On three separate occasions in August I received macabre text messages that read ‘When you get home from work, dig a grave.’ The resting places in question were for a brood of ex-battery hens who’d succumbed to a mystery ailment within days of each other. Leonard was the last one to go (poor girl). She spend her final few hours trying to dig up her friends, presumably so that she could eat them like she did everything else.
Over the coming days and weeks the usual school run of young mothers gathered outside my garden with their offspring, hoping to catch a glimpse of the silly creatures. They’d become accustomed to the hens lolloping over to see if the children were edible (mistakenly deducing that they were not).
‘Mummy, where have the birdies gone?’ one of them was heard to enquire.
‘I don’t know sweety,’ came the reply. ‘I think maybe they’ve flown south for the winter.’
‘Don’t be silly mummy. Chickens can’t fly.’
It soon became clear that the women of Emmer Green were being bombarded and harassed. A number of them collared me by my car one morning and learnt the awful truth, but far from enlightening their kids with the circle of life they preceded to make up all manner of excuses to explain the absence. One told her brats that the hens were hibernating (?), another that they were inside watching television, and another that they had ‘gone indoors for the milking season’ – a comment that makes me fear for her little cherub’s future.
After a good few months I felt the burden of responsibility bearing down on me and set about getting some replacements. One rainy Sunday morning I drove over to a local farm and queued in a muddy field with two boxes stuffed with hay. At the front of the line a farmer inadvertently set off an incendiary device by asking the father of a young girl, ‘Are you here for the child exchange program – you get six hens and I get your daughter?’ Playing along the father nodded. Seeing his affirmation the girl became hysterical which, in turn, sent 100+ chickens squawking into Pandemonium.
Returning home I realised that the coop was riddled with lice and was therefore unusable. I ordered another one online and made a makeshift ‘hen den’ in the house. The hope was that it would suffice for a week or so, but a mere night into our cozy little arrangement the chickens decided to make a bid for freedom. In the morning I surveyed the damage…
But for a quirk of history ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ could’ve been known as ‘Cororan’s Cock(rel).’ Instead of the discovery that dogs become conditioned to thinking a ringing bell denotes food, you’d have the insight that chasing a chicken round the garden with a rake let’s it know that it’s not OK to take a massive dump on your pool table.
My murderous antics were interrupted by the school run. ‘YAY! The chickens are back! Where have they been?’
I wasn’t prepared and, as such, only brought my B-game. ‘They’ve…been on holiday.’
‘Did they go on the rides?’
‘…No they…get sick.’
‘Do they like…’
As I steadied myself to answer a series of other queries about what chickens may or may not like a thought occurred to me – What an awful lot of lying has gone into what is essentially a really good thing: Rescuing battery hens and letting kids see them on their way to school. As I pondered this moral quandary fate stepped in and settled the matter.
‘Mummy, why are the birdies so thin?’
‘Because the nasty man doesn’t feed them enough.’