Chasing Chickens: Summer on the Burbstead

If You Can't Outrun It, Outsmart It

“Mom, there’s a chicken in the front yard!” my son ran in from playing in the back yard to report. I left my guests for a moment and went outside to find two chickens on the loose.  One chicken escaped our closed gate and was in the side yard. Another was all the way in the neighbor’s backyard. I got the one if the side yard back using my only chicken-herding technique: walk behind it in the direction you want it to go. Apparently chickens don’t like being stalked.

I headed over to the neighbor’s yard, counting on this method to work again. This would require opening the neighbor’s gate. I thanked God their two Great Danes weren’t out—and I was expressing gratitude on my behalf, not the chickens’—and hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice. We never see them, and I have no idea what they might think of my suburban chicken-chasing antics.

To my great dismay, the fence was zip-tied shut. No doubt for the Great Danes. Now, I don’t mind jumping a fence one bit. But the zip-tied fence meant that I was not going to be able to use my one, sure-fire chicken-herding method. And I do mind catching and carrying full-size chickens.

Lest you think I’m some hardy, homesteading type of gal, let me set you straight. I am not comfortable around any animals except my own children. I can scarcely tell a weed from a plant. Actually, I can’t. I prematurely pulled a garlic plant Neil put in our front flower bed.

Sure, I pick up the chickens when they’re babies. Even toddlers. But after they hit that awkward, adolescent chicken stage, I try not to touch them. So here I am, chasing a squawking, flapping chickens around my neighbor’s yard, trying to dodge piles of Great Dane poop while my kids watch me.

And if you didn’t know, chickens are fast. Especially these free-rangers. I asked my son to get me a bucket to catch it in so I wouldn’t have to touch it. It quickly became clear that wasn’t going to work. My son offered to try. Good burbstead boy! I went inside to get his shoes (because poop), and when I came back the chicken was nowhere to be seen.

I imagined the poor, lonely chicken roaming the neighborhood, regretting his own wanderlust. I looked down the street but there was no sign on him. Oh well, I thought, there’s nothing for it now.

I described the incident to Neil when he got home. He went out back, counted the chickens, and insisted they were all accounted for. Gulliver had found his way home.

The Black Rangers breed was much more interesting than our previous breed. But the longer we had the chickens, the bolder they became. One day they climbed the deck stairs and pooped all over the deck. We had to start barricading the bottom of the stairs with lawn chairs. Three of them escaped the gate again before we realized they were squeezing under, and secured it with rocks.

But this was just the beginning of our chicken-chasing ventures. Neil arrived home from work on a 90-degree day with 15 minutes to load up the chickens and take them to the friend’s farm where he processes them. We chicken-proofed the back of our station wagon since our trusty Farm Focus was replaced with the $200 Scion XB, which has a lot less room in the back.

Neil corralled the chickens into the box quickly by putting food in it—something they don’t normally get on slaughtering day. He had only managed to get a couple to the car when our son jumped into the box when its door was open, and they all ran out. At that point they knew something was up and weren’t going to flock back into the box. Neil, wearing his winter boots that double as muck boots, tried chasing them but we quickly learned just how fast chickens are.

“If anyone can see this, they must be laughing their heads off,” Neil remarked.

Two days later our neighbor posted the theme featured above.

We worked together to use our chicken-herding technique, cornering them in positions Neil could grab them. After what felt like an eternity, he had wrangled them all into the station wagon and was off.

In related news, Neil “accidentally” purchased a chicken coup off a local auction site. It was a steal, and we could use it for our meat birds next summer, but getting layers is also on the table. If they’re as ornery as the male Black Rangers, I’m not sure I’m up for it. At the same time, it was a lot more fun having chickens that explored instead of just eating and pooping in the same place every day.

If you’re wondering, raising our own chickens costs about the same as buying whole chickens at the store, and much less than purchasing local, humanely-raised birds. For answers to all your burning questions about backyard chickens, including the price calculations, please see Are You Too Chicken? To Raise Backyard Chickens.

For more on our suburban “homesteading” endeavors, see Rocking the Burbstead: How We’re Homesteading on 0.1 Acre.

And why do we do this crazy stuff? Check out How Do You Uncube? A Philosophy of Hobbies.

Would you ever consider raising backyard chickens? What do you think–should we get layers for eggs? 

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18 Responses to “Chasing Chickens: Summer on the Burbstead”

  1. Oldster says :

    My kingdom for a YouTube of that craziness. Thanks for giving me my first laugh of the day.

  2. Tonya says :

    Pretty funny. I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid great dane poop. Holy crap…literally! I thought about one day having chickens for eggs. Maybe just a couple, but with chickens always seems to come funny stories for some reason. hmmm.

    • Kalie says :

      They’re funny creatures. It was more interesting to see what they got up to, compared with our more sedentary breed before.

  3. Carolina says :

    I have a five year old little girl who is just the best at catching chickens. We love them and have them for eggs, fertilizer production, garden soil preparers, backyard guards, and cheap entertainment. So much more useful than dogs.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree–I’d much rather have a pet that provides something useful! I guess people love the companionship of other animals but I prefer chickens.

  4. Hannah says :

    I love this story! It also explains why I will probably never have chickens (though Rob unexpectedly said he wants to live on farm… What?)

    • Kalie says :

      Maybe because it’s the opposite of the lab? A lot of Neil’s friends (who are engineers) are also into the farm-type hobbies. I think they love the problem-solving and the organic nature of it all.

  5. Amanda says :

    This was great, Kalie! 🙂 I’m sure in the moment, it wasn’t quite so amusing, but it’s just one of those stories your family will tell (and laugh about) for years!

    I would love to have chickens – mostly for the eggs. But, alas, my husband and mom (who would have to care for them in our absence) do not agree with me on this one. I doubt the neighbors would either. But, one day I’ll convince them! For now, I’ll have to be content with the fruit and veggies from the garden.

    • Kalie says :

      Having farm fresh eggs would be great. I do worry about the ongoing care, though. We only have ours 6-8 weeks so we can easily avoid travel or hire someone to help. If it was year-round that might be harder.

  6. DC YAM says :

    Our neighbors have chickens and they seem to save a decent amount of money on eggs, though I think they got them more so to entertain their kids.

    • Kalie says :

      It is fun for the kids. I don’t know how much money we’d save on eggs, but fresh ones do taste the best!

  7. Brian says :

    I guess you’ve never seen the movie Rocky II? Next time, don’t get your son he’s shoes get him the video camera. lol, glad it all worked out!

  8. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    I was hoping you’d say your neighbour had video taped your adventures. Keeping chickens is clearly a frugal undertaking. No need to pay for entertainment : )

    • Kalie says :

      If she did, she’s too nice to say so 🙂 It’s true–we have built-in entertainment in the backyard.

  9. Carole says :

    I was a farm wife before retirement and we raised like 200 chickens at a time. It is hard to keep them contained to a yard as they fly over fences even when their wings are clipped. It is almost impossible to have a nice flowerbed or garden anywhere near where they roam. They make a nice side income, but there are sacrifices to be made. Of course you are on a smaller scale. I never thought of them as pets–more like live stock which we also had.

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, 200 at a time would be an entirely different operation! We have friends who do more, but we are limited by our yard size.

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