My ideas seem like good ones at the time they pop into my head. (A few of them are truly horrendous and I need saner-than-me humans to walk me off the ledge.) But most are thought up in innocence, good intention, or ignorance.
House sitting for friends hit all three: innocence, good intention, complete and utter ignorance.
The family has two Golden Doodles—an adult gal possessing a soul deeper than most humans and a boy pup who walks into walls. This isn’t about the dogs.
“We’ll get the neighbor to look after the chickens so you don’t have to mess with them.”
Their sons—little boys—manage these hens. “Just show me what to do and it’ll be fine.”
The boys led my chicken coop in-service. Good little trainers, they were. But a tick of fear welled up in me when one of the boys pointed out his favorite chicken. I couldn’t tell the difference between that one and the other eleven. If one should die or be taken by some predator, I can’t just pass off another orange chicken… This eeks up my stress level, and, evidently, embedded a certain kind of vibe.
Below are text updates to the Lady of the House detailing my experience caring for this how-hard-can-it-be? flock.
A few things to keep in mind:
- I’ve never looked after chickens.
- I’m not afraid of birds.
- I haven’t roller skated in 30 years.
- This family went through a traumatic chicken massacre just last year.
- Folks possessing tips that would’ve been helpful on Day 1 didn’t show up in my week until Days 2, 4, and 6.
- Lady of the House said I was welcome to wear her “chicken shoes.”
- My training, carried out by overly confident children who’ve bonded with this flock on a meaningful level, was on dry ground.
- Since I’d not be distracted by my own to-do list and the CIRCUS at home, I believed I could make major progress on my “deadline” manuscript—a horrendous idea based in optimism, over-zealous goals, and complete and utter ignorance.
First morning on the job. Swap my shoes for the chicken shoes. The chickens fully expect to see their beloved boys, but it’s me. They leave the roofed section and enter their wired-in yard. Fill the feeder. Fresh water.
Collect the eggs. Drop one. I stand in pouring rain and inch-deep mud in shoes that don’t fit. My feet threaten to slide from under me in opposite directions—much like wearing roller skates. I’m trying to figure out how to clean the egg up so some raccoon doesn’t get in there and… I don’t get that far.
Behind me, the flock hits the same freakish harmonic resonance, and in an instant, I’m rushed. Slight relief as they handle this task, and then aghast as I watch them eat one of their own.
Then again, under the right circumstances, I suppose I can relate to the urge to eat one’s young.
So, back to the house, switch shoes to grab the chicken scraps left on the counter so I can “make it up to them.”
Change shoes again. Back out to the ladies. They all look at me sideways as I toss the food. A clump of scrap landed on some dame’s head. Again with that low hive-mind harmonic hum. No brownie points for me.
Ah, well. At least no one escaped and I could keep my own shoes on until evening. I’m not afraid of birds, but my guard is up.
Afternoon Update: A pile of burnt-orange brush in the distance combined with malfunctioning bifocals gives me a mini heart attack. It looked for all the world like a tightly grouped flock of chickens who’d flown the coop. You still have twelve chickens.
Evening Report: Switch shoes. Three chickens and I get to know each other quite well as the amount of coaxing for them to join the eight who willingly went into the coop hit total ridiculousness.
The fourth holdout—probably the gal whose egg I broke—may be filing sexual harassment charges first thing in the morning.
Here’s hoping no one YouTube’d this interaction and that tomorrow evening I’ll have the appropriate bribery without needing to get all handsy. The good news is you have the same number of chickens as this morning.
Lady of the House: Feel free to use any food you find to lure them in. They love food.
Me: I love food too. It’s certain humans that give me a vibe, and no matter what they dangle in front of me, I ain’t gettin’ in the cage. These birds just know. I have that vibe.
Wrestle the gates open and shut. Slide in the mud, but stay upright. Keep hold of the feed and egg container. Half the gals go out to the yard. The other half require curriculum vitae for me to enter the coop area. They should’ve checked my credentials yesterday, but things happen.
Fill the feeder under harsh stares. Set the empty feed bucket and egg container on top of the coop to do the water. Feed container careens across the roof and lands on the other side. Retrieve container and turn to see twelve hens just shaking their heads at this level of incompetence.
“And this is why we only gave you one egg today. Let’s see if you can get that solitary egg up to the house without killing it, us, or yourself, and we’ll reevaluate.”
I suppose I deserve that after all the “handling” last night. I should be grateful the gals didn’t have an attorney waiting for me with a subpoena.
Lady of the House: Sorry for the nastiness. We can get our neighbor to feed and water them if it’s too much.
Me: No, no, Sis. Now it’s personal. Me and these ladies gonna dance.
At the chiropractor, Back Guy swears chickens love anything red. Well, okay then.
Evening Report: You have all of your chickens. Either the revolt is over and Back Guy was right and it was the red of the strawberries being flung through the coop door that did it—OR, OR—they’re lulling me into a false sense of security and tomorrow morning will be all-out war.
Redacted: I thoroughly spray down their water bin and wash down the sides. My aim is a bit off, and the spray a bit powerful—I’m covered in backsplashed mud and all the wonderful chickenly goodness mixed in. I say a word the flock has never heard. I say sorry to Jesus. And to the flock. (Lady of the House is finding this out here on the blog.) End redaction.
Three eggs. The strawberries are a good start, but Wanda, the one who loathes me and tried to taint the rest of the flock, wants me to up the ante tonight or things will get dicey. The attorney is on speed dial.
