Thursday, 26 June 2008

All Quiet on the Chicken Front

Out of sight, out of mind.

Since Ralph and Lauren have been confined to their chicken run, my children seem to have forgotten that we have chickens.

As I foretold, the care of these two chickens has fallen to me -- and it's not just physical maintenance either. Just as I must determine if my teenaged daughter should be allowed to take the train to Reading to wander aimlessly with friends, so must I negotiate an optimum balance of freedom vs. responsibility for the chickens.

After being allowed to run riot all over the garden for six months, it was unanimously decided (between the gardeners and myself) that Ralph and Lauren would have to be contained. Although it was obvious that they loved their freedom, it was also obvious that they were marauding brutes. As far as Colin, my gardener, was concerned, they were Genghis Khan reincarnated in the form of poultry -- and he just wasn't having it. The ambitious spring program of replanting and border-building did not allow for this unruly gang of two. Thus, a plan was formed: A chicken run, to be purpose-built by Colin, at the bottom of the garden.

I would just like to note that Colin -- who tends to be a bit of a "MaƱana" man when it comes to proposed projects -- came in on a SATURDAY, loaded down with lumber, to build this chicken run. After watching helplessly as the chickens dug up his flower beds for months, he was super-motivated.

Honestly, it's a really nice chicken run. It's spacious; it has shade from a large oak tree; it has all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore. However, all of these "features" cannot disguise the fact that it looks and feels like a confinement. Sigmund, always ready with a (sadistic) quip that goes straight to the heart of the matter, delights in calling it "Chicken Prison."

I worked in the garden for hours today, and every now and then I approached the chickens with special treats, not unlike a peace offering: some snails, some bread crumbs, some carrot scraps. There would be Ralph -- waiting, always waiting -- quietly and forlornly at the fence. Lauren, still crazed by the broody desire to be a mother, was a no-show. Day after day, she sits on eggs that will never hatch.

My chickens, once free and frisky, have lost their mojo.

I can't help but feel a little like Gordon Brown.

In the name of the "greater good," UK citizens have experienced the erosion or downright loss of all sorts of civil liberties. CCTV cameras record our every move. Public smoking is banned. National ID cards and a DNA database are being proposed. In the efforts to curtail crime and thwart terrorism, we have all (presumably) agreed to give up aspects of our freedom and autonomy.

Yes, I have a cleaner, neater garden . . . but I do miss, just a bit, the wild and crazy antics of my chickens.

17 comments:

Barrie said...

Fantastic post! In fact, I have spent far too long on your blog. My laundry has suffered. :)

I'm off to add you to the sidebar of my blog.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Poor Ralph and Lauren. It's so nice for you to bring them treats. Maybe you can sneak a little saw in their cake next time?

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, the enclosure might protect your chickens from foxes at least. You make an amusing link to current state policy, but don't say I called foxes terrorists!

Perhaps you can let your chickens out from time to time for supervised play. You also may need to move the run occasionally to allow that part of your yard to recover.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I think Sarah has hit on the perfect solution.

Time out under the watchful eye of the jailer.

(or, if it were me, under the watchful eye of one of the boys when a bit of "attitude correction" is in order.)

Alyson said...

You had me laughing with this one. I loved the descriptions. Good luck with your broody and depressed lot. I echo what Sarah said as well.

Audrey said...

Have you considered sending your chickens on a train to Reading for a bit of R and R? Just a thought.

Nimble said...

The oppression of chicken freedom! I love the description of how uncharacteristically quickly your gardener got the chicken yard constructed. Do the chickens peck at all the emerging plants? What kind of pillaging do they do?

I'm sure Ralph and Lauren have a cushy spot even if confined. Now I'm wondering how long chickens live... Googling tells me the chicken lifespan is 7 to 15 years with the caveat that every predator on the planet likes to eat them so they rarely make it to old age.

Do you find yourself thinking about how to use all the eggs? I hope it's a pleasant resource. And I hope the girls will help gather eggs at least.

Lucy said...

They do peck of course, but it's the kicking and scratching that wreaks the havoc! You could try giving them a straw bale or two, some grass cuttings...

Went to visit friends with Buff Orpingtons the other day, they were trying to persuade them to venture a bit further within thier alloted area, but they seem very timorous!

herhimnbryn said...

