Blog 54 y...Chick...chick...chicken...
For a long time now both the ‘Hubby’ and the children have been asking for chickens...not for tea but to keep; to roam around freely and to produce lovely fresh eggs. I had my reservations and have always said absolutely not...nothing live other than us was to ever be in residence here! I know some of you reading this will be shouting at the screen: “Why on earth not?” Well let me tell you...
Growing up in a house of 4 children there was always going to be a request for a pet; we started small by having the goldfish Splish and Splash who were won at the summer fair on the local park’s coconut stall. There was nothing as exciting as carrying home a goldfish in a plastic bag and the talk of buying a large tank so they could have babies and we could ask all the neighbourhood children round to watch them all swimming round. We had seen fish at the pet shop which had stones and little underwater gardens with bridges and plants in their tanks. They looked so happy but our mother always refused saying that they would be hard work. But when the opportunity arose for the goldfish at the fair our ‘big sister’ was expert at chucking the hard wooden ball at the coconuts: several bang on targets and we were the proud owners of three fish.
Walking round the fair with our bags of pure gold was so exciting and we each picked a name. [ah well the three fish became two as I lost mine, Splosh, in the public toilets and when I departed the toilet cubicle I was heartbroken to see that the bag with my fish had disappeared from the sink where I had only left it for a few minutes!] Still, I could share the other two fish. So we went home to face the wrath of mother who was non too pleased with the win. Splish and Splash spent a few days in the old tin bath as we intended to buy a glass bowl as soon as possible. Somehow they got ‘free’ according to dad...they must have jumped out of the bath and down the drain to join their mother at the seaside...mmm well I was only 6 and the ‘little brother’ was only 4 so maybe they missed their mother [the ‘big sister’ however was not convinced...being a see-all know-it-all 8 year old! She announced that she was going to simply win some more...but after a quiet word from the mother there were no more trips to the coconut stall!]
The next pet to arrive at the house was a dog that had ‘followed’ dad home from a party: this dark little thing barked and snapped at our heels but we were besotted. We trained him to follow a handkerchief as we ran him ragged around the yard. During the fireworks on Bonfire night mother was furious to be left inside with a howling, moaning dog. I’m unsure who was most afraid of the fireworks but she said it was cruel to keep him as he was ‘sensitive to noise’ so dad dropped him off at a friend’s house. We all felt bereft when we cleared the punctured balls and bits of chewed toys from the yard.
As we grew older and moved to a house with a large garden we began to pester for another pet; all our friends had pets and it would keep us out of trouble and busy. When it seemed likely that nothing was going to appear the ‘little-brother’ requested a hamster for his birthday and he didn’t let up, constantly talking about the hamsters he had seen in the pet shop. Well what the first son and heir wanted he always got [no offence brother dear!] On his birthday he ran into the breakfast room to discover not one but two hamsters! They were in a cage with a wheel, a water bottle, feeding dishes and straw in their little metal bed. They were a dark, golden brown colour with little stripes of very dark brown and the birthday boy announced that they were to be called Flash and Lightning. Believe me they lived up to their names!
They spun round and round in that wheel as quick as any flash of lightning! They also discovered how to get out of their cage and run as fast as they could under the furniture, into cupboards and would disappear for days on end. There was nothing funny about waking up on a Sunday morning to the sound of something being nibbled and see a fat hamster devouring the remnants of miniature furniture in my doll’s house! Or worse still finding the shredded postal order that had been sent from my grandparents in Ireland for my birthday! Ah yes these hamsters began to rule the roost and quite frankly the lingering smell of used sawdust still reminds me of them.
Then one day Lightning disappeared and no matter how hard we tried we never found him. It appeared that poor old Flash was pinning for him and refused to leave the pile of tissue in her bed. No food was eaten and the sound of her water bottle ceased. So it was a sad day when our ‘big sister’ decided we should give Flash a decent burial. The four of us gathered around the tiny hole that had been lovingly dug in the back garden under one of the apple trees. As we stood and listened to our ‘big sister’ say prayers we lowered the metal bed into the hole. Suddenly my ‘little brother’ cried:
“Wait! She’s moving!”
