It was only two days after this post that the free range practice came to a tragic end. I walked out to the barn in the middle of the day to find a scattering of feathers in front of the big doors. Too many feathers. More were inside. Also inside were two confused chickens, instead of three. The missing chicken was the white Aracauna, the girl who'd been so desperate to live wild and free that she initiated the chicken prison breaks. I can only hope she enjoyed her brief freedom.
I herded the chickens back to the coop and locked them in. That evening when I went out to feed the horses, a large raccoon scurried across the top of the stalls. The murderer, returning to the scene of the crime.
I discovered I had lied - I can lock Zoe out of the chicken coop during the day in order to keep my two remaining hens safe. She won't like it, but she can wait until evening when I feed the horses to go inside again. She loses her option to come and go at will, but I keep my chickens. She knows how to avoid raccoons; they don't.
A lot of farmers out here shoot any raccoons that wander into their barn. Groundhogs and 'possums, too. I don't. And I think it's my responsibility, having the larger brain, to find a way to keep my "domestic" animals safe from the native critters without driving them away. So I'm not looking for revenge. But damn it, that was my chicken, inside my barn, in the middle of the day when all raccoons should be asleep - a clear violation of the Geneva Accords. Not cool, Mr. Raccoon. Don't make me haul out the live trap, because I will relocate your ass far, far away from here. I've done it before.