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The chicken game

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
Christine Tailer

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

The girls are getting older. Eighteen laying hens, but I’ve only been collecting five or six eggs a day, sometimes even fewer. I know and love these ladies, and after several years of coming to understand their individual personalities, I simply let them age and watch as they move slower, and then one day they simply hunker down and move no more. My girls are never destined for the pot.

So, this past spring, to thwart my dwindling egg supply, I ordered twenty, one-day old, chicks. Oh, how I love to raise chicks. I excitedly waited for the day they would arrive, and the night before, I fell asleep, eagerly awaiting the early morning call from the post office. I had set up the cattle trough in the sugar shed as their new home, and rigged an overhead light to provide warmth on chilly nights. I covered the top of the trough with mesh fencing through which I had woven tobacco sticks. This would secure the chicks inside and keep them from jumping out as they got bigger.

My phone rang. The chicks had arrived. The post office wasn’t even open yet, but I knew to knock on the side door. I could hear their peeping. The smiling clerk handed the small carton, about the size of a shoe box. 

I felt their subtle weight within as I set them in the truck to drive home. Once inside the sugar shed, I knelt down beside the cattle trough and set the box on the trough’s pine chip covered floor. I removed the lid, and there they were, 20 little creatures all huddled together. I carefully picked them up, one at a time and set them down in the trough. In no time at all there were twenty tiny orange, grey, jet black, white, and brown chicks running about on tiny feet. I dipped a few of their beaks into the waterer. Soon they had all gathered around and were eagerly drinking.

The days passed and I visited often, sitting beside them, and watching them grow, and after about five weeks it had become rather cramped inside the trough. It was time to move the girls from their nursery trough over to the outside chicken elementary coop. This larger, outside accommodation, was actually our original chicken coop, and now serves as the perfect place for the chicks to live and learn to roost before they grow large enough to move in with the older ladies in the big coop.

I still visited every day, checking their water and feed. They were an amazingly docile group of birds, and would contentedly let me run my hands down their now feathered backs. They all enjoyed offered treats, eating out of my hand. I noticed that two beautiful reddish brown chicks were growing amazingly big, amazingly fast. When this pair was only three months old, I decided to move them over to the big coop.

I waited until just before dark, when all the girls, young and old, were up on their roosts. I lifted one of these large chicks off of her roost and handed her to Greg. I placed the other girl under my arm, and we carried the two young birds over to the big coop. I opened the door and we went inside, and placed the two birds on a roost away from the older ladies. I knew that when they all woke up in the morning, they would all assume that this was simply the way that chicken things were meant to be, and all would be well in the big coop.

I eagerly woke up the next morning and headed down to the coop, and yes, all was well, but we still had eighteen more birds to move. I thought it best to wait a while longer until the chicks were the size of the first two larger birds. I was patient, and after just a few more weeks, all of the chicks were at least half the size of the older ladies.

Once again, Greg and I headed down to the elementary coop to gather up the chicks and carry them over to the main coop. Several transport trips later, all were securely perched on their new roosts. Again, I woke up eagerly the next morning and headed down to the coop, and once again all was wonderfully well, until evening that is.

I was curious how the young birds would settle into roost that first evening. They did not. They had all settled down on perches in the yard, and so as daylight turned to dark, Greg and I gathered up each of the young birds and placed her just inside the chicken door. We stood still and listened as they settled down to roost inside.

The second evening a few had gone inside on their own, but many had not, and so Greg and I again plucked them off of their outside perches and scooted them inside the door. The third evening was no different, and then it occurred to me that perhaps the birds needed to walk over to the door and enter the coop on their own two feet, and so began the chicken game.

Greg and I gently placed all of the outside the birds on the ground, and then began to herd them over to the door and shoo them inside, but alas, as two would go in, three would come out. It seemed to take forever, but in time they were all inside, and we could once again hear them settling down for the night.

We continued to play rousing rounds of the chicken game for several more nights, and then, I am thrilled to say, that yesterday evening, as we made the animal rounds, we happily found that all the birds had entered the coop of their own volition. So yes, while the girls may have won several rounds of the chicken game, in the end, we had all won. I certainly do love these fluffy-bottomed girls. 

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