Because I finally found my vocation….
Every day this chicken slave trudges through mud to do her egg collecting and cleaning duty. My bleary eyed morning routine at the farmhouse starts with a hot cup of English breakfast tea. Can’t abide that thin whispy Smokey Earl Grey stuff. No has to be robust enough to knock your socks off and get the heart pumping!
Under pressure to be out by 9.30am ideally. I know it’s probably better to be earlier but somehow it never happens. By the time you slurp the last sip of tea, gingerly navigate getting out of bed and rubbing your dodgy back to attempt standing upright, get your socks on correctly after two attempts and work jumper that somehow always end up back to front, it’s another half hour gone by. The clock is ticking. They won’t be happy!
Then lettace needs preparing for the geese (Very particular. Must be shredded), tomatoes for the chickens, cut in beak size portions as we don’t want these guys to get anything stuck in their crops (food pouch) and peas for the ducks. Ducks and peas are like a knife and fork. Inseperable. Somehow a bowl of snorkel water, clear and fresh on its own is well pointless. Now with peas in! It’s exciting! We will even want to swim with those peas. We will do our puddle dance and the water will get muddy. That now thick sloppy mess, with peas, is duck heaven. I get browny points. I am a duck hero. Officially!
Penquin our female Pekin duck, made a lovely nest in the duckhouse tucked behind a straw bale. She lays daily whilst she has handsome Heff around. He can be annoying following her around all day like a shadow and more often you can catch them both argueing. Mr curly wurley pants ( boys err have a rather long corkscrew penis) is a bit like his namesake and Penquin has to be tough, quack no and stand her ground!
A complex relationship. We had three females last year. Daisy adored Heff and he adored Daisy. It was pathetically romantic. For hours they would gaze at one another and poor Penquin was ignored, not even allowed to share the fun pool time. Darcey was disabled. She couldn’t walk. My daily routine was carrying her from her little pen to have a wash and preen. Drying off with a towel then finding a comfy sunny spot to watch the world go by. She could move a little using her wings as crutches but it was hard. Food had to be placed where she could reach easily from sitting and during the day I would do physio and treat her with strong B vitamins and niacin. But she would likely never recover. Next stop a poultry wheel chair from a lovely lady in Australia who makes them to your birds specific size. Popular in America they give the bird respite from resting on their bodies and restricting their breathing. Poop management easier as they are not getting acid burns and it facilitates physio too with strengthening leg muscles.
Then a Pine Martin paid a visit. It killed both my neighbours chickens over two nights and then Darcey who didn’t stand a chance and poor Daisy. Somehow Penquin was untouched and found shaking and a little traumatized next morning. Pine Martin’s kill for food and sport. It had chewed poor Darceys head clean off. We had a temporary duck house as due just that week to all move to the Farmhouse. Darcey and Daisy were unlucky. Heff was bereft and Penquin clingy.
Now at the Farmhouse, these two survivors have a complicated marriage. Heff had survived a fox attack at his previous home. His two female companions were killed but Heff, luckily not being brave, hid. We built a large secure pen and run and with seven cats and two Jack Russells to patrol at night, no Pine Martin will stand a chance.
Quickly collecting the duck eggs I am off to let the geese out. They are shouting through the fence. I have been spotted. Now I have fed them daily for almost two years, but that doesn’t count. Today as most days, I am an entirely new person. Bonnie is trying hard to accept my goose hugs ( we have been working on this for a month now and I can actually put my arms round him for a minute), but the rest of the gang hiss and shriek. They don’t mean to, it’s just being a goose. No logic, just we have to panic. Cashew I really believe is a boy. He is training to take over dad Bonnie’s role of head goose. He makes the most noise and comes close. His sister Peacan, the spit image of his mother Barley and as she does, hovers near the rear of the group quietly.
There is a pecking order and although not as vicious as in chicken world, it’s sad when one gets pushed around. In our case it’s Bumble. She adores Bonnie. Totally adores him. From a week old she trailed his every move. But Bonnie mated with Barley, so there is a little closed family group. Even then Bumble stayed close and tended to the goslings as an aunty figure almost to the point of ousting mum. But goose blood must be thicker than water and Bumble was the outsider and not wanted by Cashew. He pushes her away at feed time and pecks her. Bonnie still defends Bumble but only time will tell how it pans out. The best solution will be getting more geese to hopefully find Bumble a mate and form a few groups to break the monopoly of one stroppy juvenile!
The gang follow me to their pool and food area, in a goosie line, one after the other. As I refill bowls and top up water, they stand in a semi-circle making co-ordinated honking noises. I have finished. Turning to head back to the gate, the gang errupt into a panic and flee. Human has moved. Time to scream.
Having survived, I am running a little late for the chickens. You can feel the tension. Mr Chicken and our new boy, Napoleon are up and crowing loudly. They have been since about 6am. Their runs are separate to the girls as the logistics of re-homing roosters is a difficult one.
