Over a month ago, I
wrote about trying
to cage our broody hen and her three remaining chicks. The hen and
chicks were starting to scratch up the garden, and my attempt to
confine them in an old chicken tractor failed. What to do?
Mother nature took
care of the problem for a while, which is a good thing because I
was too busy in the garden to focus on wily, semi-feral
chickens. The mother hen disappeared, presumably into
someone’s belly since she wasn’t in a safe spot at night, and the
three chicks left behind were too small to do much damage in the
garden. So I made a major mistake and…forgot about them.
Ignoring the chicks
meant they got used to having free range of the garden, so once
they did get big enough to hurt vegetable seedlings, the chicks
were uninterested in being moved into various pastures or out into
the woods. Every time I fenced them out of the garden, they
flew right back in. I eventually decided it was time to just
give the pullets away and eat the cockerel, despite his diminutive
size, but by now they were nearly impossible to pin down.
Even their night roost location was less than obvious, so I
settled down with a cat one evening to watch where the newly
christened Troublesome Trio went as the day dimmed into night.
Soon enough, the
three chicks walked purposefully into the barn, and I followed
along behind. As I peered around the corner, I saw each bird
hop onto the handle of a rototiller, fly from there onto a low
beam, then run along that beam to the other side of the barn to
perch ten feet above the ground. No wonder I hadn’t been
able to find them when I’d gone into the barn with a flashlight
the night before — I never thought to look straight up!
A ladder, a long
pole, a husband, and a flashlight later, the Troublesome Trio had
been knocked from their perch and hunted down throughout the
barn. Human eyes are better in low light than chicken eyes
are, so once you’ve found your chickens’ night perch, it’s a
simple matter of waiting until it’s too dark for them to feel safe
moving, but is still light enough for you to see what you’re
grabbing. Mark and I stuffed all three chicks into the part
of the tractor we’d beefed up to hold broilers on slaughter day
(known as the “kill coop”), then we went to bed expecting to have
a trouble-free garden the next day.
No such luck!
When I went out to check on our chicks bright and early Saturday
morning, only one bird was still in the kill coop, and she soon
wiggled through a tiny hole in the side to join her
siblings. They laughed at me all day as they scratched straw
onto newly planted seedlings, leaped up to pluck ripe blackberries
from the bush, and generally wrought havoc. I guess I named
the Troublesome Trio too well.
Luckily, I now knew
where they were roosting, so I didn’t have to spend all evening
stalking the Trio this time. But when I went into the barn
Saturday night and looked up into the rafters, I saw they’d moved
up to perch nearly twenty feet off the ground! Our barn was
built for drying tobacco, so the upper section consists of several
tiers of poles across which you lay the tobacco spears, and our
chicks felt the next tier up was safer given their traumatic
capture the night before.
I poked the chicks
with the pole from partway up the ladder, but they now knew better
than to fly to the ground. So I took a deep breath and
climbed to the tip-top of the ladder, secured myself between two
beams, and reached up above my head to nab them. One chick
down, then two, and finally all three were returned to the kill
coop to wait for their new owner to arrive the next day. We
beefed up the kill coop as much as we could, and this time the
Troublesome Trio stayed put.
What did I learn from
their two dramatic months wandering the farm? First, a
broody hen is only worth her salt if you can secure
her inside a safe coop. Second, it’s not worth letting chicks get too used
to exploring the garden, even if they’re not big enough to cause
trouble yet. Next time, I’ll begin as I plan to go on and
hem in chicks before they turn into a Troublesome Trio.
the Troublesome Trio hydrated so they could stay in peak health
while scratching up the garden.