It’s Wednesday, and I have a plan. But, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Or, in this case, chickens.
So here’s what’s on my agenda – teach a class, go to work, pick up the kids from school, stop at home and start a batch of bread, let the kids grab a snack, head off to Em’s reading lesson, come back home, get the dough in a pan for its second rise, make dinner, bake bread, clean up, finish Madeline’s Halloween costume, watch a little TV, go to bed. It’s an excellent plan.
My morning class goes well. So far, so good. I go into work early to get a head start on the day, but then I look at the schedule and it’s just me (the pharmacist) and one technician until 1:00. That’s not good. Like, really not good. With vaccines scheduled every 5-10 minutes, it’s physically impossible to both vaccinate and fill prescriptions. Thankfully, another pharmacist can come in for a few hours to help me out. Even so, it’s hectic. Is it really so difficult to be kind when you can see people are struggling just to keep their heads above water? We’re not trying to make you late for whatever you need to get to, but we ARE trying to avoid making a mistake that will kill you.
I pick up the kids from school, and as we’re driving away Emmett informs me that he forgot his hat and his lunch bag at school. Great. Minor hiccup, it’s fine, we’ll get them tomorrow.
We arrive back home to see that the kids’ Halloween pumpkins have been knocked off the porch. Emmett is distraught, and on the verge of tears. Thankfully nothing was damaged by the fall, but it takes a bit of searching to find the lids and candles in the yard. I get my bread dough going.
After some coaxing, I manage to get the kids ready to go to reading class. We’re running late because Emmett wanted to keep playing his video game, but that’s fine. We’ll only be a couple of minutes late. On our way to the car, a police officer pulls up and gets out of her car.
“Did you lose a chicken?”
“….. uh … I didn’t think so?”
“I’ve got one in the car. I’ll bring it out and you can see if it’s yours.”
I look in the pet carrier, and sure enough, it’s my best hen. “Best” in the sense that she’s the only one who’s even remotely friendly (the others aren’t mean, but they’re very aware that I’m not opposed to eating them).
“She was found a couple of blocks away. She followed someone into their house.”
I don’t even know how to respond to that. I think I just stared at her with my mouth open like a fish as I contemplated how one of my chickens could have wound up in someone’s house a several blocks away. I keep my hens in the back yard, and they have a super secure chicken coop with locks on all the doors. I just finished redoing their run to make it more secure (it took forever) and I was sure there was no way a chicken could get out. For those of you not versed in chicken vocab, a “run” is a fenced in area where they’re allowed to roam. Their roaming area is penned off with 7′ high deer fencing (a super strong net designed to keep deer out of your garden) that’s attached to the ground with stakes and to the trees with zip ties. How could they get out?
“Mom, look! A chicken!” I think she’s talking about the one I’m holding, but then I see it. Staring at me, not 5 feet away, her head cocked to one side as if she’s confused about what I’m doing out here, is a chicken. I’m already holding a chicken, so I tell the kids to back up slowly so they don’t startle her, and I run to the back to put the chicken I’m holding back into the pen.
I run back to the front yard, and the chicken is still there. Madeline is jumping around like a crazy person, and it starts to back away. I tell Madeline to get in the car with her brother; I need to catch this chicken quick so we can get to reading class.
The chicken has decided that she’s not interested in being caught. She’s made her way over some rocks, down a steep incline into the wooded area next to our house, and I try to follow her (we don’t own it, and neither do our neighbors, so I’m free to traipse through). I’m getting nowhere with this. She’s managed to find a spot that I can’t reach, and settles in for a nice roost. I make a quick phone call to tell his teacher that we’ll be late for his reading lesson.
I go back inside and grab a beef stick to lure the chicken out of her hiding spot. I make my way back down the slope, and try not to loose my footing on the slippery rocks and loam. I manage to find a big stick, and I poke the chicken with it. I’m swearing at the chicken with reckless abandon. She finally starts to move up the narrow escarpment, giving me angry clucks for disturbing her. I find a safer area to climb up where I can still see her. She’s back on our lawn, and there’s no beef stick. Madeline comes running, and the chicken starts to turn around.
