Bantams get bullied. Photographs courtesy of istock
AFTER YOU LOSE a flock (see: Great Fox Disaster, a few columns back), you are urged to get back in the saddle. Poultry-savvy friends tell you to ‘farmer up’, which is the livestock equivalent of ‘grow a pair’. The advice was unyielding: yes, yes, you might be devastated by the loss of your beloved trio of bootylicious and sassy bantams (Missus, Betty and Shirley), but you’ve got one chook left (the unpopular Laverne), and you can’t be letting her droop about on her own. She will, like a lavender-scented, hanky-clasping maiden of yore, go mad with the melancholy.
It’s true that chooks are social creatures. A lone chicken is a piteous sight, an actual empty-nester rattling around in the coop. So, although we would have preferred to take our sweet time looking for a new flock of Ms Rights, we did as advised, got our farmer on and bought more chickens.
It is working out precisely as well as any rebound relationship.
Mistake #1: Not getting rid of Laverne
We seriously considered dumping Laverne. Plans were laid. She’s skittish, uncurious and, even by chicken standards, a long way from the brightest bulb in the chandelier. We didn’t love her and we should’ve kicked her to the curb. But it takes a hard heart to dispatch the sole surviving chook, riddled with fox-related PTSD, to market.
So we rebuilt around her, and it turns out she’s a bitch on wheels. Now my fed-up partner searches ‘how to kill chickens’ on YouTube and makes frequent, unironic comments about how Laverne would make good stock.
Mistake #2: Buying chickens because they look cool
We were sent photographs of a couple of Barnevelder/Araucana crosses. They looked enchantingly gothic and fabulous; dark with gold-splashed plumage, stern eagle beaks, outcrops of feathers around their eyes. All a bit ‘Johnny Depp on his way to a satanic Mardi Gras ritual’. Infatuated, I ignored that they were full-sized and bought ‘The Goths’ sight unseen.
Months on, I have only just come up with names for them: Ja’mie and Winona. They’re named after famous high-school bullies (I’ve considered photoshopping them onto a Feathers film poster) and I still can’t tell them apart.
Mistake #3: Not realising that chickens are racist
Chickens are not practitioners of multicluckurism.
They prefer their own kind, so if you mix bantams and full-size girls, the bantams get it. Bunty and Norah, two little bantams, were indentured to a life of low status and low self-esteem. We tried putting food in extra troughs to give the little gals an option, but nothing prevents The Mean Girls from blocking their path to the food. Norah, assigned the bottom of the pecking order, gave up and took to standing resignedly behind the water dispenser. Staging an intervention, we took her and Bunty (sporting a nasty eye gash) inside for a couple of weeks and pampered them with tasty treats, antibiotics and non-consensual cuddles. Norah put on a few hundred grams, Bunty got a bright pink collar of shame to stop her from scratching and we were full of self-congratulation. But a day after release, Norah was back underneath the coop and, while it seems anthropomorphic to suggest she had an eating disorder, I’d swear she starved herself to death because the other chickens were bitches.
Mistake #4: Thinking everything’s fixable
It’s not. You can’t keep chickens indoors permanently.
No, really. And $150 on vet fees for two little chooks that
you could buy roasted for $8 turns out to be my limit.
Mistake #5: Doing something out of spite
This was the original mistake, the one playing out through the generations like a Greek tragedy. The reason why Betty, Missus and Shirley became fox food in the first place is because, one night, they got locked out of their predator-proof coop. The reason for that is partly because my partner and I each thought the other had put them away. Simple systems breakdown. But really, truly, it was because I’d been trying to screw with the pigeons. We’re infested with skyrats who have grown fat and happy on our chickens’ feed. I decided to teach them a lesson and lock them out. And forgot. And our chooks spent the night outside. So, I guess I’ve got the rebound flock I deserve.
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This article first appeared in Ed#467 of The Big Issue
CHICKENS. A 2016 UPDATE...
Funny, I used to think foxes were cute. Red fur and fabulous bone structure. I also, despite being English, used to abhor The Hunt. How cruel, I thought, all those privileged pricks on horseback, and dogs tearing the poor little fox to pieces. Well, I’ve reassessed. After losing both of my flocks to foxes, and witnessing their modus operandi of casual massacre first hand, I’d be happy to take one of those evil fuckers apart with my own hands.
We haven’t restocked the hen house yet. Taking a break. We weren’t enjoying the second flock anyway, what with all the bullying (chooks can be bitches, yo), so we’re hanging back for a while. But I miss their curious buck bucking, and head tilts, and fluffy little bottoms. And watching them run. Hilarious. In the meantime the chicken coop is overgrown with all the plants which sprouted from chook feed scratched into the ground – tomatoes and wheat, ferns and grass. It’s restful.
I’ll keep you posted.