells and trips over a bucket in the dark. Human finally catches a chicken and deposits it in the coop, then leaves the chicken run to retrieve another bird. Chicken in the coop hops out the front door, which was left open in the hopes of one of the remaining loose chickens going in voluntarily. Human wonders what possessed them to buy chickens in the first place. 15 minutes later all three chickens are in the coop and human is thoroughly ticked off. Process repeats the next night, and the next, and the next....
It's now completely dark outside and from where my computer is I can see into the coop. And it's empty. So off I go on the Great Chicken Chase. Again.