Mr Chicken used to be with the girls but he is a large cou-nou or naked neck and a bit rough. His feet are more like eagle tallons and the girls get sore bald patches when he gets over excited mounting them. So out to a separate run but within chatting distance until his new run built and he gets his own cou-nou girls.
Napoleon was bullied and lonely. We rehomed him just a week ago and are awaiting three Marans and three Limousin hens for him in a month from a lovely lady who breeds organic hens. For now he gets a daily visit from Collette our very flirty Rhode Island. He seems to be settling but really doesn’t like Ronnie or Billy.
Good morning Ronnie I reply. Ronnie had bad leg mites when we adopted him. These mites burrow in between the birds leg scales, eating the flesh and if left untreated can cause nerve damage and even the loss of toes. You can buy sprays but an old fashioned homestead treatment is Vaseline rubbed all over the nasty critters. This suffocates and clogs up the mites ability to feed. Game over!
The girls are by now pushing and shoving each other to get out of the coop. I shut them in at night against predators. They squabble and poor Sweetie gets squashed. Ronnie is chirping as he tries to keep everyone calm. Billy as usual stays up on his perch to grab a few extra minutes sleep. First into bed and always last up.
Poor Ronnie’s were bad. He was getting lame and had very long spurs too. Catching a feisty cockerel isn’t easy. Lots of running and arm waving seems to occur. My normal go to method is a big towel. Corner said bird and wop! Towel over the top, scoop up in a bundle, find head and wiggle that out so he can breath and all the sharp nails and flappy wings are held firm.
In Ronnie’s case his legs were so painful he couldn’t run far. We simply scooped him up and after massaging plenty of Vaseline on his legs, he dozed off. Great. Opportunity to deal with the spurs.
Basically the spur is a cartiledge covered with a hard cap made of keratin like your nails and hair. It grows and can impede a cockerels ability to walk. Ronnie’s were cutting his legs and poor thing was trying to walk like John Wayne to minimise the pain. Easy to remove. On the web there are complicated methods of filing or trimming and causing the bird pain and bleeding if trimmed too low. No the sweetest method is to grasp the spur with pliers. Firm twist clockwise then a twist back. No pulling just steady pressure. A small crunch and the spur cap is off. There is a small bleed but this stops within a minute. The keratin will grow back but it will take a few years to reach the previous length and you just repeat the operation. Ronnie continued to doze.
The treatment worked. His legs healed but on cold days he walks carefully. I think the nerves are tender and the damage left scars. But he is a good boy and carries out his cockerel duties enthusiastically. At night he aggitates if the girls are too slow to bed and makes a gobbling sound like a cross turkey. He is last in and snuggles down on a pile of hay, nice and soft for his poor legs. Billy Bantum is always in first and sleeps with the girls. He adores Gertie, our top chicken, head of the flock and steadily over the month we had him (also a rescue boy), he has gone from a little stooped, down at beak guy to a glossy, tail held high romantic! Good on you Billy.
Door finally open, the girls are almost extruding themselves through the wire on the door, there is a stampede of little red Rhode Islands intermingled with big fluffy bloomered cou-nous. The cou-nous always get confused and often follow me back into the coop to watch me clean up poop, refill feed containers and carefully take the eggs out from under our two egg guardians, Rosie and Pickle.
Pickle takes it all very serious and once I have taken the eggs from beneath her, around five, she follows me to Rosie to supervise removal of another four. With that they both run off to join the others outside. Thanks girls.
After cleaning and checking for any eggs in other boxes, Doobie, Onion and Ruby cou-nous start squarking, very, very loudly. Sort of together but not. It’s an egg song. They sing because they have laid their eggs or are about too. My collecting the eggs seems to prompt a lot of egg box checking. If I am late, these three are very upset. Basically they want to have a choice of every egg box to lay in and if silly Pickle and Rosie are in any guarding eggs, well that’s exactly the spot a cou-nous wants. Simple as that!
I have finished. My eardrums have been defened and Ronnie is back in, chirping at me as he wants to know why it’s so noisy. Oh don’t you start Ronnie!
It’s now almost 2 hours since I had my hot cup of tea. Now I am ready for another. I potter off to the composter with chicken poop buckets and then squelch back to the house. It’s still very muddy underfoot, but it’s countryside, so you get used to wearing wellies most days.
I know it takes time s nd in the evening it’s the same but in reverse…getting everyone back into bed, but the joy I get from these feathered critters is priceless. The early morning cockerel crowing, the busy excited quacking as Penquin spots her favorite peas, the scolding by the geese because you did something, even though you don’t remember doing anything, and the fresh eggs. You can’t beat them. I feel very grateful to my girls. They work hard to make these and it’s good Doobie, Onion and Ruby tell me so every day!