Chicken move takes a family

Humans as a species seem to be extremely interested in the movements of other species.

We are captivated by stories of the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, or how the fragile monarch butterfly somehow seems to make it all the way to Mexico to reproduce.

The nightly peregrinations of a bat colony in Texas draw thousands of tourists, as do pods of whales making their way to their breeding grounds.

Even human-induced movements draw attention. Scores of people keenly follow horse racing and greyhound racing. Bovine motion is also highly scrutinized.

From the famous bulls in Pamplona to the humblest family milk cow, the rodeo bulls to the market steers, folks tend to keep a close eye on cattle.

Even family pets occupy a special online video niche, garnering thousands of views for simply mewing or sleeping in front of a camera.

As you’re used to by now, out at our place, we do things a little differently. For us, the highlight of the season isn’t a new bale in the horse pen or the latest road kill. It’s a complex, carefully orchestrated maneuver that I like to call the Moving Of The Chickens.

It all begins in the house. Taking into account the ambient temperature at the beginning, coupling that with the availability (or lack thereof) of outlets to run the heat lamps, chicks might get their start in either the mud room or the screen porch.

In either place, they spend their days being hovered over by me or the kids, eating and drinking in a temperature controlled environment, their only goal growing healthy and strong.

If they started in the mud room, they can “graduate” to the larger container in the screen porch to “harden off” as soon as they need more space and can live without the heat lamp.

The kids usually take over chores at this point without me breathing over their shoulders. The plan is to eventually move them to the main coop annex, then to the main coop.

Of course, this sounds pretty easy until I already have a batch in the annex, one in the screen porch, and the mud room gets hot enough to fry eggs, thereby rendering it unusable for the third wave of peepers. At this point, the grand Moving Of The Chickens must commence.

First, the teenagers in the annex must be moved to the main coop. This must occur at night, accompanied by the kids, one of whom seems to be bent on letting the chickens that two of you trying to catch out of the door. One by one, the newly minted “grownups” must be carried around the weedy patch to the main coop door, accompanied by a persistent tickly feeling and the nagging suspicion that I’ve become a veritable tick habitat.

Often, the maneuver must be suspended at this point due to real or imagined bug interference. LED headlamps are really wonderful until all of the winged insects in a tri-county radius begin to swarm around your head. At this point, the application of any additional insect repellent is likely to make me, the kids, or the chickens keel over.

The children are also displaying a considerably higher level of activity and agitation than they have all week while slapping at bugs. I’m sure I just swallowed one. By the feel of it, it was a June bug.

The next night brings Phase 2: moving those not-so-little ones from the screen porch to the annex. There are 15 of them. This is going to require more personnel. It’s now a family affair.

The kids begin by refusing to catch the birds, citing the fact that they’re “really flapative.” Intrepid hubby delves into the box again and again, retrieving chicks and handing them out. I’ve got three, and the kids are about to drop their single birds.

We parade out toward the annex. The kids are pep-talking the peepers, telling them how different life will be as “teenagers.” (I find it particularly humorous that my pre-teens know so much about avian teenagerhood.) Back and forth we trek, clutching soft, feathery bodies to our chests. Finally, all 15 are present and accounted for in one place, and we all head back up to the house, covered in bird dust, Off, and bug bites. The Moving Of The Chickens has been successful.

Our event may not be as glamorous or high-paying as some, and is certainly more grimy than your average cat video. Still, it gives us an opportunity for hands-on teaching, learning, and maybe even a little bit of bonding. “Get some chickens,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. And they were right!

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at

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