Chickens have come to roost
October 28, 2016
The other day I noticed one of the gates on the ranch was latched differently. There are a number of different places the chain can be hooked on the gate as a result of different iterations of latches, posts and chains through the years.
But there is a range of "right" ways to latch it and some clearly wrong ways, and somebody had gone through and hooked the chain to the wrong thing. There are a couple of other people who have access up that road, and I didn't think a whole lot about it.
The next day, my niece announced that we had a flock of chickens in the barn. There have not been chickens there in my lifetime, but now we had a whole flock of them.
Putting two and two together, it was pretty obvious somebody had driven in and dumped their chickens in my barn. I have to assume the novelty of raising them had worn off. There are only so many times you can get pecked in the eye, scratched, or otherwise attacked before paying a $1.50 for a dozen eggs at the grocery store seems easier.
They will be very happy, right up to the point that they make some raccoon, fox, or bobcat even happier by providing them a good meal.
It's easy to picture that the kids were in school, and that getting up early to feed the chickens, collect their eggs and clean up their mess was just too much. I imagine the parents telling their children they would find a new home for the chickens, a place where they would be free-range and happy. They were trying to offset the sadness of giving up these not-too-affectionate pets by convincing the kids the chickens were going to be better off. Among all the possible places to ditch a load of chickens, they decided my barn looked about right.
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There are, or were, at least seven of them. Some of them were quite pretty, kind of exotic breeds. Some were sort of standard black chickens, and there was a red one, and a striking striped one. They seemed very happy roaming around the barn, pooping everywhere and looking for something to eat in the old hay on the floor.
This is not a barn where there is a lot of action. It's used for hay storage and not much else. It's wide open. Nobody is out there looking after chickens. The nearest water is about a quarter mile away, which I think is a pretty good hike for a chicken. There really isn't food out there. But the chickens aren't the smartest of God's creations, and they seemed completely satisfied with things. They will be very happy, right up to the point that they make some raccoon, fox, or bobcat even happier by providing them a good meal.
I have a neighbor who has a few chickens. I asked him if he wanted to try to rescue some of these before they went to the great stewpot in the sky. He was able to snag a couple of them with a fishing net, but the rest made a run for it. It turns out chickens are surprisingly fast and run in completely unpredictable directions.
At last count, there were still four of them in the barn. They are hard to find in a dark old barn, but they cluck disapprovingly whenever I go in there looking for them. They lodge sneak attacks, then retreat into the spaces behind the hay bales. I haven't seen any eggs yet, but between the disruption of their abandonment and the shorter daylight hours, they may have stopped laying.
They seemed to be a little more docile in the morning, so I tried to round them up. They clearly do not want to be rounded up. I had a pretty good line on netting the orange one in corner when a couple of the others came to its defense. They were as angry as Trump supporters and, without warning, flew out from underneath the flatbed trailer, awkwardly flying at my face with talons like eagles. While I was dodging the airborne, the ground forces ran to another corner of the barn, and one of them hit me over the head with a folding chair.
I'm willing to admit defeat when I see it. Sometimes you just can't help somebody who doesn't want to be helped. The rest of them will have to fend for themselves. Based on my efforts to catch them, I pity the bobcat that goes after them. They are not going down without a fight.
Between skirmishes with the chickens from hell, I voted. It had the same sort of satisfaction as dragging the garbage out to the curb after missing a week and the grilled salmon scraps having gone really bad — a really distasteful job, but necessary. And the garage smells better for it.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.