Death in the Chicken Coop

By Danielle L. Krautmann

The problem began when I was living in Denver, CO and a squirrel got caught in my window well.  Brandy watched patiently as I spent three hours using different methods (a bucket, a broom, an umbrella, a shovel) to try to set the frightened creature free.  My final attempt was with a towel, which the squirrel was happy to burrow in when I dropped it into the well.  I quickly pulled the towel out (squirrel inside) and opened it on the grass, allowing the squirrel to run free.   To my surprise, in less than a second, before he could even get his bearings, Brandy had pounced, captured and shaken my poor friend to his death.  “Noooooooo!” I screamed with defeat.  A morning was wasted and I had just seen a side of my dog I never wanted to encounter again.

Negra y Blanca

In Las Cruces, NM, there was an abundance of adorable cotton-tailed rabbits.  When I first moved in and began to explore the area around my apartment, I noticed Brandy’s interest in the cute little creatures.  She would try to chase them, but I figured there was no way a large clumsy dog barreling through the grass could catch a speedy rabbit.  Over time she learned to approach slowly while they were eating and wait for them to startle before chasing them.

One day I let Brandy outside, leaving the door cracked so she could return on her own accord.  Five minutes later the door swung open quickly, slamming against the wall.  I screamed when I saw Brandy proudly grasping a bloody, still living rabbit in her teeth.  Frustrated with its struggling, she shook it back and forth until it was limp.  Satisfied, she dropped it on the floor and headed back outside, leaving my apartment looking like a bloody murder scene.

In Lima, it was the pigeons.  One day, my maid Gloria took Brandy out to the park to play only to be pulled the the ground when Brandy lunged after a pigeon.  The fall landed her on her chest with a thud, knocking the wind out of her.  Brandy proceeded to capture and eat the pigeon.  That was only the beggining.  Despite our efforts to manage her, Brandy became quite successful at controlling the pigeon population in San Isidro.

She looks innocent enough. You would be suprised.

So you can imagine my concern when we moved to my dream home in Baños del Inca and I noticed a caged area housing five chickens and a rooster.  A tree inside the coop allows the chickens to climb up and escape to explore the area, conveniently, right outside my front door.  The first time I let Brandy out to go to the bathroom, she discovered her new pastime.

I’m not sure who made more noise, the terrified chicken running from Brandy, or Brandy’s infuriated owner screaming “treat” to try to distract her (as if a dry biscuit could replace the thrill of catching a live animal).  When my dog closed her teeth around the tail feathers of the bird, I was able to tackle her setting her victim free.  Brandy, with feathers still sticking out of her teeth struggled underneath me, but I won and dragged her back to the house.

I resolved to get a long rope that would allow Brandy plenty of freedom to explore, but prevent her from chasing our feathered friends.  Olga and Walter protested.  “Animals should be free,” my liberal neighbors insisted.  “She just needs to become accustomed to the chickens.  She just wants to chase them, but she wont catch them.”  Within a week, Brandy had captured and killed two.  Olga and Walter, they were completely relaxed, as always.  “No problem,” Olga told me, “they were small female chickens that shouldn’t cost more than 10 or 15 soles.  You can buy them at the market.”

“Okay,” I replied, with the most casual face I could muster.  “I’ll just go to the market and buy two live chickens to replace them.  Do you mind if I wait until Monday?”  “Claro.” replied Olga.  Of course this was no problem.

I returned to my house and looked at Brandy, my dear dog who I love more than anyone in the world.  My darling dog who I now wanted to murder with my bare hands.  Instead, I decided to deprive her of food and affection until my anger subsided.

The chickens traveling home from the market.

I had seen people walking around Cajamarca with live chickens under their arm but never thought it would be me.  How the heck would I get two live chickens from Cajamarca to my house in Baños?  I walked down to the corner store to consult with my new friend Marta who explained that buying a chicken was easy.  She offered to accompany me to the market as she needed to pick up some things herself.

Monday rolled around and I met Marta outside her shop at 6:30 AM.  As we approached the entrance to the market, I noticed men lining the street, each with a large black bag.  Some were filled with live ducks, stuffed in on top of each other in an agonizing tangle, others had roosters, some had guinea pigs (a common dish here) squeaking for help, and to my delight some were crammed with live chickens.

