Sometimes I get fed up with myself. I've always had a strong tendency to rush ahead and do things willy-nilly, not bothering to study up ahead of time on the right way, trusting that whatever the outcome, I can probably deal with it. This approach, as any sane person could tell you, doesn't work so well when it comes to farming. Every time we've brought home a new animal, we discovered that we were woefully unprepared. Our first chickens escaped our hastily constructed coop in five seconds flat and flew away, chicks and all. Our first goats jumped over our four foot fence with ease, running out onto the highway and nearly getting killed. Even our lovely, gentle fat ladies, who had no concept of what it means to be"free range," ran away and spent a couple of nights in the blackberries before slowly becoming incorporated into the flock.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Two of them never returned. Eaten by coyotes? Died of fear and dislocation? Scratching for bugs in China? Who knows?
Slowly, slowly, I began to overcome my natural intellectual slovenliness and basic inborn laziness and to educate myself. I learned how to put up an electric fence. I learned about goat vaccinations and chicken diseases and scoured the pasture for poisonous plants, which I memorized from a list I found online. I learned the correct way to introduce new chickens into an established flock, which is to put them quietly into the coop at night after everyone is asleep and just let them all wake up together.
Then I completely ignored all this new knowledge and kept doing things the old, haphazard way. Last night, we picked up the new chickens, five hens and two roosters, big lovely birds. We packed them into a dog crate and I left the crate in the van, waiting for Homero to come home and help me carry it into the coop. He got home around 8:00, which is still daylight this time of year, and was naturally exited to see the chickens. Instead of calmly explaining why we needed to wait until full dark, assuring him that he would be able to see them tomorrow, I let myself get all infected by his excitement and said "Okay! Kids, get your shoes on!" and we all trooped together out to the barn, where all the goats and chickens were wide awake. Somehow the crate got opened before the door to the barn got closed, and then there were chickens flying everywhere and goats jumping up and down and something hit Hope on the head and she started to scream and Rowan reached out and grabbed a flying rooster by the tailfeathers and they came off in her hand and then all the new chickens were running and flying away across the field and we were standing there with our mouths open and only a handful of gorgeous long green rooster feathers.
Somewhere out there, there is a naked rooster and a gaggle of very confused hens. Actually, we did manage to catch two of the hens and they are still with the flock this morning. I walked all over the property (not easy to do this time of year) with a handful of corn tortillas, which are like crack cocaine for chickens, and called "brrrrrrt, brrrrt," but didn't see a single feather. It probably didn't help that I had a herd of goats dogging my every step. They love tortillas too.
Past experience leads me to believe that probably most if not all of these chickens will return on their own after a day or two. When our first chickens disappeared and were out overnight, I assumed that they must be dead, that there were so many predators crawling around that a chicken didn't stand a chance out in the bush for even one night. But that doesn't seem to be the case. All told, my chickens have spent a collective month outside overnight, with only three fatalities, one of which was almost certainly inflicted by my own dog.
Either they'll come back or they won't. Either I'll learn to do things the right way or I won't. Either I'm smarter than a chicken or I'm not.