One evening in October I was lounging on my recliner watching T.V. eating my hot dinner in my thermostatically controlled cozy-warm house and I chanced to think of my girls. I imagined them huddling together trying to stay warm in their house with nothing but thin wood walls to keep the freezing temperatures at bay. Guilt came upon me.
The very next day I set out to make their lives better. “I must insulate their home!” is what I was thinking. Now, as a child of the Age of Aquarius, I did not want to use 'artificial' materials to accomplish my task but fortunately - gift from above – the trees had been considerate enough to drop piles and piles of dried leaves on the ground just for me. What could be better and more natural than insulation made of leaves? So I wrapped the hen house in a big canvas tarp and jammed a few tons of leaves into it and in no time at all there was a wonderful, two-foot-wide barrier around the nest boxes and indoor accommodations to keep my girls safe from the cold. As a bonus, I made sure the big feeder inside the coop was always chock-full of chicken chow so if they woke in the night and wanted a snack it would be there for them. You see, my Big Book of Chicken advised that food should be available at all times and I was new to the job and took the advice literally. Who knew that chickens don’t eat at night? And so I was quite proud of my resourcefulness and went back to my recliner with much peace of mind.
A few weeks later I happened to notice that my girls were not availing themselves of the Toasty Warm House I had provided preferring instead to roost outside through the long winter nights. I consulted my old farmer friend about my ungrateful hens who did not know enough to come in out of the cold and he suggested that I simply remove their outside roost bar and they would go inside. So that’s what I did.
That night I went out with a flashlight to lock their door so the raccoons and foxes would not eat them and was delighted to hear chicken talk coming from inside the warm part of the hen house. But alas, upon further investigation I discovered only three of my four hens were in there. Solita was missing. Now here's the thing about Solita. She’s never learned to 'flock' properly. Her sisters are always together but she's most often off by herself. I feel bad for her and assume that she's just socially challenged and would like to be with the others. But then again I may just be having high-school flashbacks and projecting.
At any rate, I surmised that Solita could not cope with the changes to her routine – "Oh No!!! Where’s the roost bar??? Where did my sisters go???" - and had run away from home. Well, long story short, I eventually found her stumbling around in the dark looking very forlorn. Now you might think that she would have been glad to see me. After all I was rescuing her from the fix she’d gotten herself into. But apparently she mistook me for some gigantic, vertically enhanced predator equipped with a headlight for she let out a squawk and took off running. What followed was an ill-fated chicken roundup which would surely have entertained millions on YouTube if anyone had been around with a night-vision camera but I finally got her cornered, grabbed her and shoved her into the hen house. The next day I put the outside roost bar back up and that's where the girls spent all of their nights for the rest of the winter.
Now I must admit that at some point during those long winter months I became aware of some strange-looking objects that resembled miniaturized tootsie rolls in amidst all of the wood chips in the hen house. And then there were those holes that appeared under the water dish and along the inside foundation which seemed to lead to tunnels of some sort. Naturally I should have known what sort of critters make tunnels and tootsie rolls and of course I had my suspicions. But it was winter and cold and I was lazy and it was just easier to channel Scarlett O’Hara and “think about it tomorrow.” Well, this approach served me well all the way up until April when the mountain of mouse poo in the hen house was simply too massive to ignore. So I went on line and Googled 'mice and chickens' and it was only then that I realized that I had done a very bad thing (or a very good one) depending upon whether you see the world through the eyes of a chicken or a mouse.
Consider the chicken perspective, for example. Once upon a time they had a nice warm safe place to sleep in. And then one night, the mice came. Now I'm sure the chickens would have been more than willing to share their food and their space but according to Google mice are mean and omnivorous and they like the taste of chicken feet. And like vampires, they do their best work at night. So what it came down to for the chickens was either sleep out in the cold or have your feet chewed on.
The mouse perspective is entirely different, of course. One day last fall a few of them happened to be in the neighborhood looking for a place to spend the winter and discovered that someone had been considerate enough to build them a nice warm Mouse Mansion complete with an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. Well, they told their friends who told their friends and before you could say "infestation" they were all settled in. Now mice are very good at turning food into more mice - the girls can crank out ten to fifteen kids every twenty-one days - and they made the most of my very expensive, organic, top of the line, non-GMO chicken cuisine. But I did not truly appreciate how busy they’d been until I removed all of the leaf insulation and stuck a garden hose down one of the multitude of holes adjacent to the hen house. My intent was to encourage the mice living under the coop to relocate but as the water poured into the hole, mice began popping up out of the ground all over the yard. Well, I kept running water into that hole (at seven gallons per minute) for ten minutes and no water ever came to the surface anywhere. I could only conclude that the subterranean megalopolis the mice had excavated was enormous. (Mental images of a dark, sinister mouse version of Gotham City or Carlsbad Caverns crawling with rodents plagued me). It was all very unsettling and I feared that one day I’d be writing a story called: "The Day the Coop Disappeared into a Gigantic Sink Hole."
Well, I relocated the hen house which now sits on a concrete block foundation sunk twelve inches below grade and wrapped the coop in duct tape to seal off all the entry points I could find. Mouse traps are everywhere and I diligently check for tootsie rolls each morning. And now the chicken chow feeder is outside of the coop during the day and inside my house at night. I may be slow on the uptake but I'm on the job now. The declining volume of mouse poo and dwindling number of mice in the traps suggests that I may be winning the battle. As to whether or not the girls will ever sleep inside their house again? Only next winter will tell.
As for the mice, I do feel somewhat guilty. After all, I invited them to live here, however inadvertently, and now look what I've done. I do take some solace knowing that Vermin Valhalla will become part of Mouse History; the story told and retold down through the generations. Mouse minstrels will write songs about the Winter of 2015 when, for a brief moment, mice found Heaven on Earth. And then God became angry and sent a great flood and took it all away.....
Toasty warm house
Cold Roosting Chickens
Former site of Vermin Valhalla