“Not at all,” replied the ‘big sister’; “it’s only the wind.”
Distraught he knelt down, stroking his little pet and then jumped suddenly as a pair of brown eyes peeped up at us all from beneath the tissue! Luckily we pulled her out of the premature grave; Flash was actually only trying to hibernate!
Her survival was then celebrated with the birth of her babies; ha! No wonder Lightning escaped! He had done his deed and knew what was coming! She delivered a huge pile of babies and so a new cage was needed. The seven babies eventually became eight more and the large cage was no match for all the activity, not just the exercise wheels! Before we knew it there were 24 hamsters of varying sizes and colours and so mother called time on the ever growing brood of hamsters. All the new hamsters were sold to the pet shop and Flash was put into retirement. Bless her she must have savoured the new found freedom and space but sadly one morning the ‘big sister’ and I came downstairs to see her stretched out on the floor of her cage; she definitely wasn’t hibernating this time and she received the best funeral any hamster could wish for...complete with music!
By this time it was my turn to long for a pet! I saved up all my pocket money: doing extra chores in the hope of more money; that’s how I learnt how to iron! I stopped buying sweets and comics. [I tried eating everyone else’s by taking just 2 out of each bag of sweets so that no one lost more than the other and I would take the comics to read sneakily into the toilet... but soon got caught and then both brothers started to hide their Superman comics; so I really was doing without!] but I survived the trauma of saving and proudly presented my Tortoise to everyone. [Honestly I think the pet shop owner must have been rubbing his hands together each time he saw the four of us standing outside his shop!]
Well of course by now you must have guessed that all was not going to go smoothly. My sweet tortoise was having the very best of care: he crawled around the garden and ate all the weeds, the rhubarb leaves, the Forget-me-not flowers and mother’s pride and joy: Lily of the Valley. He devoured her lettuce patch when she wasn’t looking and he would set off on three day safaris: walking along our path, onto the pavement, along next door’s garden fence, down the side of their house and back through the hedge into the raspberry plantation! The first time he escaped I was so upset I cried for days and then suddenly he re-appeared. After that we got used to his disappearance and were able to track him down at some point between our garden and next door’s garden! We tried penning him into a set area and this was the worst thing we ever did to him. Early one Saturday morning we were woken up by barking and growling and as I ran into the garden still in my pyjamas I came face to face with a large golden retriever dog who had my tortoise firmly in his mouth and was shaking him about like a rag doll. He refused to drop him and even when I wielded the sweeping brush at him he thought I was playing. My screams brought the ‘big sister’ and both ‘little brothers’ running from the house, including one of the children from next door. Between us we managed to get this vicious dog to let go of my tortoise, who was dropped unceremoniously into the pen. If only we had left my tortoise sleeping under the bushes where he liked to be then the dog would not have noticed him. Once the dog ran off we were left stunned at the damage caused and I broke my heart not knowing what to do to save my pet.
Our friend said he knew what to do and he returned with a sack, string and a brick. He said it would be kinder to put the tortoise out of his misery. As he was older than us we trusted him and followed him as he carried the near lifeless little pet down to the brook. We watched in stunned silence as he placed the brick and my tortoise in the sack and tied it at the top. To my horror he threw the sack into the brook whilst the ‘big sister’ said some prayers. [She was still going through her religious phase that summer!] We stood still for a while not sure what to do and just as our friend turned to go the sack began to get very wet and move. We were about to go when the youngest ‘little brother’ shouted:
“OOH look!” and to our horror we saw the tortoise poking out of the sack and struggling in the water: the ‘big sister’ waded into the ankle deep water and collected the tortoise, who no doubt was not amused at having been half eaten; half drowned! Of course the friend laughed at the realisation that the brook wasn’t deep enough and then he suggested we put the tortoise to sleep as that’s what a vet would do to be kind.
“How?” was my question.
“Like the dentist.” Was his reply.
So we all trotted off back to his house, piling into his kitchen and watched amazed as he put the tortoise in the oven and turned the gas on, but not the ignition. We all stood round the oven, I’m not sure what we were thinking at this point or how long we were standing there but all of a sudden his father appeared at the back door having just finished his night shift.
