When we moved to Maison Barbe, we inherited 13 chickens and 3 goats. We have been told they are very easy to look after and require very little. The chickens are funny and they follow you around in hope for more food. The goats, shy at first, also come when food is on offer. We soon also acquired three hedgehogs who are currently hibernating in the coop next door to the one that serves as the chickens residence.
Alistair was in London for a week when, one morning, having just let the chickens out of the coop, I noticed the rooster stumbling, as if over something, and falling to the ground. I thought he had chocked on the corn I had just fed him. I was hoping he’d get back on his feet but soon his head twisted in an unnatural way and his wings flapped hard. I poked him gently in the chest. “Come on, boy. Get up. You can do it,’ I said with tears in my eyes. I didn’t want a new rooster, I thought crying, as I ran to the neighbours next door. I didn’t want to be alone with the dead rooster.
Julia, our neighbour, opened the door. ‘Ca va?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But I think we just lost the rooster. He went like that,’ I said trying to reenact his demise.
‘You poor thing,’ said Julia, hugging me. ‘Sit down, would you like a coffee?’
‘Yes,’ I said, grateful that there was someone to console me in this difficult moment of my life.
‘Sorry,’ said Julia after a few moments, stifling a laughter. ‘I hope you don’t mind me laughing but you were really funny when you just came in, showing me how the rooster died. I am very sorry for your boy, but we are so used to having animals dying that we really don’t take it to heart. But I understand it might be very traumatic for you.’
Of course I didn’t mind. Julia and Murray, our Scottish neighbours, had been living on a farm in Scotland for a very long time. They knew about animals. We were just a couple of city-dwellers who didn’t know a single thing about looking after a farm.
An hour later, Murray acknowledged the death of the rooster by heart attack (‘Hardly any meat on his bones,’ he said. ‘He was a really old lad.’) and we gave him a viking burial (by throwing him into the river).
I was upset about losing the cockerel but I knew that life must go on. We just needed to get a new one. But only a few days later, after letting the chickens out of their coop in the morning, my husband said: ‘One of the chickens things she’s a rooster. She keeps chasing the other chickens and mounting them.’
I didn’t think much about it until I saw the said chicken in the goats pen when I went to feed them. That was no chicken. That was a bloody rooster.
So it turns out that the young rooster only came to his manly shape after the old rooster died. He is now definitely and unmistakingly a rooster and a very busy one indeed. Some of the chickens have been known to run away as soon as being let out of the coop.
As for the goats, the three of them, such characters. The bigger one, Tilly is a bit of a bully and used to fight the other two in the morning for maize. Mika and Poppy, mother and daughter were the gentle hearts. Mika, with her heavy breathing was the first one to come to hand, while Poppy is scared of her own shadow. She once got so scared for no apparent reason that she turned over the bowl with ground maize so that only the chickens got to eat it. Sadly, last week we lost Mika.
I have been worried about her for a while, as she had very heavy breathing and seemed more tired than usual. She was also very bloated so we called the vet to take a look at her.
‘Catch her,’ he commanded as if I had been catching goats all my life.
‘Ummm, how?’ I said.
‘By the horns,’ he indicated. I did as told but Mika escaped – I had to hand it to her, she was stronger than I gave her credit. I had to play the bread trick and hope she, not Tilly, would come (Tilly is known for wanting everybody’s food). By miracle, she came and I grabbed her again by the horns, more forcefully this time. She fought me hard – I needed back-up. Alistair took over the horns and the vet commanded me to hold her by her tiny tail, while he examined her.
‘She’s pregnant,’ he said and tried to do an ultrasound, but by all accounts not much was visible. In the end, he squirted some milk and told us that there is nothing for us to do. She entered labour the next day and a few hours later she died. She had a ghost pregnancy and was 15 years old, so it was her time. But I couldn’t help but wonder if we could have done anything to save them or was it also our ignorance that killed her.
It was devastating. These animals, they become your family. You perform a ritual with them every day: letting them out, feeding them, checking their water, the bedding. When you lose one, it’s though.
Tilly and Poppy were also grieving and it wasn’t fair to leave them alone for too long. They need some excitement in their life, so we spoke to our neighbour Jeff who agreed to give us Onyx and Opal, two black and white baby goats that we will bring home in a couple of weeks.
As it were, life goes on.