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Chicken Rodeo

So the daily drive into town to take Ian to the Village School has resulted in our starting a friendship with a delightful family. All four of them, plus a friend visiting from California, came over yesterday to help us with our “chicken rodeo,” which entailed moving all 15 of our two-month old chickens from where they have been living, close to the house, to a nearby pasture where they will be able to free range now that they are large enough to stay in the fence and are less likely to be carried away by hawks.

As much as I feel with every bone of my body that I want more community in my life, I am quite the novice at its orechestration. That, and I am certainly no expert at this chicken moving stuff. To have David and Lori, their sons, and friend Jim, come over for the express purpose of helping us carry the chickens and the chicken tractors out in the field felt kind of strange to me. Not altogether bad, but a bit like trying to pull off baking a cheese soufflé for company when you’ve never tried your hand at frying an egg.

But the moment David handed me our rooster Cecil with his eyes covered, and told me to hang him upside down by his feet while still covering his eyes, I was plunged into the adventure — ready or not. As I walked with the very passive Cecil hanging upside down, I realized I couldn’t get into the fence without help. As my husband, Will, unlaced the poles of netting, I could feel Cecil’s eyelids blinking against the palm of my left hand. It filled me with such a feeling of warmth for my golden, fluffy, and heretofore unwanted rooster, as I stood there and he hung there, eyelids opening and closing, as we waited together.

Much of the rodeo consisted of trying to coax reticent chickens through the 1x1-foot door of their moveable tractors into a pen where David would catch each hen, then hand her off to someone else who was charged with grasping her firmly under one arm, covering her eyes with a free hand, and carrying the chicken to the fenced pasture where Lori or I clipped a wing before setting said hen down in her new neighborhood.

At one point, when David was engrossed in doing something else inside the holding pen, three chickens tip-toed out of captivity. That signaled the start of the chicken-chasing portion of the rodeo. We tried to be calm, but I’ve not yet seen anyone pull off Zen chicken catching in the fluid manner of experienced beekeepers who can open beehives and do their work without need of protective gear.

Chased chickens are frenetic chickens, no matter how well you disguise your motives or slow your movements. They just know you're out to get them -- like everything else on this planet that savors the taste of chicken or their eggs--and when you think about it, they have a point.

Thank goodness there were eight of us to the fifteen chickens. If we ruffled a few of their feathers in the process of the rodeo, they didn’t seem to hold it against us. Soon they were all scratching and pecking and dust-bathing in the field, making the cooing sounds that contented chickens make. And the people dusted off their pants and sleeves, shook hands or hugged, and smiled broadly at each other before saying their goodbyes.

I’m fond of talking, as anyone who knows me can attest, but this Sunday I was reminded that there really isn’t any faster or more effective way of forging relationships than acting together in service of a common goal. A friend of mine in Austin was fond of quoting Sai Baba, saying: “All action is love.” Maybe that’s why we bond so well to those with whom we do things: it unites us in love. Even something as down-home as chicken moving.



Anna: It was wonderful to meet you, Will and Ian, and great fun to join in the Chicken Rodeo! I'm back in Berkeley now, but will look forward to hearing about more adventures on your beautiful homestead in Eugene. All the best!


Hi Anna, Will and Ian,

It was very fun visiting with you, seeing your place, and getting to do some chicken handling with you. I loved reading your blog. I have to agree – I have always LOVED doing projects and working with friends.

Just as an FYI, by the way, the reason we started the chicken-transporting by handing you the rooster and first couple hens by the feet, was just because a scared or rowdy chicken can ‘rake’ you with its feet during the transition to settling down in your arms if you hold it by its body, cradled right side up. Their little chicken toe-nails are not sharp enough to break through the skin, but it can hurt and leave a welt. Holding them by their feet controls their feet and so prevents them from ‘raking’ anyone. They really don’t seem to mind being held that way – they stay calm and docile as long as their heads are covered. While holding them by their feet makes sure they don’t scratch anyone, it’s covering their head with you hand and keeping their eyes in the dark that really calms them down, of course, as we discussed. It’s funny that chickens are so visual that if they can’t see anything then they just relax and ‘hang out’with you. Anyway, after the first couple chickens were moved, it was clear that your chickies are so sweet and gentle that they really didn’t need to be held by the feet, so I switched to handing them to the chicken-transporting-crew right side up. Ahhh ... made me wish for our own little flock of hens!
- David


I'm glad David, the Chicken Whisperer, weighed in and explained the upside down and covered eye part of our chicken rodeo.

It was clear that both techniques were calming to the chickens, and as one who has been raked by these sweet chicken's toenails in past efforts to carry them, I was grateful for how well it worked for both the people and the fowl.


Love the new moniker for David! I think this could stick....