LAFARGEVILLE When Lenka P. Walldroff, still sleepy-eyed, got up at 6:30 a.m. last Sunday to check on her hens in their backyard coop at 33768 Route 180, she knew intuitively that something was amiss.
Though the door to the coop was closed, two cinder blocks used to support it had been knocked down, and the small door for the chickens was open. What she saw when she looked inside made her heart skip a beat: All of the pretty ones were gone, she said.
A dozen of her best hens had vanished; only two chickens and a rooster were left. There were no signs of feathers or blood, however, suggesting that the act wasnt committed by an animal.
It was like an alien sucked them up, said Mrs. Walldroff, recalling the scene. Theres no way a raccoon could have knocked down the slabs and slid open the door, so I knew right away that someone had stolen the chickens.
Mrs. Walldroff and her husband, Matthew C., turned up more evidence: tire tracks veering off Route 180 onto the grass, prints that appear to have been made by a womans cowboy boot, a bent section of fence out back.
A lilac bush about 20 feet wide blocks the view of the coop from the house. Mrs. Walldroff speculated that after midnight, the perpetrator hopped the fence, scooped up the hens in a bag and escaped in a matter of minutes.
We think this was premeditated, because they had to know that this was the best place to enter, she said. Police are still investigating the case, she said.
Grabbing the chickens would have been simple because they essentially play dead at night, Mrs. Walldroff said. During the daytime they make a fuss, but at night theyre very quiet and will hardly even cluck if theyre picked up, she said. Thats why we always add new chickens to the flock at night, when the others wont notice.
By closing the door and opening the small hatch, the thief made a poor attempt to make the act look like it was committed by an animal, Mrs. Walldroff said. But it would have been impossible for an animal to enter the property, let alone break into the coop, she said. The Walldroffs installed a wire fence around the half-acre of property last year after a fox killed six hens.
Meanwhile, other residents have reported thefts on nearby Dog Hill Road. However, Mrs. Walldroff said that to the best of her knowledge, this was the first time hens have been stolen from a coop in the area.
The theft does not make much sense economically. The couple originally purchased the chicks for $4 apiece at the local Agway. But the Walldroffs, who sell the eggs from a roadside stand for $4 a dozen, invest a lot of money to keep their hens healthy, Mrs. Walldroff said.
In addition to the $1,000 fence the Walldroffs installed last year, they spend about $30 a month to purchase organic food, feeding the hens twice a day. Collectively, the hens laid about a dozen eggs a day.
The Walldroffs already have taken additional precautions to protect their hens: a padlock has been installed on the door of the coop, and the small hatch has been boarded up. Plans are in the works to install lighting and an alarm system, as well.
Who installs an alarm system to protect hens? Mr. Walldroff asked, shaking his head in dismay. But thats what were going to do.
For the couple, raising chickens has never been about the money. Taking care of them has been an enjoyable hobby the couple shares with neighbors and family.
We do this because we love these chickens and enjoy them, Mrs. Walldroff said, adding that the birds all had unique names and personalities. To her, it feels like the loss of a group of friends.
This had really made me disgusted in humanity, to think someone could do this, she said.
A large sign posted in front of her house now reads: THOU SHALL NOT STEAL God. PLEASE RETURN OUR HENS.
I hope whoever did this will see how much heartache theyve caused and return the hens, Mrs. Walldroff said. If I woke up in the morning and found them back in the coop, it would restore my faith in humanity.