Ruling the roost
By CHRISTINE TAILER
I'd like to think that I am the master of my own destiny, or that Greg and I share in our decisions about what and how to do the things that we do; but in reality, I know that the chickens are in control.
A few weeks ago, we were invited to Pennsylvania to give a presentation on off- grid living.
Our talk was scheduled for Friday afternoon at 1 p.m., but the conference lasted the whole weekend. We would have loved to have stayed for the whole event, and gone to the other presentations, but the chickens would not let us. They would only let us stay away for a day, leaving the farm on Thursday and returning on Friday.
We put extra hay in with the goats and filled their water buckets to the brim. They would be fine for several days. We likewise filled the rabbit food bins and water bottles to the top, and knew that they too would be fine for more than just one day. We did the same with the pigeons.
The bees were still out foraging off of the goldenrod and other fall flowers. We knew that the red worms were not likely to freeze for another month or so, and were well stocked with moldy bread and left over rice and noodles.
The dogs were happily ensconced in their holiday pet hotel where the staff let them feel as though they are their most favorite dogs in the whole wide world. Whenever we drop the dogs off, they trot away happily without even giving us a backward glance.
But the chickens are another story. I believe that we have spoiled them terribly.
Every morning we open up the front ramp to their mobile coop and they spill out into the yard. They have a set routine, setting off like a river of multicolored feathers in their speedy chicken wobble, and dash straight for the goat yard.
Once there, they separate, and peck and scratch their way about the yard looking for those things that delight only chickens.
By mid-day, they gather by the gate and slowly, leaders first, venture out into the orchard field, pecking and scratching their way among the trees.
As the sun starts to travel over the hill in late afternoon, they make their way to rabbit row, checking out more delectable goodies on their way to the cabin porch to beg for whatever leftovers I can gather up from the kitchen and scatter among them.
Then, about half an hour before nightfall, they return to their coop, one by one heading up the ramp, each to her designated roost. By dark, we have closed and locked the ramp, keeping them safe from predators.
So the morning we left for Pennsylvania, we filled two watering buckets and two food bins, set them inside the coop, and did not let the chickens out. They were distressed with the altered routine, fluttering about inside and begging to be let out, but we knew that if we gave in they would be "sitting ducks" for every coyote and raccoon in the creek valley.
I was glad to find them safe and sound and roosting contentedly on our return the next night, and when we let the ramp down the following morning, I really understood the meaning of the phrase "cooped up."
Their feathered river nearly exploded from the coop and raced at top speed, wings flapping, to the goat yard. We had missed the rest of the conference, but our birds were safe.
And then this past week was the county fair. Once again, the chickens dictated our attendance policy. If we let them out in the morning, and went up to the fair in the afternoon or evening, we had to return by dusk to close up the ramp, or if we lingered too long talking with neighbors and friends, and eating just one more pork tenderloin or ribeye sandwich, I would worry about unknown creatures dining on our birds.
Several days we decided not to leave for the fair until dusk so that we could close up the ramp as usual, and then go to the fair after dark.
Once again, we missed some of the fair events, but our birds were safe. I really believe that I now understand the meaning of the chicken phrase "rule the roost."
Some might think that the phrase relates to the flock's dominant bird, but I know that it relates to the fact that our flock of chickens governs how we spend our time away from the farm. And do you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.