The Good Life: Yee-Haw! Squirt! Wrangle Them Hens!
A fellow who wrangles cattle out West is a “cowboy.” A geezer who chases chickens hereabouts could be a “chicken boy.”
That would be me.
We keep up to 30 chickens for eggs, meat and enjoyment. At this time of year, our free-range chickens zoom in on my wife’s blueberry bushes. They must be rounded up and rerouted, which is no easy task.
Our hens sneak beneath the netting, then jump/hop/flutter up, nabbing some blueberries and knocking others to the ground, making them inedible as people food.
My wife is not pleased. That is an understatement.
One can chase chickens on foot if one chooses to get sweaty, frustrated and flustered. The birds are adept at circling, doubling back, hiding by diving into nearby high goldenrod, etc.
But while riding a zero-turn riding mower, I can herd, hem and harry the hens so that they head back to their chicken condo inside our high old barn. The mower’s quick-turning capability makes it better suited for this exercise in juvenile irrationality than is our other riding mower, a traditional tractor-mower type.
Some restraint is needed. Too-flustered hens take revenge by not laying eggs. Hens flattened beneath the tires of a zooming mower don’t lay eggs at all. They just lie there, squished in the middle, dead. This makes my wife even less pleased. That is another understatement.
I have developed the art of mower-wrangling chickens to a point where, if a county fair decides in a non-COVID year to have a chicken wrangling contest, I could do fairly well at it.
This year, I discovered a new chicken wrangling tool. It is quite effective, and a heck of a lot of fun besides.
The tool is a squirt gun. The best ones are the pump style guns that hold a quart of water at a time and send a stream out 10 to 20 feet.
We have heard the cliche, “madder than a wet hen.” Wet hens do get mad. That is another understatement.
It is guffaw producing to hear the squawks, croaks, flaps and general fit throwing that follows a precise soaking of a berry-gobbling chicken.
It is music to my ears, and as far as I can tell, it is harmless to the birds, ruffled feathers and lost dignity aside.
I discovered this tactic inside the chicken house, which is a sort of condominium that I built within the former wagon shed portion of our lower barn. That portion has a 16-foot-high ceiling, to accommodate hay wagons of yore. A decade ago, I laid a sub-ceiling of chicken wire about eight feet high when I first framed in the chicken condo. Time rusted the wire and made it brittle. Our barn cats chasing each other across it punched holes in the makeshift ceiling. Possums and raccoons had a few feasts before I restrung the ceiling earlier this year, this time at a more reasonable six feet off the dirt floor.
That works well enough, to a point. But it also creates a hen-roosting haven between the new ceiling and the old, tattered one. A flighty hen will decide to not walk into the chicken condo proper, but fly up above the new ceiling, roosting in imperial majesty far above her housemates. That leaves her vulnerable to varmints, and could result in eggs falling from on high.
So, how to move the offending hens?
I tried poking them with sticks and pieces of plastic water pipe. The chickens just moved around in circles, walking atop the wire ceiling.
The wire ceiling will hold the weight of hens, but not my weight. Getting up there to try to grab the offending bird would not work, either.
Aha! Break out the weaponry!
We have a half-dozen squirt guns, used when visiting grandchildren pursue outdoors fun.
I saw a high-roosting bird affixing a beady eye on me and clucking haughtily, believing herself to be beyond my reach. I filled the pump-action squirt gun from the rain barrel, and then strode into the chicken house like an Old West gunfighter, my own beady eye affixed on the lofty chicken.
The hen would move. A bit of practice taught me how to place the streams of water to force the hen off the ceiling, squawking as it flew down to the floor, then angrily shook its feathers as it haughtily strode into the chicken condo.
If it worked in the chicken house, a squirt gun would make the zero-turn mower an even more effective chicken herder.
This summer, as ripe-berry season approached, I weaponized the riding mower. Now, I zoom and squirt. Hens run and squawk. Eventually, hens and berries are separated without my suffering heart attacks from on-foot chasing. Peace returns to the valley.
I like the sound of that.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.