New arrivals in the Village!!!

“Golly,” I tell Short Tony. “This is exciting.”

“There are two of them,” he explains. “Arrived yesterday. They seem OK. They’re black.”

“Fair enough.”

“Unfortunately one other fell out of the chicken coop, and a fourth didn’t make it through the night.”

“Do you think the chicken will notice that they are black and she is speckledy?”

“At least they are definitely chickens.”

This is a positive. Having had an annoyingly broody hen for several weeks, we had come up with a bright idea and had sourced some fertile eggs to put under her. Despite these eggs not being anything like this chicken’s own eggs, and the chicks clearly being of an utterly different breed and origin, the process seems to have been a great success. Truly, I am just like Prof. Robert Winston, but for chickens.

“I have set up a chicken intensive care unit in my living room,” says Short Tony, leading me to his Cottage.

The chicken intensive care unit turns out to be Short Tony’s dogg’s cage, with the Cottage’s central heating turned on and an electric radiator placed alongside. It is the hottest day of the year, and it is a little warm indoors. Short Tony’s family lie slumped in armchairs; his dogg lopes forlornly on the floor. “There!” says Short Tony, wiping his brow.

I gaze at the chicks. They appear happy enough, in my expert Prof. Robert Winston for Chickens opinion. The same cannot be said for Short Tony’s family, who are now vomiting and hallucinating from heat exhaustion.

“You can’t carry on like this,” I tell them, an idea for a more sustainable solution forming in my mind. “I’ll sort something out.”

An hour or so later, I reappear at Short Tony’s.

“I’ve bought you some ice cream,” I announce.

The chicks and their surrogate mother peck away happily. We watch them for a short while, but conditions in the room are uncomfortable and I take my leave, promising to return tomorrow. It is a wonderful thing to have new arrivals. I can see this inspiring me for the summer.

I introduce a feature to the chicken enclosure.

“It shouldn’t take me long, honest,” I tell the LTLP.

For a while, Short Tony and I have been talking about constructing a special door to allow the chickens out to play in the woods. Now that the weather is more DIY friendly, we have decided to grasp this particular nettle by the horns, and even now Short Tony is standing beside the back fence brandishing an electric drill.

The LTLP gives me her ‘there are about 10000 DIY jobs that need doing and that have needed doing for ages and that I have been going on and on at you to do but that you haven’t done because you say that you have been too busy whereas now you seem to have all the time in the world to create some ridiculous and unnecessary piece of engineering for the chickens who you love more than I do it seems well I am not going to say anything but frankly I am not impressed’ look.

I shrug weakly. I am a bit intimidated that she is able to condense all those particular facts and feelings into one single look, although it cannot be denied that it is handy for the narrative.

“It won’t take us long,” I insist. “And you will understand when it is finished. All we need to do is to somehow rig up some clever door or hatch arrangement which will let them through to the woods. Then they can go and peck about to their little hearts’ content, before slipping back through when it’s their bedtime.”

I give her a reassuring pat on the arm.

“Plus with our DIY skills we will be creating a classy and interesting feature for the garden, creating a practical yet aesthetically pleasing focal point that will sit in harmony with its surroundings and add value to the setting,” I add.

My garden is full of chickens!!!

I stare over the LTLP’s shoulder. They are clearly visible through the scullery window.

There is a dead, ominous silence, which I don’t understand, as she is shouting and screaming at them and banging the window.

“Get OFF the garden!!! PISS OFF!!! GET OFF MY PLANTS you little shitbags!!!”

Such language that chickens should never be forced to hear.

She turns to me. “I thought you said you did their wings or something?!?”

I shrug, confused.

No more is said. The LTLP does not care that I have hyperintelligent chickens with super powers. I will have to deal with them. I had been planning to make my big secret announcement, but now I will not have time to write a proper diary post about it. It is a shame, as I know people are bursting to know my news, and I have been religiously careful to not drop any hints as to its nature, spoil the surprise, let the chicken out of the bag, etc.

The LTLP storms off into the kitchen, brushing past me awkwardly in her new shapeless top and trousers with an odd bit that covers her tummy, whilst muttering something about needing a rest and something to eat but not unpasteurised soft cheese or paté.

I will have to make my big secret announcement on Monday.

We attempt to clip the chickens’ wings.

