Chickens, Run (and other exciting news)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled post to bring you this special, late-breaking announcement.

"Houston, we have liftoff."
“Houston, we have liftoff.”

MY BOOK IS LIVE! AT HOME ON THE KAZAKH STEPPE has launched, left the doorsill, flown the coop, left the nest. (are there others?)

A Book Launch Party — for those of you in the area, and any others who’d care to travel — is set for my local Danville, VT library on Sunday, August 17. RSVP to my FB invite if you can join us.

After hearing me talk about this book for the past year and a half, you can finally access it at Amazon here. Paperback, eBook, and Large Print books are available.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

CHICKENS, RUN (my apologies to John Updike) 

We lost four of our layer chickens over the past week. But THE GOOD NEWS is:

It is NOT our dog.

As a puppy, Sasha was quite bad with the ducks we raised then. Not aggressive, but just as dangerous in her playful, “I’ll show you who’s boss” assertive, domineering, and (yes, sometimes) downright in-your-face annoying way. When we brought two-month-old Sasha home, the ducks were full-size, gloriously statuesque adults, and they had roamed freely around the property for two years, conscientiously attending to their bug-patrol duties.

But Sasha was determined to dominate them and, not knowing her own strength, drew blood.

We built a pen.
For the ducks.

Sasha’s assertiveness quickly became a boon to us. Over the years, she’s succeeded in scaring away from our property meandering bear, moose, deer, wild turkey, rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks. All with equal ferocity. We don’t see much wildlife anymore. Hummingbirds still come.

With the bear, I must add, she had one quite different behavior. She would hop up in the air, as she charged forward, barking furiously and making herself bigger. She was impressive. Her first try was with a mama bear and her two cubs. The cubs ran off into the woods and the mama turned toward the approaching noisy dog and watched her for a bit. We held our breath, aware there was nothing we could do if the bear decided to knock off Sasha. Finally, just before Sasha reached her, the mama bear turned and ambled off into the woods after her cubs. Sasha stopped at the woods edge, then came running home when we called her. We were impressed.

The last of our ducks moved on to greener hills last fall and this spring we brought home thirty two-day-old chicks.

Thirty miniature dinosaurs making themselves at home.
Thirty miniature dinosaurs making themselves at home.

Sasha, now a mature four-year-old, met them slowly, carefully, and gingerly. She was curious. I was determined. But, as the days and weeks went by, I felt confident that we had reached détente.

We understood each other, Sasha and I. She knows the tone of my voice and I read her body language well. She’s rarely away from my side.

Once the miniature dinosaurs lost their chick feathers (at about one month) ten white meat birds, ten black and white Barred Rock layers, and ten brown and white Golden Comet layers showed themselves.

The meat birds got their own inside pen, so I can control their feed. The layers, eventually, finally got used to going outside, and earning their keep (eating bugs), as I wrote about in an earlier post, Sitting on the Doorsill.

As they did so, I ignored the two gates on the outdoor pen, expecting, by leaving them open, that the chicks would feast on an ever-widening menu. I gave Sasha free roaming privileges too.

And, I got complacent.

Last week, one of the Barred Rocks didn’t come back when I closed them in for the night. We chalked it up to the hole we’d found in the fencing and the thunderstorm that rolled through that night. We patched the hole.

Then, Saturday, during dinner with my stepson and his friend, my husband noticed Sasha inside the pen, poking at something with her nose, as though perhaps eating it. The next thing I saw was Woody walking back up the hill from the pen, with a dead Golden Comet dangling in his hand by her feet. That’s what Sasha had been poking at.

“And there are Barred Rock feathers all around down there too.” Woody reported.

Self-reproach ran high. How could I have been so foolish? My little experiment in peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding (dare I say “across cultural borders?”) wasn’t going to change thousands of years of instinct.

That night, as I rounded up the remaining layers for the night, I counted only sixteen: two more Barred Rocks were gone. Two! Now Sasha was looking greedy.

