My work history is littered with different stops and starts in my lifetime. Before I settled into a full time career as a writer of sorts, I jumped around to different positions that seemed “fun” at the time.
I started out as a dental assistant – forced on me by my step father, who was a dentist. It was cheap child labor for him, and something to keep me busy in the summers during high school. I entertained thoughts of becoming a dental hygienist. The hygienist my father hired worked 3 days a week, and spent the other 4 days skiing in the winters, surfing in the summers. It seemed like a great career until I found that I actually had to clean people’s teeth, which I considered vile, and dropped the thought like a hot potato.
For two summers during college I was a lifeguard/swim instructor. Too hot, too many kids. I followed that for a year running a ticket booth in a music store. Selling tickets for concerts, plays and events in the LA area. Highlights were that I ran the booth solo, the music store was staffed with people who became my best friends, and that I got free tickets to see anything, basically, that I wanted. From the Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan, to top Broadway plays (I saw A Chorus Line twice!).
I did a stint as a spokesperson for the small city I lived in, doing ribbon cuttings, hosting functions, singing at events, and even competing in the Miss California Pageant. Yes, I was considered a hot ticket in my 20s, believe it or not.
During this time I got my first job as an honest to goodness writer. I think the paid me minimum wage, but I remember when my Dad asked me “what is your pay?” I said “I don’t know, but they are actually going to pay me for writing!”
But none of these work experiences prepared me for my latest career move – as a Chicken Wrangler.
Yes, it was a busy day yesterday on Reluctant Farm. AKA Foggy Mountain Farms. After 5 months, the chickens had literally demolished the pen that Brad had set up for them, and we decided that it was time to move them down to a proper pasture, so they can forage as nature intended.
Not to say they didn’t enjoy their pen, but all grass was gone, and as much as they enjoyed us throwing hay into the pen for them to scratch in, It just wasn’t enough. They had started looking for a way out – to greener pastures.
Plus, it became a muddy mucky mess once the inevitable Washington rains came. Their feet were always muddy (and they didn’t take too kindly when I tried to towel them off) and for some reason, their necks were dirty. Not their bodies, mind you, but their necks. How? I truly don’t know, but you don’t ask chickens why they do what they do. They look at you with their chicken eyes, jump on your back and cling on like scared kittens, or start pecking at your shoes. They really don’t like being questioned.
So, it became a clear reality that the hens needed large pasture areas we could rotate so that their little chicken feet would always land on something green.
It seemed like a simple process. Brad had fenced the three pasture areas, and thought that it would be easy to just close up the coop at night, then move the coop, chickens and all, down the 1/4 mile to the fenced pasture. I would stand on the house deck and wave to him while he tractored the coop, and later bring goodies (a big tray of oatmeal with shredded apples) to the hens as a reward for their relocation trauma.
Plus we have neighbor Bob. Neighbor Bob is our secret weapon. He’s always there to help out. Because he has a huge heart, and I think, because every now and then he needs the comic relief from people who don’t really know what they are doing.
There’s an easy way to do something, and there’s the Reluctant Farm way to do things. And the two are not the same.
I saw the coop go down the drive. BUT – I saw the chickens in their old pen. I watched the coop go down the drive, off the drive, and into the bush. I saw the coop go back down the drive, and off the drive again. Most of the morning the coop moved about as fast as my Labrador retriever when I try to get him to go outside when it’s raining. Which is about as fast as I could crawl on my hands and knees over a gravel path. 1/4 mile took 4 hours.
When it was finally in place my jubilation was brief as I saw that the chickens were still in their old pen. Brad was walking up to the house, solo, and I realized my time as a cheerleader was up. I would be recruited to help wrangle chickens.
I’m a person of solutions. I am always trying to think of a better way. Brad’s idea of putting two hens in a big Rubbermaid box, and one in each of our laps, in the car, seemed like a long, slow and slightly annoying and stressful situation. “Why don’t we just put them all in the campershell in back of the truck and drive all 20 down at once?” I thought that seemed infinitely quicker and seamless. I’m a smart, college-educated girl, we can do this in one trip – done and done.
“How are you going to get them out of the camper?” Brad noted. “You open the door and they’ll all either rush out. We can’t get the truck into the pasture, so they’ll run all over and we’ll have to chase them, unfenced. OR they’ll stay at the very front of the camper and I’ll have to crawl in and get them.”
So we started the Great Chicken Round Up of 2015
When you have 20 chickens, the first few chickens go pretty easily. I am, after all, a chicken whisperer. I talk sweetly and quietly, they kind of crouch down, I pet their little fluffy backs, pick them up, tuck them under one arm and away we go. This worked well for the first run. Put two in the box, had one under my arm, one under Brad’s, we drove to the coop and pasture, and in the coop they went without protest. We returned to a different scenario.
Chickens are a lot smarter than they look. I could see their little chicken brains doing a quick tally. “Oh, look,” they seemed to say, “Henrietta took a ride.” When we drove back, empty handed, they scattered. Clucking “oh, shit – Henrietta’s gone! everyone – RUN.”
Brad was running around the pen, arms splayed out at his sides, trying to corral a chicken. I’m trying to gently convince them to let me pick them up, and they are scattering like Henny Penny when the sky falls. Brad is a man of limited patience, and he grabs one by the feet and holds it upside down in what I’m sure he thought was very farmer-ish. “OMG STOP THAT” I yelled to him. He says to me “that’s the way they hold them Susan.” I said ‘No Brad. That’s the way they hold them after they cut their heads off and they’re dead. They don’t hold live chickens upside down for God sakes.”
We get one in the box, try to get the other one in, and the first one pops out. Then the first one, armed with the knowledge of what waits her if she’s caught, runs around the pen even faster than before.
“Please Brad” I begged. “If we can’t put them in the camper in back of the truck, can we just put them in the car? Then we can crack open the door and get them out one at a time?” But the thought of 16 chickens in our Ford Escape, pooping and flying at us wasn’t something he was willing to chance. Plus I think I have a use by date for solutions until he simply tunes me out. So for what seemed like eternity, we chased chickens, transported chickens, got scratched and pecked and got major chicken attitude, but eventually, got chickens housed in their new, better environment.
Today, they seem a bit more appreciative. They have their regular coop, and a penned “entryway.” From there they go out gates to any one of three additional huge pasture areas. They love it.
Except when some of them get into the larger pasture, they’re not quite sure how to get back to the coop. So instead of finding their way to the open gate, they run back and forth by the fence, in a heightened state of stress, trying to figure out how to get to the other side. Until we go in and walk behind them, once again wrangling them through the gate and back to the safety of the coup.
I call this job security. And a good work out. Walk up and down, several times a day, making sure chickens get back into the entry way, where their food and water waits.
As my college professor always told me, always accept any job challenge that comes your way – it looks good on your resume. Dental Assistant turned Hometown Queen, turned Writer turned Chicken Farmer. I’d say my work here is done.