Monday, June 24, 2013
As we have for the past several years, we are raising meat breed chickens to fill our freezer. They are several weeks old now, fully feathered out and quite large. Yesterday I noted that they were hot in the afternoon, and even though they had shade, some of them were panting and looking pathetic. When I woke up this morning it was already hot out, and the forecast was for more of the same. I decided to move the birds to a shadier spot during the coolest part of the day.
The chicks are housed in what is called a "chicken tractor." We made ours out of two, 16 foot long, 4 foot high wire panels. We created a long sort of tent structure, and covered part of it with a tarp to keep the rain away and offer shade. Since meat birds are messy, the tractor is moved to fresh ground once or twice a day. This keeps things neat and gives the birds new territory to explore. This year we invested in some wonderful electric mesh net designed for birds. We have a large area fenced in so the chickens can roam about, but stay safe from foxes or racoons, or even marauding goats who love to eat their food. It is not difficult to install and move, but it is a bit of a project.
So, freshly out of bed I hatched a plan. I would take the mesh fence down, rolling it neatly so I could move it and put it up in the new spot I had picked out. Then I would fill the food pan and walk slowly, with the chicks happily following me to their new territory. I would leave them there, eating breakfast, while I hauled the tractor across the field to where the birds would be. First I moved the goats and pony out of the pasture, and secured them away where they would not step on the birds or eat their food.
The first part of my plan went quite well. I took the netting down, and rolled it up nicely. The chicks were HUNGRY, and clamored around my feet. I next filled their feeder and began to slowly walk across the meadow. The birds followed, peeping and flapping their useless wings, their huge feet trompling down the dewy grass. Every few feet I'd stop, let them get a taste of food, then proceed in the direction I wanted them to go. This alarmed them and they all waddled back to their old pasture. So, I changed things up. I knew they felt comfortable with their nice, familiar tractor. So I decided to move it, a bit at a time, across the expanse of land. The birds would surely go along with the tractor. Now, keep in mind that this thing is rather awkward to move, especially across uneven terrain. But I gently hauled it a few feet, and waited for the birds to catch up. No such luck.
I got a glass of water and thought things through. Meanwhile, the goats, pony, and egg laying birds were wanting OUT of the small area I had them locked up in, and they were filling the air with complaints. I decided to just move the tractor where I wanted it, then try again to entice the birds with food. With no little effort I huffed and puffed and dragged the thing up under the pine trees near the pony shed. Next I filled their water pans with cool water, and put a pan of food inside the tractor to further entice them once I got them there. Ever so patiently I again attempted to lead them by showing them their regular food pan, then walking a bit, then letting them eat, then walking a bit. They were as unimpressed as they had been the first time, and flat refused to join me in a poultry parade. By this time I was hot, perspiring heavily, and thinking that most other people do not spend their days "off" in such a manner. Some people would be having a cup of tea on the porch and reading the paper. But I am not that sort of person, it seems, and I came up with yet another plan. I'd catch the birds,one or (hopefully) two at a time, and carry them to where I wanted them to be. There were a few problems to this plan.
1. The birds do not like to be picked up, held, or moved.
2. Though they are fat and awkward, they can and do skitter away at a sometimes faster pace than I can. Because I, too, am fat and awkward.
3. I had removed the fence, so the birds could range a good, long distance as they tried to keep out of my grip.
4. There are 21 birds. This means I had to catch, then schelp, back and forth,up to 21 times. Did I mention it was hot out?
5. The birds are kind of icky to hold.
6. I had loaned my chicken catching net to a friend just last night.
7. The birds stress out easily and are known to keel over if over excited.
But it was the only solution I was left with, so one by one I caught the birds, trying to cause them as little upset as possible, and carried their damp, hot, squawking bodies up to their new home. One they saw the food, water and tractor, they were happy as could be, and settled right in. Meanwhile, I was red faced and feeling quite frustrated with the entire endeavor.
About the time the last fat bird was ensconced in the shade, my sweet husband came out. His eyes got big when he looked at me; wild hair,beet colored cheeks, drenched in sweat and frosted in bird yuck. A few fluffy white feathers clung to my damp skin and tie dyed sundress. He sized the situation up and very kindly helped me move the electric netting to encircle the birds. Then he cooked me breakfast.
My daughter has me using a program on my iPhone that tracks calories ingested and energy spent on exercise. It is called Lose It and she and I can encourage each other to eat well and exercise while logging our information on the program. It is quite nifty. There are a lot of things I normally do listed under the exercise part of the application. Kayaking, walking, horse back riding, housework and gardening. No where was it listed how many calories I burned off spending 2.5 hours chasing chickens. I checked.