Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop. Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape. She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.
Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there. Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access. I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.
I take the hen and put her up on the ramp. She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched. The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds. Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down. I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.
Almost an exact repeat. This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp. Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.
Yep, same. Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm. The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.
That’s what I was afraid of! The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish. I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices? I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks. Uhoh! At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage! Flying attack beak! She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand. I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop. I got, like, one little scratch.
However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying. I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp. Mayhem.
Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring. Sigh.
Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.
Evening six: What’s this? They are all, magically, in the coop together! They figured it out!
But can they get out in the morning?
Morning one: No, they can’t. I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out. Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused. I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.
Morning two: This time one brown chick is left behind.
Morning three: Interesting. The white chick is upstairs. Didn’t she already pass this test?
Morning four: Yay! They’re all out!
Morning five: Not so fast. Two brown chicks left behind again, confused. Weird. They’ve all managed it at least once.
There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp. They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier. Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared. They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her. Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming. You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.
Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box. The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife. The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting. The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.