My Blind Hen Hildy – Free Ranging March 1, 2013

For the first few years, our blind hen Hildy didn’t ever leave the coop on her own. This was something of a relief. After she recovered from her injury and learned to find the feeder on her own, it gave her unmolested time to eat and drink from the feeders and waterers, since the rest of the flock was outside foraging and enjoying the day.

When Hildy got to be around three years old, though, she started venturing outside. We’re not sure what prompted it; it may have been the simple discovery of the doorway: “WOW! I can walk through that bright patch in the corner of the coop!”

Blind hen Hildy, the speckled sussex

“Curiouser and curiouser!”

I always imagined that first time that she felt like Alice in Wonderland, having gone down a rabbit hole.

Hildy’s discovery of the door presented several problems, though. The first was that we were afraid our sweet little blind hen would just wander off into the woods, never to be seen again. Wandering proved not to be a problem—or at least not a consistent problem. On her first few adventures outside, she did get disoriented. But how in the world could she learn to navigate the yard unless she was allowed to explore it? So I kept a vigilant eye on her for the first few weeks, and if I saw our blind hen getting too far away, I’d go outside and call her name. Her head would pop up, and she’d stand as tall as she could, listening to me. When she had triangulated my location—based on, what?, the sound of my voice, combined with a person-shaped shadow?—she’d run toward me with her adorable high-stepping gait, and find her way to stand on my foot until I picked her up. These incidents got fewer and further between as our blind hen became familiar with the new surroundings, and she was able to discover what the flock’s territory was—and what it wasn’t, much to our relief.

Hildy the blind hen standing on my foot

Hildy’s love-step

Our second concern was for her ability to avoid predators–that is, she’d have no ability, right? But again, she learned to rely on the flock for clues as to what to do. She was able to follow the flock around, perhaps based on her very limited vision and her ability to hear the chatty clucking of her sisters.

The first few times our top rooster Gautier gave a warning cry that there was a predator, she didn’t know what to do. She could sense that something was going on–everyone went running!—but she seemed to have no instinct to take cover herself. We wondered if she could even see or understand the concept of “cover.” Whether she did or not, she eventually learned to follow the other hens and hide beneath the forsythia because of her instinct to be with the flock—but until that time, Gautier had to take extra steps to protect her. (He had always had a soft spot for her.)

So when he realized that our blind hen didn’t heed his “predator” warnings at first, Gautier didn’t abandon her. Instead he stayed by her side, puffed up his feathers and strutted around her, trying to look as large and intimidating as possible. When he felt the immediate danger had passed and it was safe enough to do so, he’d try to herd her with strategic pecks and chest bumps to the rest of the ladies. Eventually  she learned how to behave when he issued his dinosaur-roar of a warning cry, and she’d run along with them and stand with the others beneath the forsythia bushes.

The problem I’ll discuss next week was the big one: while our blind hen had figured out how to leave the coop,  she couldn’t figure out how to get back in! What would worry you most about having a blind hen? Or if you have another special needs pet, what are your biggest worries?


mark March 1st, 2013

I was glad to read this,I also have a blind hen,a Silkie. I brought her inside cause the other chickens were picking on her,she sleeps on a blanket on the bed with the dog,stays in her cage when we are gone and is adjusting to wondering around the house,usually lost in a corner but is getting more use to it.

Brandy March 1st, 2013

My biggest worries for my special needs rooster is the dust in the coop making it difficult for him to breathe (although I do my best to keep the dust down) and when he sleeps alone in the cold because he isn’t the most popular rooster and can’t tuck his head under his wing due to his lopsided body causing difficult breathing.

Barbara March 1st, 2013

I LOVE the Hildy stories. Thanks so much for sharing them. They make me smile and they make me tear up a little :>

roberta March 1st, 2013

Hildy was quite the hen! I’m not sure how you made it without worrying yourself to pieces, I don’t know how to let my healthy flock out into yard. How will they come back? Where will they go when fleeing a predator?? Too many unknowns…

Jack March 2nd, 2013

Yay another Hildy story! I love them so much too — and so do my roommates. We all agree that your rooster was also awesome (and wibble-inducing). I look forward to the next part.

Debbie March 2nd, 2013

I loved reading about your blind hen. i also have a blind hen Sheila. i had to take her away from the other they almost killed her. i put her in with my 3 goats and 4 mallard ducks. but for the last month i have her in my house. i went into the barn one morning to find Sheila on the rim of her bucket, first time she had done this, her water had frozen and her one foot froze in the bucket, it was bad, i was so upset!! i am always so careful with her, i brought her inside my house in a room by herself, i have cats and dogs so i have to be careful put her in a big baby pool filled with blankets and hay. she is doing well now , although she lost the tips of two toes. she can walk fine. she is enjoying the warm house and hot oatmeal every morn. i know i have to put her out in the spring but is going to be hard, love her , never thought i would feel that way about a chicken, when i am having a bad day i look at her and she makes me smile !!!

Lynette Mattke March 2nd, 2013

I love the stories. Keep them coming, please!

Kim March 5th, 2013

So sweet! I have 11 beautiful girlies.(Two reds,three ameraucanas,and six pullets). Hildy is a such a sweet girl and I’m sure she’ll master the art of getting around.What a hen!

clare March 6th, 2013

I love reading your stories, please keep sharing x

Kim March 7th, 2013

Such a beautiful story! I would like–no, LOVE to hear more about Hildy!

Kim March 7th, 2013

Me, too!!!!!!

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