I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks trying to outsmart a clever flock of backyard chickens.
I did not succeed.
Humans have a long history of dominating these little creatures. We eat their eggs and eat them. We live longer, eat more interesting food, live more interesting lives, use languages, create science and art. So one could say that we are the superior species and I’m happy to report that in the end my will has prevailed.
But let’s back up.
The last two weeks have been very, very busy.
I work at home, which is great. I love it and I’m not complaining.
That said, I publish a paper 52 weeks a year and vacations are few and far between.
Two weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to take an eight day trip to Seattle. While there was some work involved, and two days of training — most of the time was spent enjoying ourselves and visiting with family.
However, on the plane, I listened to a very awesome book called Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time …
I was inspired. When I got home, I subscribed to a software service called Scrumdo.com. The system is designed for software developers. I’m not that — but I’ve applied the method to my own brand of madness, using it as a kind of ‘to do’ list and have, well, gotten a lot done…
I’ve done stuff around the house, accomplished tasks for the business, attended networking events, made progress on the writing of a screenplay, participated in a training and development program, and other stuff…
And I’ve also spent a lot of time dealing with something I was not planning on doing — trying to outthink a chicken!
It’s been a grand experiment, an adventure.
Over the winter, our older, retired birds (who had not been laying eggs for some time) got even older, and died.
In the past, we got chickens when they were young — a few months old.
This time, I went with my daughter and her friend to Tractor Supply and picked out a shoebox full of iddy biddies — one day old chicks.
Alicia and I have been busily obsessed with the raising of these birds, and they have thrived.
At first, they pecked and chirped under a warming lamp in the house, then on the porch, and finally in the henhouse (with an extension cord and light to keep them warm). Next came warmer weather — no more lamp.
Finally, the day came when it was time to let them free range. We let them loose.
Such freedom. They were a joy to watch. It was fascinating to see them stick together. If one chick decided to dart across the yard and explore the area underneath a bush, the others scurried to join her. They were a tightly knit group — funny, adventurous, and entertaining.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, the summer heat kicked in abruptly, early, and with a vengeance. The temps reached the upper 90’s and that’s where we’ve been each day.
One night, after sundown, when I went to close the door of the hen pen, they were not inside.
Moments later, I found them, high up in a tree (actually a large holly bush), enjoying the night air.
The next morning, they were eager to get back inside for food and water.
We punished them by leaving them inside for a week — a time of retraining.
The idea is that these chickens live in the hen house, lay eggs in the morning, free range and eat bugs in the yard during the afternoon, and return to their pen at night, so they’re in their proper place to lay eggs in the morning for our breakfast.
They are due to start laying in three weeks, and we need the routine in place NOW.
During their week in the hole, I replaced the door with a screen, and then upgraded to a shutter window, for ventilation.
Again, we let them free range.
I’ll spare you the drama, but after they spent that night in the tree (all together) getting them back in the henhouse was not as easy.
I ask you. How do they get to a height of 10 or 15 feet in a tree?
My assumption was that they flew there.
So we sentenced them to another week of captivity and then clipped their wings. It’s a two person job. I held the chicken and fanned out the wing while Alicia administered the feather cutting.
We’ve done this before, with past chickens, to keep them from flying over the fence. It does not hurt the chicken. It’s like a haircut. You only clip the feathers on one side. That way they can still fly — but they’re off balance and fly in a circle and can’t go high enough to jump a fence or, presumably, reach the upper branches of a large holly bush.
Last night, just before dusk, we gave these clipped fowl a few minutes of freedom.
My theory was this: During their week of incarceration, they had probably forgotten about the tree, and if even if they remembered it, it was already late in the day. They didn’t have time for a lot of exploring. They would stay close, and go to bed in their proper place at night.
And even if they did not feel the time crunch and wanted to try the tree shenanigans again, they would be hindered by their lack of balance.
I should have known. The past clippings never stopped them from jumping a fence.
They slept in the tree.
I spent much of today trying to coax them back into the henhouse.
They certainly remembered the clipping and took it personally. They held it against me. They were aloof. They kept their distance.
I gave them treats of pineapple and banana. I shook the can of cracked corn (Pavlov’s discovery is pretty obvious when you shake a can of cracked corn near a group of chickens. They will come running for it).
The plan was to befriend and outsmart them. I’ve done it before. Lure them home, into the pen, and then come up with another plan.
They spent the day ignoring me and my treats.
They would eat the treats, but not the way I had in mind. I would throw out some corn and they would act oblivious, like they didn’t care. Then, when I walked away and looked back from a distance, they would enjoy the treats.
Manipulation, domination, and trickery did not work.
This evening, at dusk, I stood at attention, daring them to fly into the tree — and I got to see it. They weren’t flying into the tree. They jumped, one limb at a time — up, up, and up.
A couple of them (such good girls!) actually went to bed in their pen.
A couple of them roosted on branches I could reach. After dark, I grabbed them and put them to bed.
When it’s dark, a chicken is nearly blind and completely vulnerable (which is one of the reasons I don’t want them in the trees — for their own safety!).
Tonight, with Alicia shining a flashlight up into the tree, I was the one who was perched — perched atop a stepladder and still unable to reach these girls. So I bent the branches until I could grab a sleeping chicken’s foot and wrestle it off it’s comfy branch.
With one, rather than falling off a ladder, I had to pry its leg from the limb and drop it to the ground and chase it around the yard.
Like I said, a chicken is nearly blind in the dark — so while it wasn’t easy, I did have the vision advantage and finally chased it into the darkest of shadows and grabbed it.
Now they’re all in, where they are safe and have a modest sized run. It’s time for plan B, whatever that is.
So for the past two weeks, that’s my life. The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time… and spending that extra time trying to outsmart a chicken.