Kate’s Story (or Loving a Difficult Chicken)

My chickens do not love the snow, not one bit, but I have a few free spirits who insist on leaving the coop every morning, despite the winter weather. Still, I’ve never had a chicken who will venture out in full-blown snowstorm—until Kate.

I was shoveling the snow to make a path for the chickens one morning, and the conditions were terrible. It was snowing pretty heavily, and the winds were high. It was a good storm, but when I made my way to the coop door and opened it, Kate hopped out and took off.

I didn’t think she would go far, but when I looked up from my shoveling a few minutes later, I saw that Kate had trekked across the snow, and in the distance, though the snow was coming down all around her, I could see Kate walking around the tool shed on the far side of our property.

I had to know what this chicken was up to, so I trekked out there myself. I could see her footprints in the snow, but, suddenly, there was no Kate.

***

Kate was born on our little farm during the first few months of the COVID pandemic. It’s confusing to me that I have no baby pictures of her. Usually, my camera is full of baby chick pictures. But last year was different. It was like I was moving through molasses every day, and I did all of the farm chores, completed my work, and parented all while in some kind of “fog” that seemed related to stress.

But Kate brought me joy—and a little extra stress. She was the cutest thing I think I have ever seen. Kate is part Rhode Island Red and part Easter Egger, so she was this adorable reddish-brown color of the Rhode Island Red with the puffy cheeks of an Easter Egger. She looked like a chipmunk. That’s what I called her for several weeks.

“I hope my chipmunk chicken is a girl,” I would announce to my husband. We really hadn’t planned on keeping her when we were counting chicks as they hatched (I had been incubating chicks for others in our area who couldn’t get them), but when I saw her, I knew I had to keep this chicken. My husband, who is usually the voice of reason when it comes to the number of chickens we can keep happily in our space, didn’t argue a bit.

The chipmunk chicken won him over too. She was more than cute. She was brave, perhaps too much so for my taste, and, well, she was just sassy.

She was being raised by our mama hen, Pumpkin, along with another chick. Right next door to that little brood, another hen, Beethoven, was raising two chicks. You never know how a mama hen is going to react to other babies. There is some chance she will kill other babies.

We have never had this happen and have had hens raise babies together a few times. They generally end up co-parenting the whole group, and it’s magnificent. But, because of the potential risk, in the first few days, I will always build a little wall to keep the two broods separate. My little walls have always worked in the past, but Kate wasn’t having it.

I feel limited in my capacity to describe the cuteness of Kate’s little nightly adventures. After everyone was supposed to be tucked in with their correct mama, Kate would head out. She would take her tiny little chicken-nugget self all the way around that wall I built and would go visit the other mama hen and her babies.

She would never stay too long—just long enough to cause some chaos—and then she would head back around the wall, sort of. She would check out the garage, explore things, just sit there a little—all while the other baby chicks were tucked in with mama and going to bed.

I would often go out and scoop her up and try to deliver her to her mama, Pumpkin. But, when you pick up a baby chick, they will often cry. Let me tell you, you do not want to be holding a mama hen’s chick while it is crying. Mama hens fluff up to the size of a small turkey and become enraged at whatever is making their baby cry. I have been attacked by a broody mama hen several times in my life. I have always lived. But there has been blood, and I do not enjoy it.

One night, as I delivered Kate to her mama, Kate was extra loud, and Pumpkin gave me the full-on attack. Kate was certainly making my life difficult.

But Kate’s spirit charmed me, and when I found out Kate was a girl, I named her after Shakespeare’s famously-stubborn and powerful character, Kate. Of course, despite Kate’s charm, I figured she had a personality that would likely add to the number of gray hairs on my head.

***

I was a little worried at first, when I didn’t see Kate anywhere in the snow. Thankfully, I was able to follow her tracks. I followed her little chicken footprints all the way around to the back of the shed where they disappeared.

Kate was heading under the back shed to lay her eggs! This explained why I hadn’t seen one of Kate’s magnificent khaki eggs in a couple of weeks.

“That little stinker,” I thought to myself. I got down into the snow and crawled around. I couldn’t see her, so there was nothing to do but wait and dread the smell that would surely be coming from rotten eggs this spring.

When I saw that Kate finally returned to the coop later that day, I did a mean thing. I went out to the shed and covered her entryway with some spare fencing.

The next morning, when I opened the coop, it was another miserable morning, but I watched Kate as she took off and headed to her shed. She couldn’t get in and was visibly stressed. I spent the better part of that morning trying to convince her to go back to the coop to lay her egg.

I spent the better part of the next day doing the same. I didn’t want to leave her out there alone too much, as without the leaves on the trees, she was in a pretty exposed area, and we have had a couple of hawk attacks in the past. On the third day, I was growing weary, but I spent a good deal of that day tracking and coaxing Kate.

I was late on a deadline at work, so I was hoping Kate was going to accept the reality of the situation. How do you explain to your supervisor that you didn’t finish some work yet because you have a difficult chicken?

Thankfully, after three days of stubbornness, Kate accepted her fate to lay her eggs in the next boxes with everyone else. Kate’s beautiful eggs are back in the daily collection. Her little khaki eggs are like beautiful works of art to me.

Kate’s egg is the beautiful khaki brown on the right.

The morning after I finished drafting this story about Kate, she discovered she could fly over the gate. When I saw her do this my shoulders slumped, and I let out a sigh.

I can see that Kate is going to teach me things about behavior and about myself. This is one of my favorite things about raising animals—the learning. I am just going to have hope against hope that I can teach Kate some things too.