Confronting The Reality Of Chicken Husbandry

By Chris Lavin

LA MESA -- When we last visited the wildlife subject here at La Mesa Today, we now realize we were in the blinding infatuation stage of the relationship.

A stray chicken had chosen our hillside as home and we, essentially city folk who liked to think we had some agrarian roots, warmed to the idea of animal husbandry.

We had named the bird Sophie and were regularly tossing scraps of bread to coax the critter out of its lair in the underbrush. Visions of eggs to come and, perhaps, purchasing Sophie a friend or two could have been possible.

Alas, like many with romantic views of rural life, the reality of chicken ownership revealed itself -- not slowly over time, but suddenly and with a clear lesson for we urban sorts. There is a reason, we now realize, that Von's $1.19 per pound for the meat and $2.49 for a dozen eggs is such a deal.

Perhaps it was Sophie's character  that sent things south. This was, to the scientific eye, clearly a chicken. But we're not sure Sophie knew this. Perhaps driven by its isolation -- for all we know this bird had no chicken mentors ever -- it seemed to think it could fly. It moved quickly between yards, surmounting five-foot fences with a half-flight-half-spider man climb that was astounding.

We quickly realized this bird was frequenting a number of homes, convincing a series of neighbors that they were its only source of scraps and bread crumbs. She wasn't our pet. We were her marks. She started to look like a turkey, but believed she was an eagle. 

At night Sophie didn't crawl off to some coop in the underbrush, she literally climbed a tree to about the 20-foot mark where it nestled down with a view of the mountains and valleys of East County in the distance. She chased the cooing Love Birds from their own nest.

By about week two, Sophie had also developed a bit of an entitlement problem. Quickly assured of our good intentions, she gave up on fear and began approaching us with an attitude. At 6 a.m. she would be right outside the backdoor and began knocking at the glass with abandon, as if to say "I'm here you Lilliputians and I demand some food, preferably those leftover croissants you gave me.'' (She has always shown a preference for French bread and confections.)

Even worse, from what we could tell, of all Sophie's roosts, she seemed to reserve her -- how should I put it? -- excrement for our otherwise suburban patio. In this land where rain falls about as often as the Chargers win Super Bowls, a barnyard look, feel and odor quickly developed. Flies followed.

It got worse. Our little Bichon Frise -- which I believe is French for pain-in-the-derriere dog -- realized if he could chase Sophie off, he could have her scraps to himself. That was particularly unfortunate the night I fed the bird a few handfuls of peanuts, a snack that doesn't sit well on a dog's stomach.

At 2 a.m. as we cleaned the dog's bilious expulsions from our otherwise nice white carpet, we decided it was time to stop feeding Da Boid. Our theory: She'll just hang out more with the neighbors who would continue  funding her life on the dole.

Yet, Sophie wouldn't give up that easy it turns out. She just started knocking on the windows harder and angrily scratching around in the bushes looking for grubs, insects and worms -- a more noble, and only slightly less French cuisine.

One morning as we sat outside enjoying our morning tea, Sophie stood on our retaining wall scowling when a stunning Cooper's Hawk swooped out of the sky and landed on a nearby fence-post. Sophie knew better than we that this was not good for a chicken. She began racing about the yard screaming like a Charger cornerback facing a Payton Manning long bomb.

Using Google, we quickly identified this hawk's identity and confirmed its modus operendi. If we sat quietly, we were about to witness a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom moment and resolve our chicken poop problem in one fell swoop (pun intended.)

We looked at each other and, without saying a word, quickly rose and ran to Sophie's defense. The hawk, a truly magnificent bird, flew off without his breakfast. We had intervened in this natural moment and sided with the soiler of our pavement, the deadbeat beggar in the yard, the clearly undeserving of the two creatures.

In the ensuing weeks, in moments of weakness, I would suffer some transcendental moment and wonder if, perhaps, this persistent foul is the reincarnation of a beloved relative or friend. Why else does she linger? At these moments I'll toss out a bit of bread and hold the dog back.

But mostly I remember that I am not Buddhist and don't believe we come back as barnyard animals. In fact, I am pretty much convinced this is just a chicken that needs to find a new and more welcoming home.

Just yesterday I found myself wondering if I could learn a Cooper's Hawk call.

Chris Lavin is editor of La Mesa Today. Submissions for inclusion in "On La Mesa" can be sent to ourtown@lamesatoday.com

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Comment by midge hyde on August 1, 2014 at 4:15pm

Written with great humor, fun to read. This is also a personal invite to the August 23 art reception at On the Edge Art Gallery on El Cajon Blvd.

Comment by Jim Wieboldt on August 1, 2014 at 12:26pm
Chris? You got jacked by a chicken? Really? Dude...A chicken?
Comment by La Mesa Today on August 1, 2014 at 11:39am

David, I was once attacked by a muscovy duck who was offended by the sound of my power drill. No more foul play for me!

Chris

Comment by David Stanley on August 1, 2014 at 10:18am

If you liked this perhaps you should look into obtaining a goose or geese? Not only do you get a swell pal but a built in alarm system as well as property protection. If you doubt the latter, wander, someday, into a backyard with geese but be prepared to "wander" out again pretty fast. They bite!

Comment by Karen Whitney on August 1, 2014 at 9:59am

 Thank you for a morning smile - very witty and amusing.

Now......about that rooster that is living on a hill across from us...?  What did you say that hawk's name was?

Comment by Susan Taylor on August 1, 2014 at 9:53am

What a great story!  I can assure you that poor Sophie would have been better off with her wings clipped a little so she couldn't fly all over the place, but just high enough to feel out of harm's way.  My chickens and small dogs are great friends, they share food and water and it's a peaceable kingdom here.  I like to sit out with just the chickens and toss peanuts on the patio.  The dogs are more afraid of the chickens than vice versa.  Eggs happen, no need for a rooster.  Which is to say chickens have a coop to return to best of luck to Sophie!

Comment by chris shea on August 1, 2014 at 8:53am
Like it or not, it appears you and Gina are Sophie's Choice.

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