I was walking from the cooler toward the henhouse, a wad of lettuces in hand to feed to the chickens, when I heard a familiar “rrrrrrrrrrbok..bok bok bok” coming from bushes in front of the house. The ladies were out!

It had been weeks since they’d been allowed to wander from the henhouse run. Ever since Farmer John caught a fox with a choke hold on Miss Wattles (she survived it), the hens have been sequestered inside their fence, and they haven’t been pleased. It’s not that they don’t have plenty of room in there. They do. It just isn’t the same as the great outdoors.

We haven’t seen the fox in a while, and it appeared John simply couldn’t stand to keep the chickens imprisoned any longer. I didn’t blame him. It’s such a happy scene, watching them run around free to sun themselves wherever the mood hits, to peck at the wild bird seed knocked off the squirrel-proof feeder by, ahem, squirrels.

Pablo wasn’t crazy about the development, however. As he’s advanced in age, his forays to the outside world are few and he rarely makes it much farther than the end of the walkway. So the sudden reappearance of these eight big birds flapping around in the dirt just past the front porch wasn’t at all a welcome sight. The moment he spotted them, he turned right around and pressed his nose against the front door, his signal that he was angry and wanted back inside.

He was in no mood for having pictures taken either.

The chickens are Pablo’s karma, I do believe. Like most cats, he was a bit too interested in birds — small birds — in his younger years. As much as we tried to convince him to concentrate on voles or mice, the occasional songbird wound up in his clutches, causing us to wring our hands in distress. Nowadays, Pablo’s interest in catching anything at all has subsided (his protein treats come from the refrigerator instead), yet the presence of the hens serves as a frightening reminder of his prior misbehavior. They’re as big as he is, after all. He must feel like they’re here to punish him somehow.

One thing for sure, if he were to get a sudden urge to go hunting, Pablo would have one heck of a time trying to snatch songbirds from their current shelter. Inadvertently, we constructed a perfect songbird maze with the empty tomato cages we stacked alongside the farm fence.

Little birds have certainly figured it out. They flit about inside the cages, absolutely safe from large predators. I only wish I could include sound with this photo. The birds make the sweetest noises in there.

They might be arguing with each other or complaining about overcrowding, for all we know. They’re songbirds, so no matter what they’re really saying, it’s going to sound sweet. Heck, their whistles and peeps might sometimes be the birds’ version of blowing razzberries at a Cooper’s hawk that discovered their hiding place not long ago. I’ve caught the hawk sitting on a nearby pile of metal t-posts, staring, waiting for a little bird to slip up. Mary saw the hawk actually trying to work its way into the tomato cage maze.

And sadly, on that glorious day for the hens, shortly before dusk as John and I were watching the evening news, I happened to glance out a window just in time to see the hawk swoop into a tree right above the chickens. Flocks of tiny birds shot out of the branches in terror, and our ladies ducked as far under the tree as they could. John ran out to shoo away the hawk (and to shout a few choice words at the predator, no doubt) and to make sure the hens were all there, safe and sound. They were.

Although the day ended on a happy note rather than a tragic one, there remained the underlying disappointment that we wouldn’t be able to let the chickens back out until the Cooper’s hawk eventually moves away from our area. (Already, I’ve had to chase it out of the tree above the henhouse again, all the while yelling, “Migrate, darn you! MIGRATE!”)

It’s awful sad now, to watch the chickens scamper to the door of the henhouse run when they see us walk by. They got the one taste of freedom and it makes no sense to them that they aren’t allowed more. If only they could understand when we assure them we’ll let them out as soon as it’s safe, as soon as we see no more signs of foxes and big low-flying hawks.

Really, Ladies, we promise that day will come. Pablo won’t be so tickled about it but hey, that’s karma for ya.

* * *

For this Wednesday’s Jollyville Road stand, we’ll have:

OODLES of broccoli and bags of broccoli side shoots; Romanesco cauliflower; lots of spinach; pink and purple radishes; Watermelon radishes; green storage cabbage; Brussels greens; chard; some kale (it’s just about “wore out!”); bags of arugula; golden beets; white ‘Tokyo Market’ turnips; bulk Asian greens; heads of escarole; lettuce mix; some Euro salad mix; and the first bunches from the new crop of sweet white Hakurei turnips.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light [closed until March]; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)