Tastes Like Chicken

Tastes Like Chicken
iPhone pano after the ice storm, Dec 2013
iPhone pano after the ice storm, Dec 2013
iPhone pano after the ice storm, Dec 2013

I swear every animal on Earth bigger than a field mouse wants a piece of chicken.

Last week, Ann looked out the upstairs window in time to see a hawk flying straight down the pasture path, loosing altitude fast and heading straight for the girls, free-ranging their little oblivious hearts out on one of their afternoon play-times. (When Herself is home, these happen approximately hourly, alternating with the same opportunity for the dog. The two must not have free-play concurrently. We’re not sure if Gandy likes chicken as much as a field mouse, but her teeth are bigger.)

The three hens ran for their lives. I mean–what else is a chicken going to do to defend itself? It is the perfect prey animal: slow, witless, tooth-and-clawless. We have bred every last shred of street-smart out of this bird for thousands of years now. I think maybe the field mouse has a chance, now that I think about it.

But it was some other set of teeth in the henhouse Sunday night during the ice storm.

Seemed a pretty good chance I couldn’t–and a darn sure bet that I SHOULDN’T–try to get back across the icy creek to shut the birds in their house at dusk or to feed them the next morning. That’d have been a sight: a grown man home alone doing snow angels (ice angels?) on his back, fallen and he can’t get up, all for the comfort of three hens.

So I put out some food and water in their pen, secured the gate, and left them to go to roost when they decided to. The next morning, I’d not have to risk the snow angels. It seemed like a good decision at the time.

Later–not so much.

Actually, I’d curled up on the love seat with the dog around 9 and dropped off to sleep. Suddenly, the dog startled. Then I heard what she’d heard: defenseless chickens in distress.

Quick to the front porch: holler!!! clap!!! whistle!!! I fetched the million-power light and aimed it like a light saber at the intruder somewhere in the chicken’s safe harbor.

It is raining buckets. Freezing rain. It is cold. It is dark. There is chicken terror in the air. Out I rush, the hen’s only defense against field mice, stout hiking stick in hand, both for support and as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the marauding squirrels or insectivores or unknown others seeking drumsticks.

The gate is frozen shut. I encourage it to open eventually with my stout stick. The three shrieking wet hens are out in the cold rain, pressed hard into the corner nearest the gait, with escape their only hope.

I preferred they not escape into the predator-filled night, but holding the light and holding the stick and keeping three traumatized hens IN while I attempted to join them inside the fence took no small finesse. The hood of my rain parka (now how am I supposed to handle an umbrella?) kept sliding down into my face. My glasses needed wipers. The light saber lay in the ooze, its light careening unhelpfully off the rock foundation of the barn. I stepped on a wide ceramic food bowl under the straw. It crunched apart under my muck booted foot.

Once inside, I prepared to confront the intruder–raccoon, fox (less likely to dig or climb) or mob of crazed field mice. Nothing. I aimed the light everywhere–especially into the house. Free and clear. Whatever it was went out the same way it went in. We’re still puzzled by that unknown.

Meanwhile back at the gate, the PTSD chickens were still attempting to extrude themselves through the chain link.

Foghorn Leghorn
Foghorn Leghorn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adding yet another trauma to their excitement, I had to pick each one up and carry it flapping and squawking out of the rain, into the relative dry under the tarp, and deposit it into the upper door of the roost box.

That wasn’t so hard for the first one–who upon opening the door for the second, wanting another run at the chain link. You get he picture.

Our neighbor says they have a weasel getting their chickens. Now that’s a field-mouse sized predator with wolverine capabilities. Where is Foghorn-Leghorn when we need him?

PHOTO: Chez Wyandotte is visible at the back corner of the barn in this pano from the morning after the storm. Click here for screen-wide version. You get some hint of the ice still in the trees at the far end of the valley.

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About

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

5 Comments on “Tastes Like Chicken

  1. Fred, you need a rooster! They’re great watchdogs for hens. Just happens I have one to send you–let me know shipping address, eh? Three hens, alas, isn’t enough to keep one randy rooster happy. I’m in the same predicament now, after October depredations. Will have to get that written up soon.

    What kind of hawk was threatening? Only eagles have done more than scare our chickens, never lost one to a hawk. Glad your girls are safe.

  2. Ann saw the hawk, I didn’t, but we have mostly broadwing and red-tail, more of the latter circling-calling overhead not uncommonly in the summer months.

    We tried to keep one of the two sex-change hens Ann brought home that turned out to CROWWW loudly. I actually liked them, but one especially was humping the feathers off the back of his favorite; the other began thrusting spurs at our legs when we walked into the pen. But you’re right–a rooster thinks he’s cock of the rock. Hens think they’re food. : > } Fred

  3. Oh my! This whole scenario, while I’m sure not funny for you at the time, is quite so to read about now! That said, it may be a scene in my own future if we do manage to get the land to raise our own hens… I’m happy for you that you didn’t lose any in this frightful situation.

  4. The birds are none the worse for wear–except the silver-laced Wyandotte, Lacey, who is terrified of going into the coup at night and has to have manual assistance with that task in the cold almost-dark of dusk.

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