Two weeks ago, a friend, (whom I shall refer to as Annie Oakley for the impressive frontierswoman skills she has developed since moving to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project) asked me if I’d be willing to farmsit for her while she and the family took a roadtrip. “You can have all the eggs you want, our undying love and quite possibly liquor”, she said. “Sure”, I idiotically replied. I’m a Master of Science. I love animals. I *eat* chickens, ducks and eggs. How hard can it be, I figured. No problemo!
The next day I visited Annie to receive training in farmsitting. She showed me that chickens and ducks eat one kind of feed, while ducklings, goslings and chicks eat another. She showed me how to lock the chickens up at night. The ducks, which at that moment were merrily exploring the woods, would be locked up for the duration. There was an open question as to whether or not the ducklings and goslings could stay outside 24/7 or would need to be taken inside at night for warmth and safety. It was later determined that they would stay outside 24/7, which would simplify things for me considerably.
Annie introduced me to “Dick”, the rooster. He is very large, glossy and impressive. He crows incessantly. He is not the submissive type. Annie warned me that he might try to attack me, and that yes, it would hurt. She demonstrated wrangling him into submission, which involved rather a lot of kicking, pitchfork wielding, picking him up and then holding him “just so” to avoid being pecked. I thought “um, yeah, I’ll be skipping that part…..”. She said the chickens and ducks generally put themselves to bed in their coops, so it’s a simple matter of locking them up at night for their own safety (there are many predators in the woods). She said that a few chickens sometimes get out of their enclosure, and showed me how to open up the exterior door of their coop to let them get inside.
The arrangement was, I’d tend the poultry Sun evening, Mon – Wed AM and PM, and Thurs AM. Easy peasy!
Sunday morning, Annie messages me on Facebook “And actually if you could come by sometime this morning to gather eggs, that would be good because I haven’t got any from the chickens “. mmmmmkaayyyyy… am quite hungover, have pounding headache, and the jury is still out as to how exactly my GI tract is going to respond to the excesses of the previous night. But, I’m a professional (wait, no I’m not!!). “Got it. Have a great trip!” I briskly message back.
Force down some acid-absorbing breakfast and coffee, then make first trip to Oakley Farm without Annie there. Am immediately confused because scoop that I was shown to use to feed chickens is not in the garage where I expected it to be. Go out into barnyard and locate scoop. Admire adorable ducklings and goslings. Note that ducks were *not* locked up as had expected and are nowhere in sight. Wonder if am expected to go wandering through the woods alone at dusk to find them and lock them up?
First egg collection goes swimmingly. Too many eggs collected to fit in bowl; need bigger bowl. Successfully retrieve warm eggs from beneath large broody chicken who refuses to vacate roost. Suspect am a natural farmer! Take eggs to basement, insert into egg trays, marking the date as instructed.
Spend afternoon anticipating first evening rounds. Look up recipes that require lots of eggs on Internet.
Annie had said birds generally put themselves to bed by “7:30”. Decide to do first evening rounds at 6:30 to give self plenty of time and daylight. Arrive at farm around 6:40 and discover chickens EVERYWHERE. Chickens in the garage. Chickens in the duck coop (no ducks, though). Chickens run in general direction of coop when I approach. I note that there are more chickens outside their enclosure than inside. Open exterior coop door as Annie showed me, so that chickens can walk back inside. Chickens… do not walk back inside.
Dick (also outside the enclosure) crows incessantly and attempts to attack me at least 3 times.
Decide to put chickens on back burner (so to speak) and address ducklings and goslings first. They have pooped all over water bottle. Am not sure what I’m supposed to use to remove poop. Find piece of driftwood [Editor’s note: it’s not “driftwood” if you’re in the woods.] [Author’s note: Fuck you, I’m from San Francisco and I’ll call it driftwood if I want to.] Figure out how to open their water bottle and refill it. Give them food. Give them pan of water to play in. They are unspeakably adorable. If only they were the only creatures on Oakley Farm.
Next, address chicks. Chicks are slightly more complicated as they require actually climbing into their enclosure to fill food and water containers. Enclosure has two narrow steps, one outside the wire and one inside, each only wide enough to hold one foot at a time. Is therefore necessary to straddle wire while climbing in. Recall Annie mentioning this is how she sprained her ankle. Successfully feed and water chicks, but am now covered in bird poop.
Ducks are nowhere in sight. There’s nothing left to do but address the chicken problem. Chickens could tell I was giving grain to the chicks and had been coming closer and closer, until I suddenly realized I was surrounded. Visions of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” came to mind. Throw some feed into chicken enclosure, hoping this will convince chickens to get back on correct side of fence. It doesn’t. Dick bangs a hen, just to show both of us who’s boss.
