It is now one year since the girls arrived on our little “farm” (37.5 ft. x 100’ ft.). They have roamed wherever they pleased in the back yard, sometimes penetrating or flying over the garden fence. Occasionally they have soared over the gate of the back fence and dined on bugs in the alley behind our lot. As I have mentioned in the past, their pecking on Linda’s legs when she hangs out laundry has been quite distracting for her. Occasionally Linda also mentioned quite pointedly she was having to be careful where she stepped. (I did rake the lawn to clean up their droppings).
Over winter the garden was covered with a foot of snow, and the ground was frozen solid. During this time, it held no interest for them. Shortly after the frost came out, just over a month ago, I saw two of the girls in the garden. I was reminded of how rapidly they had devoured Linda’s basil last summer. It occurred to me that they were ruling more than their assigned territory. I couldn’t do anything in their domain without them being constantly underfoot. Besides Linda was hinting that she’d like to have the back yard for our exclusive use.
The decision to curtail their freedom didn’t come easily. Often the most important issues are resolved only with a good deal of soul searching. Reluctantly, Linda and I visited the lumber yard in Princeton and selected a length of sturdy 5 ft. high wire. The girls would not be able to fly over it, burrow under it or bend the wire enough to create an opening. I remembered their ingenious schemes for outwitting me earlier when I used so called chicken wire. I concluded it must have been developed by someone who didn’t want chickens to be penned up. The girls had been as cagey as jail birds in devising escape strategies. I knew that only by employing every precaution would I be able to win this war of wits.
I decided it would be fair to allow them about 40% of the space they were accustomed to having. That would give Linda the yard back and with some luck, I’d retain at least some of my rapport with the girls.
When I began digging holes for the posts, they didn’t yet understand my purpose. They are such trusting creatures. Evidently it was their belief I was there to provide a nutritional opportunity. With their heads darting in and out so rapidly, I feared I’d clip off a beak, or even an entire head. It’s quite clear they have a high opinion of their value to me and expect me to ensure their safety. For their protection I used a handful of oatmeal to lure them into the small fenced off area at the rear of our property. They appreciate any opportunity to spend time there. The soil is loose and provides excellent dining opportunities.
When I had fixed the posts securely in the holes and attached the wire, I proudly invited the girls to inspect my handiwork. Initially they seemed intrigued by this unexpected development in their terrain. Once they comprehended that the gate by which they had entered was now closed, they immediately proceeded to examine the fence for a weakness. As the realization set in that they were now confined to more limited quarters, with no access to the garden or their other little scratching places, they mounted a verbal protest. Wanting to permit them to deal with the grief of their loss privately, and also wanting to get away from the racket, Linda and I went for an extended walk.
That night we went to sleep with considerable relief at the knowledge that this spring our garden would be safe from their predations. We’d be able to go away for a few days not wondering if they were in there. It had been a difficult decision to curtail their roaming, but we felt that in making it, we had grown stronger inwardly.
The following morning I looked out the back window to assess their spirits. One girl was dispiritedly prowling along the inside of the fence, evidently hoping for a means of escape. The other two were likely in the Hen House I thought, laying eggs. They are such good girls.
When I stepped out onto the side patio, I was astounded to see two girls in the garden, contentedly hunting bugs. They heard the storm door close and came running to me with great joy, obviously delighted to be out, and maybe even happy to see me. I am fully aware, of course, that their pleasure at seeing me is based on the hope that I will give them a treat.
How had they managed to get over my much vaunted 5ft. fence? We had recently clipped their wings. If I couldn’t devise a means of keeping them inside their new space, our garden would not be safe. Obviously, they were still engaging us in a power struggle and they intended to prevail.
Linda pointed out to me that I had left a wooden box inside the fence, close to the gate. “Very likely”, she said, “they had alighted on it, and used it as a launching pad to fly over the gate”. I had allowed them to keep the box because they appreciate a little clutter. They had taken advantage of my desire to be good to them. Reluctantly, I removed the box.
Since that one desperate bid for freedom and autonomy, they have not managed to escape their new, more constricted compound. I had wondered if the change would cause them emotional trauma and adversely impact their laying. They have adjusted well though, and their laying is currently at record levels. I continue to give them their treat of oatmeal each morning and usually place the sprinkler in their area at a trickle level. They enjoy the water and it seems to bring worms and bugs nearer to the surface. I still say to them almost every day, “you are good girls”.