That’s not the person;
but the hen. A few years ago we supplemented our modest flock of aged but excellent Black Rocks with a smattering of other breeds: hybrid Blue Belles; Leghorns, & Light Sussex birds. I must say that none of these hens seemed quite as robust as the lovely Black Rocks; who despite being (I’m sure many will say, eugh! common) hybrid birds, have proved my unwitting favourites; being excellent, consistent layers of large, flavourful sunset-yolked eggs; well-feathered & robust; largely resistant to the dreaded Red Mite……& by no means least, friendly & pretty birds who are also well-fleshed – should things be lean & hungry & should the mood take us to pop one in the pot (which admittedly, it hasn’t to date – but then I am somewhat renowned for having a soft heart – & a head, to match…..!).
But the newcomers – whilst reasonable birds – simply haven’t performed as well as the ‘Rocks. And nor do they seem to be as robust, in spite of our best & most caringly dedicated efforts. Unfortunately whilst I purchased the birds from a supposedly reputable source they’ve been a major disappointment; eating us out of house & home whilst providing relatively few eggs in return. And unlike the ‘Rocks they have occasionally had problems with Red Mite & also with various sniffles; in spite of the fact that their housing is carefully maintained to be warm, clean, airy & dry. However in their defence the wet & relatively cold summer obviously hasn’t helped; the flock faithfully continued laying until commencing their moult – which wasn’t helped by the recent ‘cold snap’ for the few who’d left it a little later than the others. Subsequently a couple of the hens have been suffering from the sniffles – as have we.
I’ve been a little concerned for a couple of days now that dear old Ginger (our Matriarch Black Rock who in spite of her breed, sports plumage in colour as her name suggests – vibrant ginger) hasn’t been her usual robust old self. Feathers fluffed, under the weather & sneezing she’s nevertheless tucked into her breakfast with typical gusto; so at least I’ve had the crumb of comfort that her appetite is still intact. And Harebell too, has been suffering with the same symptoms – & at this time of year when the weather abruptly changes, the poultry seem to suffer in much the same way that we do. However I’m not particularly concerned about Avian ‘Flu; as our hens have regrettably had to spend the last few weeks in ‘solitary confinement’, occupying a comfortably roomy shed with a mesh frontage owing to the attempted & unwelcome attentions of the local fox population.
So this morning, when I let down the gangplank to “Noah’s Ark” (so called as we’ve kept only one or two of each breed in there: two Black Rocks; two Leghorns; two Blue Belles; Light Sussex & Leghorn – & of course Myrddin the magnificent Welsummer Cockerel….not to mention it’d take a flood of literally Biblical proportions to float the thing!) my concerns were with the ‘bruisers’ – literally, the “Black-&-Blue” residents who had been sporting the unfavourable symptoms. Despite a few sneezes they gobbled down the proffered hearty breakfast & proceeded with their usual harrassment of poor, henpecked husband Myrddin.
Thus I breathed a big sigh of relief whilst opening the door of the second henhouse & whistling the occupants ashore: this being the “Ark Royal”, named in proud honour of our 2008 flock of twelve Silkies – consisting of Mum (dubbed the Mother Superior owing to her no-nonsense, bustling behaviour & serious feather-white wimple); & the eleven chicks she’s impressively hatched & successfully reared over the summer, much to our amazement owing to the MS’s relatively dimimutive stature but evidently capacious & cosy wingspan.
The flock of greedy little Silkies tumbled out today with their typically delightful cacophany of soft, squawking chatter & a flurry of bronze & black feathers, the males mantling over their breakfast in protective imitation of birds of prey many times their size, weight & power. In fact all was so very well with this little brood that I made a mental note I really do need to clip the wing feathers of these adventurous little chickens, before their flightiness truly gets the better of them – as Messrs Fox, Buzzard & Badger are inevitably skulking in search of an easy meal at this time of year….& we’re not prepared to sacrifice several hundred tasty eggs or a fat little capon to tooth &/or claw of these opportunist & ruthless, unsporting killers.
An unseasonably cold & unsettled evening descended over the Ffarm. Concerned, I gently opened the capacious side hatch to the upper storey of Noah’s Ark armed with a pre-warmed pot of Vaseline, prepared to gently apply said unguent to each bird’s comb & wattles in the event that they might be endangered by the cruel nip of frostbite should the temperature drop below zero.
Whilst the flock succumbed sleepily to this gentle massage owing to their recumbant roosting, soporific state I was quietly concerned to note that one of our lovely hens – Mrs Mussolini – was missing. A Leghorn x hen, Mrs Mussolini has proved the most aggressive & challenging hen we’ve kept so far – apart from that is, her Light Sussex chum who’s a heavyweight when it comes to ‘Fight Club’ rules; dubbed equally appropriately, Mrs Hitler.
But where was that shrill “don’t-you-touch-my-wattles-if you-know-what’s-good-for-you” warning chiiiirrrrrrup I usually receive when attempting to do something warm & helpful? Echoingly absent……
I commenced a thorough search but whilst tucking the other squadrons of our erstwhile ‘poultry wing’ in bed, I literaly stumbled across the poor, prone corpse of Mrs Mussolini; with absolutely no clue as to how or why, she’d died. As she was a laying hen when purchased & not a POL pullet it could simply have been a case of old age: she certainly hadn’t been showing any signs of ill health & on examination I couldn’t find any obvious other reason for her death. It’s always a crushing blow to find that one of those in your care, has died; & in spite of her rather ‘full on’ temperament I did have a soft spot for this very attractive hen.
I quietly gathered her into a sack so that the occupants of the “Ark Royal” – ever nosey & opportunist – wouldn’t see her body as I bore her away to be cremated (as I don’t know why she died I feel it’s better to be on the safe side; plus as our dog Nanuk loves to dig I suspect she wouldn’t remain buried for very long…!).
It was with a heavy heart that I returned to the farmhouse & reflected on sadly on the bitter truth that indeed, “where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock”……part of the harsh reality of smallholding, I’m afraid.