Farmer, Dog, Hen and Fox

There was once a farm that contained a house, a field of flowers and a row of hen houses. For many years, the Farmer who ran the property devised various ways of guarding the hen houses from their natural enemy, the fox. These dastardly foxes lived in and around the property. They often snuck into the hen house in the middle of the night. When the foxes succeeded, they then scrambled down the planks, eyes gleaming, wriggling hens between their teeth and bloody, mischievous grins across their faces.

The Farmer, normally stoic, did his best to stay philosophical about the presence of the foxes at first. He said, 'wherever there are hens, there will be foxes. This is the way of things. I have my shotgun on my wall, and I do my best to ensure they don't make a mess of the farm." Over time, as the problem grew and the constant need to buy new hens became an issue, the Farmer changed his tune.

He now said, "Our duty is to minimize the mayhem to keep our farm successful. I will buy and keep dogs to help guard the hen houses."

The Farmer got some dogs and sent them out every day to guard the hen houses. This worked well for a long while. Over time, though, with the expansion of the farm, the number of hen houses grew in size and in number. This complicated things. The continued threat of predators necessitated more dogs, and dog food, and dog houses.

The Farmer expanded his home significantly to make room for the dogs. He built extra rooms and an extra floor. The dogs' guarding of the hens became less efficient. In fact, some in the community questioned the need for such a big house. Some joked that the house was 'all dog and no Farmer.' They complained about the immense waste - huge piles of dog feces - which could not be cleaned up fast enough.

One day, a group of strange, grey haired men in rumpled suits and ties stood at the edge of the fence surrounding the farm. They studied the situation seriously. They scribbled in their notebooks. Their fingers were stained with typewriter ink. They came to a series of conclusions about the situation on the farm, and subsequently talked and wrote to the community about how wasteful the Farmer was.

"If the Farmer could only come up with a method for the hens to protect themselves, the need for all these dogs would cease." the men in suits said. "We, like you, are tired of all the waste."

The Farmer began feeling pressure from the community because of the suggestions of the men in suits. The Farmer was a reasonable man, and so he agreed. The waste had gotten out of hand. He therefore proposed an elegant solution. He invited the men in suits to his property, where he greeted them with open arms.

"You are right," he said. "I bought too many dogs and let them procreate too rapidly. When the dogs were old and sick, I kept them on as guards although they weren't fast enough to chase the foxes. I often threw in the dogs' untrained puppies as guards instead of taking the time to train them.

"This has to change." the Farmer continued. "We will keep the really smart, lean dogs, and sell most of the big, dumb ones to loving families. We can then focus on buying a smaller number of smart, trained guard dogs. This will cost less and create less waste."

The men in suits only rolled their eyes.

"But why have dogs at all?" they lamented. "That is not the role of a farmer. You are not a dog farmer. You are an egg farmer. You sell eggs. You sell flowers from your big, pretty field. Did you know that the dogs trampled all over your flowers, losing you a ton of profit? See how those guard dogs did absolutely nothing to help you?"

"Actually," replied the Farmer "The foxes tore up my flowers."

"No," they disagreed. "Your wasteful dogs ran through your flowers. You cannot prove otherwise!"

"But I saw them!" cried the Farmer. "It was always the foxes who burrowed under the dirt and ravaged my flowers!"

"You are wrong!" concluded the men. They left his property, spent a few days consulting with each other, and returned to presented the Farmer and his neighbors with a long historical report detailing the canine species' long love affair with flowers throughout history. This, in their minds, proved the loyal dogs had been the problem from the start, and justified the need to let all the dogs go.

The Farmer, facing increasing pressure from his customers, neighbors, and the community at large, was forced to sell all the dogs, even the smart ones he had trained. The hen houses were subsequently left unprotected.

"What ever will I do?" he exclaimed. "My egg business is ruined! All my hens will be slaughtered! I cannot afford to keep buying more hens!"

The men in suits smiled and patted the Farmer on the back.

"No worries. Your hens are all capable of protecting themselves. You've just kept them dependent on you for so long that they've forgotten how. The hens expect to be rescued every time the foxes creep into the yard. They've come to expect help. You give hens no credit. They can look after themselves if you give them half the chance."

"But the foxes will murder them!" cried the Farmer. "It's just how nature works!"

"You are wrong about nature," replied the men in suits. "All creatures are capable of extraordinary things as long as you don't keep them dependent on you. Just wait and see."

Over the next many moon cycles, the foxes skulked across the field and into the hen houses, and ravaged the poor hens. Each morning, in the light of a newly risen sun, trails of blood and feathers were seen branching out in all directions from each hen house. After a few days of this, the men in suits returned. They walked through the yard, nodding their heads in unison.

