I’ve had few poultry-related panics in the past such as the time that I thought the Araucanas had been attacked because the undercover run was strewn with their feathers. It turned out, after an evening consulting my various chicken books, that they had simply started the moult and were shedding old plumage to grow new.
However, that was back in July and, as hens go through this process only once a year, I can only conclude that when I discovered white feathers scattered all around the outer run last night that Audrey must have been attacked yesterday. I promtly checked her over and thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any marks on her – she’s just looking a little less thickly covered than usual in places.
There were even feathers beyond the chicken run and on the grass. I can be fairly confident it’s not a fox. There were no signs of excavation (and the chickenwire is dug deep down anyway) and the presence and scent of three dogs seems to keep them at bay. As i’ve heard others say, I’ve seen more foxes in London than in the country.
Perhaps it’s the new cat, Tuxy, who’s recently been taken in next door, but I’m afraid to say I think it’s more likely to be our very own Bengal, Beau. I don’t like to point the finger – or feather – without firm evidence but our mischievous cat has been smoking around the chicken run a little too often lately. His favourite trick is to jump into the nesting box when I have the lid open while cleaning out the coop, just to give me a fright. He also enjoys jumping into the run from the hurdles that surround it on one side, then meowing loudly until you open the gate to let him out (even though it’s clear he knows how to extricate himself).
I’ve always assumed he showed an interest in the hens to show off and attract attention from us and our German Shepherd Darcy with whom he has a very odd and complex love- hate-taunt relationship. Beau the Bengal generally craves limelight, he’s ‘theatrical’ as James once so accurately put it. But perhaps it’s not all done for show – maybe he’s genuinely after Audrey like a predator and its prey. But why now after almost 18 months of living in relative harmony? Very odd. I left the Smallholdings this morning feeling a little uneasy. I’m going to have keep an eye on that furry face.