“What the bloody hell is going on in here?” He roared. The 4 of us jumped back and pointed at his son;
“He’s putting my tortoise to sleep like the dentist.” I said.
“Bloody hell fire, you bloody nutcases...” he wrenched open the oven, the smell was sickening and he held my tortoise who was not asleep but wriggling in his own little way, definitely not impressed with the situation!
After an explanation of what had happened with the dog our friend’s father said it was kinder to let the tortoise die as quickly as possible but not with an audience so he offered to deal with it and sent us home.
The final pet I ever had was as a teacher in Liverpool when a pupil donated her two terrapins to the class. The class loved them and helped feed them, clean the tank etc. Sometimes in the middle of a lesson one of them would crawl up onto the rock at the side of the tank and tap on the glass...totally disrupting the lesson! I wasn’t particularly fond of them but the class loved them and we made them a focal point as well as incorporating their care and background information about them into the learning process. They survived two full school years in the class, coming home with me for the summer holiday. [Now that journey is a blog in itself...a tank of terrapins sloshing around in the back of my car...] However, during the third summer break one morning I noticed how quiet one of them was and as the day passed he didn’t move but instead lay as if sunbathing in the sunshine...I decided to take him to the vet who took one look at him in the bucket:
“What can you do for my terrapin...?”
“Not a lot really...I can offer to bury him for you...!”
So, you have to understand that my track record with animals isn’t really all that good. I know that the chickens would not be pets as such but I worried about the attachments that might form and the pain when an animal passes away; I have in my own little way managed to protect my children from this over the years by always saying no to a pet. That is until now of course.
The ‘Hubby’ came home excited to say that a friend was giving away his three chickens and we had first refusal...ah the lure of walking to the end of the garden first thing in the morning to collect freshly laid eggs was too much for the ‘Hubby’...and so I relented; I had reservations but I felt that I couldn’t be the ‘baddie’ anymore and deny the men folk their wish.
Preparations were made in the form of securing the fences, fixing any gaps to stop them squeezing into the neighbour’s garden, a coup, hay, sawdust [yikes!] food, grit [this helps with shell formation] water dishes and after being reassured that they would not attract rats or mice and that any red mites would be dealt with...the chickens arrived!
I was totally unprepared for the cuteness of these three birds: a large brown, speckled chicken [just like the ones in Old Mac Donald’s Farm storybook!] a large pure white one with a red crown and the sweet little Polish bantam who was black with a shock of white feathers like a slipped wig over her eyes. We named them Sage, Onion and Stuffing! These were going to be the saviours from the ants...after all they eat anything like that don’t they?
So finally we were part of the growing number of people who were keeping their own chickens in their back yards...the ‘Bridezilla’ and her ‘Young-man’ popped round to see; them announcing that they were sweet and they too would be having chickens once they were settled...ah well we’ll see...
It was lovely, it was exciting, it was different: my patio, my courtyard back garden, was overnight transformed from: a sandy coloured, block paved, peaceful haven of potted plants, strawberries, gooseberries, fuchsias, mini bushes, lettuces, water fountain, shiny black wrought iron table and chairs, mini lamps...all of which have taken me 18 years to achieve...to: a shit hole of the worst kind.
Yes I do mean shit and I apologise for the use of the word but it was shit on my table, shit on my chairs, shit on my block paved yard...shit in piles and shit in circles, shit in the bushes, shit in the tubs...you name it if it was not moving it was shit on !!
They sat on the lights and pecked at the glass, they ate the strawberries and spat them out and then shit on them... then plucked the gooseberries and lettuces, they climbed into pots and dug out the soil scattering it over the shit, they squawked, they fought, they flew onto the table and shat through the wrought iron design so their shit was splattered in minute triangles and they shat on the top of the chairs letting it run down to form mini mountains of...shit!
Of course their eggs were wonderful...brilliant white shells and brilliant yellow yolks but to be honest 3 tons of shit a day in return for three eggs a day...not sure that’s a good bargain!
Of course the ‘Hubby’ patiently explained that it was because it was a new environment and soon they would settle and feel at home...did he mean that they wouldn’t shit as much?
