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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Chasin' on the Farm.

After about two-and-a-half months, the time had come to send our chickens for processing (aka holiday with no return). So at 5:30 one weekday morning, we headed out to the barn in the early morning mist. The Farmer got into the pen with the little pecking beasties, while I struggled to stack the plastic cages that would hold seven birds each. In my own defense, they were big cages and heavier than they looked.

The Farmer herded the chickens into a corner, grabbed three or four of them by the legs, and brought them flapping and squawking to me. My job was to open the cages and direct their heads into the corners. If you get the chicken’s head into the corner, he stops fussing, I’m told. But they kept trying to wriggle out of my grip and peck me as I gently yet firmly pushed them into place, making room for three or four more. Once I had them in the cage, I put my palm on their soft sides to calm them. I like to think I send my animals off to market or to processing with a peaceful state of mind. And I always try to look them in the eye to say “thank you” for feeding us. Well, not every one of them – but I do make eye contact with at least one before they leave.

I don’t feel like I helped much but the Farmer says I did. He had given himself ninety minutes for the loading job and we were done in sixty. Time for coffee together before he left. I didn’t want him driving through Tim Horton’s with that load of chickens.

With a vacancy in the chicken house, the turkeys were upgraded from their cramped digs in the coop. They seemed to like their new home as it was much more open to the outside, giving them more fresh air and running room. Turkeys get bored: if you leave your stuff – like jackknives and hammers – lying around, they play with them. They are particularly fond of shiny objects. So things are never where you left them.

I much prefer the turkeys to the chickens, because they don’t peck, they are curiously entertaining with their synchronized gobbles and they are always happy to see me. They run over warbling to my side of the room when I hang my leg over the half wall and drop into their pen.

We are getting to know our neighbours very well and vice versa, whether they like it or not. One day Julie showed up at the door and announced that one of her little dogs had the turkeys “hostage”. I thought that odd, because our turkeys were in a pen. “No, they’re not,” she said. Sure enough, the turkeys were running around the barnyard in one big feathered wave, from corner to corner – but they couldn’t cross over to the open field because a fluffy little dog that looked like he would fit in a latte cup was doing a fine job of herding them. The dog knew the gig was up when he saw the two of us approaching, however, and allowed himself to be picked up and scolded.

“Oh, don’t be too hard on him,” I said. “If it wasn’t for him, I would have turkeys all over the field.”

I didn’t know how I was going to get them back in their pen, but decided to start by unrolling the wire fence and stretching it across the opening to the pasture. Then I held my arms out and shooed them toward their pen. And they ran in. One by one, directed by my arms. That was easy.

I pulled the door shut and examined the damage. Obviously one of our cows had busted in. I wedged a piece of wood across the door and told the turkeys to stay put. A chorus of garbles replied.

Never a dull moment on the farm. I guess the neighbours are quickly learning that the bucolic existence they imagined can sometimes be a little more exciting than living in the suburbs. I’m sure they were quite thrilled to look out their kitchen window Saturday morning to see Bonnie and Clyde (aka Horse and Donkey) munching on their front lawn.

So her show dog pooped on my lawn and teased the heck out of my farm dog. As Julie said, I think we’re more than even.

To the reader who sent me his old collection of farm magazines, thank you very much! They are literary antiques.

1 comment:

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