Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Not to Herd Chickens

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you cried so hard it actually made you laugh? That was my evening last night.

I came home from a business trip this afternoon on an emotional high though quite exhausted, and my husband announced that he wanted to go ahead and move the chickens to their nearly finished coop. The chickens have been living in our horse barn, but they are making a big mess—scratching up the limestone floors, feathers and poop everywhere—so he wanted them in their new home a.s.a.p. The coop is located in our front yard, about 150 yards from the barn. We knew that getting them to their new home and convincing them to stay close while roaming would probably be a challenge, but a plan was in place.

Unfortunately I did not have a video camera, as I am sure the events that followed would have earned us an Emmy on “The Lifestyles of the Na├»ve and Stupid.” But please picture this:

The chickens were in “roosting” mode since it was starting to get dark, so they had already perched themselves in their dedicated horse stall. This made it very easy to catch them as chickens become very lethargic at bed time. I picked each one up and placed them in a large cage. We then loaded the cage into the truck and drove it up the driveway. Carried the cage to the coop and decided that the only way to get them inside was to place them in one by one. We placed our oldest child at the temporary door to make sure the chickens we placed inside did not come back out. Six chickens in and so far, so good. (BTW, the easiest way to catch a chicken is to grab its legs and then flip it upside down if it starts to flap their wings. This really calms them down. If they don’t struggle, just hold them upright in the crook of your arm.)

Unfortunately our youngest child was running around trying to entertain himself. He decided it would be fun to smack the smaller chicken door (for them to come in and out on their own) as hard as he could. The chickens inside freaked, and out most of them flew… into the woods behind their coop. Keep in mind that our woods are horribly thick with very narrow trees, briars, fallen limbs etc. They are not very easy to maneuver through. And did I mention that runny chicken poop flew out with them… all over my husband’s face and on my new white T-shirt.

We just stood there with the “oh, %@!*” looks on our faces and immediately started to try to herd them back toward the coop. While they are pretty easy to round up at dinner time at the barn, they are now in a new place and have no idea where they want to go. They are also Leghorns, which tend to be very flighty and skittish. If one goes in a different direction, they all go. We were back and forth between the woods, the yard, the road, the driveway, and back again, and again, and again. The children were not much help. Miss E does not know the fine art of cutting chickens and scattered them more. Mr. L had had enough and cried and cried for me to take him to the house. I just tried to keep taking deep breaths, regroup and continue to have positive, happy thoughts.

I have to give my husband “kudos” at this time because I expected him to throw up his hands and say "to  heck" with the chickens. He was very good at listening to my suggestions, even though they did not work the way we would like. Finally, we decided to put up a ramp to the chicken door, encourage them with some grain and pray that they would eventually go in. If so, we would just close the door later in the evening. They decided to run into the woods, however, and this time they decided to fly up into the trees because it was past their bedtime.

Ah, ha, I thought. I can just grab them out of the trees.

I gave them a few minutes to get settled by playing with Mr. L. (Miss E had thrown in the towel and went to the house. My husband had to finish his horse chores.) Then the two of us set out on a hunting trip to find chickens in the deep dark woods. Mr. L thought it was fun. The first four were fairly easy to catch as they were either low enough for me to reach. The last four were a bit out of reach. I was able to untangle the branches to bend the tree down they were roosting in. I had to call for reinforcements to get them since I had visions of the tree slipping out of my hands and the chickens being launched into the next county. Luckily that did not happen and four more made it the coop. The last chicken was about twelve feet up, and we had to knock her out with a long stick. But don’t worry. She is perfectly okay.

The final step was to climb into the coop and place the chickens on their roost pole (since it was dark, they could not see that it was available to them). I really love my chickens. I also really love my husband for putting up with my animal projects and working so hard to see that the animals and I am happy. I gave him a really big hug and a kiss after we closed up the coop door, knowing the chickens were safe and sound. He said, “If you ever get any more animals….”

This scenario made me very mindful of the fact that our farmers also have to deal with animals getting out of their fences or barns. I have a feeling that they too feel the extreme adrenaline rush required to strategize and get those animals back to safety. If you are a farmer and have such a story, I would love for you to share it with me and my readers. I think we need to be reminded that raising livestock, no matter the species, is not an easy job and takes a lot of passion, compassion, and a dash of comic relief to make it through the mishaps.

If you want to read our other stories about our chickens, check out Eden's Chicken Chronicles or 7 Families Went Hungry.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...