We thought it best to buy the chickens last and made our way into the market.  The street was filled with vendors who had set up their stations by laying a worn blanket, towel, or bag on the ground and piled fruits and vegetables on top.  Some had enormous sacks, filled to the brim with potatoes, each sack holding a different variety (remember, Peru is known for its variety and abundance of potatoes).

While infamous for being unsafe, “el mercado” is by far my new favorite place in Cajamarca.  Smells of fresh mangos make me drool while a second later the stench of raw fish make me fear I might vomit.  Brilliant colors of ripe fruit and veggies energize me.  I feel intimate with strangers as their whole bodies brush against me to get past me in the crowded streets.  I actually enjoy the lack of respect for personal space here in Peru.  It makes me feel like I’m at a Parker family reunion.  A trip to the market is a sensory experience I’m sure can never be replicated.  I danced my way through the streets with Marta purchasing a weeks worth of fruits, veggies and spices for less than $5 US dollars and when we were finished, I knew what it was time to do.

I followed Marta to the chicken vendors, trying to look as cool and casual about the whole situation as possible.  We told a vendor we were looking for small, female chickens to replace Brandy’s victims.  He dug through his bag pulling out chicken number one and plopped it into my arms.

This poor brown creature, resting calmly in the cradle I had formed in my arms, seemed a little big.  The man continued to dig through his sack to give me options.  He pulled out possible candidates, handing them to me one after another.  I was struggling to manage four live chickens in my arms and couldn’t imagine where I would put the next one.  I chose a black one and white one and quickly negotiated a discount for buying two.  I handed the vendor my money and walked away with two bags of produce and two beautiful clucking chickens!

I couldn’t help but giggle as Marta and I boarded the combi, me with my two live chickens.  No one else in the crowded vehicle even flinched!  By the time we reached Baños del Inca, I had named these tame creatures Negra and Blanca.  I parted with Marta at her store and hiked up the road to my house, thrilled to show Olga and Walter what I had accomplished.  Of course, I had to act natural, because to the people of this area, buying a live chicken is as common as buying a Coke.  After untying the feet and dropping the chickens into the coop I ran to get Walter, who inspected them carefully and told me they were really nice chickens.  I had done a good job.  I almost tackled him with thrill, but instead kept composed, apologized again for my dog’s bad habit and accepted a pat on the back.

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8 thoughts on “Death in the Chicken Coop”

  1. Interesting experience, and congrats on getting the nice chickens! I would have had a giggle too getting on a combi considering the circumstance, you are probably one of very few gringos whom have bought live chickens and taken it on the bus, but good on ya!

    I agree with you that the smell of fresh fruit and veg energizes me as well. We are coming into mango season here and I can’t wait!!!

    Thanks for sharing this, a great read!!

  2. Liz Parker (Mom)

    I too am very fond of chickens – but prefer the fake variety in my kitchen – the make on noise at all – day or night.

  3. Linda Hendrickson

    Danielle, I’m so proud of you. That was a great adventure. You may need to put a muzzle on Brandy whe she goes out to pee!

    Changing the subject – We had a great adventure at work today. One of our little 3 year old’s was born with no legs and she got artificial hips/legs and shoes today. She was able to take about three steps, It was just beautiful and she had us all in tears.

  4. Well, to keep everyone posted, Blanca died two days ago. She got out of the coop and fell into a water tank. Unfortunatly her wings were clipped and she didn’t know how to swim…so another one bites the dust. Hopefully we can at least make a nice meal out of Negra!

  5. I think you should buy more chickens, but don’t name them. It will make it easier to kill them and eat them for dinner.

  6. Thank you all for your replies. I just have a couple comments.
    Pete: Do you live in Cajamarca?
    Dad: It’s Pollo not polo. A polo is a t-shirt
    Mom: You reminded me that I am having the most difficult time teaching Bersa, my English student the difference between the word Kitchen and the word Chicken. It’s really hard for her to get them straight.
    Linda: You make me miss my OT career soooo much. I might take a short contract back in the states at the end of this year to keep up with my licensure.
    Husband: I caught negra again today and held her for a little while before putting her back in the coop. We are not eating her.
    Heather: I’m going on Monday to buy another chicken. Am thinking about getting one that lays eggs and keeping it as my pet. I hear they are fairly low maitnance and Olga and Walter might let me share the coop.

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