Excerpt from “Chickens Mules and Two Old Fools”
“Right,” Joe said. “I’ll get behind them and drive them out into the street. You show them the lettuce and they should follow you.”
“Like the Pied Piper?”
“Yes, like the Pied Piper.”
It started well. Joe herded them out of the gate, and I began walking backwards, waving the lettuce enticingly. Ginger and Attila the Hen led the way, the rest of the flock following. Bugger and Fuck tried to turn right instead of left, but Joe quickly cut them off. I kept walking backwards, rewarding them with a few lettuce shreds to keep them focused. I was concentrating so hard, I was unaware of what was happening behind me.
Geronimo and his three dogs had rounded the corner.
A fairly orderly, organised scene suddenly became a cacophony of confusion. Excited barks rent the air. Twelve canine feet galloped past me, intent on chicken chasing. Joe shouted. Geronimo shouted. Chaos reigned.
Fourteen chickens scattered in all directions of the compass, squawking in panic. Some shot back into the orchard. Bugger and Fuck dived between Joe’s legs and careered up the street. Ginger and a few others flapped onto a sagging telephone cable. Fraidy cowered, terrified, in the middle of the road. I spun round.
“Lo siento, señora,” said Geronimo, shrugging, palms upward. “I’m sorry.”
Fraidy collected herself, and flapped up intending to join Ginger on the telephone wire. Geronimo, beer bottle still in hand, leaped. Like the goal keeper of his beloved Real Madrid, he caught Fraidy in mid air. He handed her to Joe.
“Well saved,” muttered Joe in English, “that’s one. Only thirteen to go.”
Geronimo snapped his fingers, and his three moth-eaten dogs slunk back to his heels. A crestfallen Geronimo took a swig of beer to compose himself.
“I’ll shut the dogs in mi casa,” he said. “Then I’ll come back and help you catch the hens, no?”
It took another two hours to find and herd the missing chickens. Bugger and Fuck were the hardest to locate, but we eventually found them in the cemetery, pecking happily between the headstones.
“Would you like a drink?” I asked Geronimo when the last chicken had been put into the new coop. “A coffee? Or perhaps something stronger?”
“Café solo,” said Geronimo. “Just black coffee. It is still early.”
I put a bottle of brandy on the table as well as the coffee. I knew Geronimo well.
“Perhaps just a little drop, señora,” said Geronimo, and sloshed a generous measure of brandy into his coffee.
We talked about the village, the chickens, the new houses, but mostly we talked about Real Madrid. Geronimo stayed until only two fingers of brandy remained in the bottle and his speech was too slurred to comprehend. As he staggered away, the phone rang…
Excerpt from “Two Old Fools. Olé!”
I wasn’t present, of course, and had to rely on the accounts of those who were. I was fascinated to hear how Gin Twin Sue would cope with her first-ever pets and the rescue of the ex-battery hens. Her husband had given her a chicken coop for Christmas and, having recovered from the shock, she had registered for some ex-batts way back in January. But she had to wait until the summer when some deserving hens would become available.
Now summer had arrived. Mark, Sue’s husband, painted a pretty good picture of events in this letter to me.
Mark wrote: ‘West Sussex British Hen Welfare Trust seemed to have run out of ex-battery chooks so we were put in touch with Dorset and went with Gin Twin “Chicken Whisperer” Juliet and Sue to Dorchester (3hr round trip for some aged hens ???). Operation Sage & Onion was under way. There must have been 200-300 to choose from in a large barn so Gin Twins 1 and 2 picked the nearest 3 that “looked nice”. We’d come armed with regulation size boxes with regulation size air holes (BHWT are very strict on transportation boxes). Juliet sat in the back talking to the chooks all the way home to keep them settled.’
The chickens were put into their new coop and the question of names came under discussion. Mark and Sue named one Jalfrezi, Ruth, Sue’s daughter, called hers Beaker, while brother Joe’s was Lady Henrietta as she already seemed to have assumed the Top Hen slot.
