Chicken Madness!

The date for our remote wilderness backpacking trip was fast approaching, yet FM and I had not managed to finish constructing the chicken run. Up until now, we have let them freely wander around outside while we’ve been home. On the few occasions where we have gone away for a night or two, we have left them locked up inside. But an 8-day absence seemed a bit long for that. We had a choice:

Choice #1 – Leave the chickens truly cooped up inside their coop for 8 days and ask friends to occasionally drop by to refill their food. The downside of this option is that it gets HOT here in the summer and we have recently had 30C days which are even hotter and stuffier inside the coop. If they didn’t go mad from being trapped inside, heat stroke would surely be their demise (need I mention the poop and the flies?).

Choice #2 – Round up the six chickens and take them to a friend’s house. FM has a work colleague who kindly offered to care for our chicks for the week. She is a chicken expert, having 20 or so chickens of her own and being the egg supplier for FM’s office each week.

No-Brainer, right? We went with choice #2.

The evening before our trip, we lured our chickens into the coop with scratch. We got out their old brooding box and went to work grabbing, snatching and chasing these birds all around the tiny coop. FM did most of the chasing while I manned the brooding box, opening then quickly closing the lid after each new addition. We found out that yes – chickens do hold pretty darn still when you hold them upside down. But we also got to see their stress levels go through the roof as they scrambled, flew and screeched in an attempt to stay away.

Once everyone was closed up in the box, we put them in the car and carefully drove about 15 minutes to Marnie’s house. She had a penned area set up, separate and at quite a distance from her own chicken coop. We didn’t want any of the chickens to have to deal with a new social order so separation (visual and physical) was required. It was a bare-bones arrangement that had been recently used to raise some chicks. The enclosure was an open 4′ x 10′ grassy area beside their shop. The fencing was only 3′ high which our chickens could easily escape from if they wanted to, since their wings are not clipped. There was a small interior area, covered with old election signs, which had a light, two roosts and a nesting box. We opened the brooding box lid to find our cowering chickens beneath, too shocked to get out on their own. We lifted each one out and watched for a while as they took in their new surroundings. Then we went home to finish our packing.

I know that I am being silly but I worried about them flying out or about a hawk flying in. I worried about Marnie’s dog, her small children and about Roo’s endless crowing. I worried about their food and water. But I managed to settle down and remind myself that they aren’t pets – they’re livestock (and only $3 each to replace).

And off we went on our fabulous adventure and saw an amazing part of the world, so remote and wild.

When we came home, seven days later, we headed back to Marnie’s. As we drove up her drive, I steeled myself up and felt I was truly ready for anything (mostly bad news). But there they were – all six of them – pecking and cooing and doing chickeny things. Marnie’s children told us stories about how mean Roo was and how the littlest child was scared to come near the enclosure because Roo would charge and peck anyone who came close. The greatest news was hearing that two eggs had been collected that morning! (Our first two eggs!) FM asked if any of the children were good at catching chickens and, in no time at all, the five hens were back in the brooder box. I used the old blanket trick on Chip, tossing a blanket over her, which made her stand stock still, and easily picked her up without any panic. Roo, on the other hand, was a slippery devil and he flew right out of the enclosure during the pursuit (he had done this once while we were away). Eventually, FM managed to corner him, grab his leg and hang him upside down, temporarily paralysing him.

We brought them home and released them inside the coop, so that they would recognize their surroundings and wouldn’t panic. They were especially skittish and wary. For the next week, they were out of sorts. They were absolutely terrified of us and they were uncharacteristically nasty to each other. Roo displayed especially worrisome behaviour – trembling (with fear? or rage?) whenever we were nearby, and crowing incessantly. During a family visit, Roo actually attacked FM’s mum, launching himself feet first at her while she was filming him with her ipad. Despite the scratch on her leg, we wrote off the incident as a one time thing. We figured he did it because of the brilliant red ipad cover, because she was holding it low-down at his eye level and because he was still very stressed out. Eventually, calmness prevailed and life resumed its normal, quiet way around the  Queendom, although Roo has some new behaviours that we are trying to curb.

Looking back, I know that farming out the chickens was the better of the two options we had at the time and I am very thankful to Marnie for caring for them. But I wouldn’t do it again. Chickens are not portable and do not handle relocations well. This lesson will spur us on to complete the chicken run soon – quickly before our next planned trip arrives!

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