Among the Amish
The Great Chicken Wrangler
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Like many Amish women, our friend Dena is a woman of action. For more than 30 years she has worked as a housekeeper in several homes, and her spare time is filled with the many activities of farm life. She cares for the family horses (Duke and Kid), keeps the large family garden, and mows the expansive lawns that surround the rural farmhouse she shares with her mother and sisters. Inside the house she helps keep the place nice, does her share of cooking in the kitchen, and creates beautiful quilts and embroidered goods.
She also keeps a pair of chicken coops; one for the fryers and the other for the egg layers. Her task is to provide the extended family with chicken meat and eggs. There are about 50 chickens in each coop, and the coops are set side-by-side, about 50 yards from the house. They have separate, fenced chicken-run areas so the chickens can wander around picking at bugs, chicken feed, and whatever other little goodies they can find. The fryer chickens are young and like most chickens, they are dull-witted and curious, tottering around their pens in search of food. They fall under the axe at about 13 weeks old, when they are sure to cook up nice and tender.
On a visit a few years ago I wandered over to the coops to see what the chicken population was up to. They ambled about their fenced yards pecking at the earth, keeping a wary eye on me as I watching them from beyond the fence. I was just about to head back to the house when, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the fryers wedging his way under the fence and into the layers' pen - a jailbreak!
This is the point at which I was faced with a decision: Should I let the little chicken break the rules and violate the space of the big chickens, or should I save the day by wrangling it back to its peers? The hero in me said, "Just do it!."
Across the path from the coops is a grove of hardwoods, so I grabbed a long, thin stick and began the chase. Into the layers' pen I went, and it didn't take long for the little guy to realize I was after him. He darted into the chicken coop itself seeking safety among the nesting boxes. As I entered the coop there was a terrible commotion; it was as if I'd entered the women's dressing room at Nordstrom! I did my best to ignore the cackles as I tried in vain to herd the naughty runaway out the door.
Finally he bolted, and out the door I went in hot pursuit. After a few laps around the chicken run he made a beeline for the gate, squeezing his skinny little body underneath. In a flash he was across the path, under the fence, and into the woods! All was lost!
Just about this time Dena came wandering out to see what all the commotion was about. Panting and out of breath I tried to explain things to her as I vaulted over the fence and into the woods. She called after me calmly, "It's OK, it's OK - Just let him go. He'll come back on his own." Regardless of Dena's lifetime of experience raising chickens, I wasn't convinced and kept up the chase, even as she continued to reassure me. It didn't take long to realize she was right.
Later that evening I told the story to the Amish kids and they laughed til they cried, just loving the mental image of me trying to "herd" a chicken with a skinny little stick. My version of the tale was very heroic, but their Aunt Dena was there to remind me of certain facts which may have been forgotten in the retelling. A couple months after our return home I received a hand-made little book filled with drawings of all my adventure stories, including the chicken wrangling caper (shown here). And to this day they love to send me out to the chicken coop to let the jailbirds know the sheriff is back in town.