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Mud On the Road

Coming to this page in 2017: the perils of loose cows and my expert advice on how to break down in multi-storey car parks, nurture your tiger worms, survive your inner poet, manage your alter egos and wear your black rimmed spectacles with pride. Plus, shaggy dog stories, boxer dog stories and the appalling state of the nation's teeth.

The Unusual Incident of the Chicken In the Night-time

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

Warning:this post contains a degree of reality for which no telephone help-line is available.
Nigella - a Scots Dumpy and leader of our flock
Nigella


     We brought our four bantams home on a cold and rainy day in November 2011. A gold partridge pekin, a silver partridge pekin, a white silkie and a black Scots Dumpy.
The latter grew into a big-chested, raven feathered beauty and so, obviously, we called her Nigella.

         She's the largest of our flock but small by any standards, a true 'little black hen'.  Just like the one in the A.A.Milne poem which I so loved reading and having read to me as a child.


     'Berryman and Baxter,
     Prettyboy and Penn
     And old Farmer Middleton
     Are five big men...
     And all of them were after
     The little Black Hen' *

     Back then I could never have imagined, could never have conceived of the possibility that  I might one day have chickens of my own. Let alone what rare sights those chickens would expose me to.

     Despite her being of the clan 'Scots Dumpy', Nigella is not in the least bit dumpy. Au contraire, she has long, elegant snake- skinned legs which she lifts and places with great deliberation and poise.

     She can run fast too and has flighty moods which see her marching and strutting about on top of the garden wall and sometimes, even, the roof of the man-shed.
Nigella, a loyal leader with her crew

     Clearly she is contemplating the other side of the fence, considering the greener grass, the possible other kingdoms, the myriad of alternative futures which beckon.
 
     But she's a loyal leader and has only once abandoned her troop and that was in  an exceptional  moment of existential crisis occasioned by Shedley and a gigantic cardboard box.

     Even then our plucky girl conquered her fears and diligently made her way home via railing and under fence, as quickly as she was able.

     We bought our bantams from Pure Poultry, a rare breed poultry farm in Chard, Somerset and when we brought them home they were all still little pullets, aged between 13 and 15 weeks and very drab and understated they were in appearance.

     So we remain rather thrilled at how beautiful they each became: how very fine their feathers, how very red and fine their wattles and combs. Or, in the case of Floyd, our tiny punk rock Silkie, how very blue.

     As promised by our Chicken Man, Miles Boarder, Nigella is our most systematic and prolific layer.  She was the first to grow up and become a proper 'Hen' and she began laying in the depths of a freezing New Year, surprising herself and us with her first egg and our first egg,

     By the way, If non-stop egg production is what you're after then don't get bantams as they are prone to broodiness and, as a rule, cease laying altogether in Winter.
Four bantams relaxing on a wall
Ready for anything we might throw their way

     But Nigella sets a cracking pace,  taking only the briefest of breaks around Christmas before getting back down to the business of laying in January with the  result that we are never long without our small but oh-so perfectly formed and delicious eggs.

     This year we’ve encountered our first health problems which in Nigella’s case may be due in part to her self-imposed production line.

     Several weeks ago bald patches appeared on the back of her glossy black  head. And when the patches reddened it became clear that whatever caused the patches in the first place she was now being pecked at.

     Maybe it was down to a power struggle in the pecking order or maybe Nigella had mites.

     We checked for mites but found none.

     We consulted the internet and our several books and we phoned the Chicken Man. On his advice we duly administered Septi-Clense, (sic) an anti-bacterial spray which also stains the area a vivid violet  to deter pecking. Still the feathers have not grown back.

     Then, on Good Friday, as she was making one  of her habitual dashes at a rogue blackbird, we saw something weird and pink protruding from Nigella's normally tidy rear. I picked her up and on close inspection we discovered a marble-like round of flesh bulging out above her vent.

     I said 'Uggh' and 'Dear God!' Then I multi-tasked: I held on firmly to the chicken and  prepared to panic.

     Whereas Shedley considered Nigella's posterior and the alien protrusion in silence and for a full slow second. Then he said,  'Hmm. Prolapse.’
Just like that. Ever so calmly. As if he saw three a week :
Chicken taking a dust bath
Nigella taking a dust bath

     Dear Reader, Shedley looked that  prolapse right in the eye and the prolapse, which let me tell you looked a lot like a large pink eyeball, stared straight back at him.

     And, then, faster than you can say forefinger, Shedley whipped out said digit and popped that prolapse right back in, rescuing poor Nigella, in an instant, from any number of ghastly fates beginning and ending with the prospective pecking of her prolapse by her chickenly peers, namely the two pekins and the little silkie we call Floyd.

     The saga of the prolapse did not end there however.

     Further reading confirmed Shedley's lightening diagnosis and action and recommended the area should now  be treated  with something called Preparation H. Which I now know to be pile cream.

     Bravely, on Easter Saturday, Shedley set forth. Wisely, he by-passed the local Stockbridge Pharmacy where he might be seen by People We Know. Shrewdly, he headed for the anonymous reaches of Andover's giant out of town Tesco's.

     There, at the chemist counter, another customer pulled her little boy aside to 'let the gentleman go first.'

     The gentleman stepped forward, cleared his throat and asked the chemist in low,  discreet tones, might he please have, 'Some pile cream for his chicken.’

     The woman behind him pulled her child closer to her side.

     The chemist could not hear him above the hubbub of the other shoppers so he had to say it again. Louder this time.

     The woman with the child shrank back and created actual distance between them, lest other people think she had any connection with Shedley or his chicken.

     It became apparent that English was not the chemist’s first language and she wanted to call her manager all of which prompted Shedley nervously to repeat his request a third time, louder still and probably a little slower:

     'I need some pile cream please. It's for my chicken.'

The woman with the child left the queue.

     This time the chemist did understand him but did not believe him and did not want to have anything to do with him and she loudly denied having any such creams upon her shelves.

     Shedley also left the queue. Happily for Nigella  he managed to find the cream on the self-service shelves. He paid for it  at the self-service till and left Tesco’s at speed, giddy with success, only to come face-to-face with no less a figure than my Darling Mother - his Dearest mother-in-law - in the car park outside...So much for anonymity.

01.04.2013


~~~~~



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