Sunday, October 11, 2009
I Should Be Paying Attention
Every morning I let the chicken flock out of the pen so they can free range, eating insects, plants, lizards, and anything else good their investigations might uncover. Chickens are an industrious nation, and straightforward in all their dealings. They set excellent personal boundaries. If someone less intelligent, less attractive (or less in any way) gets too close, a well aimed peck restores social order immediately with no hard feelings.
Chickens expect to live according to their consideration for natural rhythms. At first light, they immediately begin their commerce. As the day fades, they slowly gather about their pen for final scratchings, then peacefully go to roost.
Friday afternoon I was leaving for an overnight trip and I needed to leave well before the chickens would be ready to roost. Without thinking, out of habit, I let them out of the pen Friday morning! I have tried before to herd those chickens into the pen early. It can be done, but it takes a lot of time and patience and a very long stick. Duke could be a big help, but apparently the shepherd genes he carries have never activated.
If I leave the pen open all night, not even the Duke can protect them from some silent predator that takes them as they sleep. It was imperative for me to close them in their pen before I left.
The local forecast was for a hard freeze Friday night. It was a good time to remove the old bedding out of the coop and replace it with fresh hay. It is a dusty job, not the worst one on the farm, but in case of mites, I went directly in for a hot shower and fresh clothes. I was worrying about the time it would take to herd the chickens out of the timber and into the pen. After the big round up, I would likely have to shower and change clothes again. I get poison ivy even in the dead of winter, and there is enough poison ivy in the timber to make my life miserable for months.
When I was ready to begin the chicken wrangling, I found, to my surprise, most of the chickens were already in the pen, busily scratching through the fresh hay on the ground around the coop. Some of the hens were going into the coop to inspect the space where they lay their eggs, I guess. Only Evil Roo and one of the young hens were not in the pen. I was flatly amazed. I have never seen them in that pen during the day, even if it is raining. They shelter with Duke on or under the front porch!
The entire flock had been scattered across the yard and by the creek when I had been working in their pen. I had no idea they had been aware of anything going on in their home space. Silly me. As soon as the dust settled, they apparently went to investigate the home invasion. Consequently, it only took me thirty seconds to get the little hen into the pen. Evil Roo was more of a challenge. As any good patriarch and warrior king, he would not abandon his flock, but he was not willing to give up his guerrilla advantage either. He finally agreed to enter the pen after I had skillfully herded him around the pen squawking and flapping (me, not him) for a good ten minutes.
I did not need another shower or another set of clean clothes. I had plenty of time and the chickens were safe. It just worked out because those chickens were paying attention.