Soot and the Hen

Here Lies a “Good First Impression”

March 8, 2020


some of our free-range chickens—the risk takers

Some of our free-range chickens—the risk takers

We always hope for the best when taking a risk on a new adventure. We always want to put our best foot forward with new people, we want them to like us and accept us. But invariably, life happens.

We trip and fall on our faces, or stumble over our words, or our dogs kill the chickens.

Or is that just me?

Lost Feathers and Broken Hearts

Death is certainly part of the life cycle here on the farm, but when it’s violent and unexpected and truthfully avoidable, it takes a toll on the community. The animals hurt and the people *hurt*.

So how do you come back from that? Trust is lost in my dog, lost in me. People feel disrespected, their safe homes violated. The damage is so much greater than a couple of poultry.

The road to healing relationships takes a willingness from *all* parties. And I think the mark of a great community lies in how its members create space for healing. Not necessarily forgiving all sins right away, but allowing a path for a truly penitent person to make amends.

After the event, I was making plans for packing up and leaving. I thought for sure they would want me gone. I got lax in my attention and put my dog in a position where she could hurt the chickens. There is no excuse. I seriously messed up, and I would totally understand if they wanted to send me down the road.

A Chance For Redemption

Soot keeping watch outside the Digital Studio

Soot keeping watch outside the Digital Studio

But they didn’t. Everyone came together to help do research or brainstorm ideas to help prevent Soot (my dog) from hurting another chicken. And not just ways that solve the problem, but in a way that still allows Soot to be a dog and have a high quality of life. People here seem to understand that mistakes happen, it’s impossible to avoid, and that by working together we can fix those mistakes and be better community members for it.

Soot and I still have a ways to go to show the community that we can be trusted and we do care about them, the animals, and everyone’s safety. I am grateful for the chance to prove it.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The game plan going forward to help set Soot up for success in integrating here starts with building a generously sized kennel for her. She prefers to be right at my side, but that’s not always practical. So for her safety, a comfy dog run is the way to go. When not there, she happily relaxes tied to a tree with a long lead as long as I am nearby.

No more off-leash walks, unless she has a muzzle on, and I will be getting serious about her obedience training. I even have a little doggie backpack for her, so when we are anywhere near where the chickens like to range, she can have a job that will keep her focused on me and not on the exciting chickens.


the hens enjoy their "safed" enclosure

The hens enjoy their “safed” enclosure

We live on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness, so most of our chickens live inside a large fenced area where they can roam in the daytime, and then retreat to the safety of their roosting area come sundown.

But a couple of years ago, a hen and her chicks got out of ChickPlex (our breeding center) and established themselves independently under some shipping containers. They usually confine themselves to the goat pens and spend their time searching out bugs among the bits of alfalfa that the goats overlook.

the hens scratching up some breakfast

Usually that’s a good arrangement, but their freedom to range comes at the expense of added risk. In this case, one of the hens came out on the losing end of that trade-off.