"This is all your fault." they chided the Farmer. "Decades of over-assisting those hens has made these miserable feathered creatures useless and unable to sustain themselves. We have an idea about how we can make these hens more self sufficient."

"How?" whispered the Farmer. He sat on his front porch steps, head in hands, devastated.

"We think the foxes are the perfect animals to put the hens through their paces." answered the men in suits. "Foxes are sly. They have a long history, after all, of getting past your defenses. They are best equipped to teach the hens to be self sufficient. After all, who better to police the hen houses and make them safer and more efficient than the creatures that have the greatest interest in them?"

The Farmer took a moment to think. Then he stood up, and said:

"Foxes kill hens! What business are you in, anyway? You know nothing of flowers, or eggs! You are ignorant to the ways of my farm!"

The men waved away his accusation. Some of them chuckled. One of them, obviously their leader, stepped forward, and spoke.

"We are in the business of Farm protection. We advocate the most open marketplace we can devise. We trade in all sorts of things. Our specialty, though, is letting the craftiest, smartest creatures teach the lowliest, dumbest creatures how to be self sufficient. You have clearly not done this.

"We believe," he continued. "that the real obstacles to your hen problem was your house getting too big. We believe that putting another story on your house, building another twenty dog houses, littering your field and your neighbors' fields with dog feces were all a big waste of resources.

"All farmers should be lean and unencumbered. Now, you may hold onto your shotgun, and you can come running out of your house if a big fire engulfs your property. Otherwise, stay out of the way of the hens, and the foxes, and your neighbors, and us. Don't buy any more dogs, or your pretty flowers will all be ruined forever."

The Farmer scarcely had words for the men. He struggled mightily to keep from rolling up his shirtsleeves and coming after them with his fist, but he was too proud to stoop to that level.

"I've been driven to ruin because of your advice." he cried. "I had problems, but I found a way to keep my egg and flower business thriving and reduce waste until you came along with your theories."

"You may think so," answered the men. "But again, we don't think you understand nature at all. You said - these are your words - that the presence of the foxes was 'the way of things.' Remember? Now you've lost your way. You're the useless commodity in all this business. Don't you see? We set the foxes loose on your farm years ago. We knew their presence could only improve the operation of your farm in the long term. You see how they're toughening up your hens now? Teaching them personal responsibility? You see how the foxes cost nothing to maintain? We set them loose, and they took care of business."

"Foxes are sly, and we're in the business of letting the smartest thrive. If a few eggs are broken along the way, that's just the cost of doing business. Before long, you'll have the smartest hens in the community. You'll havea  leaner operation. Tighter profits. Less waste. We have faith in that. You, Farmer - you're been nothing more than an animal shelter up until now, with all your talk about protecting this and protecting that. Let the big boys take over."

From there on out, the men in suits had enough local pull to buy out most of the property. Some of them began putting up smaller structures all through the farm. Some of the men took up residence inside the Farmer's house. After a while, they took over his bed, and he was forced to sleep at his kitchen table.

The foxes were allowed to run rampant all over the property. The house began to deteriorate. All the local predators pried wood from the home with their teeth and turned it into nests. The house got smaller and smaller, until it was just a shed with a single bed, a bathtub, and a shotgun hanging on the wall.

The men, meanwhile, abandoned the property once they had used up the house's resources. They traveled to counties far, far away to build opulent homes with money from the egg business. The Farm, at this point, was an egg factory with a high hen turnover rate and little to no on-site safety. The hens that did stay behind produced a great many eggs out of fear, then were eaten and replaced at a high rate. The farm produced a great variety of things, but all its product was immediately siphoned off the property the moment it was ripe. Whatever whatever ledgers or records might exist to track them were all off-site and not publicly available.

One day, many years later, a new generation of men in suits came to the property and walked into the Farmer's shed. He was still there, old and gray. The proud stoicism still shone out from his eyes. He said nothing. He didn't even sit up when they came in. He was too proud, and too weak.

The leader of the young suits, a young man with a face like a fox, grabbed the shotgun from off the wall and slung it over his shoulder. He looked at the poor old Farmer on the bed, then looked over to the side at one of his colleagues. He tapped his fingers on the trigger.

"Which will it be, Farmer?" asked a man in back, near the door. "Which will it be? Drownin'?" he pointed at the claw-foot tub in the corner. "Or the ole' double barrel?" He indicated the shotgun.

"Grover?" said fox face to the man near the door. "Didn't you always say we should drown him in the tub? The more I think on it, the more poetic it sounds. Let's get that hot water runnin'."

That night, there was a splendorous bonfire in the center of the property where the farmhouse once stood. The barking and wailing of a thousand foxes echoed out over the property as the flames licked the night sky and kissed the heavens.


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