Chicken Prison

They say chickens have a brain the size of a pea. So then why do they look so guilty when I catch them on the outside of the chicken yard. Could it be because they have dug up the new cucumber plants for the third time which means we won’t be growing any cucumbers this summer?

I like free-range chickens, really I do. They eat slugs and all sorts of bugs. They fertilize as they move through the bushes and flower beds. It’s just that small, new growth doesn’t have a chance with the scratch, scratch, scratch of those busy feet. It’s amazing what devastation one to two loose chickens can cause in a short amount of time.

Mound saw dust around the base of the blueberry bushes and a loose chicken can spread it across the grass before you even know the bird is out of the coop. Pile up leaves as mulch for the Cascade berries to keep down the grass and weeds and it ends up pushed around in clumps with bare spots of earth showing through.

Leave the door to the greenhouse open so the temperatures won’t climb to 120 degrees and this is an open invitation for the birds to scratch in any disturbed area for worms. We plant our tomatoes, chiles, cucumbers, dill, basil, and eggplant straight into the ground, providing plenty of disturbed dirt for a good scratch, scratch, scratch.

What made farmer Jones the maddest this summer, however, was the ruthless pursuit of his baby potted veggies on top of the planting table. Nurtured from seed, it’s a hard thing to see dirt dug from the middle of carefully tended six-packs and wilted plants dying on the table, roots bare and dry. So, he thought he would try to hide his plant starts in the garden, with its 8 foot fence and lush growth from cool weather plants like lettuce, peas, and broccoli.

Too bad the garden actually shares 100 feet of fence with the chicken yard because somehow Boston, our hand-raised white chicken, and two smaller Red Caps figured out how to squeeze through the woven wire despite my attempts to cover more and more of the fencing with a double layer of chicken wire.

In the end, the questions is this. Why did it take until the last cucumber shoots were scratched out, along with many of the new flowers, to consider chicken jail for the worst offenders? While we offer our chickens a Hilton Resort in terms of their yard space, we also have smaller containment areas usually reserved for introducing chicks and new animals to the flock. It wasn’t that hard a leap to make, but it took threats ranging from shooting to eating to provide the ultimate incentive.

The morning after, there was peace in the yard, peace in the garden, and three chickens staring at the door every time it opened for water and food. Do I feel badly? Absolutely not. Well, for the chickens anyway. As for the farmers, they just need to be smarter than a neural tube and not nearly so soft hearted when it comes to their feathered friends.

Photos: (top) Peeps, (middle) Boston scratching in a window box, (bottom) free-range chickens in early spring before they can do a lot of damage to the flower beds

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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