Sunday, 30 March 2008

The disappointingly disappearing chickens

Regular readers of Salmagundi may remember that I once had a healthy flock of chicks that, in spite of spreading panic when they infested our home and lives with bird lice, we dearly loved nonetheless. Mrs Jones and her offspring (in the picture; the bright red is a slice of watermelon – they loved watermelon, those chicks) lent colour and life to our garden and entranced us, and occasionally drove us into irritated frenzies by coming up onto the verandah very early in the morning and pecking peremptorily at the door because their breakfast was late (like, it was already five past five, helloooo!).

Then Sara the wobbly dog came along and played so enthusiastically with the two roosters that they died (and as sad as I was for their passing, I really didn’t like the roosters – they did nothing but argue and attack the babies, and they were always gorily covered in blood because of their constant squabbling). Worse, though, was that the lack of male presence, as much as I'd disliked it, drove Mrs Jones and what was left of her brood into the next-door neighbour’s garden, where there was a resident rooster.

(NB: Sara didn’t actually KILL the roosters – this is a dog with precious little brain and absolutely no blood lust; she just played with them in such an enthusiastic fashion - lunging playfully at them and the like - that they died of heart attacks. I promise, if I’d known birds that were usually so unbearably bossy could expire so easily, I would have been more vigilant. In fact, if you look closely at this pic, you’ll notice one of my cats sitting among the chickens – my animals generally get on pretty well with each other.)

So that was the end of the chicks.

Recently, my friends S&G have been forced, for various reasons, to downsize, and in the process get rid of their ‘girls’: four chicks, called Goldie, Black Betty, Molly Mohawk and Mags. Would I have them? they asked. With pleasure, I said. I did already have, after all, a fully equipped hen house and a big garden; and, truth be told, I really missed Mrs Jones and her kids.

So S&G brought ‘the girls’ around and we penned them up in the henhouse for the afternoon to give them time to acclimatise.

When I let them out later, they looked at me in that fussy way that hens have (they put their heads on one side and stare at you searchingly, much as a critical mother-in-law might), then wasted no time in quartering the garden looking for juicy grubs and scratching up my herb patch.

Sara tried to make friends with them but hens, unlike roosters, are more than a match for an excitable dog: they simply spread their wings, squawk like hell and lead with their beaks. Sara retreated, defeated.

Still, disappointment loomed.

That evening, S phoned from where he and G were having a weekend away and asked after his girls. And I had to admit a terrible thing.

‘They’ve run away from home,’ I said.

There was a crackly silence on the line, then S said, ‘Do you know where they are?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘They’re next door.’

Another silence, then: ‘And how did they get there?’

And I had to admit to real embarrassment: ‘They climbed a tree and jumped over the fence,’ I said. ‘It was like The Great Escape.’ I stifled a sob.

S laughed. ‘So they’re okay? They’re safe?

I was offended. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but they’re not with me.’

S didn’t get it. I was really hurt. I’d provided a perfectly loving home, complete with all the things hens hold dear to their little birdie hearts – fresh water, plenty of space, a warm and safe haven for roosting in, endless food including a newly planted herb garden – and they’d simply upped sticks and gone over the fence, quite literally.

Mags has been back, briefly, to visit, but the other three girls have well and truly absconded.

I’m gutted.

PS Here’s another pic, of Sara the wobbly dog with another of the cats. See? She’s as soft as a lamb, my Sara, and proves the point that she wouldn’t harm a flea. Or a chicken. (Also, admittedly, I'm so thrilled that I've finally learnt to upload pics that I'll post just about anything -- but, having said that, I do think this pic is quite groovy.)

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Juno said...

Wonderful clucking post Mur, and lovely pictures. I think Salmagundi is hugely enlivened by your photos.

On the subject of avian heart attacks: my son had a friend who took another friend's budgie out of its cage and shouted 'BOO!'. The budgie blinked and expired on the spot. The little boy in question was a horror. It may well have been his face that gave the budgie a heart attack.

As for my ex-chickens: twice they went missing and twice I discovered both of them, squawking piteously, legs tied up with wire, in the back of a bakkie (a pick-up truck to non-Saffers)parked outside our house. (Our neighbour was building) . I retrieved them with outrage, but the third time I just wasn't fast enough. They were lovely pets to me, but they were dinner in the eyes of the labourers. I hope they tasted bloody good, so their lives weren't in vain. Sob.

Muriel said...

An update on the chicks: my neighbour informed me this evening that Goldie is sitting on 12 eggs and is being fiercely protective and won't let anyone near her. 'You are welcome to the chicks,' he said. Hm. Twelve? We'll see...