Can’t Push a Rope

Three of Four, more Poultry Portraiture to come!
Three of Four, more Poultry Portraiture to come!

I thought of this phrase in the title above yesterday in the context of poultry, even while it has suited so many other frustrated efforts to gain traction, focus and task completion in this week’s futile flailing attempts to resume some kind of forward motion in life-as-we-know-it.

While we were gone to Missouri, our neighbors kindly tended “the girls”, changing their water and laying feed, gathering eggs, letting them in and out of the house and pen–for which we are most thankful.

But without the dog on this side of the creek that week to discourage them from exploring more widely, the hens discovered they could cross the road to get to the other side–and the garden–where we found them to our surprise on Sunday afternoon when we returned home. From there each evening since, they have put themselves up when the sun begins to fade, marching back across the dirt road, down into the dip of the creek, one by one across the board bridge and back into their pen.

Chickens in a spent garden is a great idea. They eat weed seeds and insects, and would be welcome to that all-you-can-eat buffet. (I discovered they are not all that interested in earthworms, much to my surprise.) But our garden was not quite spent when it came under chicken attack in our absense. After a week of exploratory scratching, the chinese cabbage, kale, mustards and tommytoes are history.

So thinking forward to next year, in the past day or two I have managed to get 24” chicken wire around all but a few small sections I haven’t yet gotten to on the back side away from the road.

So the birds can still get in, but getting out: not doing so well. The road side of the heavily fortified and fenced Vegetable Containment Area between the garden and their pen is fully chicken-wired now, and hens (even Dionne, our only smart one) don’t have the brains to go east or west to the open gates in order to go south to home. They just bump up against the blockade time and time again. I guess they’d eventually just die of exhaustion.

And I didn’t have any better sense than to try to chase them out when it was time for them to go to roost, so four chickens and I went round and round, one bird going the desired direction while two more made an end run back to the center of the garden, a fourth ran between my legs. It would have made a great home movie, though I failed to see the humor at the time. Can’t push a rope, dope. But you can pull.

So I tossed a handful of out-of-date bean seeds in a black plastic bucket in the garden shed. The girls were mildly interested at best. Think brain, think! We usually carry our kitchen counter “chick scraps” in one of several red plastic MaxwellHouse containers we keep on hand for compost. I transferred the beans to one of those there on the shed workbench, and four hens promptly marched single file behind me out of the garden, across the plank over Goose Creek, and right into their pen.

Now, how to translate that lesson into a plan for getting ready for my upcoming trip, completing at least one newspaper column before I go, and being engaged in the final push before the SustainFloyd October 10 Floyd Climate action for Oh, and hanging out in the park under the author’s tent in Pulaski 10 til 2 tomorrow at the Town Festival. Somebody please follow me there–stop by, just one. I have some old corn and two self–published books in a red plastic bucket for you. Chicky chicky chicky!

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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.

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  1. There they are !!!! Those beautiful chickens !!!! They look nice and plump…….. I can just see the four of them now, marching back home after raiding the garden.
    Keep those chicky chicky photos coming………Can you get a photo of Tsuga and the chickens together???? Ha !!!

    Have a great weekend

  2. I love the home movie images, more for having been in similar situations. Well I guess those “dumb” birds taught you something, lol. Very nice poultry portraiture!

  3. Them’s some fine lookin’ yard birds there, Fred! You ’bout ready for a pair of overalls and a John Deere cap?