Henderson County family hoping to recover stolen chickens
Seven year-old missing pet rooster ‘Mr. Wesson’
When a Niagara family discovered Saturday that someone had stolen half their flock of chickens they were upset by the financial loss.
But far worse was the loss of a little girl’s beloved pet rooster, Mr. Wesson.
“I know it seems trivial, I know it seems small, but in my daughter’s world he’s a very big thing. And he’s not here,” said Melissa Hortin.
Hortin says someone came to their family’s home sometime Friday afternoon and stole 22 of their chickens from inside their coop.
On Saturday morning her 17-year-old son, Joseph, went to the let the chickens out and discovered the loss.
“We have a problem, he told me. Half of (the chickens) aren’t there and Mr. Wesson is gone.”
Hortin’s daughter, Ainsley Slawson, 7, was heartbroken.
Ainsley “squalled” when she found out Mr. Wesson was among the chickens taken, Hortin said. “She literally sat there and sobbed.”
Hortin said Ainsley loves the rooster.
“She cuddles and plays with him like a dog or a cat,” she said. “Ainsley has one of those little toy Jeeps you can drive around the yard. Mr. Wesson would sit up in there and ride with her.”
Hortin said the chickens, which they raise free-range, were out and about Friday when she left to go pick up her children from school. When she returned a few hours later and they weren’t around, she assumed they’d headed into the coop for the night.
“I should have known then something was wrong,” she said. “Normally, there are 18 to 22 eggs in the laying boxes. That day there were two.” She figures whoever stole the chickens took the eggs too.
The family has been raising chickens for eggs for about three years.
“We got chickens because of (Ainsley),” Hortin said. “Ainsley was at Rural King looking for boots and she heard the peeps from all the little babies and my husband came home and said ‘We’re getting chickens.’ … He did three months research building a chicken coop and researching what breeds would be best.”
Hortin said one of the things that made Mr. Wesson special was he was a rescued animal.
Henderson County Humane Society found him running around town,” she said. “They put his picture on their Facebook page, ‘Free to a good home. You can’t eat him.’ I told my husband ‘We’re gonna go get him.’ “
Hortin said when you raise chickens — especially free-range — you expect to lose a few to cold weather and raccoons or coyotes. But you can tell when a raccoon or coyote gets a chicken, she said.
“You don’t have 22 go missing without some visual evidence. You find parts and feathers.”
When the family discovered the chickens missing, Hortin said they walked their entire property calling for them and looking for evidence of an animal attack. They didn’t find anything.
The birds were free-range but pretty domestic Hortin said.
“You holler for them, and they’d come running.”
Hortin said the lost chickens were worth in the neighborhood of $300.
“When you’re talking a full-grown laying hen, at market, you’re talking $15 a hen. We lost 20,” she said.
The Hortins also sell 50 to 60 dozen eggs a month at $2 a dozen. “We went from getting 18 to 22 eggs a day down to 3 to 5.”
“Ainsley sold eggs at school, too,” Hortin said. “She had her own customers. She made 50 cents commission on her sales.”
Hortin said her husband, Brandon, has been in touch with chicken groups on Facebook and Craigslist, telling people they part of their flock taken and looking to see if there was anybody putting some up for sale.
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the theft.
The family has started a gofundme account, with a goal of raising $500.
The main purpose, Hortin said is a reward to get the chickens back. If the birds aren’t recovered, the money will help replace them.
“Ultimately we want our flock back, but if it comes down to it, we’d settle for Mr. Wesson. … He means that much to our family.”
By Tom Lovett