I have thought from time to time that I would like to keep a few chickens. Fresh eggs are far more enjoyable and healthier than those at the grocery store. I have a charming picture in my head of several hens clucking about the yard keeping the bug population in check and providing the main ingredient for an omelet. My wife is vehemently opposed to idea. It may be her irrational fear of all birds, but I’m not sure.
We recently had the opportunity to care for a neighbor’s chickens. They had to move, and their home was for sale. They intended that the chickens would go with the house when it sold. Our job was to put the chickens in the coop at night and let them into the yard in the morning. We also had to make sure they had plenty of food and fresh water and collected any eggs. On our first evening, my wife said, “Have fun, I‘m not going.”
I strolled across the street with our 4 year old daughter, Deleya, and 9 year old son, Logan. We stopped briefly in the middle of the road so Deleya could inspect a water snake that had been run over. She was alternately horrified and fascinated. The six chickens greeted us at the gate. They clucked, happily I believe, as we slipped into the yard. Two tried to squeeze out the gate before we could get it closed. I could tell they were the trouble makers. I glimpsed inappropriate tattoos beneath their feathers, and one clutched a matchstick in its beak. She kind of cocked her head at me with a look of derision.
Keeping an eye on those two, I surveyed the back yard. It was pretty much a sea of feathers and chicken poop as far as the eye could see. (Not quite as charming as the picture in my head.) Deleya began gathering feathers at once “to take home to mom. “ She would be thrilled. Logan and I walked toward the chicken coop expecting the chickens to follow us. They did not. Instead they all went up on the back porch and began roosting on the railing.
I call in backup
After thirty unsuccessful minutes of chicken herding, only one had actually been inside the coop. She snuck in to get a drink, when I wasn’t looking, and then went behind the coop for a smoke. The other five were cackling at me from the porch railing. I was breathless from doing the chicken dance in hopes they would follow me into the enclosure. Deleya was skipping with a fist full of feathers, and Logan was standing by the gate pretending he didn’t know us.
I said, “We’d better get mom.”
Logan told me that she was afraid of birds and probably wouldn’t be any help. I explained that she was smarter than I was and would at least have an idea how to get the chickens in for the night. The words tasted bitter in my mouth, but I had run out of options.
Jenn marched across the street with an air of command. “You three walk slowly in a line behind the chickens.” she growled. We said we would, and Logan actually saluted her. She strode over to a yard shed where the chicken food and “scratch” were kept. She shook a plastic scoop of corn and other goodies that made up the “scratch”. (Chicken scratch apparently refers to a treat for chickens that they peck off the ground and not illegible handwriting. Although I did notice some chicken scratch graffiti on the back of the coop.) The hens all perked up and started trotting toward Jenn and the chicken coop. One spat out her match stick and rushed to the head of the group, jostling for position. All six strutted through the opening and Jenn shut the door behind them.
Lessons are learned
While I rested, recovering from “the chicken ordeal”, I asked my wife how she knew what would get the chickens into the coop. “It’s a woman thing: we use what you want to get a desired result. To get the kids to the dinner table, I just take a package of Oreos out of the cupboard. They can hear the wrapper crinkle from outside. If I want something from you, I just make gravy; you become putty in my hands.” I had to agree, nothing says “I love you” like a steaming gravy boat.
I have learned several valuable lessons from caring for the neighbors chickens. First; chickens in the “hood” are likely to form adolescent gangs. They are disrespectful of authority and personal property. They are apt to peck at your ankles when you are trying to fill their water and have terrible penmanship.
Second; people can overcome their fears. Deleya wanted to find the water snake in the road every day, so she could jump over it. (Unfortunately she is not afraid of teenage drivers, as I am, and likes to converse with the snake for a few moments, traffic notwithstanding.) Also, Jenn was able to overcome her fear of all birds in order to, once again, prove her intellectual superiority.
Third; I now know that homemade gravy with dinner is not “just because”. It usually requires a private performance of the chicken dance.
Gangster, egg-hiding, chicken-scratching poultry may suck…but Idaho does not.