Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chickens: A Saga

So you may remember that a couple of weeks ago, Keith and I adopted three chickens: Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, and Doris Day. These hens had just begun to lay that same week (in fact, Doris gave us her very first egg the day after we adopted them). These girls are sweet, docile, accustomed to free-ranging but happy to sleep in their lovely coop at night. About 24 hours after they moved into our yard, Bette went missing, never to be seen again. Most likely a hawk got her. So no more free-ranging except under supervision. Lucy and Doris adjusted quickly; they enjoy free-ranging, but are happy to spend the days in their mobile run, and they've been contented, productive layers. They're also social and friendly, and if we want to pick them up, they'll squat down and put out their wings as if to help.

Well, of course we're not going to have a happy situation like that without throwing some mayhem into it.

We wanted a third chicken to replace Bette, but realized that a third hen would likely get bullied severely. It would be better for the balance, we reasoned, to get two. Plus Doris and Lucy, while terrific layers in the summer, are likely to fall off a bit on the egg production over the winter, so we decided to get a winter-hardy breed. Enter a lady on Craigslist selling pullets about the same age as our own, supposedly friendly and tame, and willing to deliver them to our house.

She showed up right on time, at 7:30 Monday morning, with a Rhode Island Red and a Silver-Laced Wyandotte. We turned them loose in the back yard to free-range with Doris and Lucy. The Rhode Island Red, while beautiful, has a bit of a mean bossy streak; we named her Jane Russell. The Wyandotte (who is actually black and white patterned, not silver as the breed name implies) reminded Keith of Lana Turner somehow. It turned out to be an excellent name as the original Lana Turner was known for skipping out of school when she was younger.

About 10 minutes after the new girls moved in, we decided to move them to the run, and then the fun started. Jane and Lana are NOT tame - and boy, could they fly. We spent almost a half-hour chasing them all around the yard, and it must have looked like something out of a Marx Bros. film. At one point Keith went to the garage for a length of strawberry netting, which we stretched across the path once we got the girls cornered. Jane ran for it first - straight into the netting. Aha! And then she ducked under it and ran off on her own. We let her go and focused on Lana, who watched us carefully as we moved in with the net. Just when we thought we had her, she simply flew over the net and took off. Eventually it ended in Keith catching Jane behind our shed, while Lana hopped over the fence into the neighbors' yard.

It was too early to go next door to retrieve her. So we waited a little while, and then I sheepishly went next door and explained the situation. Our neighbors have their own three chickens (and a baby), so the neighbor lady was kind enough to let me in. Unfortunately, by then Lana was gone. Most of the neighbors have dogs, so we all wrote her off as gone and grumbled about the expense all day. (Not that she was expensive, but still.)

Well, the day went on, dusk came, and it was time to put the girls up for the night. Jane was settling in pretty well, but she gave Keith the slip and embarked upon another Great Escape around the yard. We chased her around for awhile, again breaking out the strawberry netting to no use, and eventually Keith nabbed her behind the shed again. Cursing her name and vowing to clip her wings in the morning, we came back inside for the evening.

A little while later, I happened to be petting Davey, our boykitten, in a windowsill when I saw our neighbor hurrying up the driveway. "Hi," I called through the window.

"Your chicken's in our backyard!" he said excitedly. "The silver one! She's here! Come get her!"

I yelled for Keith to come help and went barrel-assing out the door. Sure enough, there was our truant Lana, roosting in a tree. The neighbors watched with interest (and, I'm sure, giggles) as we chased this wayward chicken all over the tree, and finally brought a ladder. The neighbor-lady and I held the ladder for Keith and finally, at long last, he was able to grab Lana's feet. She shrieked and shrieked like a chicken possessed, which set the neighbors' chickens into their own chaotic squealing, and with many thanks and apologies and promises of a big chicken dinner, we took our leave from the neighbors' yard and tossed Lana in our own coop. Our other chickens gave her a surprised look as if to say, "Where the hell have YOU been?"

High-five. But oh, it's not over yet. These ninnies can still fly, and Keith's spending the week in Los Angeles. I'm not chasing them all over the yard alone.

We had breakfast about 4:30 this morning, since Keith planned to hit the road early. About 5, we realized that the dark pre-dawn might have a pacifying effect on our girls, so he sharpened the scissors and we slipped out into the dewy quiet. He caught Lana first. She yelped for a moment, but the dark did seem to calm her down, and by the light of the porch bulb I cut the flight feathers of one wing down. Way down. No way that bird can fly now. In the process I snipped into my own finger, necessitating a wash-and-bandaid break and much marveling over the copious amounts of blood I was flinging all over the porch and the sink. Once I was bandaged, Keith managed to catch Jane (who was by then hiding at the back of the coop), covering himself with pine shavings and shed feathers. Jane's wing-clipping went without incident and she's now bereft of flight as well.

He changed his shirt and left for L.A., and once the sun was up I transferred all four girls into the run myself without major incident. Doris and Lucy, as if to remind us what superior hens they are, even greeted me with an egg apiece - a pleasant surprise, as they usually don't lay until late afternoon. So I suppose I can say we met the challenge and emerged as Conquerors of the Chickens, and though blood was shed no real harm was done. Here's to a swift taming of Jane Russell and Lana Turner, who always could stand to learn a few things from Doris Day.

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