Monday, February 23, 2015

Chicken friends and a band of brothers

Recently, I've found that I have friends and I have "chicken friends." There is something about having chickens in common that creates a different type of friendship. Not many people can understand your sorrow when a pet chicken dies ("it's just a bird, right?"), your joy when chicks hatch ("are they friendly?"), and your love of finding a new feed store ("but you live in the city..."). Robin is my first "chicken friend" and always up for adventure. Robin keeps her finger on the pulse of a lot of things around Atlanta. When she read on our local Backyard Chickens Meetup that 4 roosters had been abandoned by a local school, she sent out an email to our "Fowl Friends" group. I'm good at organizing people and processing how to get things accomplished. So together, we made a great team! My "organizing" involved drafting my 10 year old son, Reese, to help. We heard that the roosters were friendly, so in our naiveté, we headed out thinking that we would just round them up, put them in the crate, and head home. Fortunately, I had the good sense to pack a net...
Our "selfie" as we head off...
A view of the school
When we still thought this would be easy...
Apparently this private elementary school had closed in December blindsiding the teachers and families with only 3 days notice of the closing. The administrators just abandoned the school's flock leaving them without food, water, or shelter. I am indignant over the treatment of the chickens, but I am outraged how the school treated the families. We saw evidence of the school's attempts to go "green"- rain barrels, compost piles, gardens, and the chicken coop. And you could see the community's anger with the broken windows, destruction of property, and curses spray painted on the walls. The level of anger towards the school is well-placed.

We arrived at the abandoned school and sure enough, there were 4 roosters wandering around. Kristi, a wonderfully kind neighbor, wandered up and offered to help us. She lived nearby and had heard the roosters crowing. She had heard the school dismantled the coop before they closed but was astounded when she realized they left behind the chickens. Kristi initiated the Meetup post that was the reason we were there. We started trying to herd the chickens out of the tangled sticker bushes and quickly caught the first one with the net. And then the chickens got smart...

Here, I must interject the obvious. Yes, it is much easier to catch chickens at night when they roost. But this location was not safe at night and we didn't have any evening volunteers. Plus, they were supposed to be generally tame... so we should just be able to pick them up, right? After catching the first rooster, we were on a high! We forged ahead with the others. The woods were a huge problem with trying to swing the net, and the chickens didn't realize apparently that we were trying to "rescue" them. We decided to flush the others out across the driveway to the building. The problem with chickens, though, is that they fit through locked fences. And we don't. And they hop over fences and climb trees. Eventually, Robin's son Charlie and husband joined us. And we caught a second chicken with the net an hour later, and the first chicken escaped. Seriously.

I don't think the coop was actually dismantled...
After 3 and half hours and thanks to Charlie's willingness to crawl on his stomach under a prickly juniper bush, we had 3 chickens. I can't describe our frustration and exhaustion as we tried over and over to capture these tricky birds. In case you wondered, chickens DO fly- when you least expect it. With no sign of the other one, we headed home for the night. That night, Robin and I stressed over the 4th bird knowing that he no longer had his flock and was alone. Yes, it was just a rooster, but it was an example of someone else's cruelty. I think Robin and I each felt that we could set a small part of the world right if we were able to rescue this last bird.
Abandoned gardens

In the morning, Kristi saw the 4th bird. I dragged my husband, 2 other kids, and Reese to the school to try to find the bird. No luck. Later in the afternoon, Robin met us up there again. We searched and searched without success. I wished out loud that we had brought one of the roosters to crow and call to his friend. Always full of good ideas, Robin whipped out her phone, "We can play rooster sounds from our phones!!" Can you imagine how we looked wandering around playing rooster sounds from YouTube?! But I saw movement in a tree! We found the last rooster hiding and were able to capture it quickly. Success!! We dropped off fresh eggs to our new "chicken friend" Kristi and headed home.

Another obvious question is now what? You can't put a bunch of roosters together in a coop, can you?  We have several places interested in these beautiful birds (and not for coq au vin), but in the meantime, they are in our smaller coop. I was worried about putting them all together in one space and whether they would fight. Because roosters fight and that's why you keep only one, right? But when I went to close the coop last night, all 4 were huddled up together, just like a band of brothers. These birds survived together and deserve another shot at life. They are very sweet roosters allowing the kids to pick them up and hold them.
Right after capture
All 4 together with our hens gazing lovingly at them
I'm glad you came back for me!
I'm glad to have my "chicken friends" and love the adventure of rescuing these birds. But I hope this won't become a common occurrence. In closing the school, the administration "forgot" about the chickens. To me, this is appalling. Raising chickens as a commitment- you need to research the level of time required before bringing those precious baby chicks home. It's not a minor hobby and leaving tamed animals to fend for themselves is an abominable cruelty. When we got there, we saw beautiful pale green eggs scattered along the front steps, in corners, and in the bushes of the administration building. We realized the hens had been abandoned as well. Hens are easily picked off by predators, and we found a pile of feathers where one was killed. These were pets- chickens raised by children that lived in a coop. They weren't raised on a farm or in the wild where they learned to fend for themselves. I had one friend comment that they were "free-ranging" and could be something else's dinner. I guess that's true, but it seems cruel and unnecessary. There are so many resources in and around Atlanta for finding chickens homes that these poor birds didn't need to be abandoned.

English, Reese, Kristi, Robin, and Charlie

Could Robin be a more fashionable rescuer?

1 comment:

  1. Hurray for you and your chicken friends coming to the rescue! So nice to read about people being kind enough to take the time for those roosters. I started with one rescue hen 6 years ago and haven't looked back.