Saturday, July 21, 2012
Of Poultry and Good Neighbors
If only the offenses hadn't been mounting. If only those feathered bug catchers had just kept their place on the farm. But, as it so often happens, they wanted more than their fair share of 12.8 acres of country bliss. And speaking frankly, should I really expect more self restraint from a chicken than even a human can achieve? Like humans, there were entitlement issues, boundary pushing, and nasty borrowing habits that apparently, they felt were worth the risk of expulsion. I mean, even in chickendom the motto seems to be: YOLO. (if you have no teenagers in your life, ask me to define)
First, it was the porches. If a chicken could read, I would have hung a sign, "This is not a toilet". But, to a chicken, the world is their toilet and there was no changing their minds about this. We are not a demanding lot, but this challenged us all. Once they began visiting the "powder room" attached to our house, they felt the flower pots would make a perfect spot to maintain their pest free chicken skin. Daily dusting in the pots and any newly cultivated and seeded soil was free game and the seeds were just a bonus. Since nothing could grow in the pots and the dirt was flung daily onto the porch, all hope of a flora filled entrance was abandoned before the petunias began to bloom. Even the cats were offended by their empty food dishes that were pecked completely clean in a flurry of feathers.
But there was the "relaxing" right? I mean the chickens were still at least good for an hour or two of evening viewing..and where can you find scratching and pecking on the Dish Network lineup anyhow? They were good for it, that is until they started going "visitin". Sometime earlier in the summer I would see them way out in the neighbor's field. Just scratching at the cow patties I thought, no harm to that and they always came home by dark. It wasn't until our neighbor came a visitin' that I realized that the land of the free range chicken was in serious jeopardy. No, it was all but done for.
Our neighbor and his wife are in the poultry business in earnest. There are 66,000 birds just across the field at any given time who are being expertly cared for, grown, and fattened for the culinary delight of thousands. They work very hard, very long, and very happily to provide for their families and for meat lovers everywhere. And when our tiny flock showed up one day for afternoon tea, our neighbors knew they had a dilemma on their hands. In the poultry business, there is no room for mixing flocks. This could be dangerous for both the large flock and our measly few, as new germs can devastate a flock. When he drove up in his white pick up truck, with his tiny blond haired daughter draped over his shoulder, I wondered what might be up? Once he had shown up like this when one of our chickens was hit in the road and he and his wife couldn't bare to leave it there. His wife had sent him back with instructions to deliver the injured hen to us. And this time, though the situation was much different, he yet again came with absolute kindness, sincerity, and patience, as he talked the situation over with me. He certainly didn't want to shoot each and every one of our feathered princesses on the ground that they stood gorging on. What could he do but appeal to our reason and sense of farming comradery. As his little girl dozed off on his shoulder, I assured him that we were on his side. It would take more than a backyard flock of chickens to come between us and our neighbors. Come sundown, it would be "Operation: Stop the Free Rangers".
That night we waited until dusk; crate in hand and hands ready to work. Our chickens roost in a small red barn and they were all cozy-ing in for the night. Perfect. I was at station A: the crate. Our two younger sons were given station B: the key job of catchers. Tim (Dad) was at station C: the point man watching for fleeing chickens running for freedom. One by one, we took them. One by one, they morphed from healthful, happy, free-ranging chickens to subdued birds in a secure cage.
You may think that this is a sad ending to a once lovely story, but I have to admit that when I heard the rooster crow this morning, I hid the smile on my face and muffled a vengeful snicker. I swept my porch clean, I imagined the flowers I would grow in the empty pots, and I put out a little cat food for good measure. I thought it funny how completely relaxed that I felt. ;)