We’re all in this coop together

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chickens

This week is the 10-year anniversary of the Great Coon Massacre of 2013. It occurred when I was still a single girl, living down 15 miles of rarely traversed gravel. I was teaching school and dipping my toes into my first adventures of homesteading.

I’d acquired a clutch of chickens from the third-grade class at the school where I taught — hatching them was an annual school project — so these chickens were as tame as they come. Each had a name, a distinct personality, and was beloved.

The trailer I was renting stood beside a chicken coop in extreme disrepair, and I’d spent many summer days cleaning and fixing it up while the chickens lived in a large dog crate with a small run. By fall, I deemed it predator-proof and moved everyone into their new digs.

Everything seemed to be going great until one night it suddenly was not, and the next morning I followed a trail of feathers across the yard to the coop and discovered a coon had ripped my carefully nailed chicken wire from the wood window frame in one piece. My best-laid plans hadn’t even slowed the coon down.

I was left with just one chicken, Periwinkle, a tiny, gray bantam hen. How she survived I will never know, but it felt like no less than a miracle. When I moved to the ranch I brought her with me, and we acquired two companions to keep her company — Mike, the oldest hen in Perkins County and Kitty 2, so named because she was a ringer for Peri’s deceased best friend, Kitty.

More chickens soon joined our flock, and for a while I still named all new additions, though it got harder to tell them apart. Kitty 2, on the other hand, was quite memorable. She was a smallish hen with mud-brown feathers, but her personality belied her diminutive appearance.

From the first, Kitty 2 was The Queen of the Flock. As the other chickens arrived, one by one, Kitty 2 put them in their place — until our first rooster, Fancy Pants, came of age, that is.

Fancy Pants arrived in a shipment of mail-order chicks, and he was so tiny and delicate I worried he wouldn’t survive the rough and tumble jostling of his sisters. He was also slow to grow. Once they stopped growing, however, he kept right on, until he towered over the rest of the flock, and I never saw how it was accomplished, but Fancy Pants eventually dethroned Kitty 2 to become head honcho.

Unfortunately for us (and ultimately for Fancy Pants) he was mean. After literally scaring a visitor out of her shoes while chasing her across the yard, it was decided he had to go.

Once Fancy Pants was no longer in the picture, Kitty 2 reasserted her dominance with a vengeance. No hen was safe from her wrath, and she was brutal to anybody who didn’t claw the line. We often spotted her wildly plucking feathers from the heads of those in the wrong place at the wrong time, just to prove a point.

But as she got older this got a lot harder. Every summer a new hatching of chicks appeared around her forcing her to once again spend a great deal of time and energy reminding everyone who was boss. It was not an enviable position.

JFK wrote in 1964, “When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations.” Chickens don’t read poetry, but we can read, and in this season of power struggles, it is good to be reminded we are all in this coop together.

So here are a few lines of poetry for you, from the poet and farmer Wendell Berry: “When despair grows in me … I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds … For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

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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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