It was a strange feeling opening the back door and being followed by a cheeky black hen who sat between my legs as I crouched down to shovel her shit into the bin...a strange sensation to hand feed chickens with worms and finely chopped tomatoes...it felt peculiar talking to them as I lovingly called;
“Good morning girls...” as I let them out of the coup and; “Here you are my chickie-dees some fresh water...”
It was a weird feeling opening the lid of the coup and collecting the eggs, having fallen head first the first time I collected them I left it to the ‘Cutie-pie’...he’s taller than me now and his arms are longer and I think he found it easier to collect the eggs than trying to haul me out of a large wooden box with my arms and legs flailing about in a cloud of sawdust with chickens gathered round his feet!
It was infuriating picking my way across the yard in between piles of pooh to hang my washing out because ‘yay’ for the first time in weeks we have had the most glorious, burning hot sunshine...just in time for the chicken coup to start smelling and the green-bottle flies to discover the chicken shite!
The ‘Intelligent-one’ was not impressed with the cleaning duties and decided to become a non-egg eating teenager...as if somehow that would relieve him of having anything to do with them...except of course for taking pictures and laughing at me as I proceeded to turn into the farmer’s wife...no wonder they need to wear wellingtons when pegging out their washing!
The ‘Cutie-pie’ on the other hand was in his element. He researched what they needed, the best food to feed them, the best equipment to keep them healthy and he was on line to one of his friends who also has chickens. Sage, Onion and Stuffing all followed him round the garden and would run up to him as soon as he opened the door. In fact in a morning if he hadn’t appeared by the time they were out of their coup having breakfast and their first stroll of the day then they began to wait for him, pecking at the glass door.
He was happy, he was busy, he was too attached. Bless him, he patiently helped me several times a day to scoop the poop and swill the yard. He abandoned his holiday activities to help look after them. What began to worry me was...what happens when he’s at school, ‘Hubby’ at work, the ‘Intelligent- one’ at college and I’m left on my own all day...
I needed the ‘Hubby’ to know just what was involved; so after being out all afternoon at the pictures we arrived home to a very hot, fly ridden smelly yard at the same time as ‘Hubby’ finished work and I informed him that before his tea he needed to do his duty! It was unfair to neighbours...I’m damn sure I’d be complaining if it was the other way round...I said. He couldn’t believe how much muck there was; in fact he was as naive as me as he thought that chicken pooh was small pellets like a rabbit not this squishy stuff that then became as hard as concrete and had to be chipped off the patio.
Mmm... funny how the romantic notion of chickens soon began to falter...luckily after 6 days he had finally understood what was causing my stress...he even decided to fence off half the back yard in order to give me some space...ha yes note the words ‘give me’ some space but then of course he was only coming home to the evening shit!
The fencing didn’t work and I’m not sure if it was just curiosity or a protest but when we had sat down to our Friday night Chinese takeaway supper...oh er yes spicy chicken wings and special fried rice...there was a sudden reflection of movement on the dining room window and I followed the glazed stare of both boys as their eyes landed on the sight of the large white chicken a.k.a. Onion...landing on top of one of the newly erected posts and staring in through the window: her eyes wide and menacing...enough to put anyone off fried chicken for life!
The next day ‘Hubby’ had a full day with the chickens...note one full day...and decided that actually this was not for him... it wasn’t fair to expect them to not have grass to run around on or to try and reduce the amount of space they pooped on and so he bravely admitted that perhaps it had not been such a good idea after all...of course he had to break the news to the ‘Cutie-pie’ who was distressed [exactly what I had tried to avoid all these years!] but understood that they needed a lot more space to roam. So the friend was sent for to collect the three pooper makers and arrived armed with a large net and box...
“Good God what have you been feeding them...?” he called out when he stood in something soft...
...ha! Don’t get me started again on that subject...
...ha! Don’t get me started again on that subject...
...if in doubt stick to buying your eggs from the market and leave the rearing of chickens to the bolder, braver, pooper scoopers of this world...
...if in doubt stick to buying your eggs from the market and leave the rearing of chickens to the bolder, braver, pooper scoopers of this world...
...preferably the ones with larger gardens...!
Blog 54 z...coming soon...next Wednesday...
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