Friday, 13 June 2008

How does Goldie like her eggs? Fertilized.

There were several things that I saw as pretentiousness, eight years ago when I first moved to this small country town. One was how a pair of dungarees seemed de rigueur in any rural wardrobe. Another was how everyone – everyone! – had chickens.

I’ve since gained enough perspective to realise that wearing dungarees just because you live in a place where the smell of fertilizer predominates for most of the year is indeed pretentious unless you are a male farmer over 70. And that some people - like me - have chickens thrust upon them.

The mortality rate for chickens here is high – the ferrety things that live on the mountain come down at night and snaffle them, they fall in the pool and drown, they succumb to claw-rot and feather-mould and all manner of other hideous ailments, and sometimes they just disappear without trace or explanation (but this usually coincides with a neighbourhood dog looking particularly well-fed and pleased with itself). Having gone through a few batches of chickens myself, I’ve learnt to be philosophical about losing them.

Recently, however, I’ve had to deal with a whole new chicken situation.

Goldie – a pretty hen with golden-hued plumage and a perky little black tail – was one of four chickens thrust upon me by local friends who were downsizing. Two of the chicks immediately ran away from home, to the next-door neighbour’s house, where there is a large flock of hens and a resident rooster. Black Betty and Goldie were left, and pecked companionably about the garden for a few months.

While Black Betty never produced an egg, Goldie was a prolific layer, producing enough eggs a week for a huge slap-up breakfast every Sunday plus a quiche or two. She showed no interest whatsoever in sitting on her eggs, so I had no qualms about gathering them every day.

Until two things happened: one, Black Betty was killed by a neighbourhood dog and Goldie found herself alone; and two, I suddenly had a very busy period during which I forgot to gather Goldie’s eggs.

About a week ago I realised I hadn’t seen Goldie for a while. The first place I checked was, obviously, the hen house – and there she was, all fluffed out and settled down. I felt cautiously under her (she pecks) and, yes, there was a large collection of lovely warm eggs.

The problem, of course, is that they weren’t fertilized – Goldie hasn’t had access to a rooster. I phoned my darling vet (who has now become accustomed to strange and frantic queries from me about a range of livestock) and asked him what to do. ‘She’ll sit tight for about three weeks,’ he said. ‘Then she’ll realise they won’t hatch and she’ll abandon the clutch.’

There was something about this that upset me – hens don’t eat while they’re brooding a clutch, and I couldn’t bear the thought of dear little Goldie fasting for three weeks, incubating her putative babies so assiduously, and having nothing to show for it at the end. I told the vet this and his solution was simple: ‘Take the eggs away from her, then.’

‘But won’t that freak her out?’ I asked.

The vet sighed. ‘Yes, a bit,’ he said. ‘But chickens are easily distracted. She’ll soon find something else to obsess about.’

Poor Goldie. When I took her off the clutch, she made little chicken noises of distress that spoke straight to my womb, and afterwards she went back into her henhouse and settled straight back down again on the empty nest. I scattered food for her nearby and made encouraging sounds, but she just cocked her head at me and gave me an accusing look with her beady eyes.

Three days later she was still there – fluffed out and settled down, sitting tight on nothing. She hadn’t moved at all, and she hadn’t eaten.

I called the vet again and (with a bit more longsuffering sighing) he advised me, if I were really that worried about her, to find her a rooster.

Which is why, yesterday, I gently wrapped Goldie in a towel and carried her next door. L, my neighbour, listened to my tale of woe and, trying not to smirk too much, agreed to let Goldie live with her flock for a week, in the hope that she’d get rogered by the rooster and be able to produce eggs that would actually turn into babies.

I’m perfectly aware that I’m going to be the subject of risible dinner-party conversation next door for a while, but I don’t care. And I’m seriously thinking about buying a pair of dungarees.

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meggie said...

I love this post, with your soft soft heart hanging out for all to see!
Goldie is going to be sooo happy!.
May your flock increase!

Joh said...

So glad Goldie found a rooster. Now can you maybe do something for some of your friends in the same position. More friendly neigbours maybe?