Doing a favor for loved ones rarely puts one’s life in danger, but then it also rarely involves psychotic chickens.
Last week, the kids and I set off on a four hour road trip to house-sit for my folks deep in the Ozarks of rural Missouri and to experience what my dad kept calling an adventure (my first clue something would go terribly wrong).
I was greeted with a four page manifesto of chores – the bare minimum necessary to keep the place running smoothly. That’s okay, I thought, I wrote my folks something similar once when the hubs and I went on vacation many, many moons ago – a survival guide for babysitting the younglings, more than double the length of their instructions.
It’s all in the details.
I admit, I may have glazed over some of the details in that first reading due to road fatigue and children demands – What’s to eat? How do I work the TV? Why are there so many bugs here?
One of the details mentioned something about a rift in the chicken world with one particularly spiky chicken nicknamed “The Bitch” who had to be quarantined away from the younger chickens throughout the day so she didn’t terrorize them and peck them unmercifully. Good thing I didn’t have to start worrying about that just yet.
We started the next day with a brief introduction to the psychotic chickens. Entering the pen and throwing scratch on the ground. Don’t ask me what scratch is, I don’t know. I just measured it out of the bucket labeled “scratch” like the directions said and spread it around like I was told. I am not a country girl – as you may have guessed by now. The two oldest chickens met us near the gate to the pens, clucking in what sounded like a friendly manner. They went after that scratch the minute it hit the straw-covered ground. That gave us time to observe them and check out their surroundings – and most important of all, look for eggs. My folks had been gone a good twenty-four hours by then so we found a good haul. We made our slow departure, eggs in hand. I left the chicken compound thinking, hmm, maybe this chicken thing would be easy.
After that excitement, the daughter who has developed an extreme phobia to all flying insects, decided to stay inside while the boy and I enjoyed a beautiful walk along the countryside. I did remember the one detail in the instructions about bug spray; if you’re going to spend any amount of time outdoors, spray, spray, spray. Or you’ll get nasty chigger bites. Spray we did, then off we went to enjoy nature.
Trevor walking up ahead.
Wildflowers in the morning sun.
If only I hadn’t forgotten how steep and rocky the hills were on the return trip. Who needs an elliptical or treadmill? This hill was set to extreme cardio level 10!
By the time we’d walked a little over a mile, I was breathing so hard it hurt my chest and my calves were singing in pain. I thought I was going to die. And I hadn’t even begun the daily chores. Nice. When we climbed the final steep hill back up to the house, my son decided he’d had enough. Time to take a shower and call it a day. I tucked him in to his favorite spot with his favorite things and started a movie. He was back asleep before I went out the door. I envied him.
It wasn’t so much that the tasks were difficult – mostly there was a lot of watering garden areas and moving hoses around, carting water buckets to flowerbeds, that kind of thing. What killed me was climbing up and down to those rocky hills about thirty times to get it all done. I was a sweating, drooling, zombie-shuffling corpse (complete with incomprehensible moaning) by the end of the day.
And I haven’t even mentioned dealing with the chickens.
The instructions said around noon I’d have to corner The Bitch and pick her up – I was told not to worry because she was used to being picked up and this should be fairly easy to do (another warning sign that things would go terribly wrong). Once I had a firm hold of her I would then need to let the younger chickens out of the coop into the open area of the pen. After they were all out in the yard, I would gently secure The Bitch in the coop and lock her in for the remainder of the day after making sure there was plenty of food and water inside.
Let me just tell you that is not what happened on the first day. Or the second. Or the third. Not even on the fourth.
I brought my daughter along to help me corner said spiky/bitchy chicken. After a few minutes, it was clear she wouldn’t be fairly easy to pick up no matter how “used to it” she was. All of our chasing did manage to direct her into the small dog crate in the chicken yard – also used for chicken separation. Sweating and panting, we made sure she had food and water and locked her into solitary.
I was exhausted. And my chores were only half-done at this point.
For the rest of the day, there was just more water hauling, kid-wrangling, body-aching to contend with. The younger chickens actually put themselves to roost in the coop that night so locking them back in and releasing The Bitch, as we now affectionately referred to her, into the main pen was much easier than our noontime adventure. The only other notable event came when we were wrapping up our final evening chores. We had to bring in the leftover cat food for the outside cats so it wouldn’t attract raccoons. A little after dusk, I had my daughter shine the flashlight along the walkway while I retrieved the food. (Have I mentioned she’s also an arachnophobe?)
