All Cooped Up, Again
By Mark Hall, Ohio
It was a mild November morning in the year 2011. The ground was littered with autumn leaves that crunched under my boots as I stomped my way across the backyard. Into the field beyond I carried a bucket of water and an egg basket. Soon I arrived at the chicken coop and reached for the door.
I had just finished building their roomy, 100 square foot coop a month earlier. It had several good features, such as the 16 feet of roosting space, the four cozy nest boxes, a large double pane window, and numerous openings for ample ventilation. However, the latch on the door I was about to open was not one of those features.
I initially should have used a latch that would open the door from the inside. Instead I had installed a self-latching gate latch, which, though cheaper and simpler, was a real hazard, unless you wanted to be locked inside of a chicken coop for an unspecified length of time. Foreseeing this strong possibility of being incarcerated, I developed the habit of slipping something through a hole in the latch to prevent the locking pin from falling down over the corresponding arm on the door. This was a good method… as long as I remembered before stepping inside.
However, on that particular morning, I did not remember to slip anything through the hole in the latch. After replenishing their feed and water, the wind picked up and slammed the door shut behind me. Turning back to the door, I stood helplessly, willing it to somehow reopen. There was an awkward, momentary silence in the coop as all 11 pullets turned their heads to the side and sized me up and down with one eye.
I wondered how I was ever going to get out of there. I couldn’t climb out the window because I had secured it with heavy-gauge wire. When I called my wife, my cellphone died just after we exchanged a “Hello.” Then, as I was about to choose a spot on one of the roosts for myself, I remembered that the nails I had used in the door jamb were short. Maybe I could pry it right off of the door frame!
I dug into my pocket and grabbed my pocket knife. Flipping it open, I slid one of the blades between the jamb and the frame. After much twisting, turning and prying, plus some groaning, frowning and sweating, I was able to pull the jamb the rest of the way off by hand. I then slid the pocket knife blade between the frame and the door, and with the very tip of the blade, flipped the locking pin up and over the arm. Then, pushing the door open, I regained my freedom.
Relieved, I put the door jamb back into place, and went on with the day’s work. The chickens went back to their breakfast, entertained by the silly man’s antics and glad, I’m sure, that he would not be cramping their space after all.
Now this is the part of the story where I would like to be able to say that this experience was never repeated — that I learned my lesson. Surely I took the time to replace the latch, or at least found some way to modify it. Undoubtedly I was not so foolish as to believe that I would never again forget to insert something through the latch hole.
Sadly, these surmises would all be inaccurate. Incredibly, over the next four years, I locked myself inside the coop no fewer than six times. Despite my best efforts, my memory continued to fail on occasion, and each time I found myself “cooped up” again.
During those years, my dad locked himself inside the same way, twice. While my family and I were enjoying our freedom on a sunny beach in some tropical clime, poor Dad was trying to gain his, trapped inside of a smelly chicken coop. Fortunately, I guess, the chickens’ tiny exit door was open on both occasions. After chores were completed, he stretched out on the floor and squeezed through that little doorway, headfirst.
When told about the event later, by Mom, I felt horrible. If I had only taken the time to fix the problem in the first place, this all could have been avoided. I have since wondered how Dad’s escape must have looked. As it turned out, I did not have to wonder for long because I had to make the same escape not long after his.
Not coincidentally, the latch was modified a week later. I drilled a tiny hole through the wall and inserted a short piece of wire through it. One end is attached to the locking pin, and the other end sits on the inside of the wall, waiting to be tugged by some unfortunate chicken coop prisoner. Ironically, more than a year has passed since the modification, and yet I have never again locked myself inside.
Mark Hall writes from his home in Alexandria, Ohio.