Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Chicken Luck

Most Animal Stories Have Sad Endings:

It is true that a lot of animal stories have tragic endings so I try not to include many of them but there are a few that stand out both as sad and happy. One day I was given twelve laying hens in a row of wire cages where the eggs just rolled down a slope into a tray. There were two hens in each box, not really even big enough for one hen. They had had their beaks and nails cut off so they couldn’t hurt each other. As pleased as I was with the gift I couldn’t bear to see them confined this way, having never experienced scratching in the dirt or stretching their wings. The row of cages was put into my large bird pen where we had once had ducks and turkeys and birds of all kinds. It was my favourite spot on the property, full of trees with a pond and waterfall and birds of all kinds mixing with the exotic plants. I even had a hammock hanging between two trees so I could just lay there and ponder. Several times the fox got in and killed most of the birds and the few remaining birds went into the peacock aviary. We cemented under the fence, filled any holes and made it fox-proof. I didn’t get any more birds because the whole place just didn’t have the same magic about it. It was a few years later when these hens arrived and we hadn’t seen a fox in years. After a few weeks of feeling sorry for the chickens I decided to let them out into the real world. They were stunned. They didn’t know what to do or where to go so they just followed me everywhere. Little by little they started to stretch their cropped wings, scratch with their cut nails and pick at things with their beaks. They were truly in heaven. I was so pleased at having finally let them go, as I watched them try out and learn what the world was about. It was so funny that I stayed there most of the day. Some of the hens even tried a dirt bath. When I finally came into the house, I spent hours telling Lenox how wonderful it was to see them free and having room to move and about how funny they all were as they tried new things. I was very pleased with myself until the next morning when I went out to feed them and found that a fox had killed all twelve without even taking one to eat. I was so devastated that all I could say was “well at least they had one great day of freedom”. The poor things - they had no wings to speak of and certainly didn’t know how to use what they had or some could have flown up into the trees to get away.
After another fox attack, even more devastating, the only bird left was a guinea-fowl, she was the sole survivor of a fox attack that killed over twenty birds. We called her a Jeannie-bird because of the awful noise she made and she lived right under our alcoholic neighbour Jeannie’s bedroom window. We put her in with the peacocks, which lived in a large aviary, to see if she could survive. Not only did she survive but she flourished. Peacocks, like turkeys, aren’t very smart and often kill their young by accident or maybe a male kills them. Once our Jeannie-bird moved in that was no more. She took mothering very seriously. The chicks all ate before the peacocks, they were kept gathered in her clutches and in general she cared for every baby in the aviary. After the fox problem was solved by not having any more birds out, the neighbour’s dogs took a shine to checking us out from time to time and killing anything they could. We had two wonderful chickens that we kept in the garden, known to us as Scrambled and Poached, that we put away every night so they would be safe, but unlike the fox, dogs in packs don’t care whether it is day or night and they raided and killed our two chickens. We finally realized that if we wanted a chicken the only way was to let it out in the garden when we were there and put it in the aviary when we weren’t. Prunella was our chicken and you have seen her in pictures on this blog. She was a delight. One day a friend came with her dog that jumped out of the car and attacked Prunella right under our noses. She didn’t look like she had a chance for survival so the contrite dog owner left and rushed back a few hours later with another hen to replace her. You can’t just replace one pet with another that looks the same, they all have special qualities and Prunella was a cracker. Remarkably, Prunella did survive the attack and her new friend is called Henrietta. They both lay eggs and wander the garden with our dogs for protection during the day. They are very good gardeners by the way, scratching at the ground and pecking at bugs and weeds. They are put away when we go out and at night.
But animal stories often have sad endings. The pack of dogs came back down a few days ago during lunch time and they took poor Prunella from us. Now Henrietta lives alone, she still lays two eggs a day and spends most of her time in an aviary and at night in her coop. We don’t want to lose her because I don’t think I have much luck with chickens.

I love rabbits and we have had many, large Angora, miniatures, country and pet shop leftovers; most however came from farmers that raised them to eat and usually let me take one or two home out of sympathy. Even though we vaccinated, a horrible man-made disease called myxomatosis took several of our rabbits.
The miniature travelled with Jessica everywhere even in her pocket on the airplanes coming and going to school. The enormous white Angora was free to live in the house, sleep in bed with the girls and basically live like one of the family. Most people don’t know but rabbits are very easy to house-break. All you do is put down a kitty-litter box and they will use it. Our Angora lived inside for many years until she had finally nibbled on too many wires for us to put up with, like the telephone wire and the cables to the lights, so we decided to move her outside to a run we set up just outside the front door so that we could still spend lots of time with her. Even though vaccinated she got myxomatosis from being on the ground where they pick up the disease from wild animals. So my next two rabbits were not going to have that happen to them. I had a huge cage built up off the ground and put fresh straw in every day so they would stay clean and away from the ground and any contact with wild bunnies. It turns out that straw carries the disease so I lost them too. Nowadays, from bitter experience, I am much more knowledgeable about rabbits. Several years back, while in Pamplona, I was allowed a hospital rabbit. His story is on this blog so I won’t go into the details but I can tell you that he has outlived just about any other rabbit: he is a family favourite who lives in an elevated run just outside the kitchen door so we can talk to and play with him all the time and he uses newspaper as bedding. His potty corner is always The Euro Weekly, a local freebie without much merit. So rabbits can be great pets, don’t under-estimate them, they are very smart and affectionate and if well cared for can live a long time. This story is dedicated to the memory of Pepe, a rabbit friend of ours, who lived with a little girl in Madrid and was the biggest rabbit we’ve ever seen, well at least his ears were huge and he was like a puppy, always scratching at the door and wanting to come sit on your lap and watch the telly. I am sorry to say that he got too fat for his breed and is no more. All of my grandchildren call rabbits ‘Pepe’ so when they see one on the road or in the country they say “look, there goes Pepe”. I don’t have the heart to tell them he is gone.

When we left America for England I had to leave my sheep behind. I was so distraught that shortly upon arrival my parents bought me an apricot miniature poodle called Chaussette. It wasn’t the same but it helped. Chaussette had a wicker basket and everywhere we moved the first thing unloaded from the truck was her bed, then she felt safe and at home because we moved almost every year. She was a feisty little thing, I remember my father taking a fire poker to her in the hall because she wouldn’t take her food outside and no-one could touch her. I had her from early childhood through university. I don’t think I remembered life without her. One day I came home from work and she was having a nervous break-down in the driveway. Then I saw it. The neighbor’s puppy had stolen her bed and eaten most of it. She died a few days later. I know it is a sad story but she had the longest happiest life of any dog I know, and this is a section about how most animal stories have a sad ending.

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