Don’t fence me in. Or out.

Our chickens are getting uppity.

Most of the time, we let them have the run of the property. Occasionally, though, we have to shut them up in their run.

They have a beautiful, large, well-equipped run. If they never left it, their lives would undoubtedly be better than the lives of 99% of chickens on the planet. To hear them tell it, though, anything but absolute freedom is cruelty to chickens. If we don’t open the run door, they stomp their little chicken feet and get their little chicken picket signs and stage a protest. “Free range! Free range!” is their rallying cry.

What’s disconcerting about this is that Kevin and I are almost convinced. We feel sorry for them when they’re locked in their (beautiful, large, well-equipped) run, and we’re expecting PETA to come calling any day now.

Many years ago, I had a friend who lived in a small studio apartment in Morningside Heights while he was doing graduate work at Columbia. He had two very large dogs, a 100-pound Akita and a 150-pound mastiff, and people would occasionally express concern that such big animals spent so much time confined in such a small space. Steve, who was as fond of, competent with, and concerned about animals as anyone I’ve ever met, would say, solemnly, “Remember, they work for us.” (His dogs, incidentally, were happy, affectionate, and well-behaved.)

Steve’s right. We bring animals into this world to do our bidding, either as companions or as meals – or sometimes as companions and then as meals. While I believe it is our obligation to give them a decent life, there’s decent, and then there’s idyllic.

Our cat’s life is idyllic. She goes in and out as she pleases. She has small animals to hunt. She has people who feed her, pet her, and converse with her. She has a catnip patch and a wood stove. When we lived in Manhattan, though, she had only us and a warm dry place to live. A decent life, certainly, and I never felt like we were short-changing her. Now that I’ve seen how much she enjoys all she has here, though, it would be hard for me to keep her indoors.

Ditto with the chickens. It’s obvious that they love to roam. When we open the run door, they make a run for the outside and do the chicken dance. The run is certainly decent, but the run of the whole property is idyllic.

Unfortunately, the whole property includes the plants we’re growing for our own consumption. I’ve already written about the window boxes, but lately the chickens have taken to marauding through the gardens, pecking and pillaging. At first, it was just the parsley and the basil. Then it was the cucumbers (both fruit and leaves). The last straw was when they decided kale was just the thing for a growing chicken. Or maybe that was the second-to-last straw, right before they ate all the blackberries.

We had no choice. We put up a fence.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but they make awfully disgruntled chickens. At first, they treated it as a curiosity, something interesting that happened to have sprung up between them and the salad bar. Then they dug under it. Only when we put down a few strategically placed rocks did they seem to grasp the significance of the two-foot tall expanse of chicken wire.

Now they stand outside it, milling around and squawking, indignant that we have deprived them of what they clearly regard as their inalienable right to peck and pillage. They’re demanding, they’re self-righteous, and they’re assertive, so it’s lucky for us that they’re dumb. They day they figure out they can fly is, well, …

Actually, it’s lucky for them that they’re dumb, because the day they figure out they can fly is the day we lock them in the run for the rest of their days, PETA be damned.

4 people are having a conversation about “Don’t fence me in. Or out.

  1. It takes a tough man to raise a tender chicken!
    Now, either you get tough on them or they will walk all over you and end up having to be stewed for a very long time when they finish earning their keep in eggs!

  2. Great chicken story, Tamar! You show ’em who’s boss.

    My visiting sister in law, born on a Bayou where eating means killing, one time slaughtered, stripped, and quartered two of our over-the-hill girls, la coup de maitre being a large pot of chix & dumplings. My three young chix champions cried and hurled accusations throughout the meal: “you killed Celeste!”. Not one bite passed their lips. It did not help that in the gory preparation one suspected rooster turned out to have embryonic eggs in her interior (“SHE WAS GOING TO HAVE BABIES, MOM!)

    Good luck. It helps to remember a chicken’s mentality – “scratch, scratch, scratch, worm worm worm, bug, bug, bug . . .”)

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