It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a farm report. That’s because I haven’t done any farm work since the shoulder and bicep surgery back in November. When you’re told not to lift more than a few pounds, that pretty much puts the kibosh on any Dog Tired Satisfied outdoor chores.
However, I recently got a little taste of the ol’ farm life. Chareva and the girls flew to Los Angeles for four days to attend my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, so I was in charge of the cat, the dogs, and of course the chickens.
Looking after chickens, Chareva reminded me, is easy-peasy. No heavy lifting, nothing stressful. Just walk out back to the chicken yard once each afternoon with a bucket of water, make sure the feeder is full, pour some water into the pans, collect the eggs in the empty bucket. Nothing to it.
She was right. The first afternoon I went on chicken duty, I was in and out of there in an eyeblink. The second day was just as easy.
The third day was slightly more interesting. I’d just collected the eggs in the bucket and was ducking to exit the chicken coop when I heard a flapping noise and, from the corner of my eye, saw something bearing down on my leg.
It was the rooster, of course. I don’t know why he waited until the third day to attack. Perhaps he figured three consecutive days of pushing hens aside to collect their eggs had established me as a serial abuser and it was time to give me the ass-kicking I deserved.
I hadn’t expected a confrontation. We’ve had five or six roosters over the years, and only one of them was hyper-aggressive. That was the big, mean Andalusian Blue I called The Rapper. He never stopped strutting, he never shut up, he never gave the hens a moment’s rest, and he wanted to fight anything that came into the coop. (As you may recall, Chareva accidentally killed him when he attacked her and she whacked him with a clay pot.)
It seems to be an either/or situation with roosters. The Rapper was so friggin’ mean, we’d collect eggs using the buddy system: one person to collect eggs, another to keep The Rapper at bay with a rake. On the other hand, I don’t recall losing any chickens to predators when he was on patrol. I woke from a deep sleep one night because The Rapper was squawking so loudly, I wondered if he had a megaphone. He was probably letting a racoon know it would be a very bad idea to continue burrowing under the fence. The racoon apparently heeded the warning, because the chickens were all alive the next day.
Our other roosters have been relatively docile. Happy to chase the hens, sure, but not particularly aggressive. You know, nice guys … who got killed and eaten by raccoons. There’s probably a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not in a mood to articulate it.
I was under the impression that our current rooster fell into the Nice Guy category, but there he was, beating my leg with his wings. I find the whole bird-beating-your-leg experience off-putting, so I took a swing at him with my right hand. That hand happened to be holding a bucket full of eggs.
DOINK! Got him. He backed off. But he only retreated a couple of feet and then charged again. This time I gave him a little kick in the chest — not enough to cause any damage, but enough to convince him I wasn’t in the mood to be disciplined by a bird.
He kept his distance, so I left the chicken yard. When I looked in the bucket, I discovered that using it as a weapon had broken most of the eggs. Dangit. I poured them out and called it a day, at least as far as chicken chores.
The fourth day was the most interesting by far. It had rained all night and half of that day, so I took a big umbrella along in case of a sudden downpour. The ground was swampy and my shoes sank into the mud. When I let myself into the chicken yard, the rooster began trotting my way, already talking trash. I set down the bucket, waited for him to get close, then snapped open the umbrella in his face.
He yelled something like “HOLY @#$%, LOOK AT THE WINGSPAN ON THAT BIRD!” and ran away. Heh-heh-heh. That’ll teach you, ya stupid bird. Don’t mess with creatures with big brains and opposable thumbs.
I stopped congratulating myself on the big brain when I emerged from the chicken coop and saw that I hadn’t pulled the door to the chicken yard completely shut. Five hens were roaming around outside the yard.
Son of a ….
I left the yard, set down the bucket of eggs, and proceeded to make a spectacle of myself trying to chase down chickens who didn’t want to be caught. Easy-peasy, my foot. I slipped a few times while running after chickens on the muddy hillside. I uttered ancient curses known only to part-time chicken farmers. I tore a bit of skin on one finger, but have no memory of how exactly it happened.
Realizing (after consulting the big brain) that I was never going to get my actual hands on the runaway chickens, I looked around the garden area and found an empty milk crate. I have no idea what Chareva does with milk crates in the garden, but I was happy to have a makeshift net.
One by one, I managed to sneak up on four of the hens when they were particularly interested in pecking at something on the ground and drop the milk crate over them. Then I slid the umbrella underneath as a barrier. Then I carried each hen to the door of the chicken yard, slid it open with my foot, and released the hen inside.
The fifth hen should run in the Chicken Olympics if such an event is ever organized. She managed to sprint away each time I got within four feet of her. When she’d grown weary of taunting me by outracing me on the muddy ground, she took to flying and landing on the nets that cover the old chicken yard.
I finally went into that yard, sneaked up to a spot just below her (praying she wouldn’t choose this moment to make new chicken droppings), then gave her a bump with the milk crate. That convinced her sitting on the net was no longer safe, so she flew off, landed on the ground, then began running along the fence.
It was clear that she was now looking for a way back in to join the flock. I tried chasing her towards the door to the chicken yard, but each time she got within a few feet of it, she changed directions and ran off along the fence line again.
“Look, you stupid bird, you obviously want back in, and I’m trying to put you in!”
Yup, there I was, trying to explain to a chicken that she was being illogical. That’s nearly as pointless as trying to convince a Twitter-troll doctor that yes, dietitians list pancakes as “heart healthy” on hospital menus.
Since the chicken chores were supposed to be a brief break from my programming work, I considered just giving up and letting her take her chances outside the fence for the night. Nope, couldn’t bring myself to do it. She’d end up as a meal for a racoon or coyote. So I continued the muddy chase.
By this time, the other chickens had become agitated spectators. As the runaway chicken scurried along the fence outside the yard, looking for a new opening that didn’t exist, the other hens ran along and squawked encouragement. The rooster shadowed me on his side of the fence, mumbling something about “time’s up” and threatening to beat my legs again. The other hens eventually donned designer black dresses and denounced my behavior in angry speeches. Then they went back to pecking at the smallest, least attractive hen in the group.
Remembering the rooster’s reaction to the umbrella, I retrieved it from the ground where I’d dropped it and began using it to scare the runaway hen towards the door to the chicken yard. She careened away from the door at the last second, but made the mistake of running into the garden, which is fenced in on three sides.
Now I’ve got her …
Still using the umbrella, I scared her into a corner. She tried making a break for it as I got close, but I finally managed to plop the milk crate over her. I slid the umbrella underneath, carried her to the door, slid it open with my foot, and released her inside. She ran to the other chickens, who all began gossiping about the whole sorry incident.
I went inside, kicked off my muddy shoes and peeled off my muddy jeans. I looked in the bucket and saw that I’d been rewarded with a total of six eggs for the effort.
Like I’ve said before, sometimes farm work is chicken $#@% work. I’m looking forward to being fully healed from the surgery so I can spend my weekends dealing with tree stumps or other heavy things that can’t run.