Chinggis is my (by this time) rather elderly rooster, he who once was lost (as have been a startling number of others in my life) and was one of two whom I tripped over on a walk down the road, on a day towards the end of January 2021. His lucky day.
After a frantic call for assistance to one of my neighbors, who came down and helped me corral Chinggis and his friend so that I could take them home and make them comfy, I started to think about what to do next, and to contemplate the future.
Chinggis–as I later named him, after the Great Khan–and his hen-partner were freezing, starving, and parts of them (including Chingiss’s rooster comb) had frozen and snapped off. The hen, who was in much worse shape, didn’t survive, but he did, and he thrived, incentivizing me to build the chicken coop over the next few months so that I’d have a place to put him rather than in the crate in the garage. I began with only the best of intentions–“Do it as cheaply as possible, use what you have, don’t go overboard, etc,” but as time went on I found I was having so much fun that I decided to go a bit over the top. (The prime example of “over the top,” was probably when I decided to put the same red tin roof on the chicken coop as appears on the house and barn.) What can I say? This was the result of it all:
I then started to look around for some female companionship for the poor guy, and a neighbor and my local veterinarian came through, each donating two hens they considered somewhat “past it” in the egg-laying department. Sadly, and after slightly more than two years of loyal production (I estimate about 500 eggs in all on her part), one of them expired last week. So I now have three hens in their golden years, and I still regularly enjoy two, and sometimes three, eggs a day from them. Good girls!
But it’s never been about factory egg production for me. I just like having the chickens around, and the farm-fresh eggs, and the chickens’ abilities as kitchen vegetable-waste composting units is an added benefit.
Last year, I built a small chicken run behind the coop, so that I could let them out for some exercise and scratching-in-the-dirt fun. (If it were up to me, I’d free-range them, but we have a significant avian predator population out here, and small creatures (even lambs) are regularly “pinched” by the overhead drones on patrol. So my run–which is about six feet behind the coop is fully enclosed and covered):
They’re very fond of it, and enjoy the several roosts, the dirt, the insects, and the occasional provided toys (the hanging “cabbage piñata” is always a great hit, in every sense of the word).
So for a couple of months last year, and until a few weeks ago this year, I picked them all up out of the coop, one at a time, carried them around the corner, and put them in the run. A bit of a chore, but there it is.
This Spring, I decided I’d make a walkway between the two, so that I could just open a trapdoor in the coop and they could make their own way into the run. Here’s the trapdoor:
Predator-proof (around here, this usually means raccoon-proof) in that any clever little buggers trying to intrude would have to press, lift, twist, and turn, two different locking mechanisms to get in.
And a couple of weeks ago, I completed the walkway. It’s three-and-a-half feet wide, slightly less than six feet long, and — on its shortest end — about five-and-a-half feet high.
Everything works as advertised. I open the walkway door, step inside, lower the trapdoor on the coop, and the chickens march into the run.
But here’s where I went wrong:
I reckoned without Chinggis.
I believed the accounts that chickens aren’t great flyers. That they’re not all that determined. That, if they want to get above about four feet from the ground, they have to have the space to take a giant run at it. And that, if they don’t have that much room, they probably won’t be able to escape over the wall or over the fence.
I’d done the walkway math: Three-and-a-half feet wide. Slightly less than six feet long. Five-and-a-half feet high (on the shorter end). Not exactly a runway sufficient for a jumbo jet, let alone an awkward and generally flightless chicken.
So I thought the walkway was safe, and I didn’t put a “lid” on it.
Last week, I let the chickens out of the coop as usual, and then took the poor expired girl and buried her. I then went about the business of the garden and the farm.
Some hours later, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the dogs for a while. So I checked their GPS locators, which informed me that they were on the property somewhere. Reassuring/not reassuring, since I still couldn’t find them.
Eventually, Xuxa responded to my insistent calls, and indicated that she’d give up the location of her partner-in-crime, if only I’d just follow her. So I did.
And I found Odo struggling to fit himself into about a three-inch-high opening beneath one of the utility shelves in the tractor shed, determined and insistent. It was something of a ordeal to pull him away, but I managed it, and closed the garage doors on the shed so he couldn’t get back in. (At that time, I assumed he was chasing a bird who’d fallen out of one of the nests in the rafters, and I continued about my business.)
Yet another couple of hours later, I went up to feed the chickens, along the way inspecting the coop, the nest boxes, and the run.
No Chinggis in or on any of those things.
Suddenly, the penny dropped. (You might have figured it out already, but sometimes, it takes me a while.)
Down to the tractor shed (carrying an empty feed sack just in case). Open one of the garage doors. Turn the light on. Clamber over various tractor implements into the vicinity of the same utility shelf base that had so captured Odo’s interest. Get down on hands and knees, among the dirt, the oil, and the uncomfortable and thrusting parts of sundry farm implements. Squint into the darkness.
Ah! There he is, flattened into the three-inch-high space. A Chinggis pizza! Or at least, a Chinggis ciabbatta! Still–like Prince Harry–angry and embittered. And–also like Prince Harry–unwilling to listen, or to be rescued or helped.
Nevertheless, I drag him out, first by a wing, then by a leg. Stuff him into the feed sack (much squawking). Carry him back up to the coop. Put him in it. Put the rest of them in it. Close the trap door so they’re stuck inside.
At some point, I’ll put some plastic netting over the top of the walkway so he can’t do this again. In the meantime, he’s safe. They’re safe, I’m content, and life–out here on the farm–is good.