Do your chickens love you like your dog does?
Or are we merely a source of calorie-packed table scraps?
I think they’d peck your eyeballs out if they could get away with it. Then again, it could be me. I’ve seen lots of kids holding chickens like pets, and the hen in little Katie’s arms looks perfectly content. But before I tackle this important question, I must update you on Finnegan and the success of my weekend dog-sitting assignment. You can put this in the, “Shumway, you had one job,” file.
The doggy was great fun to be with from last Friday to Monday. Thanks to Finn, I took two hikes and a few walks around the neighborhood and otherwise I might have been sitting around doing aint-it-awful research or something. I also took Finn to a worksite on Saturday. It was a lawn-mowing and weed-removal gig and unfortunately Finn doesn’t like loud mowers. He kept barking wildly and trying to bite the tires of the big rider/mower so I had to put him in the truck for most of the time. In between mowing, Finn played with Belle, the owner’s dog. Finnegan is big, strong, super-fast and always the dominant dog. He’s also a little insane- not like a vicious Doberman or anything, just always jumping around and doing crazy stuff like taking your arm with him if he’s leashed, when he bolts after varmints and impossible-to-catch birds. I had asked the Hollingsworths if Finn was OK with other dogs and they said, “Yeah, when he’s not on a leash.” That’s fine for the worksite with gentle Belle, but on the trail it presents a dilemma. Most hikers quickly recognize friendly dogs like Finnegan, and they either welcome the attention of an inquisitive, slobbering pup or are at least indifferent, but some people don’t like dogs unleashed on a public trail. Given the popularity of kill-factor dogs these days, I understand that.
In our first encounter with a pit bull Finn was leashed and Chomp was running free. There was a brief angry exchange- both dogs baring teeth and growling. I’ll call it a draw. The owner, a young guy in a black t-shirt and tats, came around the corner holding a red bull, said sorry I just let him off the leash and I said, “It’s OK, I do that too,” as I do when I get further up the trail away from the madding crowd. In the second pit bull encounter I can’t predict which mutt would have won. Finn had the size advantage for sure, but Fang had the neck and those jaws that look like they can pulverize construction rebar. Finn would have to be fast and tricky, because once the pit bull latches onto the neck, it’s curtains. This exchange was more interesting. Both dogs were on a leash. Finn was growling and barking fiercely saying, “This is my territory, buddy boy. Take a hike or I’ma gonna open a can of whoop ass on you!” The bull terrier didn’t flinch or do anything, just kind of sniffed and darted his eyes around. He was one of those inscrutable psycho canines you don’t know what he’s going to do. Gonna have to call this one a draw too. Sorry, Hollingsworths- I can’t say if Finn would win against the pit bulls but I’ll give him the nod on every other encounter, not just the Pomeranians but the big Labs too.
Every human encounter, however, was pleasant. All the ladies love Finnegan.
“What a sweet puppy!”
“Oh, what a darling!”
“Oh, do you wanna say hi, you cutie!”
“Oh, and kisses too!”
I would say Finn is a chick magnet but all the hot chicks on trails around here seem to be with a dude. C’est la vie.
Well, everything went fine until our last walk. Finn needs three walks a day and I figured I could only get one in on this busy Monday where I had to go pick up a bunch of firewood rounds. We were in the wild section of Stan’s property. Finn was enjoying himself, acting like it was a hunting safari out in the tall grass. I watched him for a bit then walked toward the road where I’d leash him up for a morning walk around the neighborhood. I knew Finn would see me and come screaming in and bolt by me- as he does whenever he finds himself not in front. I didn’t say a word and in a moment, the big black dog with white paws was charging through the grass, making huge leaps. He ran under Stan’s hunting perch, a double-chair on top of a ladder 20 feet up the tree, and mid-leap he yelped like he’d been bitten by a snake or shot with a pellet gun. He came down, frantically looked around (to spot the snake or whatever) and then came fast toward me, crying the whole way. He flipped over on his side and whimpered. I saw what happened- a line coming down from the hunting perch was swinging to and fro. I figured he just got tangled for a second and it startled him. I looked him over for blood or a dislocated limb but could find nothing. In a minute, after some petting and calming words, Finn was up again for our walk and didn’t seem any worse for the wear. But that day he wasn’t his usual, hyperactive and super-friendly self. He just laid around and sunned himself, occasionally making a slight whimper. Well, Dave Hollingsworth looked him over and found the ripped skin under thick fur where Finn had gotten tangled with the hook on the end of that line. The next day the vet decided Finn would need stitches so now he sits at home unable to lick his wound because he’s wearing the dreaded cone of shame.
Finnegan will be OK, but will he ever forgive and forget and let me take him on future walks?
Shumway, you had one job!
Now, onto the chickens.
Like I’ve said before, after hanging with chickens for a while, they grow on you.
That’s Whitey, the big, mealtime bully but otherwise timid one ; Snowflake, who can spot a crumb at 50 feet and beat the other chickens to it every time; Blackie (RIP), and Red, who lays the most beautiful brown eggs.
I now like these hens so much I can’t resist petting and grabbing them and when they come running for scraps, at no-scraps time, I usually try to pick one up and carry her around a bit, then set her on a perch of some sort. I have no luck with Whitey, the big scaredy-cat bully who never gets close unless I’m holding food. I used to pick up Snowflake all the time, but Snowflake has learned to take a poo just as I pick her up. When it’s bedtime and I grab each chicken off their high perch above two cardboard boxes and an upside down pail and put them in the pen, I grab Snowflake last and hold her at arm’s length, facing me as she usually sends out a projectile poo, timed perfectly with liftoff like a supplementary-thrust rocket booster.
I’m done trying to hold clever Snowflake. Now my favorite is Red, who is always near, expecting food. Red lets me carry her around everywhere. Does she like it when I hold her close and stroke her back and chest as I walk around? Maybe she’s just thinking, “Sheesh…as long as I get a cracker or something out of this nonsense.”
I can’t tell if Red likes the attention, but I hold her anyway. I’m just glad she doesn’t play the projectile poo card.
I think I’ll set her down here, on this piece of unsplit firewood. Red spends about a second and a half on the stump, and…Whoah, she’s pooing too!
That was close. I’m glad I put her do…Wait…what the?!
Now I gotta rinse this poop off and change my shirt. I’d better call Fred and tell him I’ll be a bit late for woodcutting today. Bummer because I’m already late finishing this job, which he paid me in advance for.
Fred: You’re still home? What the heck?! You said you’d be here already!
Dan: I know. I kind of got sidetr…
Fred: I’m tired of all this wood laying around!
Dan: I’m sorry, I just…
Fred: Anyway, what happened? …and don’t give me some chicken-shit excuse for why you’re late!
Dan: Well, as a matter of fact, Fred, …
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Addendum: Fred actually didn’t harangue me for being late, and he certainly didn’t cuss. I’ve known him for almost three years and no degree of outrage causes him to slip and use foul language, not even this chicken incident (no pun intended).