The Gin Twins stayed in the garden with the chickens and a bottle of gin: a Hen Party. To celebrate, Beaker actually laid an egg, albeit a shell-less one that looked as though it had been laid in clingfilm, but an egg nevertheless. A few days later, another egg appeared, a sound one this time, which was eaten for breakfast with much lip-smacking and appreciation. The girls settled in well, even though Mark’s vegetable plot suffered.
But disaster loomed just around the corner.
Mark wrote: ‘All went well until one day poor Henrietta looked off colour. No amount of encouraging her with tidbits did any good, and 3 days later she passed away to the Chooks Cloud in heaven (or that’s what I told Sue). Juliet, devastated by the news, came round the next day but only burst out laughing when shown a bin-bagged parcel the exact shape of a hen (rigor mortis had set in). I think she still feels bad about laughing.
Barely a week had gone by when I got a text at work. “Phone home as soon as you can.” Sue was in tears – poor Beaker had been ambushed by a fox in broad daylight and was no more. Nothing for it but to get another couple – Kiev and Tikka.
Whereas the first 3 got along together fine, Jalfrezi and Tikka decided that Kiev was the lowest of the low and definitely bottom of the pecking order. They picked on her mercilessly, so much so she was soon a bald oven-ready bloody quivering mess and clearly in imminent risk of death. On to the internet ( as you do) to research what could be done, and discovered something called “anti peck” spray that the website said discouraged cannibal behaviour in hens and pigs. This clearly was the stuff to sort the problem and a can was duly acquired from the local small holder store. Unfortunately the first attempt to spray poor Kiev alarmed her so much she flew screeching from the nesting box – have you ever tried to recapture a traumatised chicken? Not easy, but eventually she was back in the coop, where, despite stinking to high heaven of “anti cannibal” spray, was pecked all the more. Back to the internet.
“Badly pecked hens must be segregated in a separate coop” it said. Good advice if you happen to have a spare coop – but we didn’t, so muggins had to go to B&Q for wood, wire mesh and a new saw (couldn’t find the old one – shows how much DIY I do). So, 2 days in the garage sawing and nailing with a cold led to a week off work with laryngitis.
Kiev now looks like a hen again, as opposed to road-kill, but still lives a separate life from the others. Her earlier traumas have completely stopped egg production, Jalfrezi seems to have retired from laying, leaving Tikka providing 1 egg every other day. Taking into account the cost of the first coop (£150), Kiev’s personal confinement coop (£100), electronic ultrasonic fox deterrent (£40 and clearly didn’t work), anti-cannibal spray (£10 also didn’t work) plus numerous other food additives, feeds, straw and other pampering; and the average cost of each egg must be a fiver each.
Sorry, didn’t mean to write so much.
Your Chicken Stories
AJ from the UK wrote:
When I was very small my parents used to keep chickens. Most of the time they were only kept for their eggs but one year, there was a cockerel who was going to end up as Christmas lunch. It was a vicious bird and would peck at anyone or anything that got within pecking range.
When I was around 18 months old, my mother lost sight of me for a few minutes and found me sitting next to the chicken run. She quickly rushed over to get me away before I got pecked by the nasty cockerel. As she got closer she realised that the bird was leaning ecstatically against the wire as I stroked it, saying: “Nice doggy”.
A couple of weeks later, it was Christmas and my Grandfather “did the deed” on Christmas Eve. The next day as the eagerly awaited Christmas lunch was served and the roast chicken was put on the table ready to carve, I uttered the words: “Nice doggy”!
My parents suddenly lost their appetite and not long after we stopped keeping chickens.
Gill from Wisconsin wrote:
It was late afternoon, and I was at work fixing a copier machine at a Co-Op in the country. I was real busy but I started hearing this odd noise. It turned out to be baby chicks peeping in a box. Strange!
The employees were trying to get ahold of the people who ordered them. I just kept doing my job like a quiet church mouse. About an hour later, I was done with their machine and spoke to the customer in the professional manner I carry myself, still wondering about the chicks.
