There’s a lot to love about sharing your life with critters on a homestead. There’s companionship, the joys of watching them do their thing outside, the pride that comes with successful animal husbandry and raising healthy livestock. And, for some of us, the satisfaction of raising animals for healthy meat and dairy.
But there’s a dark side to this bucolic coin. It’s this simple fact: Nothing, and I mean nothing, can get on your last nerve quite like a contrary critter.
Here on Rusty Metal Farm, it’s rare that one of my furry or feathered friends pushes me to the point of overwhelming exasperation, but it happens. It happened just the other night when what should have been a quick outside chore of tucking in the chickens for the night turned into a frustrating marathon game of snow tag. In the dark. With a chicken.
We’ve had some warmer days up here and when the temperatures get above freezing, I let the flock out of their coop into the tractor shed during the day to get some fresh air. They also enjoy soaking up the winter sun and scratching in the shed’s dirt floor.
At night, they normally amble back into the coop on their own by way of the covered breezeway connecting it to the tractor shed. Then I come along, do a headcount and shut them in. Since this normally takes just a few minutes, and there is no lazy quite like night-time-chore-Super-Bowl-Sunday-halftime lazy, I decided not to take the extra minute or two to put on heavy pants, a jacket, gloves, a hat or even boots.
Instead, I slipped my headlamp on and headed out clad only in base layers and hard-soled house slippers. There were still a couple of stragglers in the tractor shed when I got out there, but it was easy enough to shoo them into the coop. But when I did the headcount, I was one chicken short. So I counted again. Yep, there was one missing.
So back into the tractor shed I went and began peering under the vehicles, summer furniture and large tools stored therein. No chicken to be seen. Then I heard something behind me and, turning around, my headlamp illuminated the missing black and white hen just outside the shed bay door. She was standing on a sheet of ice and looking somewhat befuddled.
I have no idea what she had been up to — an arctic expedition gone awry, perhaps? But I knew chickens do not do well in low temperatures or standing for long periods of time on snow and ice. Figuring she wanted to be in the cozy coop with her sisters, I calmly walked over and started to gently shoo her inside.
That’s when things went south in a hurry.
Instead of walking back to the coop, the hen put on an impressive burst of speed and ran away from me up and over the giant snowbank outside of the shed and towards the woods.
Cursing under my breath, I clambered up the snowbank — which was pretty solid — and tried to position myself behind her so I could herd her back to the coop. Nope, every time I went to the right, she danced to the left. I tried to go left and she’d outflank me to the right. Each move was bringing her closer and closer to the woods behind the garage.
Pretty soon, we were off the packed snow and into the softer snow. Guess what? Three-feet deep snow that supports a chicken in no way supports yours truly. Soon I was wading in thigh-deep snow toward the balky bird.
There was snow in my slippers, snow melting through my base layers and steam coming out of my ears. You don’t want to know the words coming out of my mouth at this point. I made another lunge for her and three things happened in rapid succession. The chicken flapped up and ever closer to the woods, my headlamp battery gave out and I did a snowy face plant in the dark.
I managed to make it back to the packed snow and then down to solid ground, at which point a light bulb went off quite literally. I remembered to turn on the light that’s in the tractor shed. I thought that perhaps the hen would be attracted back towards it.
Thankfully, she was. But as she slowly picked her way back toward me, the other hens decided to come back out to see what all the excitement was about. Pretty soon, all of them were milling about like looky-loos at a train wreck. Or perhaps they thought they were getting their own Super Bowl halftime show.
By this time I was soaking wet, shivering and doing a mental inventory of every chicken recipe I could think of. Somewhere between cacciatore and cordon bleu, the wandering hen was back with her flock and all of them had trooped back into the coop. I was then able to shut the door behind them and head back to the house with enough time to change into dry clothes before the start of the third quarter.
That meant I had missed the official halftime show, but I suspect even with their combined talents not even J.Lo or Shakira would have had better luck than I wrangling that damn bird.