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Tue, June 25

Life in the Slow Lane: Burrowing Chicks

I thought I had them. But N-O-O-O. I have burrowing chicks.

Raising these chicks is like a remake of "Chicken, Run." (I must be on a children's movie kick.) The chicks are relentless in their attempts to escape. It's not like I didn't know there would be a period during which they'd be small enough to fit through the 4" x 2" openings in the horse fencing I'd used.

That's why I added a layer of bird netting over the fence and buried the bottom of both in the soil. By the way, if you've never seen, or worse unrolled a length of bird netting, this is the most frightening fencing-type stuff I've every used. It acts like a really sticky spider web. As you unroll it, it tangles around the buttons of your shirt. It catches on the ends of tools. I swear it wraps itself around your feet just to trip you. I used it as a barrier against the javelina when I first moved up here. They never challenged it. If javelina won't challenge it, surely it could control tiny little chickens.

I didn't count the determination of these birds. It started with them scratching along the edges of their enclosure. I didn't give that much thought because chickens love freshly turned soil, and that's what I'd done when I buried the base of the fence. It took me a few days before I realized that they weren't just scratching in the dirt. They were burrowing! Down, they went until they scratched up the bottom edge of the bird netting. After that it was an easy thing for them to wiggle-waggle themselves upward, between metal fence and bird netting, until they could pop out through their choice of a rectangular opening.

After catching the escapees, I went along the fence and reburied all the edges of the netting then turned all the soil in their run so they would have more to focus on than just the edge of the fence. By now, a cadre of burrowers had formed. One would exploit a weak spot and the others would swiftly follow. This time, I went back along the edges and lined it with rocks. Still, they escaped.

By then Moosie had noticed there were chicks on the outside of the coop. Once again, I took him down and informed him that these were "Mine!" So now I was watching both the chicks and the dog. It was a good thing I was because if I hadn't been I would have noticed him as he walked casually up to the fence then a moment later turned and started just as casually away toward the ditch.

I dashed out onto the porch and shouted, "Drop it!" He immediately spat out the chick he was holding in his mouth and continued to walk out of my view. Meanwhile, the completely unharmed chick made her frantic way back to the coop. I counted after that, just to be sure I hadn't missed Moosie doing this once or twice before. He hadn't.

That caused me to add boards to the inside of the enclosure. That meant nothing to my burrowing chicks. Down, they went, looking for a way under them. Although this was more effective than rocks, it wasn't the answer. They were still escaping, but at least now they were limited to only a few places from which to escape. More importantly, when I was chasing them down to return them inside, they were all making their way back to the same place--the rear end, where the enclosure met the barn wall.

Aha! I had them. I pinned the bird netting against the barn wall with a board, then zip-tied the netting at the base, middle, and added more at the top. Feeling triumphant at having outsmarted 3 week old chicks, I returned to the house to finish up my work so I could start this post. Every so often, I'd glance outside. Not a misplaced chick to be seen! I had done it! I walked into the laundry room to start a load of wash, then returned to the kitchen and glanced out the door. Not one, not two, but five chicks were outside the enclosure turning over cottonwood leaves as they were digging holes in the rich soil. (Ha! "Holes" is another kid's movie. I need to get off this kick before I find a way to work in "Shark Boy and Lava Girl," one of my favorites.)

Gnashing my teeth in frustration, I recruited Christina to help me and got serious. Together, we covered the outside of the fence with chicken wire, then buried the bottom edges of the fence, netting and chicken wire. The chicks eyed us in suspicion while we worked, but soon forgot we were there and went back to their frenetic digging. We had started in the "weak" corner, and as we made our way toward the gate, I kept my eye on the leader of the escape crew. Sure enough, she made her way to that corner. Who says chickens can't remember? Three followers joined her a moment later. The four of them dug at the newly buried netting, then pressed and pushed. One got herself between the netting and the fence. And there she stayed. I worried for a moment that she was actually trapped. But no, she was just checking for options. Apparently there weren't any, because she backed out of the netting and went somewhere else to dig.

Gotcha! At least for today. At the rate they're growing today might be enough. If not, then by the end of the week they'll definitely be too big to get through the fence.

But what I really want to know is why can't I have normal animals?

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