“Ok,” I say, resolutely.

“Ok,” Short Tony replies.

There is a short pause whilst we accept the fact that saying ‘ok’ resolutely before doing a difficult job does not really affect the difficultness of the job at all. Meanwhile the chickens look on suspiciously.

“I think the best thing to do is to sort of lure them back into the chicken enclosure,” I ponder. “Then they will not have so much room to run away, when we start chasing them.”

Short Tony nods his assent. “Do you still have your chicken catching device?” he asks.

I go to fetch my chicken catching device from the shed. This is a big sheet of board with some handles, which you can brandish in front of you like a riot shield. I was very pleased with it when I made it. It enables you to back a chicken into a corner and then keep it there whilst you grab it, plus it would be very useful should they riot.

I should try to market my inventions a bit more. Other individuals, organisations, governments etc would be grateful for my know-how, if they needed to catch any chickens or, for instance, if there was any serious trouble at the chicken G7.

But I cannot see the organisers of the chicken G7 buying into my idea. They would stick to straightforward first-generation nets. It is not what you know, it is who you know, and it is impossible for a lone-wolf inventor like me to get a foothold in the competitive tendering environment, no matter how good my product. I lift it from the shed, proudly.

“Right – are you ready with the scissors?” I ask Short Tony.

You clip chickens’ wings so they cannot fly any more, and destroy the LTLP’s plants. She has been really cross about this lately, what with her being in a heightened emotional state, and we are grasping the nettle accordingly. If we clip their wings, they won’t be able to get over Short Tony’s gate and thus into our garden.

In a way, clipping their wings will ‘clip their wings’ (as in the phrase ‘clip their wings’, meaning to restrict somebody from doing something, which essentially is what will happen when we clip their wings. This is just one of those delightful little etymological coincidences that makes the English language so interesting.)

I run towards a chicken, brandishing my riot shield. It yells in alarm and scuttles towards the corner, where I grab it.

“It’s these feathers. Yes,” confirms Short Tony, snipping away at the bird.

To avoid getting the snipped chickens mixed up with the unsnipped one, I put the first chicken over the fence into Short Tony’s garden.

“Oh. I’d forgotten they can’t fly any more,” I say, as it plummets like a small boulder onto the grass. It is unhurt, but adopts a reproachful air. I chase a second chicken around the enclosure. The second chicken has seen what has happened to the first chicken, so is unenthusiastic about co-operating, but not as unenthusiastic as the third chicken or, indeed, the fourth.

But within ten minutes, all the chickens are snipped, and pecking around on the grass, resolutely grounded.

“Is it just me, or was that unexpectedly easier than anticipated?” I ask Short Tony.

Short Tony surveys the chickens. “I can’t believe we just managed to do that,” he replied.

“The LTLP will be really pleased, what with her heightened emotional state thing going on,” I conclude, remembering that I mean to make a special announcement soon, but being careful not to hint as to its nature.

I replace the chicken device in the shed and walk slowly back to the Cottage. It is not often that a plan like that goes with any degree of smoothness, and I want to savour the moment.

Beginners tips for keeping chickens

A bit of a departure for me here – but I get asked questions about chickens more often than anything else. And I always try to reply to people, and these replies often duplicate each other because people ask me the same thing… so here it is, distilled into one post – my top 5 beginners’ tips for keeping chickens. There are lots more than five, but things would get too long. So I’ll write another post if enough people read this one.

Print this out and share it with your potentially chicken-keeping friends. They will thank you for it, and give you eggs.

Continue reading

Christmas #2

We plan a relaxing Boxing Day walk.

My sister, RonnieB, is anxious to be back by mid-day, as she is keen that my nephew, DonnieB, gets fed on time. I am also keen to be fed on time. I do not know why babies always take priority. It is typical selfishness from the young.

I get up early, at 4.30am, in order to start negotiations with my mother, my father, my mother in law, my father in law, my sister, my brother in law, my nephew and the LTLP where we are going and how we are going to get there. By 10.30am this aspect is sorted out. We will drive to Sandringham, where the Queen lives, and walk around there.

We are in our allocated cars by 10.45. At this point, my father tries to renegotiate, but I am having none of it. We are in a hurry.

There is a knock on the windscreen.

