A year ago we acquired a lonely Cou-nou cockerel. One of three wandering henless around our barn, bachelor cool and social, Mr Chicken made a beeline for our coop every day to trill at the girls and strut his stuff. The other two loitered by our garden waiting for treats or casually entering our kitchen to crow. The three had been a gift to my neighbour’s son. He normally shot things and allowed his hunting dogs to bark continuously as the French seem to allow. But the three boys he didn’t care for and left them to wander.
Our little hamlet had a conflab over wine and nibbles; serious debates in France needing time to reflect and consideration of all parties. It was amazing we didn’t have documents to rubber stamp it all seemed so serious. The boys needed homes and all of us had hens. Three boys for three flocks. It should be simple.
Capturing a cockerel isn’t easy, but at bed time sleeping on a straw bale they are a dozy bunch. Installed in each home, our Mr Chicken thought he had landed in heaven. The girls accepted him immediately and the trials and petty squabbles of the pecking order resolved overnight. Mr Chicken was in charge.
The summer rolled along, eggs were laid, my grass dissapeared from an enthusiastic bunch of chickens, my geese made their pen mud and the autumn rains turned the last remnants of my garden to a quagmire.
Then one afternoon my elderly neighbour called. Very bad on his feet, he needed the cockerel removing so once and couldn’t catch him. Apparently it was damaging his girls with too much enthusiastic mating and unless I could catch him, he would be soup! Chasing scared cockerels is like hearding cats; almost impossible. After an unsuccessful twenty minutes clamber round brambles, in and out the coop and setting all the girls off in a panic, somehow he jumped the fence and dissapeared. He was out but where?
A few days went by and I took my usual late evening check on the geese to sing them their bedtime goosie lullaby. Even to this day a noisy, squabbling bunch of geese become settled by this little song. Somehow they remember it from being babies.
“Bedtime for goosies, bedtime for goosies, bedtime for goosies now. (Repeat but slower and hold the ‘now’ longer and soften”)
As I passed down the lane, in the dim light something moved. Then a flash of red. As I shone my torch light, the object gave out a terrifying scream. It was primeval, sad, almost like the sound a bereaved person makes when they realize their loved one will never return. That sound has stuck with me and upsets me a lot. It was the cockerel we had removed. Huddled by a stone wall he had obviously been there all along. Bedraggled and obviously confused, I needed to catch him and bring him back to my home. But fear is a terrible thing. He ran. I couldn’t catch him and that was the last time I saw him.
That afternoon the other neighbour was fussing about her potatoe patch. I couldn’t understand her concerns, my French being lazily animal, but the gist was that she wanted nothing of her cockerel either. The male Cou-nou are giants, vultures almost with huge feet and very muscular. The old lady felt he was over aggressive to her hens and she was nervous of his game of hiding in the veg patch behind the tomatoes and leaping out to chase her. I don’t blame her. He did it a few times to me but I can run faster and I sort of found him more rooster than booster and predictable.
I made it officially known I would take the boy and with mine, the two would go onto our farmhouse. My Mr Chicken was also getting a little over excited with the hens and five had already been fitted with hen saver jackets. These sit on the back of the hen, looped round their wings so as to stay on, and protect back feathers and wing tops from treading, the cockerels big feet basically, as he tries to balance and do the act. Cockerels don’t have a penis. They just rub their sperm onto the hens vagina. It’s quick but sometimes seems violent with a lot of feather pulling.
Then the cockerel vanished. Polite enquiries were met with shuffles and then concerned surprise that both the boys had seemingly vaporized. I concluded sadly and didn’t tell Mr Chicken, that they must have both ended up in the cooking pot!
So Mr Chicken came to the farmhouse. He got his own pen and although he only got to have visiting rights with the new cockerel adoption, Ronnie, he seemed quite cool about the arrangement. A year on we are building our coop. It will house all the chickens and any new arrivals. Mr Chicken needed his own kind. Birds of a feather as they say. A seed merchant about half an jour away sells chicks. We ordered eight little Cou-nous and temporarily homed them in the duck house. Heff and Penquin reluctantly moved in with the old hen flock. It will be five months till they can share a coop with Mr Chicken. They need to be fully grown, developed sexually and even then there will be times I will split them away. Boys in spring are crazy and I will end up sewing jackets for everyone.
Here they are. At almost two and half months they are growing fast. A little pecking order has begun and characters forming. I have names but need to allocate them. I do that once I get to see which one suits who. It’s easier to remember them that way and I now have almost forty chickens!
The Cou-nous are known as naked neck chickens. They originate from my husband’s home, Transylvania and although they look very strange are the most affectionate chickens and those naughty cockerels are adorable. Giant feather bundles.