3 lessons learned – Forgetting to shut the coop May 18, 2012
It was my fault, I admit it. I forgot. It was the first time, and hopefully the last! I forgot to shut the coop that night.
Now, there are myriad reasons to make sure to shut your coop up at night—especially if you free range like we do—and most of them have names like weasel or raccoon. This isn’t one of those stories, thank goodness.
We were going away for a long weekend, but didn’t have the chicken sitter until Saturday; we were leaving Friday, though. So, the plan was to leave the chickens in the coop on Friday, because we wouldn’t be there that night to shut them back up safely. Simple, right?
Mind you, I have an incredible ability to make simple things very complex, and this was no exception.
I forgot to shut the coop Thursday night.
We were lucky, really. No predator got into the coop and ate my favorite hens. No one died or was injured. There was a casualty of sorts, though.
So picture this: there I am on Friday morning, having a hot cup of coffee and musing about what time we’d be able to leave, and what I’d have to remember to do before we took off. For example, I’d need to make sure the plants were watered and that the chickens feeders and waterers were full. We needed to leave some empty egg cartons and the cat food out for the sitter to find easily. We’d have to make sure …
Wait a minute.
I heard hen noises just outside the window and peeked out. There was a hen outside, eek!
At first I thought she had just eluded us when I shut everyone else up the night before. Perhaps she was sitting broody on a nest outside somewhere, and I hadn’t noticed it, yet. We have 45 beautiful West Virginia acres, so there is plenty of space for a hen to hide. But then I saw another hen outside, and another. And then another, and more–the whole flock was out! How did that happen? Finally, I saw the coop door was open, and I realized what I’d done. I’d forgotten to shut the coop last night: how could I have done something so stupid?!
Even scarier, I realized the two things I now had to do. First, I had to somehow wrangle all the chickens into the coop before we could leave. Second, I had to admit to my husband what I’d done, and enlist his help to fix it!
Quickly, I downed two more cups of coffee. Numerous bathroom rest stops be damned, I needed the energy! Then I got a bowl full of sunflower seeds, called the girls and went into the coop.
We had about 30 birds at the time, and most of them followed me. I sprinkled sunflower seeds in the feeders, and scattered them around the coop, where they happily began chowing down. When as many birds were in the coop as I thought would come, I slipped outside again and secured the doors. Then I surveyed the damage.
Eight. There were eight still out, and one was a skittish young rooster that had never much liked being handled. One was a hamburg pullet, fast as lightning. Those worried me. But the rest, the rest I might be able to get: Rhode Island Reds, some barnyard mixes, and Bunny the Brahma. However, I’d need my husband’s help. We’d have to corner them somehow, or take them unawares. My friendliest chickens were already back in the coop.
My husband, bless him, is not a morning person like I am, so I had to wait until he woke up. I was getting nervous; maybe all that caffeine was not such a good idea! After a while, though, he woke and blearily stumbled his way into the kitchen looking for coffee.
“I love you,” I blurted, by way of starting this uncomfortable conversation.
“Love you, too,” he grunted in his gravelly morning voice, blissfully unsuspecting of the bad news I was about to lay on him.
“The chickens,” I continued. “I forgot to close them up last night. Everyone is okay, but they got out this morning.”
“That’s not like you,” he said, looking for his mug. “But I’m glad everyone’s okay.”
Clearly the morning fog had not lifted, yet. He didn’t understand what was coming. He didn’t’ remember that they were meant to stay in today when we left on our trip. So I persisted. “I got most of them back inside the coop, but eight are still out.” I paused.
“Huh?” A look came over his face, a look of downing realization. He put down his coffee cup, empty. “The chickens are supposed to stay in today.”
“Yes,” I said.
“But there are eight chickens out.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Who?” he demanded.
I counted them off on my fingers, “Bunny, Flora, Rose, Prissy, Jean-Jacques—” his sputter of horror briefly stopped my inventory,” —Ophelia, Martha, Robin… and Dottie,” I finished weakly.
“Dottie? DOTTIE?! We’ll never catch her.” Dottie was our hamburg… and he was right. She was going to be hard to catch. But it didn’t occur to us to be worried about Bunny the Brahma at all. Little did we know.
If this was a movie, this would be the scene where the director would cut to a montage of the two of us comically diving after chickens as they nimbly jumped away. There might be a banjo playing somewhere. Or possibly Matthew Broderick would be narrating a monologue about the foolishness of the shenanigans. I found myself just wishing we could cut to the end of the montage, where all the chickens would be safely inside the coop, and we’d be on vacation enjoying some mojitos, but no luck.
And Matthew Broderick did not appear to narrate us to that happy ending.
Instead, we had to find our own happy ending. To get there, we started out by hand feeding them, then simply picking up the calmest hens and putting them back in the coop. But not all of ours are willing to be handled, and the tamest of our birds had all simply followed me into the coop earlier. Those left outside were mostly those who didn’t like to be handled, with the exception of the Bunny and the Reds. We did get two birds that way, but afterwards, the rest realized what we were doing, so they refused to eat from our hands like they normally do. Ophelia in particular was incensed. She was normally fairly friendly, but she ran from us and scolded us roundly from across the yard. I think she even used some chicken profanity.