And if I toss them any more kiwi, we’re back to one egg.
Evening Report: Wanda refused to cooperate tonight. She went dead weight, like a child refusing to be placed in a car seat, and not even the juiciest of strawberries could entice her. There’s a meeting with the legal assistant in the morning.
Redacted: Wanda can also say words the flock has never heard. She does not apologize to them or Jesus. (Lady of the House is finding this out now, too.) End Redaction.
Morning Report: Twelve birds. Eleven eggs. Wanda is the holdout. Negotiations with the flock to bring a class action suit against their temporary caretaker fell through when word broke that this stranger may have purchased a watermelon for this evening’s peace offering. Said caretaker has also sacrificed her smoothie strawberries for the sake of just a little bit of cooperation. The attorney insists Wanda doesn’t have a case and that no jury in the world would convict the caretaker of fowel play.
Wanda fired this attorney and is currently seeking new counsel.
A friend tells me chickens have a leader who decides bedtime, and if I just wait, that gal will tell the others to go into the coop and I can simply shut the door. I didn’t know this before, and we’re already in negotiations. I’m doomed to throw red things through the gate for three more nights. Otherwise, I must trust Wanda to safely gather up the girls before the predator responsible for last year’s massacre emerges from the tree line.
My trust in human competence is at an all-time low. My trust in chickens is lower than that. Especially a chicken with a grudge.
Evening Report: Adultish Male Child comes for a movie night, but I think he wants an excuse to hang around to watch me coop the chickens. Watermelon works for ten gals. Wanda causes a problem with a sleeper cell recruit, and when I bobble the gate in front of my audience of one, she and her acolyte decide to look for legal representation in the next county over.
Adultish Male Child and the lady dog capture them. Things get handsy. The rest of the flock watches, stunned, at the muscles of this surprise human visitor and the ease with which the lady dog handles the situation. Still have twelve chickens.
The entire brood glares at Wanda, still the holdout, and expresses how grateful they’d be for more watermelon this evening and would give no hassle so long as that freaky dude with the big muscles and the big dog don’t show up and get handsy or pawsy. I agree. Eleven hens go to the yard, clucking happily.
Wanda lets another interesting word slip from her beak as she perches in the coop, staring holes through my soul.
I’m not afraid of birds. But Wanda is no ordinary bird…
Evening Report: To Lady of the House I text: Twelve chickens in the coop. Wanda is evil.
Redacted: I enter the yard with the agreed-upon watermelon, no big dog, and no scary Adultish Male Child with muscles. Toss the watermelon and a few crunchy goodies for added brownie points through the coop gate. I thought they all went in. Twelve little combs, twelve little wattles.
I’ve got to make an appointment with Eye Guy. These bifocals with their hair’s breadth focus line. I missed one. Wanda. Behind me. Charging from the far end of the yard where she’d been waiting for a chance for a getaway or an ambush…
She chose ambush—right between my legs, disrupting everyone’s watermelon dinner and toppling me into the coop frame, feet sliding in the still-muddy pen in shoes that don’t fit. (A month of roller skating prior to this week of chicken sittin’ would’ve been beneficial). I remain upright. I refuse to let this dame take me down.
Wanda squawks many words. I say one and think a few more as I align my feet with my torso. Only one of us apologizes to Jesus. End redaction.
Twelve chickens. Would be eleven if I had the slightest idea how to cook.
Morning Report: Find a text I missed last night from Lady of the House. She has it on good authority that chickens never forget a face. See… this is the kind of info that would’ve been useful days ago. I could’ve gone to the yard with a ski mask, a motorcycle helmet, a sheet with holes in it. Anything. Anything for a little cooperation.
To Lady of the House: Twelve living chickens. I don’t know how to count today’s eggs. Wanda may be a terrorist.
Redacted: All twelve chickens were at the inner coop gate. We have an understanding that when I open up the yard, they are to stay away from my legs. Wanda smirks, but they all go out.
Feed, water. Collect twelve eggs. One egg is not like the rest. It’s half again as big as the others and the shell is bumpy. One kind gal joins me back in the coop area, throwing paranoid glances over her wing. She looks at that egg and back at me. She shakes her head, so subtle her wattle doesn’t wiggle. A gentle, clandestine warning. She joins the rest of the flock before Wanda catches on. End redaction.
I leave a note for Lady of the House to maybe set that egg aside and call the FBI or the Department of Agriculture. Someone.
Afternoon Update: Before the family returns home, I try one last time to win over the entire flock—yes, even Miss Wanda. I have Cheerios and Goldfish crackers as an afternoon snack.
Wanda’s beat me to it. My snacks come too late. She’s turned the whole burnt-orange brood—even the kind gal who warned me about that egg this morning. When they see me, they hit that hateful harmonic hum. I approach the yard and fling the goodies over. They stop humming, peck at a few cereal bits, then look at me with that hive-mind glare, demanding to know what the catch is.
“No catch, gals. I promise this is it for me. Your boys will be back tonight.”
The glaring stops. They shake out their wings, wiggle their wattles, and dig into the goodies. Wanda casts a glance over her shoulder, and with a victorious smirk, turns and kicks up muck from the yard at my legs.
Started with twelve. Ended with the same twelve.
That’ll have to be the win of the week.
Egg Count: I. Do. Not. Care.
Overall Word Count: 589
Word Count on Deadline Manuscript: Yeah…
My own two shoes, my own three cats, and a twelve-piece chicken dinner to savor over many meals as I reevaluate my entire decision-making paradigm.