There’s no training a chicken. In her opinion, whatever she’s doing at any particular instant is exactly the right thing to do, no matter how loudly her humans squawk at her. I mean, really, why else would Farmer John park a cart stacked with crates of tomatoes at the front porch if he weren’t presenting them specifically to her?

Our subsequent shrieking does nothing to deter Miss Red. In fact, it only serves to catch the attention of the other hens — a situation that displeases Miss Red possibly even more so than John and me. (Note the evil eye she’s flashing at an interloping Maran Sister.)

Of our eight hens, the one we call Crazy Neck is the most stubborn and determined of them all. Perhaps because she’s the smallest of the group, she feels the need to make a larger, quirkier statement than the rest. Or maybe her slight insanity is a result of what happened to her neck shortly after she moved to the farm.

See there, underneath her left earlobe — that tuft of feathers sticking straight out? We haven’t a clue how they got that way. One evening she went to sleep with normal neck feathers; the following morning she looked like this, and this is how her feathers remain to this day.

Whatever happened that night, it obviously affected her powers of rational thought, as she has decided the most desirable place on the farm to lay an egg is up on the cabinet where we keep our harvest scissors and knives. Any time she has the opportunity, she jumps up there, rearranges the sharp objects (much to her potential peril, toes-wise), and settles into the space she’s created.

If we come near her — or simply look in her direction — she starts hollering at the top of her lungs. Being the obedient farmers that we are, we turn away until she’s finished (and sanitize our pointy scissors after every egg-laying session).

Proof that training humans is much easier than training chickens.

The only creature less trainable than a chicken, while being equally single-minded and tenacious, is a raccoon. As anyone whose trash cans are consistently raided night after night has learned, preventing a raccoon from eating what isn’t rightfully his or hers is not an easy task. Which is why when we start spotting these in our melon patch,

we know it’s time to get serious. It’s time to set up and turn on the electric fence.

The amount of current flowing through the fence doesn’t kill the thieving critters, but it gives them enough of a jolt to change their minds — quite abruptly — about what kind of snack they might be in the mood for right that second.

Before the fence can go up, however, the earth surrounding our melon patch must be raked clean of plant debris that might touch the wire and interrupt the flow of electricity. Once that’s done, plastic posts are driven at intervals around the perimeter of the melon plants.

Little black wheely-looking things (pardon the technologicalness of my explanation) are attached to the metal corner stakes.

Then someone unwinds metal wire around and around and around the melon patch, running it through the black wheely-looking things on the metal corner stakes and also through corresponding yellow fastener-looking things on the plastic posts.

This part of the job involves walking backwards. (Something so important always comes with a degree of risk.)

We’ve used this method of controlling raccoons for many years, and it’s as effective as any method we know. Still, it isn’t foolproof. If something happens to accidentally ground the electric wires — like an errant melon vine touching one of them — or if there isn’t enough moisture in the soil to ensure good conductivity, a raccoon can slip right through and suffer nary a spark. It’s important that someone check the wires periodically to make sure there’s plenty of juice pulsing through them.

We own a device that tests this very thing. It’s probably still in its box. Somewhere.

Instead, Farmer John chooses to check the fence the old-fashioned way. He touches it. For many years he was indiscriminate about his foot positioning and often stood on damp soil as he grabbed the wires. When I heard him cry out from the opposite end of the farm, I knew the fence was working.

It’s like being in the bathtub when someone offers to toss you a plugged-in toaster. Probably you should get out of the tub and dry off first.

John has learned his lesson when it comes to the electric fence. Now he makes sure he’s standing away from the drip tape before he hand-tests for current…proving once again that humans are indeed the most trainable.

Sometimes it just takes us a little while.

* * *

For Wednesday’s farm stand we’ll have:

Tomatoes; three kinds of cherry tomatoes; lots of zucchini, Zephyr and yellow squash; three varieties of eggplant; bunches of basil; sweet Yellow Granex and Red Creole onions; elephant garlic; Cubanelle peppers; red and yellow bell peppers; arugula; and the first of the okra.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; 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)