“Do you sit for chickens?” was the question posed by a dog trainer friend of mine via email. “Why not? What’s involved?” Seemed an uncomplicated assignment so I accepted.
Before I knew it I was being brought out to the chicken’s wire enclosed pen in the backyard. I scooted under the deactivated electric fence and a chicken was presented to me. I was told to go ahead and pet it. Wow. “Such soft fur” I praised. “They’re feathers, not fur” my friend corrected! Oh yeah. Duh!
Once acclimated in the house on the first day, I went out to visit the chickens, checked out the bright red tractor in the garage, got to know the cat and settled in for a simple week. Instructions were to feed the cat and then let the chickens out of the coop and into the pen in the morning and give them one cup of chicken “snack” which was comprised of sunflower seeds, raisins and some other grains. Make sure they had food in the treadle and water. Then, at some time in the day, let the chickens out of the pen to free range around the yard, keeping an eye on them to make sure no hawks flew overhead and snatched one. After an hour or two, call “Here chickie, chickie, chickie” and shake the snack container at which they point they’d all come running get back in the pen. At dusk, they would “put themselves to bed” in the coop. Finally, I was to collect the eggs in the late afternoon.
All was going well as I sat on the denim couch typing on my iPad with cat resting on my legs, looking up occasionally, watching the chickens hunt for bugs around the little abandoned plastic playhouse, going in and out of the open red door and under the pink slide, hopping through the holes meant for children to climb. Then, wait, a movement, OMG–an actual, live, red fox was approaching the chickens! I sprang off the couch banged on the window, raced out the back door in my pajamas and slippers, screaming at the hunter who now had a prize in his mouth! “Get Out” I hollered waving my arms and running towards the animal, scaring him enough that he dropped the prize and jumped over the fence, disappearing into the woods. Adrenaline pumping, I followed the screeching chickens, feathers were everywhere! Tears in my eyes as I ran down to the pen, deactivated the electric fence and walked in among the chickens.
One, two, three… etc. all five accounted for. Sigh of relief. Then I tried to examine the fox’s almost prize. The black and white feathers were slightly ruffled due to frantic scurrying around, but she looked uninjured. Another sigh of relief. But my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. Near tears, I called my friend and told her what happened. I told her the fox had jumped out, not gone under the fence, so there must be an opening.
I toured the whole enclosure and discovered multiple spots where the mesh fencing was pulled away from the bottom electrified fence. I spent an hour fixing the gaps. I also looked for holes dug on the ground, and secured anything suspicious with heavy rocks and tree branches to block places where mesh could potentially be moved. A neighbor came to help and said there was a disconnected coil in the electric fence, so despite the fact that the box was turned on and the light was green and there was a clicking sound, the fence was not electrified. He fixed the problem and showed me how to make sure it didn’t come undone again. I was reminded to check myself for ticks! Oh the pleasures of the country lifes…
Who would have thought that a “fox in the henhouse” would actually be true!? For the next week I watched the chickens “like a hawk”. Then one morning, I actually saw a hawk circling and went out to flap my arms around to make sure he knew someone was watching over those tasty chickens. “Mama Hen” I’d become.
For the next five days I spent every morning on the couch, watching out the window until the sun was higher in the sky and early morning predators go back into hiding. Every morning I was a nervous wreck waiting for another predator to arrive. The squirrels and birds darting around made me jump. And, later in the day, when I only counted 4 chickens, I’d panic until I remembered that the chickens go in the coop to lay eggs.
Normally, when I stand by the pen and call for the chicks and shake their snack they all come running at breakneck speed and practically skid into the pen! Whooo Hooo–fun to watch. Day at the races. One day the chickens didn’t all come when I called. Three came, two didn’t–they were too happy taking dirt baths in the front yard flower bed. I had 3 chickens back in the pen and gave them their reward–raisins. Then I spent 20 minutes shooing the other guys, playing ring-around-the-rosey with a bush, to get them back to the pen. Who says this job is easy?
I have renewed admiration for the farmers out there, for teachers that have to watch entire classrooms of students and for the parents that herd and protect children for 18 plus years!
Fern Pessin is Chief Matchmaker at Charity Matchmaking where she directs fundraising campaigns for non-profits in health, wellness, arts, education, environment and faith based programs. For more: charitymatchmaking.com.
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