In search of ponies: Mother hen not needed

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

For the record, I wasn’t serious when I said I was contemplating chicken ownership. Yet somehow, a couple months later, I am the proud owner of two hens.

“Somehow” may not be the most appropriate word, because I know how it happened. They were in jeopardy of being homeless and I am a sucker.

I don’t need chickens and didn’t necessarily want chickens, but by the same token, I held the solution to their quandary and, as one of my professors used to tell me, once you understand a problem, you share responsibility for the solution.

In other words, I didn’t stick my fingers in my ears and sing “Lalalalala” quick enough when their previous owner caught me.

So of course, I said, “OK, I’ll give it a shot. They can live in my barn, but if they get in the yard with my dogs, they’re dead and there won’t be much I can do to about it.”

She seemed to understand and the deal was done.

One thing worth mentioning is that she was attached to these two, feathered ladies, which of course made my sense of responsibility (and apprehension) greater.

We talked in advance of the chicken transfer and she suggested I put up some fencing to keep them in the barnyard and give them a night time roost in an enclosed area.

The day of the transfer, blinded by blowing dirt, I set T-posts and strung wire, making the “perfect” chicken run for them, then waited for their arrival.

She went through the instructions — feed this, use the special water dish, they’ll lay their eggs here — and assured me that within a couple of days they would get the hang of home and it would be safe to let them out in the barn.

The biggest concern was coyotes, foxes and stray dogs, she said.

“Oh, well we’re OK then because I don’t have a problem with those,” I responded.

She smiled and said, “You will,” or something to that effect. I didn’t believe her.

Chickens settled into their new pen, I went back inside.

A couple of hours later, the kids wanted to show the new clucks to a friend.

As we approached the pen, a startled cat looked at us from inside, then promptly scaled the fence.

Oh nooo…

As I looked around for them, or at least a pile of feathers to mark their previous existence, I imagined my ownership of chickens had ended just two hours in failure.

As luck would have it, they had “flown the coop” and we found them pecking about in the field.

Now I must say I hope herding cattle is easier than herding chickens, which is probably the same challenge as herding cats.

Fortunately, my horse Pyrite has herding instincts. Nose to the ground, he cut left while I cut right. Soon, we worked them out of the pasture and back to the barn.

Between me, the horse and the kids, we got the chickens inside and locked them up for the night.

I was glad I wouldn’t have to explain a tragic death, but I dreaded the day I might.

The next day, I made the executive decision to go ahead and turn them loose since the pen seemed to put them in more danger than anything else. It made them sitting ducks, so to speak.

I am happy to announce that days later, the chickens are still alive, and they spend all day pecking around the barn weaving in between the horses while they curb the bug population. And every night they let themselves inside to roost, going back at some point to lay their eggs.

Other than feeding them, collecting eggs and filling their water, I haven’t had to do a thing. In fact, the only time I have a problem with them is if I try to interfere with their routine.

So I have come to the conclusion that as long as I stay the heck out of it, in the event that I’m asked, I can respond “the chickens are doing great.”

Turns out they don’t need a mother hen at all. This might just be the easiest solution I’ve ever been a part of.