I should explain that we moved to the country less than a year ago and my husband had talked about raising chickens, but we knew nothing about it. The employees couldn’t get ahold of the people who had ordered the chicks, so I nipped outside and called my husband and to ask if he wanted them.
He said, ‘Sure, if the people there don’t want them, we could take them.’ So I went back in there and told them I would be happy to take them if no one else wanted to.
I had no idea I would have chicks in my car, especially when I was still working! I put my heated seat on for them, then called my son who was home from school. I told him to look up ‘chickens’ on the internet and see how to take care of them! He set up an aquarium and a reading-light for me.
Well, each day we would lose a couple, sad… My daughter was helping to take care of them and took it pretty hard. But we had one survivor – Chickie! Chickie was a pet; she was like a dog that followed us all over, and my daughter became very close to her. Chickie was a great chicken, a real character! Chickie hung around with us all the time and she had a big cage on the enclosed porch. I have lots of pictures of her, just like a pet. She was a white leghorn. Everyone thought we were nuts to have a pet chicken because in farm country they are used to eat or lay eggs or whatever. But I am from the city, I go buy my chicken in the store. Anyways…
In the spring we decided it wasn’t worth just having one chicken, so we got more. Chickie took care of them all by keeping track of them. She knew when one wasn’t back in the coop at night; she’d wait and she didn’t go in. I got pictures of her with the chicks when they were little. My son wanted a pet rooster so we got him one which he named Kramer.
After about 2 years, all the chickens were outside doing their thing. They’d scratch and dust-bath and they also liked to hop up on the birdbath and get a drink. Once in a while they’d knock it over. One day, when I was coming up the driveway, I noticed white feathers sticking out from beneath the bowl. We had 2 chickens with white feathers and I couldn’t bear to look. I had my husband come and check.
It was Chickie, she died, it was so sad. We buried her in the pet cemetary along next to her brothers and sisters that didn’t make it.
After Chickie died, my husband always had to check to see if all the chickens were in the coop at the end of the day. We didn’t have to do that with Chickie around. She waited til all the chickens were in the coop before she went in. We had 15 at the time.
One night my son, Josh, called from his work and asked me if we were missing a chicken.
I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll ask Dad.’
I went outside and yelled, ‘Bill, are we missing a chicken?’
He said, ‘Yeah, I’m looking for her right now!’
I got back on the phone and told Josh that yes, we were missing one. Why did he ask?
He said, ‘Cuz there’s a Rhode Island Red in the parking lot here at work.’ Josh worked in a fine dining restaurant.
‘Do you need help catching her?’ I asked.
He said, ‘No, the COOK is helping me!’
I said, ‘OK…’
Josh gets home late from work, so I asked him the next morning how come the chicken went to work with him. He said he closed the car windows when he got to work, so she can’t have been inside the car. She must have rode in the undercarriage there. A seven mile road on a speed limit of 55mph with a teenage driver? WOW! Poor thing!
I asked him how they managed to catch her, and he said the cook went to get a piece of bread. And when the chicken ate it, it was too big and Josh had to get the bread out so she wouldn’t choke to death.
The restaurant always laughed about having fresh chicken and this story never died. 4 years later, I was fixing a copier at a customer’s place. There was an employee there who was talking about having to go to work that night in a restaurant. I was suprised to find out it was the same restaurant my son worked at. And then she told me she was the cook helping Josh catch that chicken! Boy did we laugh! And they still talk about it!
She asked me if I noticed the box the chicken came back home in; a box labeled Fresh Chicken! We laughed! We guessed this was the chicken that killed Chickie with the bird bath, and was trying to escape town. The restaurant had train tracks by the parking lot. Sorry Red, we caught you!!!
Susan, USA wrote:
Pink Pickled Eggs
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 can whole beets with liquid (approx. 1 cup)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 4 whole cloves
- shredded lettuce or greens
Place peeled eggs (whole) in a bowl or jar.
Mix vinegar, beet liquid, sugar, salt, onion, and cloves; pour over eggs. Add beets.
Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 days. Slice eggs and beets; serve on a bed of lettuce or greens.