Thursday, April 5, 2012

Great Chicken Round-up

Being in the process of paring down for a move in the near future, I had given a cold, hard look at my chickens. I had a rooster and three laying hens, all Americanas. Pot Pie is he of the 6-inch spurs (too long because he never sharpens them on anybody. I'm not sure he knows what they are for except to prove his masculinity and to trip over.), the yellow hen is Jack, the gray hen is Bunny, and the black hen is Petrolla. Since I hadn't gotten any eggs in quite a few months, and I knew they were getting elderly, I figured that menopause had come and gone, and their egg-laying days were over. One more reason not to figure them in on the move. Thankfully I did not have to consider their fate at my hands, since they received an ivitation to the Yokohl Chicken Retirement Home at my sister's.

So this trip down seemed like a good opportunity to gather them up and take them down. As if in a last-ditch effort to stay in Northern California, the hens began a desperate program of egg-laying, but it was no use; my mind was made up. I had the second half of the plan all figured out. I would carve a spot out in the back of my truck amidst all the other crap, er, goods that I was foisting off on relatives, and I would tuck the chickens in two plastic pet carriers. A blue tarp would protect my nice carpet bedliner and camper shell from flying chicken manure that might escape from the bars of the cage windows.

I figured that part one of the plan would work itself out on the morning I had to leave.

Finally it was Wednesday morning and I had to put part one into action, which was to get my two kids to go out to the chicken pen and help me stare at it to figure out how to get the chickens into the pet carriers.

You may ask, why did she not put them in the carriers during the night when they might have been submissive? It was going to be a long trip, and I didn't know how long one could humanely leave them in there, and there is a limit to how many layers of newspaper you can put on the bottom of the carrier. There were two sections to the chicken pen: a house, and an outdoor run. The outdoor run was fashioned by leaning two livestock panels up like a teepee against the house opening, and blocking the end off with a short panel. The original idea was to let them out on the property for few hours in the evening to eat bugs and grass, and then hop back in the house for the night. But they stubbornly refused to accept the new location of their house (I'd hoped that moving them nearer to the horse manure pile would give them a hint of what I expected from them) and insisted upon roosting on top of the dog house and various trees. So I kept them shut up with their house and run-nette.

After staring at the chicken house, we all agreed that no one could crawl inside to grab chickens; it was too small. So we then stared at the run for awhile. Someone would have to crawl into it.

The run was on a 2ft by 5ft piece of ground that had been rained on for a week, and four chickens had been pooping on for several months. I thought about offering my son five dollars to crawl inside and grab chickens, but suspected that might have worked better on a kid who didn't have a real job. I knew I'd have to do it myself.

The plan was to lay an old blue tarp in the run, get them down to the end of it; I'd pull the whole run loose from the house, crawl inside and with a small plywood board, sort of squeeze them towards the end, where my daughter would be waiting with the end panel slightly ajar. When each chicken would be peacefully driven down to that end, saw the small hole, stuck her body through, she would grab it and stuff it into the carrier while my son manned the "gate."

So I got the tarp into position. I threw a handful of dry cat food, their favorite, onto the tarp to lure them onto it. By now, they were feelin' the tension and wouldn't come out of the house. So I went to the back door and persuaded them by poking them with a little stick. They went out, but I'd forgotten that they could go under the house in a crawlspace, which they did. So I got a board to slide across the run side of that area, and went back to the other side, moved a brick and used my persuader again. They all popped out and stood there sullenly looking at the tarp. Chickens are very suspicious. The hens wouldn't trust the tarp, but stretched their long necks out to eat all the cat food they could reach, and then waited. Finally Pot Pie led the way and they all followed and began pecking up the nuggets. Now we had to work fast, since I wasn't willing to fill up their crops with cat food and then take them on a long road trip.

I slithered inside the run with my small plywood board and began to put the pressure on. The chickens weren't nervous anymore; they were panicked, and expoded in a flurry of feathers and claws. One went around me, one took off my glasses, and I don't know what the rest did because I wasn't wearing my glasses. I began laying hands on chicken parts, trying to grab something more substantial than a handful of feathers. I got one, shoved it at my daughter, who popped it in a carrier. One down. Boards that we had propped up against openings were falling over faster than we could re-do them. Petrolla was edging back and forth along the chicken house, trying to decide whether to be loyal to her sisters or make a run for it. But the three of us slowly cornered her and took turns lunging at her until I captured her with my grasp, fueled by my greatest weapon, the fear that she would get really loose and lead us on a merry chase around the property while I should have been getting ready to go. Bunny succumbed likewise. Now there was only Pot Pie left.

All my boards were askew, the run was pulled loose, leaving a big opening for escape. He tried to go underneath; he tried to run around; he tried to go back in the house. The kids were trying to grasp in a semi-helpful fashion, but the truth is, if you aren't firmly committed to hanging on to an unwilling chicken, you'll never keep it. Squawking and flapping, Pot Pie was getting upset and trying to get back in the house. I reached in and grabbed the first thing I could get ahold of, which turned out to be his wing. I didn't want to be holding a wing while the rooster went running across the field, so I reached again and got a foot. I hauled him out, grasped the other foot and held him up. Upside down. He was instantly calm. So calm we thought he might have just died of a heart attack. But his eyes were still open, so we stuffed him in the carrier with Bunny.

Apparently they all made the trip successfully, and we set the carriers in the floor of their new home that night with the hatches open. They will now enjoy the freedoms of a country ranch and the company of other chickens. Pot Pie will find out how he stacks up against the other roosters, and the hens can lay or not, pecking grass and bugs all day.

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