I pull up to my field and am dismayed to see one of the Buff Orpington chickens happily scratching around in my carefully tilled, raked and seeded beds, most likely looking for the precious seeds. I chase her out, trying to stay in the poorly marked paths and out of the sacred beds. I grab the net I’ve permanently borrowed from my brother-in-law and catch her quickly, scolding her the whole time. I set her down back inside the electrified fence, where both roosters gang up on her and scold her as well. It’s not safe for a chicken outside the fence. Without the shelter of the coop, in the huge open field, they’re easy prey for a hawk. And the stakes have gotten higher for me, too. I can’t afford to have chickens eating up my seeds or (fingers crossed) soon-to-be sprouts. Or messing with my neighbor’s freshly mulched garlic.
The chickens have been getting out quite a bit lately, and I’m not sure whether to blame spring fever, the lure of the freshly tilled ground just beyond the fence or some loose connections on the solar electric charger, which I tightened as soon as I noticed them. Maybe it’s the tall rye grass touching the fence and lowering its charge or preventing the fence from evenly falling to the ground and creating pockets the chickens can easily duck under. I haven’t clipped their wings, so they technically can fly over, too. I try to keep their feed and water full, but on occasion, I think they may not be impressed with my efforts and go searching for better pastures. It’s probably a combination of many of these things, and I can’t really blame them for doing what comes naturally to them, which is something I generally encourage. In the end, I am responsible, which is the joy and difficulty of being in charge.
Two summers ago, I was an apprentice on a vegetable CSA farm in the Hudson Valley, which also had a small herd of dairy cows. My fellow apprentice and I were charged with setting up electric fencing for the cows in the back field, skirting the rows of onions, leeks, beets, corns, squash, melons, beans and carrots. It was July, and we’d been setting up fence since April, so we thought we did a decent job. Until the cows broke through the fence and trampled and munched on the crops. The farmer was upset and blamed our fencing job. We were upset and blamed his poor pastures and grazing rotation. No one blamed the cows. Overall, the crops survived, except most of the leeks, which was a bummer, and we managed through the stress and heat of the rest of the summer to remain friends. I was eager to become my own boss, but that also makes me the only one to blame when things go awry, which is inevitable. I’ll try to be the best kind of boss to myself, one that’s understanding, celebrates accomplishments and has fun.
Featured photo by Myla Dougherty.