At the first sight of this…
…she screamed and the light went out.
I froze and asked her what happened.
“Spider!” she yelled and pointed at the harmless loping thing as it made its way across the deck.
”Turn the light back on,” I said. She did and then promptly screamed again.
There was another one, a little closer, but still just as harmless, moseying along. At this point, my light source companion bailed on me, not waiting to see what other horrors lurked in the darkness. She high-tailed it back into the house.
I sighed and wondered if she’d ever get over her irrational fear of all things creepy and crawly. There was just enough light that I could still make out fuzzy outlines of most things so I just soldiered on. I was almost at my destination; the end of the deck. I grabbed the food dish and then screamed even louder than my daughter. Inside the dish, coming towards my hand, was the largest daddy long legs I’d ever seen (trauma of the situation may have warped my recollection of events and size of said arachnid). I dropped the food dish with a mighty clatter and spilled out all of the remaining cat food. The raccoons fed well that night, I must tell you.
I bolted into the house even faster than my youngling and slammed the door. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation and the entire day. My daughter, once learning what I’d done, joined in laughing at me. This, of course woke up my son who just looked at the two of us like we were insane. At that moment, I’m pretty sure I was.
Day two was pretty much a repeat of day one, with the added bonus of pain. Copious amounts of pain from all the work I’d done the day before. I knew I wasn’t in great shape, but it wasn’t very nice of the Ozark Hills to advertise this fact so maliciously. Also, the chickens were much less cooperative.
The Bitch didn’t fall for the old, let’s go into the dog crate routine so easily this time. Instead, she hid underneath the back roosting nest after leading us on quite the aerobic chase around the pen. I finally had to go get a long stick to prod her (gently) to come out. Her response was to run around the back side of the coop where only a slimmer, younger chick could fit. Let’s just say she got herself stuck in an embarrassing position – literally stuck between the coop and the fencing.
That wasn’t in the manual.
I pulled the fencing out as far as I could to make it wider for her and she still remained stuck, flapping her little wings and running her legs in mid-air, like a chicken with her head cut…er,I mean, to no avail. I gave her a loving, gentle prodding with the stick (I swear, it was loving and gentle) and she finally came out. Still, it took another ten minutes to get That Bitch in the damned dog crate. Another day in the hole.
That night, way past their bed time, the younger chicks decided to test the new babysitters. They weren’t ready to go quietly into the coop. I reread the instructions and it said we were supposed to chase them in to the coop – and that they were used to this. (HA! And again I say, HA!) As this was night time, and I thought this was a quick chore, like it had been the night before, I did the unthinkable – I forgot to spray, spray spray before going out to do this simple task. It took at least fifteen minutes to corral all of those damned psychotic chickens into their coop. And don’t think I wasn’t a little bit tempted at my weakest moment to bring out The Bitch to finish the job and chase them into the coop for me.
The other chores went a little smoother, although I did drop the cat food dish, again – less to spill this time. I think it was just a little PTSD from the night before. Or maybe from my entire experience thus far.
One nice thing about this day…
…It ended with a bang!
And we only set one little small fire that was put out in a second. No problem.
(Did I mention that I woke up with the worst chigger bites all over my arms and legs?) Apparently, toothpaste works wonders for the itch when nothing else does, also you smell minty fresh. I thank my daughter for that home remedy she learned while watching some science program. You rock, even though you abandoned me in the dark. All is forgiven.
So what if the nice, relaxing country vacation where I could hang out with the kids and get some writing done didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. We eventually got into a better rhythm with the homestead and all of its creatures, even the psychotic chickens. By the fourth day, I woke up and didn’t feel crippling pain, just good, honest muscle ache – that I could work with. We all three had our stations in the chicken coop when it came time to put The Bitch in solitary and she went in with much less stress for all involved and in record time.
There were some really good moments, too. We made time to visit our favorite eating establishment there in Gainesville, Missouri. Antlers, where they do indeed decorate with antlers and the heads that came with them.
Regardless of the décor, the food is to die for. Trevor devours the famous cheese pizza and my husband swears they have some of the best burgers around.
On the final day, once the sore muscles faded and the itching stopped, the chores were done, and there was time to just be, I had time to absorb my surroundings and this is where I was…
and I did find some inspiration. So in the end, even the psychotic chickens were worth it.