Spectator gets in a flap over chickens

If there’s a flashpoint at the family supper more guaranteed to get an argument going, I can’t think of one. For as long as we’ve had them, there has been little consensus on our chickens. Positions are entrenched and can be reduced to this: Will has spent the most time with them and therefore thinks he knows best, Zam agrees with half of this statement, Anna, Alfie and Olive tend to switch sides after weighing up the argument and I haven’t a clue, but disagree with all of them.

It always starts with the arrival of the small, fluffy chicks. Is the saucer too deep and they might drown? Can ground corn be used instead of chick crumbs when they arrive unexpectedly on a bank holiday? Will grinding the corn ruin the Magimix blade? (Does anybody care besides me?) Should they be kept separate from the other chickens (obviously, yes, but at what point to introduce them to the adults)? Should we be incubating eggs?

That last question goes down a strict male/female divide, Zam and Will being keen to experiment with breeds or to take over when a hen has fooled us into thinking she was broody, only to abandon the eggs. ‘We raise them and then send them in to certain death,’ I say gloomily, still remembering the time we watched 10 chicks hatch like popcorn, kept them alive with lamps, reared them to the ugly stage, then put them back in the run, where they were pecked to death overnight.

I went to see a friend last week whose daughter has hatched out five beautiful Silkies, only to find they’re all aggressive cockerels. In my experience, incubate
and regret.

Actually, the arguing starts before all that. Do we even want more chickens? We’ve been lucky enough to inherit nine good-natured hens with the new house. Or 10 depending on which family member you ask. There’s a small grey hen, which never goes into the coop, but scurries around outside looking like she wants to. We can’t get her in without letting the others out, so they stare at each other from two sides of a foxproof fence. Is she actually ours? Has she popped in from next door? Does she really want to join the others? Nobody can agree. She will surely be nabbed by a fox or, apparently, badger in these parts just as one of my sister’s hens disappeared yesterday.

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Another friend arrives, traumatised and shaking. He’d set up a fox trap because his chickens are also being selected on a daily basis, but, when he heard a kerfuffle in it that morning, he found not a fox, but the vicious feral cat that’s been reducing his beloved pet cat to a gibbering, bleeding wreck.

A farmer had told him that, if he wanted to scare off the cat, he must throw a bucket of water over it and it would never come back. This seemed to be his oppor-
tunity. He ran back to the house, filled the bucket and re-emerged, only to find the cat whirling round and round the trap like candyfloss in a drum.

He hurled the water at it and missed, witnessed throughout by a neighbour who couldn’t believe her eyes. All she could see was a middle-aged man who had caught a tabby and was now, she believed, torturing it. She yelled at him and threatened to report him. He tried to stutter his explanations about feral cats, dead hens and his poor victimised pusscat, but she slammed the window.

My friend with the Silkies said the cockerels were so aggressive, I mustn’t go near them in flip-flops. I told her to sell hers fine Silkie cockerels might fetch a few bob and she mused that the alternative was to do as her chicken-loving neighbour had done. She took her aggressive cockerel to the vet, where it was given an oestrogen implant.I tell the children this at supper. ‘That’s completely nuts,’ they say. Finally, I think I’ve found a chicken argument we can all agree on.

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