When we first started letting the chickens out in the yard, it was sometimes kind of a headache getting them back into the coop. It’s not really a surprise that given the choice of the great outdoors or a confined run, they’re going to choose the great outdoors. Unfortunately, the great outdoors is also fairly fraught with peril, if you’re a chicken, so we like to get them back into a safe area once chicken recess is over. You can’t really explain to them the different things that would like to eat them if they don’t go inside. Well, you can try, but they don’t listen. It’s a little like having an argument on the internet, just that the other person isn’t fighting back by blaming everything on Obama. Maybe it’s more like arguing with a feathery wall. However one chooses to describe it, the end result is that nothing changes no matter how persuasive you are. I went through all this trouble of making them a nice coop, and this is how they thank me. I have had some successes in the past year with getting them back in with less effort, but lately we’re slipping back into the bad old days.
When they were young, it was very difficult to get them back into the coop. They could possibly run off in any direction if I approached, which always made me think they would run off in the opposite direction from whatever direction I needed to them go in. I began to approach them with my arms out wide, in the hopes that I would make myself appear larger. This is actually what you’re supposed to do if you’ve encountered a mountain lion, but I was putting a new spin on it. I could sort of direct them as a group this way, and at least get them in the general vicinity of the run. If I was lucky, I could get a few into the run, close the door, and then go after individuals. Have you ever chased a chicken? If you have, you know how stupid you feel doing it, and how hard it is to catch them. This is why in Rocky II, Burgess Meredith says of a chicken, “If you can catch this thing, you can catch greased lightning!” The easiest thing to do was corner them, then grab them and put them back. This is assuming they didn’t put up too much of a fight. I’ve had times where I held them close, only to get thrashed to bits when they made a break for it. My arms began to be monuments to the power of chicken claws. I needed a change.
The change came in the form of “The Chicken Stick,” which is the long wooden rod from our closet. We put in a whole new system for hanging stuff, so we didn’t need it, but it’s about 8 feet long and seemed useful to me. That was a good hunch. I took it outside, and used it to steer the chickens in many different directions without even having to get too close to them. I am the shepherd of the chickens and now I had the correct accessory. It also made me feel a little like a ninja or wizard. How could I lose? Well, when the neighbors saw me following around a bunch of chickens with a giant stick while talking to them. “The guy next door was totally watching you out there,” my wife told me one day, somewhat deflating my feelings of success. But I stuck with it. I could steer them between the open door and the stick, and funnel them all right into the run easily.
This was until I discovered mealworms. The mealworm revolutionized the chicken re-cooping process. Once they got a taste of these, if they so much as heard the bag crinkle in my pocket, they would stay so close to me I would trip over them. A few times they heard it right at the beginning of recess, and it killed the free ranging. They knew I had better stuff than what they’d find in the undergrowth, and it was less work. I stuck to bringing the bag out only when it was time to go back in, and then they’d run right into the coop without a fuss.
Until they started not to. Lately they have grown tired of this mealworm ruse, and they’ll follow me with the bag, but they won’t go in the run. When I do get them in there through some means, they fight over the worms, so those haven’t lost their charms. It seems to be me that’s lost charm. My guess is that everyone likes sticking it to The Man, and I am The Man in this scenario. They’ve apparently had it with me, and despite my gifts, they’re going to give me a hard time about everything. I don’t know how our relationship deteriorated to this point. Until we start counseling, I’ll have to use a combination of the Chicken Stick and treats until they find a way to rebel against that. It’s going to be a constant struggle, but I swear I will win out over these chickens.