“Madeline! Where’s the beef stick?!?!”
“What the fuuuuuu… Madeline!!! That was to keep the chicken up here so I can catch her!!”
*throws chips at me* ……. I don’t know why she thought that showering me with Dorito fragments would appease me, but I’m now slightly worried that my face may be turning purple.
After way too much effort, I manage to coax this mother fucking bird into following me, but she’s wary. I think I can get her into the garage, so I give it a go. Madeline is in the front seat of the car because of course she is, so I tell her to close the garage door when the chicken gets in. I’ve finally got her cornered. I caught her! Success!
I bring her back to the pen, and put her in with the others. I do a quick count, and there are … 5? That can’t be right. I open up the coop to search for the others, but to no avail. I’m missing 5 chickens. God damnit.
We were supposed to be at reading class a half hour ago. I call them to say that we won’t be able to make it. Our back “yard” is a jungle. They could be anywhere. And the two I just put back weren’t even in the yard. I’m at a bit of a loss, and don’t even know where to start looking. I tell the kids to get out of the car and go inside. Play, watch TV, I don’t care. This is going to take a while.
I find another one hiding out in that same rocky wooded area on the right side of our house, so I go through the whole rigmarole again. She was apparently watching while I captured her friend, and she wasn’t falling for it again. I manage to get her over to the left side of the house (the side with the gate leading into the back yard), but she decides to take another left and check out the neighbor’s side of the fence. I can’t even get over there, because the trees and forest debris are so dense. I try to come at her from my side of the fence. Maybe I can shoo her back toward the gate and get her in here. I can barely reach the fence through the mess of fallen trees and shrubbery, but I manage to poke her with a stick. She just backs up a few inches so I can’t reach her again with the stick. I say “fuck it” and walk away. She knows where I am, she can come when she’s ready.
I go back to their pen, and try to figure out how they all got out. I hear a car honking its horn, which is annoying. But it’s coming from really close. It’s my car. Why!?!! I run back to the front, and Madeline has the car turned on (the lights and radio, not the engine), the hazard lights are on, the brights are on, she’s honking the horn, music is blasting, and she’s eating another bag of chips. I suddenly know how volcanos feel right before an eruption.
I forcibly remove this child from my vehicle, turn everything off, and tell her to get her ass back in the house. Her chip bag is now empty, and I tell her that she can play or watch TV or whatever, but she’s done snacking. Emmett pokes his head out the front door and asks if he can have a snack. He hasn’t had one yet, so sure. Whatever. Go for it.
I head back into the yard, and see that the deer fencing has been ripped out of the zip ties on one of the trees, and is practically on the ground. That’ll do it. I attach it back to the tree in multiple spots for added security. Okay, we’re good. I hear Emmett scream crying. Did he crack his head open? A broken arm? Surely he’s severely wounded in some way.
No. Madeline is back in the car, and she has stolen Emmett’s snack. He’s sobbing hysterically, which seems excessive, but he can be an emotional child. She’s already eaten all of his snack. I’m ready to reign violence down upon this girl, but Emmett is already sad enough so I keep my shit together and summon the angriest mom eyes I can muster. It’s not difficult. Emmett gets a new snack, and Madeline gets threatened with a lifetime in solitary confinement if she doesn’t get back inside. She’s banned from all food until dinner.
I go back to the fence, and see that the netting has actually ripped through a lot of zip ties. What even happened here? I get a big roll of twisty ties, because I’m all out of zip ties. I make repairs where I can. I see another chicken. This one looks wily. I slowly make my way behind the bird, making sure to not make eye contact. I don’t think I can catch this one, because I have nowhere to corner it.
I’m slowly walking around the chicken pen, letting the chicken lead the way, and trying to keep it walking along the fence. If we can make it to the end of the fence, I can corner it where the fence meets the coop. Madeline bursts onto the scene shouting “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” The chicken realizes it’s being stalked and takes off in the opposite direction.
