When it comes to the farm, there are certain things I would like to have control over. For example… ah… everything.
You’d probably never know about my control-freak tendencies if you talked to me, or even if you’ve worked with me. I’m not a perfectionist in any area of my life, and I’m 100% accepting of the fact that I can’t change or control things that are outside my sphere of influence. But the farm? This is my place. And even more than that, it’s my responsibility.
And, honestly, after a decade of tearing houses apart and putting them back together… I got this. There’s not much that can happen on a house–even a temperamental 150 year old one–that I can’t handle. But the farm? The part outside the house that includes maintaining the land, and wildlife, and planting and harvesting, and farm animals, and the effing weather? Holy shit, that’s a lot of things I can’t control.
It’s also a lot of things that, well, if I make a bad call–if I’m negligent or uninformed or make the wrong decision–it’s not just wasted money or tearing something out and starting over again… if I fuck up, something dies.
The Nugs–bless their little feathered hearts–are a great example. Every day I weigh the inherent risks of letting them free-range against the risks of confining them to a coop or run. Free-ranging they’re happy, have a diverse diet, and are able to follow their instincts to protect themselves (staying hidden under pine trees, or hedges, splitting up when they see a predator, etc.) But I’ve also lost Nugs because they free-range… one to an actual predator last year, two that were hit by a car on my road earlier this year, and one that was attacked by a dog that someone was walking down my street off the leash.
I’ve also heard stories about people losing an entire flock–20 birds or more–when a predator gets into a coop, because the chickens have nowhere to run or hide. So I wonder… does losing one chicken to a dog in my front yard mean I’m doing it right or wrong? And I realize they are just chickens— hell, if you go out to a bar and eat a basket of wings and you’ve killed half a dozen of them–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t my responsibility.
So I often question myself but I also often feel I’m doing a decent job. I know how chickens behave, how to train them, how to nurse them back to health when possible. Most days I feel pretty good about chickens.
But then there were these…
NOT CHICKENS. These are definitely not chickens, you guys.
I expected them to at least be chicken-like, and this was my mistake. I know they fly, and prefer tall grasses, and like roosting up high. I thought a week in their new coop would be a decent amount of time to acclimate them to their new home before letting them out, so last week I put a several decades worth of pillow-fort-building skills to good use and managed to rig up an enclosure for them to explore…
Exactly 5 minutes after I opened the coop door one had flown over the fence, one had wiggled under it, and all three were squawking like the apocalypse was currently occurring inside the fifteen square feet of their enclosure.
Doc is wondering how in the hell those little birds make such big noises.
I spent thirty minutes trying to catch them and get them back into the coop that first night (guineas have some speed in them) but the second day I let them out they found a way to wiggle underneath the fence into the tall, unmowed grass next to the barn, made a little bird-cave, and refused to leave it.
Here’s where I have to start balancing my inner control freak with the fact that I don’t know what the shit I’m doing. I mean, the guineas are obviously doing the things that make the most sense to them in their tiny little guinea brains. Willingly going back into the coop is not on that list, and while it feels to me like it would be safer, I’m also not a bird.
So I’m doing a something that’s difficult for me… letting go. I decided to just let the guineas be guineas. It’s been a few days and I don’t try and catch them and lock them up in the coop at night. They still stick close to it (where the food and water is) but mostly they like hanging out the tall grass, they seem to be happier, quieter, and they’re eating bugs which is basically the whole reason I got them.
It turns out they aren’t totally averse to the coop at night, just to being inside of it…
(Yeah, they’re on top of the net I originally put over the pen to keep them in… Guineas:1 Fort-Building Skills:0)
That feels like a more exposed spot, so I’ve considered moving the entire coop over by a bush or somewhere they might have a bit more coverage but I’m not sure if moving them around the property is a better or worse idea right now while everyone is getting settled in.
And I’m in the mode of second guessing myself at the moment, because of this…
I lost this little Nug yesterday.
Not because she was sick (or for any natural reason) but because I made the wrong choice. I set them up in the dog crate I’ve used for all 12 chickens that I’ve raised. I even thought (since the chick was so small) to wrap some chicken wire around the bottom half of the cage to discourage any sneaking between the bars.
When I got home from work yesterday, things were unnaturally quiet, and Eva was all alone. It took me a minute to find the chick, dead, tangled up between the wire cage and the nesting box I’d set up in there. I don’t know how it happened, or why it killed the chick, but–hindsight being 20/20– I know I should have taken the time to build a better set-up for them (or even just remove the nesting box they weren’t using.)
So this is the hard part about learning to let go. Worse than nature taking its course, or than actually losing the chick, is that I made a bad call. Or maybe didn’t spend the time I should have taking care of my flock. I don’t know.
I do know that there are lessons for me in all of this, and that hopefully they make me better at being the kind of person that can live and work in a space–and make the best decisions for it–without needing to control everything.