I’ve got 99 problems and all of them are chickens

[Written June 19, 2016]

TL;DR The chickens can be a pain in the ass. Before we get into why, here are some cute pictures of them, because I do love them when I don’t hate them.

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The pullets, or younger chickens who don’t lay eggs yet out in the mobile coop. These chickens are free-range in that they aren’t fenced in, but they are fed by us so not 100% real free range chickens (though they also do eat whatever is growing near them).

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Our older laying hens/roosters over at the intern coop (the one next to our house). This is a photo of them eating their 10am greens. The chickens eat grain in the morning and are fed greens mid-morning. They eat exactly what we eat.


I was back on chicken duty again this Sunday. I worked with Nita who collected eggs in the morning while I fed and watered the chickens. Early morning chicken duty went smoothly, so I should have known to expect a shit show mid-morning.

It was my turn to fetch eggs at 10am and the chickens were extra ornery today. Not the worst I’ve seen them, but the roosters kept attacking my boots and the chickens were screaming loudly when I’d try to get their eggs and pecking me way more than usual. The week I worked chicken chore I had gotten better at gently holding the chicken’s heads to the side so they couldn’t peck me during egg collection, but this day was a failure. I got as many as I could but ended up missing a bunch that I knew I’d have to get during 3:30pm egg collection, and I hoped the chickens would be calmer by then.

The last time I worked a weekend chicken shift they were also more pissy than usual, which is curious and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not. Last time we had an incident where a chicken jumped onto my egg basket and pecked an egg open. My chore partner was new to chicken chore and panicked and threw the egg. For those who haven’t worked with chickens, they are weird little cannibals and go crazy if they get a cracked egg and eat it. This is problematic because if they get a taste for their own eggs they will start cannibalizing as they lay and we’ve been taught that once you see a chicken eating an egg you should “put it in the pot” as Bob says (Bob suggests keeping a can of spray paint in the coop and spraying the chicken once you see it eat the egg then come back for them later to euthanize).

Throwing the egg created a bad situation. It wasn’t his fault, I think throwing the egg out of the basket was a normal reaction to the situation, it just happened to be the worst one. The chickens all descended on the thrown egg in a frenzy. The chicken on my egg basket got more aggressive and began pecking at eggs and I made the situation worse by screaming loudly. Screaming is a really bad chicken chore habit I need to break ASAP. It doesn’t hurt when they peck you, but it always startles the crap out of me and I scream and stir the chickens up. It would be funny if it didn’t make my job so much harder.

I finally got the cannibal chicken off my basket and we ran out of the coop to regroup. When we returned to the coop the chickens were going apeshit. We continued trying to egg collect but a crazy number of chickens/roosters were crowded around me repeatedly attacking my legs and boots. The cannibal chicken kept trying to jump onto my egg basket, and now it had some new cannibal friends who were doing the same. We ended up successfully collecting 101 eggs that shift, and we worked hard for them. It was my worst chicken experience until today, and I was relieved to not have chicken duty again for a few weeks after it.


Unfortunately, today’s ornery laying hens weren’t the last of my troubles. After egg collection, I went back out to the yard to fill the chicken’s water. I saw a random egg in the yard once I left so went back in to grab it and while doing so I noticed a chicken laying on the other side of the yard not moving much. I went over to check it out thinking maybe it was a hen sitting down to lay eggs out there. Upon further inspection, I discovered it wasn’t a chicken, but a rooster, and that it wasn’t moving because it had somehow been injured. The rooster was alive but clearly suffering and unable to move. I panicked, unsure what to do and started crying because it was really troublesome to see. I texted our intern coordinator and asked what to do while admitting that I was being a total wuss about the whole situation.

While waiting for a response, Nita came back with the chicken’s afternoon greens (they eat grain in the early morning and greens mid-morning). She used the bin the greens were in to shield the rooster from the sunlight while we sat with him and waited for instruction. She said it was normal to cry and not to be embarrassed and that she was surprised she wasn’t crying with me. Her kind response really helped alleviate some of the stress of the situation and I was extremely grateful to her. The response came to bring the rooster back to the main farm to be looked at. I picked him up and laid him in a basket but halfway to the farm he seemingly sprang back to life and sat up. He clearly wasn’t all there but I had some hope that he may be less injured than I originally thought. I ditched the basket and carried him in my arms the rest of the way talking to him reassuringly and trying to make him as comfortable as I could while feeling mildly insane.

When I got to the farm, Adirchai was watering plants and saw me with the rooster and came over to see what was up. I had calmed down on the walk over but started crying badly again when I explained what was going on. He comforted me while laughing a little bit, which made me laugh at myself a little too and helped.

This was when I found out that Friday night a bob cat got into the chicken pasture and attacked the rooster. Hilariously, one of the interns identified it as a mountain lion initially before being corrected. The interns at the scene checked the rooster out and initially thought he was a goner, but he was a resilient little dude and got back up and proudly walked back into the coop after a few minutes of shock. They kept an eye on him yesterday and he seemed okay, but last night the bob cat was back again and one of the housemates suspects the stress was too much for the poor rooster. Our coordinator checked him out once I got him to the farm and he unfortunately had to be put down. I cried again.

It’s hard because I understand it’s a part of farm life, and I’ve known we have animal harvests coming up and began feeling more comfortable with the idea and thinking it may help me feel better about being a carnivore… but after my reaction to this situation I’m concerned. Am I a shitty farmer? Is it just because it was so unexpected? Was it that the rooster was injured vs. being found dead? I don’t know. But it sucked and it still sucks. Last semester’s interns had to deal with multiple dog attacks on the chicken coop, so it could be worse, but I am hoping this is the last bob cat related chicken issue we have to deal with.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to spend some time each day in the chicken yard reading my book to see if they get more acclimated to my presence and if it helps with egg collections or not. I’ll let you guys know! [Update June 25: I have yet to sit and read in the chicken yard].

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About tamarahala

Tamara is currently living in Petaluma, CA as an intern at Green String Institute! She is a mixed media artist, student aerialist, and former neuroscientist.

One response to “I’ve got 99 problems and all of them are chickens”

  1. debc says :

    I would have cried, too. When you work closely with animals, you get attached, even if you don’t intend to. And roosters are sometimes nicer than we give them credit for. Some of my favorite chickens have been roos.

    Like

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