Poor chickens, I have accidentally mistreated them. Before going up to London yesterday I rinsed and refilled their galvanised water dispenser, and topped up their food. The food hopper lives in the henhouse, which is not conventional but stops it being rained on, and since the house is rat proof means vermin can't get at the food at night. When I opened the end door of the house to get at the food a couple of the hens, seeing grass, made a charge for the exit. I flapped a hand in front of their faces to shoo them back and shut the door rather hurriedly. Hens lack the sense of purpose of Steve McQueen and co in The Great Escape, and they were easily persuaded to go back out into their run by dint of throwing down a small handful of grain, then I shut the pop hole of the hen house so that I could top up the food hopper without any of them making a run for it.
By the time I got home it was almost dark, and as I detoured to the hen house to shut them in for the night I saw from the protruding handle of the sliding door that the Systems Administrator had already done it. It was only as we were about to go to bed and I was locking the front door that I ritually said You've shut the hens. The SA denied having shut the hen house. I was momentarily confused. I had definitely seen the handle of the door pulled over, hadn't I? I changed from my Swedish house shoes into my wellingtons, unlocked the front door, and went to check.
I found a pathetic huddle of hens trying to roost against the front of their house, and realised horribly that after filling their food hopper I must have forgotten to let them back in again. Poor hens, at least they had had access to water all day, but they must have had very little to eat, and a nasty couple of hours sitting outside in the dark and listening to the creatures of the night. The owls, although loud, were not so bad since owls don't eat chickens, but some of the other noises sounded more predatory. Also, as I counted them I realised there were only five. Surely a fox had not got into the run and taken one hen? Or had she been shut in the house all day? Casting my torch over the run I saw her sitting by herself in the furthest corner, body pressed low to the ground.
I opened the pop hole but the hens, even though awake, did not want to move. While the main part of the run has almost got standing room for a human, the immediate six feet outside the hen house, built back in the early days when we thought they would be free range for most of the time, is built on the same lines as a guinea pig run and only has standing room for a hen. Systems Administrator came out to see what was going on, and we made encouraging noises and shone our torches at the open door, but to no avail. At last I tried opening the main door of the house and rattling their food, on the basis that although hens don't normally go for midnight feasts, on this occasion they might be hungry. One went in, another followed, but there were still two who refused to move. There was nothing for it in the end but to crawl up the guinea pig run until I could reach them to prod them in. The SA offered to fetch a stick, but I thought they'd had a bad enough day already without being poked with sticks.
Then I went to retrieve the straggler. I was relieved when at my approach she got to her feet and began to walk quite briskly towards her house, since previous hens who have left the rest of the flock at night and gone to sit in that corner have done so as a prelude to dying, but it turned out that the corner's big attraction, apart from the fact that it was more out of the way and less obvious than staying right outside the pop hole, was the fact that a couple of eggs had been laid in it. Of course as well as not being able to get at their food they had not been able to use their nest box.
I took the eggs, ushered the straggler home, and we shut the hen house door. Poor hens. I am an incompetent owner. The Systems Administrator said he had been past the run several times and seen the hens pootling about normally, so had simply not noticed that their house was shut. They hadn't made any noises demanding food, otherwise the SA would have investigated more closely.
This morning all six came bounding out of the pop hole for their morning snack of sultanas and left-over boiled potato as if nothing had happened. I must pot up some clods of turf for them, though. They wanted that grass so badly, and they are still supposed to be kept in the run out of contact with wild birds.