When I went out this morning to feed and water the animals, I immediately noticed Matilda, our Buff Orpington hen, was not at my feet. Usually, she and Roody, the Buff rooster, are the first to greet me. I saw Roody a little later in the barn with Mayzie, our miniature donkey, but not Matilda.
She must be on the nest, I thought. She’d been laying regularly the past week and I often found her or an egg just inside the coop. I peeked in while watering the Ameraucaunas and Isa Browns, but didn’t see her. I checked a few other places around the barn and out-buildings where she liked to sit, but she wasn’t in any of those locations either.
For the next hour, I worked around, thawing frozen water vessels and feeding the animals. All the while I kept a look-out for Matilda. Roody was all over the backyard, cock-a-doodling-dooing as usual. When the last animal was tended to, I set out to find the hen.
By now, I had a bad feeling about the missing chicken. I wondered if the owl sighted a few weeks earlier by a neighbour had snatched my wonderful little hen. It had snowed enough over night to cover the ground, and it continued to flurry all morning. I tried to find tracks or scattered feathers to provide a sign of what had happened, but the snow made it impossible.
I began my search on the far end of the property, travelling the treeline with Fluffy, the barn cat, at my heels. If an animal had taken the hen, I knew from experience they’d travel just far enough to consume their victims in private. The back of the hay field was clean.
As I approached the path to the small clearing in the woods, I saw a murder of crows swooping and coming up with chunks of something. This was not a good sign. Before I came within thirty feet, I saw the explosion of brown and white feathers. The hen had been torn apart, one wing resting in the small spring and the other on the bank. It was a fresh kill, the unlaid egg broken and the yolk clearly visible within its gut.
I checked the area for animal tracks to identify the predator – fox or coyote – but the morning snow had wiped them clean.
The snow ended just before noon, the temperature rose to plus six and the sun shone, melting the thin layer of snow that had fallen in the past twelve hours. That’s when I saw the point of attack. It had been between the garage and the busy road, so whatever had taken Matilda’s life was probably seen by a passerby in a vehicle.
What is more shocking about this attack is that it happened between 8:15 am (when we last saw her) and 9:00 am (when I went outside to water and feed). When we had gone outside to wait for the school bus, my daughter went to the barn to visit her goat and had seen Matilda inside. When it was realised the substitute bus driver was going to be more than thirty minutes late, I drove the kids to school. The attack probably happened while I was gone. Upon my arrival, the blanket of feathers on the front lawn would have gone unnoticed in the fallen snow.
It is sad to lose a hen, but sadder to see Roody crow in the backyard as if he’s looking for Matilda. He still follows me around, but it’s not the same as when she was by his side. Matilda – June 8, 2011 to January 10, 2012 – was a great hen for the short time she lived at Moon Meadow Croft.