I’m about ready to lie face down in the dirt and stay there until nightfall.
Chasing this chicken is getting me nowhere. I’m just making it run farther away. Instead, I go to the fence “door” (the spot where I can get in and out) and open it. I tell Madeline to make herself useful, because she’s clearly going to ignore every order to go inside and behave herself. Her job is to stay at the entrance, make sure the chickens already inside don’t get out, and if another chicken comes close she should stand still and let it walk inside. Sometimes they just want to come home on their own terms.
The rogue chicken is in sight again. I figure I’ll try ignoring it, and see if it walks in on its own. Madeline starts shouting and pointing “THERE IT IS!!” After another reminder that her job is to stand there quietly and make sure chickens don’t escape, the bird starts to slowly make its way toward the entrance. We’re getting there! I start to walk behind it again, just to make sure it doesn’t change its mind and turn around. She’s on to me, and decides that she doesn’t want to play this game.
Change of plans. I’ll turn around. She clearly doesn’t want an audience. Madeline says “Hey, Mom! I’m in the chicken cage!” and yes, she is indeed in the pen, at the end farthest away from the entrance, and I can see a couple of curious hens inching toward the exit. I ask her how it’s even remotely helpful for her to be inside the pen when she’s supposed to be guarding the exit. She seems confused by the question. I feel like I’m in that Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene with the dad talking to his son’s guards in the tower:
“You stay here, and make sure the chickens don’t leave the pen.”
“Right. I don’t need to do anything apart from just stop them entering the pen.”
“LEAVING the pen.”
“Leaving the pen, yes.”
“Oh, if, if, uhhh, if uh…. if they…”
“Look, it’s quite simple. You just stay here, and make sure they don’t leave. Alright?”
“Oh, I remember, can they leave the pen with me?”
“No, you just keep them in here, and…”
“Oh, yes, I’ll keep them in here, obviously. But if they had to leave and I was with them…”
“No, just keep them in here until I come back”
“Right. I’ll stay here until you get back.”
“And make sure they don’t leave.”
I decide that nothing about this is going to work, so I close up the exit and tell Madeline, with my head in my hands, to please just leave and clean her room or something. Obviously she won’t, but I can dream, right? I keep checking the zip ties, and make repairs as I see them.
The chicken is back, but I don’t even care anymore. There are 5 chickens in the pen. No, wait, I’m counting 6. What? And now, as I’m watching this god damn bird walking toward the side of the pen, it just walks through the fence. Oh my effing god. I have 7 now, but WTF just happened?
I go over to the part of the fence where a chicken just Houdinied her way in, and, sure as shit, there is a hole in this fence so big that I could walk through it. As I’m patching up this hole, another hen somehow appears in the pen. At this point, it’s around 5:00, and I’ve just about had it. I’ve gone around the entire fence and patched half a dozen big holes. Chickens didn’t do this – it must have been a predator of some kind. Raccoon? Opossum? Fox? Coyote? Chupacabra? Whatever it was, it tore this fence up bad.
It’s now 5:30, I’m done making repairs, 8 out of 10 chickens are locked in the coop, and the other 2 are nowhere to be found. I’m done. I’m not even emotionally attached to these birds. They don’t have names, I don’t even remember what they all look like. But this day has been a little too much. I decide to skip making dinner, and we order a pizza instead. I spend some time lying on the floor of a dark room and trying to pull myself together. I do, eventually, remember to bake the bread, and I finish Madeline’s costume, so the day’s not a complete loss.
That was Wednesday. It’s Friday now, and I’ve been working on building another fence outside the current fence with T-bars and heavy gauge chicken wire. It’s been raining, so it’s slow going. I’m about half way done, and I’m hoping it dries out enough over the weekend to keep working on it. I think the 2 I lost have probably been eaten, but I can’t say for sure. I might wake up one morning to find them clucking at me to let them back in the coop. It wasn’t a great day, but it’s kind of funny now in retrospect.