It is the Village Doctor. I give him a complicated ‘it is really nice to see you, and Happy Christmas, and hope you have a good Boxing Day, but we are in a bit of a hurry, being six and a quarter hours into our relaxing walk and not quite having started it yet’ wave.

“I’ve just had the neighbours round,” he replies. “I think one of your chickens is in their front drive.”

I am a bit taken aback by this. Short Tony and I have been letting the chickens free-range over Christmas, as a treat. Their little faces light up when we go to open the gate to let them into the back gardens.

“Are you sure it’s one of ours?” I ask doubtfully. “They do not go near the road, as they are quite sensible.”

“I think it is.”

I look round at the crowd of impatient prospective walkers in the car, and in the car behind.

“I could try to catch it for you if you want, and bring it back?” he says.

It is an honorable offer, but would be beyond the call of duty. I sigh. “Won’t be a second,” I tell the people in the car. I then give the people in the second car a complicated ‘yes I know we are in a hurry, and I won’t be long, but I just have to go to fetch a chicken from up the road’ wave.

We reach the scene of the reported chicken-sighting. The Village Doctor lives sort of over the road and round the corner, and it is quite a way for a chicken to saunter. But there, in his neighbour’s front drive, is a chicken.

“It’s one of ours,” I confirm.

We study the chicken for a bit. My chickens are quite good-natured, but being picked up causes them alarm. It is quite happy pecking around near us, but any approach causes it to scurry away at speed.

The key to catching chickens is that you need to back them into a corner. Once you have backed them into a corner, they have nowhere to go and you can make a proper grab for them. Often it is useful to have a net, or a large flat corner-backing device, to achieve this. We have neither of these things, nor a corner. We circle round the bird, making occasional ineffectual lunges.

The chicken makes a break for the road. Travelling hearse-slowly from the direction of the Village is a Nissan Micra, manned by two pensioners. They lurch to a halt as a chicken flees across their path pursued by a sprinting General Practitioner.

The chicken abruptly spins 180 degrees, and dives underneath the car. I catch up, huffing and puffing. The pensioners look warily around them as we position ourselves on either side of the car, crouching purposefully on the balls of our feet, ready to pounce. I give them a complicated ‘I’m very sorry to delay you, but one of my chickens is underneath your car, which is surprising as they are generally quite sensible, but don’t worry – we are just about to catch it and take it back home’ wave.

There is a short stand-off. Me, Village Doctor, pensioners, chicken.

The chicken pokes out its head from underneath the front bumper. “Aha!” I cry, making a grab. It withdraws quickly and shoots out from the rear of the car, hastening down the middle of the road back towards the Cottage.

We set off after it and, now it is going in the right direction, a lifetime of watching ‘One Man and His Dog’ saves the day. The chicken is expertly shepherded into Short Tony’s garden, via a brief detour around Wallace’s outside lights.

“Thank you,” I say to the Village Doctor.

“No problem.”

I rejoin the car-load of relatives. We go for a relaxing Boxing Day walk.

The telephone rings.

‘Brrringggg brrringggg!’

(NB that was the sound of the telephone ringing, as transcribed onto the page).

It is Big A. We chat inconsequentially for a couple of minutes, before he announces that he has a favour to ask me.

I am immediately on my guard. This means that he will want me to look after his chickens whilst he goes away. As the premier chicken expert in the Village, I am always being asked to look after people’s chickens. And whilst that is no hassle, it is a bit of a hassle, and I do not need the extra eggs.

Big A has three rescued battery chickens, including one that he calls ‘J Lo’ because it has an enormous sort of growth on its arse. They are good natured birds, and I do owe him a favour for the use of his washing machine. I take a deep breath and ask him what his favour is.

“Can you put my bins out for me?”

I am a bit stunned by this. “Don’t you want me to look after the chickens?” I ask, to which he replies that the people over the road are happy to do that.

Sacked!!! I am sacked as first-choice chicken-looker-after!!! I replace the receiver angrily. I am good enough to do the bins, but not good enough to do the chickens.

The next morning, I wander over to get his bins. An ex-battery chicken with an enormous arse protrusion gazes at me through the garden gate, giving me a slightly disdainful look. This chicken seems a bit above herself. I might be a mere binman, but she is just Jenny from the Flock.

The Washing Machine Man should be coming tomorrow, with the spare part.