Free Range Chicken Wrangler

I gotta say I’m sure glad some Yahoo in the Northeast, or the West Coast, I don’t know which, and it don’t matter anyway, started sayin’ that a free roamin’ chicken would be a better, healthier chicken. Somethin’ about bein’ in a better environment and bein’ happier  – can you imagine anyone worryin’ about whether the chickens they're gonna eat was happy first?

Well, once folks who raised chickens heard this and figured out they could charge a lot more for chickens that was allowed to run around outside, why they was trippin’ over themselves tearin’ down hen houses, and coops, and all them Soviet-style sheds that covered miles of  Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, just to name the three biggest chicken raisin’ states. Of course most of them realized you couldn’t just turn all them cluckers loose, or they’d become the biggest feast every fox, coyote, weasel, ferret and farm dog ever saw. Most of those chicken farmers thought a big area enclosed like an aviary would be enough freedom so they could say “cage-free” and double or triple the prices those chicken-lovers would pay. After all, how would all them city folk, who never saw live chickens, except on TV or pettin’ zoos, ever know what those chickens’ lives was really like? Hell, they only wanted themselves to feel better about the 3-to-4-month life of most chickens they gobbled down.

My boss Irv, well, he wouldn’t play that game. No sir! He wanted to call his chickens “free range chickens”, and by God that meant they was gonna be runnin’ free on the range, like those deer and antelope in that song. (‘Course barbed wire put an end to that, I can tell you, but it has a nice ring to it, don’t it?) Well anyway, Irv went and started the first true free range chicken ranch in the U.S. and he’d be the first to tell you that he made some mistakes.

He lost his first herd in a couple a days thinking border collies could boss  ‘em around like sheep. What those dogs didn’t eat, every other varmint in three counties made short work of, so he needed a better plan to keep those dumb birds from scatterin’ like white leaves across the countryside and into the waiting jaws of all the local predators. (I have to say I’m surprised there was so many of them meat eaters still out there. Makes you wonder what they was livin’ on, don’t it?)

Next he tried usin’ neutered roosters that he trained to keep the chicken herds bunched up. They even seemed nasty enough to keep the smaller predators away, but the fool things didn’t get what bein’ neutered was supposed to be all about, and the roosters started fightin’ each other, until soon the herds scattered and fattened them carnivores again.

Naturally there was a lot of talk in town about Irv and his chicken herdin’ problems. Most of the other chicken farmers just snickered about Irv and his notions of “truth in advertisin’”, but I admired his attitude and looked him up to offer my services.

“Irv”, I said, “you need somethin’ big, smart, and tough enough to keep them predators away, but with no interest in those chickens as food. You need guard geese, and I’m your man. I’ve raised geese for years and trained ’em to follow my commands, and I tell you Irv, they can do the job.”

Well, Irv was pretty excited, and wanted to give my geese a trial run, so I brought a couple of my best pairs. Compared to chickens geese are geniuses, and they’re at least as loyal as dogs. Mine are imprinted to me from the time they hatch, and they follow me anywhere, if I call ‘em. You’d be surprised what you can get a goose to do when it thinks you’re its Ma. Usually I had mine guard my machine shop, and keep slugs out of my vegetable garden, but they’re also my friends and I have names for each one of them. However, there’s limits, and so they don’t get to be in the house. The “goose box experiment” didn’t work out  real well, so outside they stay. I think they like it better anyway.

So, gettin’ back to Irv, I brought over Margaret and Benny, and Sylvia and Lazlo – both life-mated pairs – and introduced them to Irv’s test chicken herd. My geese tilted their heads left and then right, eyin’ them chickens, tryin’ to figure ‘em out. Then I pulled my tape player out and played gosling sounds for them. Like a switch was thrown those four geese rounded those chicks into a fairly dense group and kept them that way. If I said, “Come, come, come,” they just herded all of them my way and pecked the daylights out of any chicken with other ideas (as if they could’a had any).

Once those geese got the idea that them chickens was some sort of ugly goslings they just took up protective custody, so to speak, and those chickens would never be out of their sight. At least one goose was always on guard, and they could make a helluva racket if anything bigger’n a mouse got anywhere near their new charges. I don’t think there’s a chicken-eatin’ critter around that would want to take on four angry, hissin’ geese with wings raised and beaks at the ready.

Old Irv was mighty impressed with my geese and we’ve been sort of partners for a few years now. It’s worked out pretty good for both of us. I have my geese watchin’ about eight large herds now, and I make the rounds every couple of days to let them know I’m still nearby, and I’m proud of ‘em. They like knowin’ that.

There’s only two things about this arrangement I’m not crazy about. One is the chicken stuff I get all over my shoes every time I visit one of the herds; the other is that I feel like a traitor whenever I have to tell my geese to bring in the “babies” for the final roundup. That part never gets easy.




© 2009  Michael Yanega

29 May 2009








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