Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How Do YOU Eat Chicken?

When my kids were little, they loved to listen to Wolf Story, a wonderful children's book written in 1947 by William McCleery.

The book centers on the story that a man tells his young son about the misadventures of a wolf who steals a chicken from a clever little boy named Jimmy Tractorwheel. Waldo the wolf soon finds himself outsmarted not only by young Jimmy but by the chicken, Rainbow, who is definitely not the "poor little twerp of a hen" that Waldo thinks she is.

In one scene that my kids especially loved, Rainbow the hen is shocked when she learns that Waldo plans to eat her without the benefit of a knife or fork:

"`I hope you weren't planning to eat me with your fingers,' said the hen.
"`How do you eat chicken?' cried the wolf.
"`I,' said the hen, `do not eat chicken.'"

I don't eat chicken myself anymore. But lots of people and critters do, and this year we've had a couple of narrow scrapes as our chickens almost became prey.

So here are two stories from 2014: one a hawk story, and the other a fox story. (No wolf story of our own yet, thank heavens.)

1. The Hawk

My son called me at work the Friday after Labor Day. School had dismissed early because of the heat, and he had let the chickens out to roam the backyard. I'd encouraged him to do this, thinking that as long as someone was home the chickens should be safe in our fenced backyard.

Will sounded worried. He told me that he couldn't find Lucille, our Barred Rock, and couldn't get the other hens out of the bushes and back into the coop. I thought the chickens were just being recalcitrant, so told him I was headed home soon and would just look for them when I got there.

When I arrived home, I headed out to the backyard, and found this:

And near the garden, I found this:

Now I was worried. Something had clearly attacked the hens, and I feared the worst as I looked around the backyard.  I soon found four of them--everyone but Lucille--huddled together under a bush, clearly a little traumatized. Both Fanny and Nettie, our Rhode Island Red, had lost feathers on their backs, but no one was bleeding or visibly injured. I shooed them back into the coop, shut the door, and called for Lucille. A minute later, I heard her warble near the fenceline--and saw she was hiding out in our neighbor's bushes. I'm guessing that when the excitement began, she slipped through the opening into their yard, where all was quiet.

I brought her home and shut all five hens in the coop. An hour later, I looked out the kitchen window and there was a big red-tailed hawk sitting on the coop roof, clearly wondering where dinner had gone.

2. The Fox

We had heard from several of our neighbors that we had a fox in our neighborhood; one told us that he had seen the fox early one morning while walking his dog on the next block. A few weeks later, while feeding the chickens around 7:00 a.m., I spotted the fox myself, as he stood stock-still outside our metal picket fence while the hens stood just as still inside the fence watching him.

At the time, I congratulated myself on our "chicken-proofed" fence. Earlier this summer, my daughter and husband had attached hardware cloth to the bottom of the fence to keep the chickens from slipping out, and foolishly, I thought this would be enough to keep other critters out.

Then, one morning in late November, I let the chickens out of their coop while refilling their food and water. I was in the habit of letting them out to forage in the fenced backyard while I ate breakfast and got ready for work, thinking that surely no big predators would attack them in their own yard in broad daylight. That morning, my husband and I were both in the kitchen when he happened to look out the window just as the fox zipped across the backyard making a bee-line for the hens. He dashed out the door yelling "Fox!" I looked out and saw the fox pounce and feathers flying and ran outside myself, just as the fox wheeled away and leaped over the fence.

Poor Nettie! Once again she had been the victim. Although she was missing a clump of feathers off her back, she was otherwise just fine. I herded the hens back into their box, and vowed then not to let them out again unless I was out there with them. There are just too many critters out there who like to eat chicken.

Here's hoping for a predator-proof 2015!

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