I gave my wife five chickens for Christmas. A friend gave her three more, for a total of eight, which is also the number of children we’ve conceived. (Two made their exitus before being born.) I’m just going to leave that tidbit here at the outset; all comparisons going forward are your own affair.
This is not our first batch of chickens. It’s maybe our fifth. Predators come for them, because they are so delectable and defenseless. Coyotes carry them off. Raccoons take their heads. Possums eat their guts. Skunks dismember them. It mostly happens at night. We gather what information we can from the aftermath and the internet. After every slaughter, we try to do a little better at protecting them, even as our coop starts to age into decrepitude. No more free ranging. Then no more plastic ties securing patches on the run’s chicken-wire roof. And after something opened a neat round hole in the run’s wall, no more chicken-wire walls. Steel hardware cloth instead. My wife jokes about 300-dollar eggs as she sends me down to the coop for its installation. It’s a lousy return on investment, but that’s not the point.
The new chickens wander around the run, pecking and scratching peacefully until, inexplicably, one of them charges another. A feathery fracas follows, and then ends, just as inexplicably. Eventually, a pecking order will emerge, though I’m stumped as to the point. At night, for instance, I find five chickens crammed into a single nesting box. It can’t be comfortable.
Gah. One of these little monsters just pecked me. Because it does not matter to my chickens that I am hunched amid them in the dirt, painstakingly and also painfully twisting individual bits of chicken wire around other bits of chicken wire in an effort to create a multi-layered barrier at the juncture of coop and chain link fence so that some critter with nothing else to do in life but find a weak spot in this run’s defenses does not make a mockery of all my other efforts and find his way in for a highly secure killing spree. No, what matters to my chickens is that I might be useful as a food source.
The film director Werner Herzog can be found on YouTube suggesting that you “try to look at a chicken in the eye with great intensity… the intensity of the stupidity that is looking back at you is just amazing.” But that’s not what I see right now. I look in the eye of the chicken that has just pecked me and I see something truly alien. There is a great gulf between us, millions of years wide. I am looking into the eye of something primal. A T-Rex, perhaps. Just look at those feet.
My wife comes to check on my progress. Before she leaves, she locks the door on the coop from the outside, trapping me with the chickens. Later, she will claim she did this without thinking.