FORT KENT — Owning sled dogs and chickens means never, ever being bored.
Don’t get me wrong — I love my kennel of eight huskies and my little feathered flock of 10 egg-laying chickens. It’s just I’m not sure what I was thinking when it seemed like a good idea to have both at the same time.
On the chicken side of things it was the allure of a constant supply of fresh eggs that attracted me to the notion. Not that there’s been a whole lot of egg laying going on over the last few months as my original flock began to age past their prime, causing me to re-dub them the “slacker chickens.”
Hoping to infuse increased egg-laying blood into the mix this summer I acquired a half dozen younger chickens and introduced them into the coop.
Not entirely sure what to expect, I ushered the newer chickens into the pen and waited for the older birds’ reaction.
The two groups — old and young — gathered on opposite sides of the pen, glowering and sizing each other up. I swear it looked like a couple of the younger ones had cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves and were carrying pool cues.
It was like a scene out of West Side Story when the Jets and Sharks meet up.
At first I was afraid the younger, stronger birds would rush and perhaps harm the older matrons. Turns out, there was nothing to fear, at least not for the senior chickens.
This was, after all, their territory and if these young upstarts wanted a rumble, a rumble they would get.
In short order the older Golden Comets had established they were on top of the yard’s pecking order by claiming the comfiest roost perches sunniest spots in the yard for themselves.
Though the newer chickens — a mixed batch of Brown Leghorns, Buff Orpingtons and a Gold Wyandotte — strutted and clucked with impressive attitude, the old girls continue to rule the roost.
Every morning when I go out to give them their daily treats (leftover bread, vegetable and other food scraps) the Comets are clustered at the pen door ready to take the choicest morsels for themselves.
The younger gang, on the other hand, is clustered, grumbling amongst themselves, at the far end of the pen hoping for a chance at the picked over goodies.
An uneasy truce now exists in the hen house with little interaction between the two groups.
The other day I actually thought peace had broken out when I saw two of the older hens cuddled up with one of the younger chickens in a sort of communal sand pit.
However, as my friend Kim pointed out it’s probably the case the two older birds forced the younger one to dig the pit for them in the first place and were keeping her around as slave labor.
Despite the seeming lack of friendly integration between young and old, the two groups do share one, unifying trait.
Every day around 4 p.m. or so — weather permitting — I throw open the pen door and allow the chickens to free range.
Now, bear in mind there are hundreds of acres of woodland, pasture, fields and even a pond around which these birds may range.
Nope, four days out of five they range their feathered little bodies across the driveway and to the sled dog yard.
Apparently whatever bugs, grubs and seeds chickens scratch up for themselves are ever so much tastier the closer they are found to a barking and jumping husky.
At least once a week I’m reminded, unlike the biblical lamb and lion, that the chickens will not by laying down with the dogs.
For their part, it’s obvious the sled dogs would be more than happy to invite the chickens into their runs for a bite — literally.
Earlier this fall one of the chickens happened to wander within reach of the chain of my lead sled dog Apollo, who most likely had been waiting months for just such an opportunity.
Faster and with more agility than a pit viper, Apollo shot out of his house, making a grab for the flustered fowl.
Somehow, the chicken — amid much clucking and flapping — managed to scramble backward out of Apollo’s reach and smack into Corky, my house dog, who was watching the whole scene unfold with great interest.
The chicken bounced off of Corky and into the neighboring area of Mr. Magoo.
Sadly for the dogs — but fortunately for the chicken — Apollo and Mr. Magoo had not coordinated this attack ahead of time.
Poor Magoo was so surprised by the turn of events he was unable to react with any semblance of coordination. Rather, every bone and muscle in his body seemed to move in opposite directions, allowing for a very bedraggled chicken to beat a hasty retreat back to her pen.
It took some time, but vengeance is a dish best served cold — especially when served with a side of chicken.
This past weekend one of the Brown Leghorns strutted down and through the dog yard, just out of reach of the dogs, on her way to a spruce tree.
Sparing the huskies one disdainful glance, she took flight — leghorns are impressive flyers — and landed about 20-feet up the tree on a branch directly over the dogs.
There, securely out of reach but in full view of the sled dogs, she roosted for the night during which neither the dogs nor I got much sleep.
Imagine the sound of nails scraping on a blackboard, only several octaves higher. That pretty much describes the sound coming out of the dog nearest the tree-roosting chicken — all night long.
Since there was no cajoling, bribing or forcing the hen out of the tree, I took all the dogs on a training run and hoped for the best.
Sure enough, by the time we got back the leghorn was out of the tree and lounging near the chicken coop, looking rather smug, I might add.
No doubt about it, the combination of poultry and dogs often leaves me amused, irritated and exhausted. But bored? I can only imagine.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.