May 1st “Maintenance on gate to chicken enclosure,” my To Do list instructed me this morning. It had actually been on the list for 2 days so I decided to make it a priority. With a screw driver and 4 small screws in hand, I went out to tackle what I was certain would be a quick, easy job.
The girls immediately exhibited their usual keen interest in having
some role in this project. I’m sure they didn’t care much what that role would be, but they intended to become involved. Extraordinarily curious creatures, they are easily bored. It quickly became evident that either I would include them in what I was doing, or they’d take measures to frustrate me. To acquaint me with their desire to assist, and get my attention, they immediately pecked at my legs with their usual woodpecker zeal. What they lacked in velocity they made up for with intensity.
Until this spring, I had credited myself with great cleverness and ingenuity. By wearing rubber boots, I had avoided the irritation of their constant pecking. In time though, they had begun to understand that their pecking tactics were having no effect on my mental equilibrium. Like sophisticated computer hackers, they experimented with new, more advanced strategies. By craning their skinny necks higher, they could access human flesh through my pant legs. As efficiently as a highly trained group of militants, that is where they now aimed their 3 pronged assault.
Distracted by them, I lost my concentration and dropped the first screw. They evidently assumed it was something quite delicious and with their usual amazing speed pounced on it. It was my quick witted response that spared the screw from being swallowed whole by a chicken. I had only four screws so I didn’t want to lose one. Also, swallowing a screw probably would not be conducive to fowl health. Of course, it was much more their scrambling and bumping than my quick witted action that thwarted them. Even the two identical, virtually joined at the hip, Cleopatras give no ground to each other if there is the prospect of a delicacy. Everything is deemed to be a delicacy until they discover otherwise.
When I tried once more to get the screw started, the pecking resumed with increased intensity. Miss Lonely Hearts apparently had decided on revenge because I had deprived her of the screw. I pushed her away with my foot, gently but firmly. She resisted, flapping her wings and squawking. A power struggle ensued.
With the incessant drumming on my legs and no means to prevent it, I simply couldn’t focus on getting that first screw started. Determined to get my little job done, I bent over until I was just about nose to beak with Miss Lonely Hearts. Alert so I would not be pecked in the face, I said, “Lady, you are stretching my sense of humour! Go away and lay an egg!”
She stared at me, apparently amused. Realizing I wouldn’t win this little contest without help, I scattered a handful of bird seed on the ground to occupy them. It’s their favourite but infrequent menu item. Like children scrambling for candies thrown from a float in a parade, they raced to garner their share. I quickly completed the job.
My impatience with them subsided and I was able to think more rationally about how to handle this kind of challenge. I recalled that our neighbour Angelique had observed quite sagely when I was constructing the Hen House, “after all Art, they are only chickens.” She is a longstanding owner of chickens herself and also a local politician. I respect her experience and knowledge concerning politics and chickens. Maybe my expectations of the girls are beyond their capability. After all, in their own way they just wanted to be included in my project.
I returned the tools to the shed. Locking the door, I retreated to the sanctuary of the house with the rare pleasure of knowing that the girls and I had successfully completed the gate maintenance project.