my concerns about free-ranging the chooks turned out to be justified - we lost one of our lovely Barnevelder hens last week. I went down to lock them up for the night on Monday afternoon and couldn't find her. I suspect it was a grey goshawk that took her. The day after she disappeared, I saw one swoop in across the front paddock towards the chook shed. In the nearby forest, I found one hen cowering in fear and another squawking madly while the huge white bird sat calmly watching from a tall tree above. The other hen I found sitting behind a log on a hidden nest of 18 eggs (!) shown collected in the ice-cream bucket here. So that's why the egg count was down a little. I thought a couple of them had started moulting.
So now we are down to three birds, who are unhappy at being locked up in their shed again today. Their fully enclosed yard is simply too wet to let them out into. After the amount of rain we had last night, one corner of the yard is basically a mud bog and not exactly healthy for the chooks to be standing about in. Hopefully we'll get some more warm sunny weather like the last two weeks of August and it will dry up. And then perhaps I'll be brave enough to let them out again in a few weeks. Guess it's a good thing I listened to breeder Paul Healy's advice to get four instead of three "because you'll always lose one in the first year". Maybe I'll consider getting a cockerel next year, they can be good at protecting their girls.