Common chicken knowledge tells us that chickens are social animals who need companionship from other chickens. The same wisdom tells us that chickens always return home to roost. Makes sense, and my experiences never gave me any reason to disagree.
Until half a year ago when our flock had a deserter.
I noticed her missing one evening when I was closing up the barn. We had suffered some losses to predators and I assumed the same had happened to her. A few days went by and I got a call from a neighbor, asking if the chicken who had recently made a home under the cedar tree in his front yard, was one of ours. It was ours. She had not been carried off by a hawk or devoured by a coyote, she had just decided she'd like a new home. "She'll probably come back" I told Shelby, "chickens always do." But she didn't.
What was so bad about her life here? She never seemed to have any conflicts with the others. She had a warm barn, clean hay, consistent meals, and fresh water. She gave it all up to go live in a tree by herself. Part of me kind of had my feelings hurt, and part of me just wanted to know why.
I got occasional reports on her from the neighbors, who were happy to keep her. I even saw her one morning, taking a dust bath under the tree, and one evening, roosting on one of its limbs. Then I kind of forgot about her.
Yesterday morning at dawn when I went to open up the barn and feed the chickens I saw her. There she was, minding her own business, all by herself, on the other side of the fence. Before long she came up to the fence, and seemed to have some kind of chicken conversation with her old friends. She saw me, she saw the feed I was carrying and I was just sure that given this reminder of her old home she would make her way back, and return to the flock. I was wrong.
She still wants nothing to do with us and this is the conclusion I have come to: All creatures are individuals. That's it. Nothing too earth shattering but it's worth acknowledging. The vast majority of chickens would not be happy living the life she has chosen, but whatever the reason is, she has chosen it and continues to do so everyday.