Here via Lucy's blog, glad I found you too.
Don't have chooks( Australian for chickens),the cattle dog is enough really! But, have friend with chooks and they have built a second smaller run on wheels, so that it can be moved around the garden.....just an idea:)

Anne said...

Like Alyson, I was laughing at this post. I'm quite sure the chicken run is lovely, although I'm also quite sure that the chickens don't see it that way. I do like the idea of supervised excursions--might that alleviate some of your guilt about keeping them locked up?

I feel so bad about keeping our kitties inside all the time that I bought a harness and leash so that we could let them roam outside (one at a time). Needless to say, the harness was a torment far worse than 24/7 confinement.

Bee said...

Barrie,
Thanks! (for the kind words and the linkage)

JAPRA,
Well, I'm torn on the saw thing. It IS rather nice to not see piles of chicken poop everywhere.

Sarah,
Yes, I like to think that locking up the chickens "is for their own good" -- keeping away the predators, etc.

I will consider the possibilities of supervised play. But do you think that a taste of freedom is actually worse than none at all?

You, as a native New Yorker, should understand my comparison: When we aim for a safer, cleaner space, something gets lost in the process!

BSR,
We can experiment with supervised play -- with youngest daughter as chicken-herder.

Alyson,
I'm glad you laughed! At least those darn chickens are good for something.

Audrey,
Do you think that the chickens would like a bit of Topshop then?

Nimble,
Well, their appetite for destruction was vast and varied. The WORST thing they did was wallow in the rose beds. Colin is also very proud of his edges, and they used to kick bark and dirt everywhere. I've already mentioned the chicken poop, I believe.

Actually, their chicken run is VERY spacious -- and it has lovely views. But apparently, even a posh prison is still a prison for the confined parties.

And yes, we are probably increasing their life spans by protecting them from nature's tooth and claw.

Lucy,
Good idea on the straw and grass! (Funnily enough, they have lots of lovely grass in their "enclosure" -- which they haven't bothered to tear up at all.)

I guess it's the depression, but they really don't move around their space much. When they were FREE, they used to travel far and wide . . . and we found them inching towards the road more than once.

Bee said...

herhimnbryn,
I'm really pleased to make an Australian friend (or should I call you a "link?")!
So your friends have a "caravan" for their chooks, huh?

So far, our chooks have a penthouse inside a large enclosure. We have spent several hundred pounds on this chook accommodation. We may have to draw the line!

Anne,
Our pets may just have to learn to love the gilded cage. Sometimes freedom is just too dangerous.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, chickens aren't thinkers although you clearly are! Your feathered friends live for the moment so let them out occasionally if the mood strikes you. They are still "free range" in a pen and much happier than a caged chicken. Plus a loose chicken might provide some more amusing blog anecdotes. As for the NYC comparison - think how much less happy your chickens would be under Guiliani.

Audrey said...

Of course the chickens would adore Topshop, after all who doesn't? I think they could use a couple of hours at the movies and then a Starbucks before heading home. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "Free Range" don't you think?

JaneyV said...

Hi - I'm still alive but being a bit quiet. I loved this post. Have you seen the film Chicken Run by Aardman who made all the Wallace and Grommit movies? All I can see is poor Ralph and Lauren knitting jumpers and making escape plans.

You've done the right thing. It sounds like you're gardener or a fox might get them if you left them free much longer. From what I've heard, from my friend who keeps them, - they're absolutely fine to be left out to roam your garden for an hour or so a day. They won't hate you!

Taffiny said...

Well now I know my new nickname for Bob, Manana Man (perhaps though I best just think it in my head)

bit different, but reminds me off how every other week we try to do something, a change of sort, for our betta fish, because by that time he starts to just look bored, spending whole days sitting on the bottom of the tank (except for air trips).

Bee said...

Sarah,
I do laugh at the thought of Guiliani cracking down on chicken crime! (Defense Lawyer: But it is just their NATURE to want to scratch and pillage.)

Audrey,
Since you brought up Starbucks, I would like to point out that my 14 yo is about as responsible with money as a headless chicken. Instead of having lunch on Saturday, she treated herself to THREE Starbucks beverages!!!!

JaneyV,
Yes, I've seen Chicken Run!! This is probably one of the reasons why I tend to anthropomorphize my chickens.

Taffiny,
Manana Man is just a tender jibe, I think.

I'm SURE that there is such a thing as pet boredom -- even for fish. We all like a bit of variety.