I had been so sure of Sasha. How could I have been so wrong?

“It could be a fox,” Woody offered, trying to soothe me.

“Wishful thinking,” I countered. We should have known better.

With Sasha as the problem, the solution was simple: shut the two gates. Limit the chickens’ grazing area.

Sunday morning, letting my chickens out again, still chastising myself for trusting too readily, I watched as Sasha made another of her mad dashes chasing some wildlife I’d stopped trying to see. This time though, I saw the fluffy tale and long narrow body of a red fox just before it dashed into the safety of the woods.

No farmer was ever so glad to see a fox!

Sasha was reprieved.

But now that the fox is the problem, the solution is a bit more problematic. We can’t sell these layers until they start laying — November probably. And, I don’t have the stomach to keep them confined inside the barn for the next three months.

It’s not so much the projecting onto my chickens how I’d feel cooped up inside a barn for three months, it’s the increased need for new bedding and feed that would turn my profit making agricultural experiment into a mere hobby.

Until I figure out a solution, I sit inside the pen doing as much work as I can at the umbrella table we’ve moved inside there. Sasha is still not allowed inside. I want her out there chasing the fox. So, as I work inside the pen with my bug-eating chickens, Sasha lies down just a few yards away, eyes and ears alert. Ever faithful. All forgiving.

Sasha on guard
Sasha on guard

How about you? Have you ever jumped to the wrong conclusion about something or someone? How did you make amends?

12 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Downloaded! I am really looking forward to reading this one! Congratulations of bringing it to fruition.

  2. L. E. Carmichael
    | Reply

    Congrats on your book launch! I hope you get a great crowd. And good luck in your battle with the fox. I hope it ends with no further casualties on either side.

    • Ian Mathie
      | Reply

      Maybe you need to sit out quietly at night with a shotgun and bag yourself the makings f a good Davie Crockett hat. That will preserve your chookies.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Lindsey, it’s so great you wrote. You are, I want you to know, the first person I thought of when I realized it was a fox. then, I figured you’d not be of the ilk to help me do away with it. I know; foxes have to eat too. This is one of those NIMBYs, I suppose. Thanks for your good wishes. (I’m secretly hoping for a small gathering).

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        You’re not being a NIMBY, Janet. It’s just a case of FFINIMCR.

        Fox Food Is Not In My Chookie Run !

  3. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Ian, you make me laugh. The closest we have to a shotgun in this house is the BB gun we keep — somewhere. But I’ve never shot it and have a hunch I’d shoot my own foot before I ever got close to the poor fox. So far, when I can’t be down at the pen, the little chookies have free run of the three-story barn, which is quickly turning into quite the mess. Chookies. Sounds like cookies.

  4. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Congratulations on the long-awaited launch of your memoir, Janet! How exciting. I’m looking forward to reading it. And your adventures in Wild Kingdom are very entertaining. Sasha must rank among your greatest allies. We need to recruit her on our farm to help scare off a few surly woodchucks! Enjoy you launch and your role as chicken protector!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Kathy, thanks so much. It’s good of you to swing by while in the midst of your own book launch. And a new website too! Congratulations. I was just there and give you my heartiest thumbs up. You’ve added a lot. As for “chicken protector,” (smiling here, thinking how flexible adjectives and adverbs can be).
      Looking forward to your visit in two weeks as our August guest blogger.

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        Does this imply that you are henceforward to be known as Janet ‘Chookie Guard’ Givens?

        Cool! Or should I say ” Cluck!” ?

  5. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    On the Chookie Guard Givens ID, Ian, I’m about to wander down there now, this time with my zero gravity recliner in tote. The Chookies have had the run of the INSIDE of the barn for the past two days. It’s time to let them out in the sunshine. Maybe I’ll even bring some of my own iced tea and work on my next two blog posts, get some PRs written for the book, and probably take a nap as well. Can you picture it?

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