One of our friends in the village bred and "showed" chickens. A hitherto unknown hobby made a sudden impact upon our lives when she suggested that our garden would be an ideal environment for her aged champions to retire to.
We were given an old coop that we patched up just in time for our first delivery of retirees. Seven fussy old girls and two cockerels. One cockerel is normally enough for any garden but one of them was a Dorking - a large docile bird aptly named Dork, the other Chicken Supreme , a splendid looking silver Egyptian Fayomi, strutted around his domain without bothering to cast a glance in poor old Dorks direction. The seven old beauty queens were (our son and daughter took on the responsibility of naming them) - Bobbsy-Bob, an Old-English black-hen (she, we were reliably informed had been placed 3rd in the National "Wet Feathered" Championships), Kentucky Fried (a bustling, bossy white hen), Chicken formerly known as Mary (always referred to by her full title) Mable (the most adventurous and luckiest hen ever), Rosa (a Chilean variety with rosy red cheeks) one-eyed Iris and Lily.
Having never kept chooks before we found their behaviour fascinating; they were let out of their coop each morning - Chicken Supreme, always the first one out, would begin his morning by raping each of the hens as soon as he could - Dork would shuffle off, preferring not to be involved in this barbarity. Once the girls had satisfied his lust Chicken Supreme would fly to the gate and begin his crowing, he was a vile, conceited, boastful specimen! He knew no boundaries and would boldly march into the kitchen then up the stairs to crow and shout from the banisters. He started to become much too bold and aggressive - as I hung out the washing he would fly at me brandishing his spurs and beak. I must have looked a sight hanging out the washing with one hand, fending this brute off with a broom handle in the other. Eventually I tired and complained to our benefactor.
"Oh for goodness sake stop being such a wimp." she told me, "You just have to be firm."
I walked out with more purpose, even took the dogs out with me for protection, but that damn rooster just saw this as an even greater challenge. The next time my friend came over I insisted she come to witness his behaviour. He eyed her up menacingly, but kept his distance,
"See, " she smirked "He knows whose boss."
She shook her head and turned her back, it all happened so quickly I can't say for certain now the correct sequence of events, maybe as she shook her head her hat fell off and she bent to pick it up or Chicken Supreme took a flying leap at her and knocked it off? Whichever he was suddenly on her scratching and pecking before she had a chance to defend herself, she shook him off and clutched the back of her neck and as she took her hand away I saw blood.
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed, secretly pleased, she really shouldn't have been so smug. "Here let me..."
"You little sh..." she cried, and before I could say another word she had grabbed her assailant and wrung his neck. I watched in horror as his body flopped into a lifeless rag. My friend raised a wry smile "Well, " she said staring me straight in the eye, "You just have to be firm. Now you don't mind if I take him home for my Lurchers do you?"
She bought us another cockerel the next morning, a golden Fayomi, Kataff. He was an absolute gent compared to his predecessor and lived happily in the garden for four or five years.
The chooks were easily tamed - Sean would call to them from the kitchen door, they would hurtle down the path, jostling each other in their haste to reach his open hand filled with pellets for them to feed off. He would stroke them and talk to them softly, telling them each which sort of sauce he would like them to be served up with. Every time he walked into the garden a little line of chooks would follow him, blissfully unaware of his evil intentions.
We kept a succession of hens for the next six years, they rewarded us with four or five eggs a day and hours of amusement, as they scritched and scratched over the whole garden. They turned my soil over in the vegetable patch every spring - but had to be chased off and netted out once the seeds were in the ground. Mabel the intrepid explorer escaped with monotonous regularity into the yard next door to rummage in the manure heap for worms, Bobbsy-Bob fended off foxes from her chicks, Lily got broody and made nests in the most unlikely of places, Kentucky Fried fussed and clucked and kept them all in order. One by the one they died or strayed too far into Mr. Foxes unforgiving reach - the last two Lily and Kataff wandering around together, an inseparable pair, ended up a little pile of feathers.