Catching chickens is an art


Hello, friends! Here is a story from back when we still had a rooster and therefore more chickens and chicks than we knew what to do with.

I’ve heard that broodiness has been bred out of modern hens — the rise of incubators and mail-order chicks have made it unnecessary and undesirable. Apparently, my hens didn’t get the memo and consequently, we are currently overrun with chicks. Despite our best efforts to find and disperse secret nests, we keep having hens show up for breakfast with new babies in tow.

Which is why, when a friend asked if we might have a few chickens to spare for her newly built coop, we said, “YES!” I promptly picked out two gray hens, and one white one, and began thinking of them as “Jami’s hens.”

The first attempt to catch them ended in failure, however. The man of the ranch had been tasked with the chore because I was out of town, and every time he went to put one of the hens in the box, the one he had just caught escaped. “That’s a two-person job,” he warned when I’d first requested he play chicken wrangler, so I wasn’t surprised when he phoned to say he could bring one chicken or none.

Secretly, however, I kind of assumed I would do better. I mean, I don’t have many ranch skills, but chicken catching seemed like it should be in my wheelhouse.

Fast-forward a few weeks, when we made a second date to take the chickens to their new home, this time with me in charge. I had finesse and scratch grain on my side, so it didn’t really occur to me I would fail until, after ten minutes chasing chickens, my husband stoically standing off to the side with box in hand, I hadn’t gotten within even an arm’s length of a single one. “It’ll have to wait.” I said.

Before attempting a third time, the man of the ranch and I plotted a new strategy. This time we would use the weapon of stealth. We would wait until dusk, and in the brief slice of time between when the flock flew up into the rafters of the coop to roost, but before it was too dark to see, we would storm the barracks and capture our hostages.

This plan required, of course, keeping the hens captive all night and for a good chunk of the next day. The cardboard box we’d previously planned to employ would no longer cut the mustard. The only other option we could think of was a decades-old wire dog crate. So, I lined the bottom of the crate with fresh straw, added a Tupperware full of water and one full of feed, tied an old white sheet over the top for shade and wind protection, and declared it chicken-ready.

Catching the hens was the work of a few moments. They were alarmed and displeased, but since chickens are basically blind in semi-darkness, there wasn’t much they could do about it. I fell asleep hoping we could finally deliver our promised gift without too much more drama.

Day dawned as usual, and an early morning inspection revealed that all was well with our feathered cargo. It was then I realized I had not considered the ‘Ma and Pa Clampett Factor’ and the razzing my husband would probably have to endure as a result of another one of my crazy schemes. You see, we hadn’t gassed up the day before, so before we hit the road, we had to go to town. With a crate of straw and chickens in the bed of the pickup. With a white sheet flapping like the flag of our dignity being surrendered.

And that’s how we drove down Main Street. Thankfully, all’s well that ends well. The hens are now happily in the care of my friend, the crate is back in the storage room of the shed, and somehow my marriage marches on unscathed, though I have promised transporting chickens will not be on the agenda anytime soon.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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