My chickens have become escape artists. It's the cat's fault.
The three hens are in a fenced yard for their protection - foxes and hawks would love to meet them. But Zoe, the cat who lives in the chicken coop is free to come and go. The white Aracauna was the first to figure it out - if she's quick enough, she can follow her out the door before it closes. And then . . . paradise! Grass, bugs, worms, and a limitless choice of gritty bits of gravel. If you're a chicken, it doesn't get any better than that.
It started when I saw the Aracauna outside one day, with Zoe nearby, babysitting her friend. I herded her back to the coop and chalked it up to an accident. The next morning I learned differently. The Aracauna waited for me to leave the coop, then charged the open door as I stepped out, making a break for it. Seriously. Like, "Out of the way! Free range chicken coming through!" And she took off. It's possible to round up a chicken that wants to go inside because it's time for a drink of water and some cracked corn, but otherwise, forget it. They run, jump, dodge, and flap, and it might be possible to corner them, but I'm not fond of letting a chicken make me look like an idiot. She was on her own.
After that, it was a daily group prison break. But it's not all bad - Zoe stays with them. Sometimes one of the two stray cats vying for the new barn cat position are with her, too. Must be part of the job application process. I worried one day when the chicken-cat group wandered under the fence and into my neighbor's trees, so I called Zoe. (And brought my camera along.) She came, and so did her three girls. I led the way to the coop, then stood back while Zoe pawed the door open and the hens followed her back inside.
The whole thing is worrisome, because Zoe can't fend off predators. But it's cute, and it's funny, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it without locking Zoe in. Or out. Neither is an option, so my free range cat is now accompanied most days by her three free range chickens.
If we make it safely through the summer, they'll stop charging outside when the green grass is gone.