Make feeble attempt at shooing chickens inside coop with pitchfork. Totally fail. Is singularly humiliating experience, having a bunch of chickens staring at you and thinking you’re kind of an idiot. Chickens are rolling around in the dirt. Dick continues to try to chase me away. At this point, there are almost no chickens actually inside their enclosure, they refuse to walk inside their coop, and they don’t seem the least bit sleepy.
Go exploring in Annie’s basement, looking for wine. Find several bottles of hard liquor and a magnum of wine. Can’t take any of those bottles, as any one would incapacitate me for the next morning’s shift.
It’s now past 7:00PM and I’m getting hungry. Go exploring in Annie’s fridge. She’s got… eggs. Lots of eggs. And ice cream. But coffee flavor, not my favorite.
Go outside again and take another stab at getting chickens to walk into their coop. Fail again. Ducks still nowhere in sight. Contemplate just saying “screw the ducks” and leaving them in the woods all night. Wonder how much it would cost to buy Annie a new duck if one gets eaten by a predator? Realize have no clue how much a live duck costs.
Have now been outside for over an hour and am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Am hungry and frustrated. Vow to cook nothing but eggs all week, out of spite. Go back inside and eat Annie’s ice cream.
Go outside AGAIN and take ANOTHER stab at getting chickens to walk into their coop. Some of them have voluntarily gone inside at this point. Only Dick and two hens remain outside. Hold breath as the three of them s.l.o.w.l.y mosey into chicken coop. Finally, all are inside, with Dick standing on the threshold. Start moving in direction of door to slam it shut, when a hen suddenly walks back outside. Make sound that is half laugh, half sob. Stand helplessly, leaning on pitchfork, and watch as Dick and other hens walk out of coop on wrong side of enclosure. Soon, most of the chickens are outside again.
Sit down on chair in yard in despair. Am filthy, covered in bug bites, haven’t seen hide nor hair of the ducks, and the majority of the chickens are once again outside their enclosure and clearly have no intention of roosting any time soon. Stare morosely at the woods, wondering where the ducks are. For some reason, eventually glance to the right and realize the ducks aren’t in the woods, they’re hanging out in the yard and have probably been there the whole time. Try to herd ducks into their coop. Only succeed in getting them as far as their water bowl, at which all four of them suddenly act as if they’ve been lost in the desert. Sit back down in disgust.
Dick bangs another hen.
Ducks disappear again.
Have now been at farm well over an hour. Occasionally go inside, or go back to car which I long to leap into and drive far, far away from this wretched place where the animals do NOT cooperate and do NOT put themselves to bed at 7:30 and clearly I won’t be able to make any plans for any evening this week and FUCK.
At some point I’d put feed for the ducks in their coop. Repeatedly have to stand guard at entrance to duck coop because, although ducks have absolutely no interest in entering, a chicken clearly does. If it gets inside and starts eating the duck’s dinner, have no idea how to get it out again.
Go in search of ducks. Find them in another part of the yard. Herd them back towards their coop. They are quite adorable waddling in single file. Watch all four of them round corner of coop and hold breath hoping they entered coop. Round coop and find that, no, they’re back at their water tub.
Is now getting dark and skin is starting to burn from mosquito bites. Will need alcohol in order to sleep tonight.
7:50PM – successfully shoo ducks into their coop. YES!! Lock them in. Haven’t decided yet whether will ever let them out.
8:00PM – chickens still show no signs of sleepiness. Skin is now on fire from mosquito bites. May need antihistamines as well as alcohol in order to sleep. Wonder if antihistamines are one of those things you’re not supposed to mix with alcohol? Wonder if I give a fuck at this point. Seriously doubt it.
Have now been at farm 90 minutes. Cell phone battery is dead. For lack of anything better to do, drive to country store, which is actually past my house. Total waste of gas. Buy wine and munchies. Enraged that must drive past own driveway to head back to HELL FARM and deal with the FUCKING chickens which totally DESERVE to be eaten by predators at this point.
Arrive back at farm. Is now almost dark. Chickens are all inside coop! YES!!!!! Try to lower fence as Annie showed me in order to access inner door to lock it for night. Can’t figure out how to lower fence. Don’t give a fuck anymore. Lean over fence and slam inner door shut with extreme prejudice. FUCK YOU, DICK!!! Run back to car.
Almost 9:00PM when get home. Cat is mewling piteously as has not been fed (despite consuming entire mouse earlier in the day). Feel obligated to shower to remove bird poop and who knows what all else is on me.
Now there’s a mosquito in my room. Opening bottle of wine. Seriously considering watching “The Birds”.