Six chicks and a bad ass: Life on the farm

By Matt Payne

“Yeah, it is Matt Payne calling… again. Wanted to talk to somebody about your rescue donkeys so please call me back,” I said, hanging up the phone frustrated.

“How hard is it to talk to somebody about a donkey?” I mutter to myself as Meg and I exited I-40 just north of Edmond, leaving the last of the city lights for the small roads of the country. It was still hard to believe that sixty days earlier, I lived a mile from the beach and the concept of “cold weather” was about as foreign as the concept of donkey acquisition.

Opie the Donkey
Opie the Donkey

Since the purchase of a chicken coop a week earlier, getting a guard donkey to protect the future chickens from the resident coyotes had become paramount. Donkeys, as it turns out, have a keen hatred toward coyotes and while the sinister resident coyotes love to kill chickens, they fear the donkeys, who when threatened by the pesky canines, buck and scream bloody murder until the coyotes slink off to other poultry-lush pastures. “Donkeys save the chicken from the coyotes” had become a mantra in the weeks since we’d lived on the farm and while all these animals only existed in theory at this point, it was a vision that I hoped soon would manifest itself in the most docile, bucolic of ways.

While we were yet to get any chickens, we had preemptively named the chickens Drumstick, Wishbone, Batter, Biscuit, Tender, and Nugget. The KFC-inspired names came about partly because we thought they were adorable but more so because were coyotes to actually circumvent our future donkey and infiltrate the coop, there was something less heartbreaking and insidious about saying “last night, the coyotes snacked on a drumstick and a biscuit” as opposed to the far more gruesome “There are bloody Roger feathers everywhere and Louise is down a beak.”

Getting a donkey is hard but purchasing live chickens in the winter is equally so. Of the half dozen feed stores I called to inquire about getting a chicken coop, I’d been essentially hung up upon six times. Apparently, if you are “city-fied” enough to think you could actually get chickens in the winter, you had no business having chickens in the first place.

“You might be able to get some chickens at an auction,” said a guy with a wandering eyeball and a slur when I finally found a feed store that claimed to have a coop for sale. My cowboy boots were nowhere near enough to fool this guy into thinking that I knew the first thing about farm life.

“And why buy a coop when you could just build one?” he asked smug, as though he knew that even simple Legos had historically made me nervous.

“William Sonoma has chicken coops!” chimed in my mom, who had joined me on my adventure to Mustang, Oklahoma.

“William what?” said the spiteful man.

“William Sonoma!” said my mom, pleased that she’d solved a problem.

“Does he raise chickens?” asked the man curious as to the identity of this “William.”

“It’s not a ‘he,’” I said, feeling part embarrassed, but more so relieved not to be building it myself.

“It’s a store,” I said.

“At the mall,” my mom added.

“You’re buying a chicken coop at the mall?” asked the man.

“They can get it delivered by next week if you order it today,” said my mom, ready to leave. “And they have white glove delivery!”

The man shook his head.

“Perfect,” I said, hoping to get out before my mom said anything else urban.

“Hope you enjoy your chickens as much as them coyotes will,” said the man, ruefully.

“We’re going to get a donkey.” I retorted. “They protect the chickens from the coyotes.”

“They sell ass at the mall too?” he managed as we turned to leave.

A week later, as promised by William Sonoma, the chicken coop appeared though the white glove service had been a lie. I’d have to put it together myself which made me shudder. In the nights previous, coyotes had been crying from all sides of the property as though they were rallying one another for a chicken dinner. We were really going to need a donkey.

This time, it was Meg’s turn to call the donkey rescue and she got someone on the phone. An older lady had recently bought a baby donkey named “Opi” from auction after the little donkey’s mother had been sold to slaughter. So desperate this nice old lady was to save the little donkey from the same fate as her mother, she bid sixty dollars, more than ten times the donkey’s worth, to save it. Since, she’d bottle-fed the donkey until it was big enough to go to pasture and come to love it like a dog. Recently, the good-hearted grandmother learned she would have to sell her house and as a result, had to give up the donkey. Suddenly, the donkey we were about to get was far more than just a security system for cleverly named poultry. This was somebody’s “Opi.”

Years ago, I’d done a endangered sea turtle rescue volunteer program in Costa Rica and about two dozen young, altruistic teenagers had volunteered their time as well. Each claimed to have loved turtles their whole life, had stuffed turtles as children and had graduated to turtle tattoos in their late teens and early twenties. What they didn’t get is what went into rescuing turtles. They loved the image but not so much patrolling shorelines for hours at a time during in thunderstorms while being stalked by angry local poachers. What most of them had wanted initially was a picture with a sea turtle for their Facebook page and a stamp in the passport book. It took weeks of discomfort, hardship and sadness before they came to truly love the turtles for what they were.

As I considered the “Still in the box” William Sonoma Chicken Coop and the donkey named Opi that might one day protect said coop, I couldn’t help but think about that trip to Costa Rica. The Lazy-eyed fellow had been right about my prowess as a farm guy. I had to admit that I was just like those girls. I’d wanted chickens and a donkey because donkeys were cute, fresh eggs were delicious and the whole grand idea made for good cocktail time fodder. If I was gonna raise chickens and have a donkey to protect them, I had to get my hands dirty. The donkey would have to be more than an ass in a field, I would have to be more than an ass from the city living on a farm and the chickens would most certainly be a lot better than KFC.