Have you ever tried to herd chickens? I assure you, it’s not easy!
We then tried running after them, which was foolish of us, because we knew that would never work… and it did nothing but get them worried. Note to self: chickens are faster than you are, self. Do not chase.
Finally, we gave up that tactic. And as we were trying to catch our breath, I got an idea. “I have a plan!” I declared. My husband looked at me warily.
My plan was this: I would get out an old dog kennel we had used occasionally to separate a picked on chicken. I would leave the door open, and scatter sunflower seed inside. When the girls went in to get it, we’d shut the door! Then, we could simply carry them in one by one. I thought it was brilliant. I thought we would soon be on our way, sipping cocktails and relaxing at our vacation destination. This plan would totally work.
My husband politely declined to share his appraisal.
Trying to execute the plan was certainly slower going than I imagined. The earlier chasing hadn’t helped any, either; the girls were wary and annoyed with us. They’d step inside the kennel, and when we approached to close the door, they’d run and hide in the long grass at the edge of the woods.
However, their love of treats finally drove them to take risk after risk, and broke down their resolve to avoid us. Snap! We got three more of of them in the kennel: Ophelia, Bunny, and Prissy.
Here’s where I realized there was a flaw in my plan. It was not going to be easy to move the chickens from the kennel to the coop. They rushed for the kennel door as soon as I opened it, but when I tried to get a hold of one, rushed again to the very back, practically out of reach. It would be awkward to pick them up from the position I had to contort myself into to get to them. After a tense few minutes of what may have been my first yoga balances and stretches, I was able to grasp Ophelia. She objected to the man handling, cussed at me a little more, but I was able to maneuver her firmly but gently under one arm to keep her from flapping her wings and twisting out of my grasp. Instead, she just aimed a sullen Stink Eye at me while she was carried up to the coop and placed inside. But–the plan was working! I just had to get the other two from the kennel to the coop, and then we could–
At that moment, I heard a chilling screech and a fearful, mighty flapping coming from behind me at the kennel. Someone was crying bloody murder!
I sped around the coop to see what was going on, only to find my husband holding Bunny, one of our Brahmas, who was screaming, literally screaming like she was an old lady being mugged. “Aaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaah!” she screeched in a loud, old lady voice. “Aaaaah! R-aaaaaah!” If she had a handbag, she would have been hitting his head with it. “Aaaaah!!!” My husband could barely hold on. Wings, legs, beak: all were flailing. Bunny is BIG, and she was letting him know she also had a BIG objection to the indignity of it all, an objection she would use every last ounce of her strength and every weapon in her arsenal to communicate.
As I stood looking on in stunned awe at the spectacle, she used her final tactic on him: poop. Yes, poop. And lots of it. She really let loose on him.
She pooped all over him; it landed on his arm, glopped down his shirt, onto his shorts, slid down his leg and plopped onto his shoe like a melted bar of stinky chocolate. My glance followed the poop-path, and I looked back up to meet his gaze just at the moment her wing tip flung his glasses from his surprised face where they fell to the gravel of the driveway below. TINK.
I had forgotten and so had he: Bunny—always docile with me—had never liked him much.
My wits returned after a moment, and I went and took Bunny from him. He’d only been trying to help. When I got a hold of her, she promptly settled down into a seethe, and aimed a vicious but ineffectual peck at him as a parting insult. I put her in the coop.
When I came back, he was still standing in the same place in the driveway beside the kennel door, covered in Bunny poop practically from head to toe. He hadn’t moved a muscle. He was aghast, dumbfounded.
After a moment or two of neither of us speaking, he broke the silence. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee now,” he said in a quiet voice, with the most dignity I can imagine coming from someone who has just been covered in fresh–and especially stinky–chicken poop. He picked up his glasses, put them on his face (where they listed to one side, having apparently been bent in the struggle), and walked back to the farm house. The door creaked as he went in, eliciting a chorus of calls from the coop. It was sound the girls associated with treats.
Thanks, girls, but I don’t think he’s in the mood for handing out treats right now.
I moved Prissy from the kennel to the coop without much trouble, and then I, too, went inside. I needed a new plan, but my mind drew a blank. About ten minutes later as I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to figure out how to get the last chickens inside without causing my husband’s head to explode, we got a call from our out-of-state neighbor who was going to be spending the week in his hunting cabin on the land just west of us, about 10 minutes away. I enlisted him to close the chicken coop that night.
“Be happy to,” he said.
Problem solved. So I released all the birds again after all. All that poopy struggle had been for naught.
Here are the lessons I learned from having forgotten to shut the coop:
- Do not attempt to herd your chickens until you’ve had at least one cup of coffee
- Leave yourself time for unexpected delays on days you’re leaving for vacation
- Close the coop at night. Close the coop at night. Close the coop at night.
Or alternatively, I just need to get an automatic coop door. The problem is that such a tall door would take a lot of handiness to fit on our coop, since we have a window above the chicken door… and we’re not especially handy. Please help me in the comments! Do you think I’ll have much luck convincing my husband to figure out how to install an automatic coop door this year? What should I do?