Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cheeky chickens

Ned came running up to me as he left the classroom after the bell went. With his huge smile and arms outstretched I felt touched that he was so pleased to see me on a Monday afternoon.

‘Yay! I’ve been waiting all day to get home and see the chickens!’

Ok, so not so much about me...

‘Oh yeah,’ said Lily absent-mindedly, ‘I forgot all about the chickens.’

As we walked home, Louis and I told them about the chooks’ day. A bit of scratching, a lot of eating was all that seemed to happen.

The kids gave them some vege scraps and we all got on with the afternoon. When Stuart came home, we stood in the garden watching the ‘girls’ thinking how easy it all was.

Too easy.

I went to pilates at 6pm and once home I noticed the side gate had chicken wire all over it. Strange. I was pretty sure it wasn’t there before I left.

I walked into the kitchen to find Stuart making dinner. ‘Why is there chicken wire on the side gate?’

He stopped stirring, looked at me and smiled. ‘It seems our chooks aren’t as docile as you thought. Chippy is quite the escape artist actually and Axy enjoys copying him.’

Hang on, which one was Chippy again?

‘Four times he jumped over the fence’, Stuart continued, with slightly too much glee I felt. ‘Don’t worry they didn’t go far and then tried to get back into the run through the wire.’

‘We might have to get their wings clipped,’ I said over dinner, still surprised that they had flown the coop. The breeder said he’d only ever had to clip one chook’s wings it was so unusual.

Stuart nodded. ‘Yeah, I was thinking I’d have to do that.’

Hang on. Surely not...

‘It’s not that hard. I’m sure I could find out how on the internet.’

Oh no. This could be a disaster. As much as he is amazing at many things, fixing things is not one of them. In this house, shelves have fallen down, as have pictures off walls. While putting together the flat-pack chicken coop, he split the wood and broke the roof.

‘I think we should go back to the breeder for that...’

‘Don’t you think I can do it?’ he looked surprised.

‘Maybe it was a one-off’ I said, ‘Let’s not worry about clipping any wings unless they try escaping again’.

I looked out into the quiet, dark garden hoping those chooks could sense what’s good for them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Who knew choosing a chook would be so hard?

It was a Sunday afternoon when we found ourselves driving out through the suburbs of Sydney to collect our chooks. A beautiful Spring day, we stopped off to have brunch with friends on the way.

‘What great weather’, we commented to each other while eating bacon and egg rolls in their garden.

‘It sure is great weather for collecting chooks’, said Ned with a big smile.

Yes, I thought, this is the right time for us to be doing this. The kids were going to love it.

Although, Stuart may have been the most excited. For a week he’d been researching breeds on the internet.

‘Wow, look at this’, he had said with alarming regularity. ‘The Black Mottled Ancona, how beautiful is this bird!’

I looked over his shoulder, first noting “nervous and restless in confinement”.

‘Well what about the Belgian D’Uccle?’

‘Ummm. You want a “broody and fidgety” chicken?’ I replied feeling more nervous.

‘Well, come on. Let’s not just get a boring chicken. I want something interesting and attractive. Let’s do it properly!’ was the reply.

Followed a few minutes later with...

‘Yes, I’ve found it! We HAVE to get this breed that lays blue eggs. Look at how beautiful it is and the kids will love blue eggs!’

I felt bad dampening his enthusiasm but seriously the last thing we needed was a chook who was “nervous and flighty and prone to the sniffles”.

An awful thought crossed my mind. ‘You do realise we are not going to become people who show chickens competitively?’

‘Mmm. I suppose not.’ He looked disappointed.

But now here we were, safe in the knowledge that the chicken breeder had already told Stuart on the phone the breeds that would best suit our 3 children family in the middle of the city. After arriving I casually reiterated that we were really after docile, friendly chooks that wouldn’t get broody and would lay eggs regularly.

Then Stuart spotted a white chicken with what looked like a huge pom pom on top of its head.

‘How cool is that one!’ he pointed excitedly.

The breeder smiled and shook his head. ‘You’d need a roof on your run. Those ones love to fly’. ‘Let me show you what you really want.’

With our three chooks calmly sitting in their shredded paper-lined box ready for the drive home, Stuart asked the kids to name them.

‘I want the black one to be called Chippy!’ said Ned.

‘And I chose the brown spotty one so that’s mine and I’m calling her Clucky!’ said Lily.

Louis looked for a while at the little red chicken, as yet un-named. ‘I think Axy’, he said.

‘Axy?’ the chicken breeder and I both said.

‘Axy as in Axe-man’ Louis laughed.

I think the irony was lost on him.

‘You can’t call a chicken that!’ I said sounding too much like my mother. ‘What about Henny Penny?’

‘Let him call it what he likes’, replied Stuart perhaps still smarting from not getting the exotic, neurotic breeds he really wanted.

I tried again on the drive home. ‘Kids, are you sure you don’t want to think of some more interesting names?’

‘What’s wrong with their names?’ asked Stuart. I realised that as he had named his first pet Budgie the Budgerigar this wouldn’t be a conversation worth continuing.

I comforted myself with the knowledge that it was more important that we had three docile non-flighty birds... Or so I thought.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Back to Nature

It’s been a while since I’ve been here – both figuratively and literally. This year has been a bit of a slog... nothing catastrophic but a feeling of teetering on the edge of catastrophe a few too many times.

I’ve learnt a little more about myself throughout these months. For one, the joy of gardening and watching plants grow and thrive. Something I never thought I would find relaxing or restorative. Watering the garden, tending to the plants started to feel almost meditative – a mental break and a moment to be fully present.

It was during one such morning I heard them. Quietly at first, so quiet I wasn’t sure if I’d heard anything at all. But there it was again. An unmistakeable ‘cluck cluck’ followed by a cooing sound. Chickens! There were chickens over the fence.

It wasn’t long before the whole family was asking for our own chickens. In theory I loved the idea – that irresistible cluck, the fresh eggs, a pet that wouldn’t need walking – but in reality I fought against it. Our postage stamp garden was too small. I didn’t want the roses dug up or the grass seed just sprouting to be uprooted. I didn’t want an ugly chicken wire fence making our small outdoor space even smaller.

‘We will have chooks one day,’ I kept saying, ‘when we have a bigger house and garden.’

And then the children’s birthdays all came, one month after another. And with it the realisation that they are growing up. Lily just turned nine and as Stuart so helpfully reminded me, in another nine years she will be 18. Hang on, where did the first nine years go? When did our third baby, the one who still felt a bit of a novelty, turn four? This year I have spent time visiting friends with three kids under five and found myself realising how long ago those days felt for me. In fact I can hardly remember the house full of toddlers and tantrums. Life has moved on and I haven’t noticed.

So, on the two mornings a week all the children were out of the house I found myself looking forward to my cup of tea on the deck listening to the clucks from behind the fence. Maybe we could fit chooks here, I started thinking. After all, this garden would have had a cow in it 130 years ago.

How long would it be before the kids weren’t interested in pets, chickens, home, us anyway? We can’t keep waiting for ‘one day’. Time doesn’t allow it – it’s already here. And now so are our three girls: Chippy, Clucky and Diggy. One red, one brown with white spots and one black with red spots.

I have a feeling this blog may now become a space to write about them. Interestingly, it’s only since they arrived last weekend that I have felt like writing again.

Not that they do much, but they do seem to do something to all of us. While watching them scratching around on their first morning, Stuart said over his cup of tea, ‘It’s like watching the waves.’

Yes, it really is.


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