The Cat and the Chickens (or, new things to learn everyday)

Prior to getting chickens I did a lot of research. I wanted to understand not just what I could expect from the chickens themselves, but also what the dynamic might look like with respect to the various other pets we have, what the time commitment was, and what major problems we needed to plan for. I interviewed people who had chickens, I read articles on the web, and I signed-up for a low-commitment trial program.

Here are some things we learned right away that were not on the list of things to be concerned about: 1) a six foot fence will not keep out a fox; 2) a fox will eat a chicken in pieces through fencing wire; 3) you get attached to chickens quickly; 4) some dogs are more afraid of a fox than you are; 5) some dogs agree with the fox that chickens are tasty and don’t care that you love the chicken.

You may read this and think that we should have anticipated some of the above, maybe we should have. You don’t know what you don’t know and based on what we did know we thought we were basically fox-proof and that the dogs would be a) helpful in protecting chickens, and b) quick studies in not bothering the chickens. We were about 50% right.

Here are some things that we did not expect and that have been very interesting. The blue jays that live in your yard and are forever squawking in that high-pitched screechy way they do are actually terrific alert animals. They aren’t helpful at night of course but during the day if there is anything that could be perceived as a threat they let everyone know. Squawk-squawk says the jay, cluck-cluck says the chicken as they take cover under a tree. Once the jay calls the all-clear the chickens head back out into the yard. The chickens in turn share the treats I bring to them. A little of whatever was handed out goes to the jays. Fascinating symbiosis. Good lesson for all of us.

I thought that a fox was a smallish, fluffy creature that would run away if approached by a human. Especially a human with a large stick. That had been my general experience with the fox that lived in our neighborhood (though I had never tested the stick theory previously). But when you put a snack bar in the backyard the fox gets a lot more aggressive and despite what would seem like an insurmountable dis/advantage in size in fox v. human, the fox has apparently taken inspiration from David’s experience in defeating Goliath because the fox does not leave. It sits on the henhouse or on the large stump adjacent to the henhouse making a sound that is a lowish, toothy growl. Eventually they will leave if you are brave enough to get close. But they don’t skitter off, oh no. They stare at you with glowing eyes and bared teeth and slowly walk away so you know that anytime they want they can come back. Shiver.

I had feared a bit that the cats might be a problem. Yes they are old, but they had been formidable and prolific hunters in the past. What I did not anticipate was how quickly and easily everyone would get along. The cats like the chickens, and whereas before they spent very little time on the back deck, if the chickens are out and about will now take up a post there to watch the goings on in the yard. They watch the chickens with the occasional tail flick, and crouch low to stalk now and again and the chicken flaps it wings at the cat who then lies back down to dream of younger days. And like with the jays the chickens seem happy to share so Samson ventures up to the coop to poke around, eat a little chicken feed and indulge the fantasy of being an adventuring barn cat.

I think it is a good to not always know what you are getting into. It’s good of course to do your research and have an idea of the work required, and then it is good to be surprised, to learn, to find out that we can’t know it all before it happens. I was wrong about the dogs and how quickly it would take them to adjust, I laughed loud to see a cat in the coop eating next to a chicken, I was stunned by the strength of a small fox. Everyday is new in the yard.

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