Friday, March 24, 2006

chicken herding

I had a plan.

This is one I’ve been thinking about for weeks and weeks and weeks.

How do I move the birds? How do I move 150 chickens that have been pretty much doing as they please in the field in front of the house.

How do I move them out of that field and down the road.

Knowing. Knowing that chickens do not herd. Chickens are the rugged individualist of the domesticated birds.

They don’t listen to instructions.

They don’t follow the leader.

In short, they do not have a very high cooperation quotent.

This is opposed to turkeys and geese. These are species that say, ‘give me a leader and I will follow them anywhere.’

So, here was the plan.

We spent the last week building a new, improved, high tech, stylish, chicken house on wheels. A structure known in the trade as a chicken tractor.

Unlike our last chicken house, this one had a door that actually opened and closed. There were no openings where wayward chickens could steal out and in without the owner’s (mine) permission.

The theory being, if I could get all of the chickens into the chicken tractor, I could close the door, hook this thing up to the truck and drive it over to the new field.

When I opened the door in the morning the chickens would find themselves in a new location with an electric fence keeping them from making the long hike back to where they had been.

A good plan.

At least I thought so.

So, the night before the move I went out to the new chicken house and looked inside. It was mostly empty. Maybe 50 or so chickens inside but definitely not the entire flock.

I looked around. “Where had all the chickens gone?’

I walked around the chicken tractor twice and then I heard them.

Underneith their new home.

I got down on all fours and looked. There they were. Something like 60 chickens squeezed into the little space between the tractor’s floor and the ground.

This wasn't going to work. In the morning these chickens would not be inside the tractor. They would be out running around and there would be no moving them to their new home.

Luckily chickens, after dark. don’t do much running around, though.

So I spent the next hour and a half crawling under the tractor, grabbing a chicken or two by the legs and hauling them out, throwing them inside their new home and slamming the door shut before they could escape.

Over and over again.

And since I’ve mentioned the chicken tractor door, let me tell you a little background.

The door I used was this neat, expensive greenhouse door. Complete with special hinges and handles and latches.

My brother-in-law put the door on.

And when he finished he handed me a metal hook and said.

”I have this left over. I don’t know where it goes.”

It looked like some sort of hook that kept the door shut when you closed it.

I opened and closed the door several times. It opened and closed just fine. Latching each time. The hook looked like a device that would keep the door, after it was closed, shut. It would keep it closed when bumped.

I opened the door and shut it several more times. The door seemed to close just fine. it also looked like a lot of trouble to take off the door to put on the forgotten metal hook.

“I guess this is fine.” and went back to finishing up with the chicken tractor.

Now, here I am, squirming on my belly under the chicken tractor, sort of like squirming under a car, grabbing a chicken by the leg, squirming back out dragging the screaming chicken behind me, the entire time she’s kicking and pecking and hollering.

Get out from under the hen house dragging the ckicken, go around to the door, open it, throw in the bird, slam the door shut, and repeat the entire process again.

Over and over again until all 60 birds had been caught, dragged and thrown in the hen house.

By this time I was pretty much covered with the materials that chickens leave behind whereever they go.

But, I was finished, and when I looked at my work I saw that it was good. In the morning I’d come back out, the chickens would be locked inside.

I would come out, hook up the truck to the hitch, drive over to the new pasture, put the fence in place and open the door.

Great plan, one that was still on track.

And when I got up in the morning. Everything was still hunky dory.

No chickens running around loose.

All the chickens inside the tractor. I opened up the door just to be sure and there they were. Up on their roosts, in the nest boxes, standing by the door waiting to be let out.

I closed the door and went around the other end, backed up the truck, Alined the hitch with the ball on the truck.

Got it alined, only, only the end of the chicken tractor was about a foot lower than the back of the truck.

In other words, somehow I had to lift up the end of the chicken tractor about a foot so I could attach it to the truck.

Hmmmm.

Get the tractor, the farm tractor, I thought, use the bucket on the front end to lift the chicken house up until it fit on the truck hitch and then drop it down.

Presto.

I went over, got the tractor, started it up, drove it over to the hen house, Put the bucket in place, slowly lifted up the front of the chicken house, got the hitch right over the ball on back of the truck and dropped it.

Plunk. Right in place. The chicken tractor was hooked up to the truck. I looked around, backed up the tractor to get it out of the way. Got down, and that. Everything is going pretty good.

Only, only that’s when I saw them.

Chickens, all of them. Running everywhere. Free.

And the door, the door to the back of the chicken tractor. it was wide open. When I dropped the tractor on the hitch it had bounced and sprung and the chickens were free.

All of that work. And the 60 chickens, along with the one’s who had cooperated. All of them were out of the house and running around, looking for a morning meal.

The next entree will describe getting them back inside and over to the new field. Along with how easy it is to march turkeys and geese off to anywhere. The butcher, over a cliff. And they will cooperate.

Unlike chickens.

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