Chimaera Hunting : Life in the slow lane on the Solway coast.
Sunday, 2 December 2012
Knocking on the back door.
It's over a year since my little flock of ex-battery hens came to live with me. I knew absolutely nothing about poultry when they arrived but fourteen months later that has certainly changed. It's been a steep learning curve. Being so intensively farmed and artificially matured takes its toll on their bodies and I'm sad to say that my flock is down from the original five to three. Big Thelma the cockerel look-alike died in September three days after the first anniversary of them being freed from the cages. Her reproductive system had been badly damaged and she taught me all there is to know about the horrible results of such things and how to manage them. And Lorna, who was so exuberant in her freedom (but never got to grips with brakes) was euthanised by the vet last Friday after her digestive system finally failed due to a tumour common in ex-battery hens. I never thought for a second that these little creatures would have clucked their way so deeply into my heart but they have. I have friends (and vets) who think it's hillarious that I take the care of chickens so seriously that I'd take them to the vet and fuss on with various medications and management strategies. But those who know me well understand that I take the responsibility for all of my animal's welfare seriously and the simple fact is that I care about them all. And that includes my chickens. I've recently found an excellent avian vet who values chickens as she does all animals and I am a little more reassured that they are getting the right treatment when they need it. An experienced avain vet who is happy to share her knowledge and to teach me really is a gift. After I sobbed pathetically over Lorna's diagnosis in her surgery she told me of one of her clients, a big, hard man with a shaved head and lots of tattoos who cries like a baby when he loses a chicken. I get that. These odd little creatures with their bright eyes and really individual personalities are so trusting and endearing that anyone who takes the time to know them couldn't fail to be affected when it all goes wrong.
Helping the electrician.
I've had a year of delight, laughter, learning, worry and eggs from them and the least I could do for them is try to give them a good quality of life or, when the time comes, a peaceful death. They ask for so little and the rewards are great. They are also far more intelligent than people give them credit for and recent studies have indicated that their cognitive function is far greater than previously thought. They communicate with over thirty calls, using different calls to distinguish between things such as large and small airborne predators, pleasure, alarm and contentment, and their recall beats that of the dogs without fail. A single call of 'c'mon chickens' has them sprinting to me faster than Usain Bolt. They can also be trained in shape recognition as seen here on You Tube. They are fascinating creatures friendly to those they know and trust and lethal to anything that might be food. And that appears to include house cats and Parsons Russell Terriers. Anything that makes me laugh on a daily basis has got to be a good thing. Even if they occasionally make me cry. Their pleasure in scratching aound, sun-bathing dust- bathing and generally pottering about is more than worth a few tears on my part. Now we are down to three good things. Hopefully I'll home some more in a while. When my heart has recovered a little.