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Chicken Little

I leave the news on without paying much attention. When that ass comes on with his prime-time-interrupting televised self-congratulatory bullshit sessions, I hit the mute button. When some news report shows clips of him, I hit mute. I cannot listen to that sleazy half-wit any more. Still, trying to watch anything other than news is difficult since I have trouble focusing. So I leave the news on.

I bought a chicken coop. I researched every chicken coop design available or described online, studied the space requirements per chicken, in the coop and in the run. I researched different coops through buyer reviews, read about ventilation, mites, bedding, ground cover, security from predators. I examined anatomical drawings to learn the correct terminology. I read about 60 or more breeds of chicken, and studied more than a dozen in depth: their laying habits, temperament, history, brooding habits (and how to deal with a broody hen), color genetics, and where they can be purchased. I looked up accredited avian veterinarians in the area.

Hen house waiting to be moved into place.

I have a bookmark file that fills the screen with links to hatcheries all over the country and blogs from most of the English-speaking world. I buried myself in chicken information for a couple of weeks before abruptly purchasing the largest coop at the feed store. It looked sturdy. It will be fine for six chickens. In the course of my research, I concluded that six is the number of chickens I should have.

Interestingly, there is a nationwide shortage of chicks. They can be gotten but every hatchery I was in touch with had wait lists or a limited supply. There are unhatched chicks already spoken for. This knowledge made me feel oddly connected to thousands of faceless individuals sharing panic with me.

Now I’m building a pen. Well, I have ordered lumber and wire to build a pen. I still have to pick it up. I have to pick it up in this new world where we must avoid physical proximity to other people. I have contemplated different ways to attach the studs to the base, how to build a gable roof, what new materials and fasteners exist. I also looked up the toxic potential of various materials, which really only taught me that beans are dangerous for chickens. This made me regret planting so many beans.

I have considered fencing the vegetable garden in case the chickens absolutely must free range. I know this is a good idea, both for the chickens and the vegetables. Wild turkeys and ravens attack the garden on a regular basis anyway. That will not do if I actually want to have vegetables to eat with my eggs next fall. But then the chickens will still be free to destroy landscaping and flowers. They will perch on the porch and poop in the carport. They will be chased by cats and attacked by hawks and harassed by my darling incorrigible terrier mix. I will not always know where they are. I will not always know that they are safe from the scary things outside.

I will need a larger run because I do not think they will be able to free range.

While I am delving into all of that, I don’t have to think about the pandemic. I don’t have to think about how people will suffer unequally through this. Being somewhat OCD, the best way for me to cope with stress is to throw myself into some new, unfamiliar subject. It occupies my brain, distracts me. Ideally, it busies my hands as well. I am pretty sure that is how I wound up writing about hockey. I can’t do that now. No hockey. But I can build. I can always build something.

I mean, I could clean my house maniacally. I could stay at home for two months and still have cleaning to do. I could do regular ranch work, familiar things. But that isn’t enough to drown out the sound of thunder over the hill. It isn’t enough to filter out the smell of smoke from a far away fire. We have 77 active cases in our county right now. That is below our ICU bed capacity but it is damn close. These are the sorts of things we have to think about now. The tediously familiar act of cleaning my house isn’t going to block out those thoughts.

I also have trouble watching tv shows because all of the characters are standing too close to each other. I want them to keep six feet apart. Why do they have to stand so close for a simple conversation? I noticed that this triggered me a couple of days ago, and it was reassuring for me to see this phenomenon mentioned on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee tonight. I have fully accepted social distancing. This is good and it is alarming.

I tried turning off the news for a weekend, I think it was a couple of weeks ago. It was nice, but when I turned it back on the next Monday I almost had a panic attack. I was like the frog being thrown into boiling water. I desperately wanted to get the hell back out of this nightmare. It took a while to calm down. So long as I keep the news on, even if I have to mute it sometimes, even if I don’t really watch it, I hardly notice my brain being cooked. I am desensitizing myself. This is good and it is alarming.

Like many Americans, I turned to chickens. Pretty little chickens, such a lovely variety, with their many colored eggs and their simple needs. Even as I put a value on this source of protein, I know that if we need it we won’t be able to hold on to it. Whether you have one gun or many guns, walls miles long and stories high, if this all falls apart you won’t have enough guns to protect your resources from those who don’t have anything. Whether you hoard toilet paper, gold bars or boxed cereal, or grow vegetables and chickens, it won’t work. If you don’t plan to help your community be okay too, you will be at the mercy of desperate people. So whatever plans we make in anticipation of calamity are moot if they are all about protecting me and mine.

I am going to need a bigger run. Better to plan for 12 chickens at least.

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