All Posts · Animal tales · Chickens · Ducks · Geese · Guinea fowl · Writing and Illustrating

Boys will be boys

Freezing today but luckily Penquin my Pekin duck had laid an egg. It was still warm and I held it in my pocket between feeding all the feathery family.  My girls are now three years old and egg laying is sporadic. With the winter chill all the hens have slowed and from twenty hens I get no more than three eggs per day. But that’s not a problem as the fun of having them more than outweighs the daily poached egg need at breakfast. Hopefully next year I will buy a few layer hens and it will be sufficient to avoid supermarket eggs and the whole battery hen horror.

Apple looking chilly.

My daily routine takes me about an hour. Without automatic doors, I rarely get a lie in, which is difficult on cold winter mornings. Beyond eight thirty and you start to be aware of a growing frustration with coop life. The guineas are screaming about the chickens that share their house. For some reason these three rescued hens moved in uninvited. They perch on the guineas roost and look haughtily at these crazy horned guys with orange feet who make too much noise over nothing. By the time I get there you need ear plugs. Door open and the guineas are out, doing their crazy backflips and jumpjet style leaps. Everyone else runs for cover!

The guinea fowl gang are out.

My cockerel Napoleon and his little flock share our main coop with Ronnie and his girls. They all get on somehow and my boys are well behaved. My large Cou-Nou rooster Mr Chicken has his own coop tagged on the end. He gets visiting rights every other day as the flock of Rhode Islands used to be his girls, but the size difference and his clumsy big clawed feet were causing too much feather damage and I needed a resolution that worked. I couldnt leave him alone that was for sure. Chickens get lonely and I hated seeing him wistfully watching Ronnie being big man in his stead.

My attempt to get him a flock was disastrous. A less than honest poultry farmer supplied me with eight cou-nous and as the months past whilst they grew, the tail feathers seemed a little long and then there was a crow one morning. It was a bit rusty sounding, not fully formed. A good effort but my other hens were not impressed.  The following weeks more cock-a-doodle-dos occurred, but not from one boy, oh no, but from seven!

This is my first attempt at coloured pencils on tinted paper since I stopped sketching back in 1989. I remember that date as I moved house and other priorities got in the way. This gave me huge pleasure to draw.

My goodness I have seven boys! Seven! Poor little Clara was certainly outnumbered. She cried and hid under the top cockerel, Rudi, as the other boys pestered her.  They bullied Otto and Ferdinand in general and pushed them to the bottom of the pecking order. After one bad morning of finding Ferdinand screaming from behind our feed crate with another cockerel standing on him and tearing his comb, changes had to be made.

Clara centre.

Luckily my duck pen has a dividing section with gates. Penquin and Heff my Pekin Ducks had temporarily moved to the chicken coop to accommodate my new flock. Now I had to wire up above the gates to separate the boys.  Clara and Rudi and Otto moved into one side where the small composting garden sits and the two hazelnut trees. Clara liked the small outdoor coop there,  to snuggle in and lay her first tony eggs while Rudi fussed about like an expectant new father.

The others took up residence in the bigger fenced garden, with it’s old apple trees and wild flowers. It’s a beautiful place full of shady patches, fallen logs and moss. The split seemed good for everyone. Then disaster struck.

Ferdinand loved a cuddle. Cuddling a cockerel is special as they generally have bad reputation that is totally unfounded in my case. Boys are nervous, anxious and have a job to do, guarding their girls, so sometimes you are seen as competition. Flogging, that is hitting or grabbing your boy by his feet and hanging him upside down, is cruel. It wont work.  Honestly its ridiculous. Respectful distance, slow movements, and regular time with your boys works. If you pick up one of their hens, make sure he can see her and you acknowledge him first. I now have nine cockerels and we all for on fine.


But back to Ferdinand. After our usual morning cuddle I tried to put him back in the coop. He wriggled and squirmed and tried to hide between my legs. He just wouldn’t go back. More bullying? Resigned to another coop adjustment, I made a temporary dry spot under the fallen apple tree and put plenty of hay down for warmth. I needed a week to rebuild inside another compartment till I could move him into the large main coop with Mr Chicken.

But fate intervened. I wrote about that moment here, but simply Ferdinand had an accident. He jumped the gate that led into the garden, slipped and caught his neck between the planks. We heard a flapping sound and ran as fast as we could but it was too late. Our poor cuddly boy was gone. I frantically rubbed him and tried to blow air into his lungs but it was over…all that boisterous life snuffed out in an instant.

I cried buckets and got angry over the gate. We fixed the planks and made a few other safety changes to locks and wires, but it took over two months before I could really potter around the garden without bursting into tears.

So here are my handsome boys. A few gang squabbles at bed time over purching places but having four seems to work. They pair off and peace reigns.

I finished my rounds, letting the rest of the flocks out, my two Pekin ducks and pushing my noisy goose gaggle back into the orchard. They run with a funny waddle like having a large wet nappy slung between their chubby orange legs. There is much honking, flapping and excitement as they spot their paddling pools. I do a little goosie bonding with discussions about their plan for the day, who burped, why Pekin is shrieking and asking Cashew to stop yawning when a meeting is in progress.

Back in the house, Tony has stoked up the wood burner. The cats are already in and snoozing.

Tony drew me a sketch…I think it’s me as a chicken.

Bok bok!

I prepped breakfast and settled in to study. I am taking a lot of the Domestika courses, which are proving very inspirational and I found an artist, Katherine Plumer..great name..who is a brilliant chicken painter. I follow her in one of the FB forums. I love her use if graphic angles and strong colours and negative space. Excuse the screen grab but it includes her website.

Off now to plan a goose drawing. It’s good to back into art and my birds are willing subjects…well meal worms being on tap of course!

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