I’m a little heartbroken. Well. A lot heartbroken but that’s another story. This part of my heart concerns Splotches, one of our three Speckled Sussex hens. She was hatched in spring of 2017. Speckled Sussex are a wonderful breed, especially curious and perky, they tend to be friendly and ever so helpful. They are the first ones to join us when we are digging about in the garden. We pull the weeds. They scratch and peck. Splotches is particularly industrious and companionable. She reminds me of Ping. And like Ping, she loves to explore. Every morning, up and over the fence she flies. Freed from the confines of the chicken area, she races across the driveway, seeking bugs and whatever else chickens seek at 6AM. Three or four times a day, we would go back and forth. She’d fly out. We’d carry her back in. She’d fly out. We’d carry her back in. A determined little hen who would chat with us while we gently carried her back to the rest of the flock who waited expectantly at the door, ready to exchange daily notes with her upon her return. Who go the most worms? What was the weather like? Who laid an egg?

She went missing a few days ago. She didn’t reveal herself at bedtime though we called and promised mealy worms. The next morning, there she was, pecking about with the rest of the flock! That night, gone again. Hm. 

The next day, she showed up around 3:30PM. We had a meeting to go to and so, brutes that we are, we locked everyone up in the run and coop area. Trapped, she was there for overnight but the next day? She flew the coop. Gone for overnight, she showed up briefly the next morning but by the time I went outside, she was gone. We haven’t seen her since. 

Yes, it’s migration time. Hawks abound. Our resident kestrels are flying about even as I type, hunting, swooping. But Splotches is three times the size of our kestrels. 

Carl’s theory is that she decided to hang out on the wild side. One of the days we returned home to find Splotches outside the fenced in area, hanging out with a rafter of young turkeys, learning Turkey. He has suggested that maybe she befriended them and has gone off on an adventure. That worries me. She might be able to fly over our fence but, whereas turkeys, with their huge bodies, are yet able to fly and coast up into trees at night for safety, our bold, little hen is a solid girl. She can’t fly for long distances, and not high. I fear she won’t go high enough to escape nighttime predators.

Niggling at the back of my mind? All summer, the girls would escape. We’d go outside at various times to find them on what-we-consider-to-be the wrong side of the fence. Splotches, Wilma, Billie and Daisy were the usual suspects. And on days we only got 4-5 eggs, not 8-9, I suspected that they were hiding their eggs. We’d search and, once, found a nest of 20 plus eggs. But since finding that stash, no luck. 

My theory is my hope. Splotches likes a good game. I imagine she convinced Wilma and Daisy, maybe Billie, too, to join her in finding a good hiding spot to lay their precious eggs. And then? Splotches would sit on them. She didn’t show signs of broodiness—fluffing feathers and stalking about—but that doesn’t stop my suspicion that this is another chicken ruse. Maybe Splotches is sitting somewhere safe and well-hidden from predators and humans alike. When it rains, I imagine her discomfort. Has she a roof over her head? On sunny days, I picture her taking a short break and a dust bath in the sun. But where does she get her food, her water? Is she warm enough on these cooling nights? What if a raccoon or a fisher find her? 

It takes 21 days to hatch chicks. The last few nights I have dreamed about her. I dream she comes back, a merry, little Splotches with 7 chicks peeping behind her. She will be so proud as she joins the flock again. Everyone will coo and cackle, and Schtude will crow in celebration because, not for the first time, they will have won the competition, chickens vying with humans. 

October 4th will be 21 days since she began her runaway practice. It would be the 7th generation. And my birthday, too.