Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Here Come the Girls

My daughter Ivy's boyfriend lives on a farm.

One day, Ivy and her boyfriend offered to show my two little ones around the farm.

Dylan absolutely loves tractors and got very excited when he got the chance to sit in an old one. Addy loved the chickens.

Both children were fascinated by the incubator containing chicken eggs in varying stages of hatching. The newly hatched chicks are a sorry sight - bedraggled and exhausted - but before long they dry out, recover their energy and become cheeping balls of fluff.

A lifetime ago when I lived out in the country with my first husband, I kept chickens. I loved the fresh eggs they provided and I really enjoyed having them around. Tragedy struck when two large poodles from a neighbouring farm got loose and had immense fun ripping my lovely birds to pieces. The dog owners compensated us with new chickens but I never felt quite the same about them as I had about the first batch that were small enough when we first bought them that they still cheeped.

I am lucky enough to have a fairly large garden in the town house I live in now with my second husband. We have talked about getting chickens but the timing never seemed to be quite right. The children's delight at the chickens they saw on the farm coupled with an offer from Ivy's boyfriend to supply us with some were the catalysts to galvanise us into action. We bought a chicken coop (which the children seemed to want to live in!) and cleared a space to house it.

All we had to do was wait. Wait until the chicks we had seen hatching were big enough to fend for themselves outdoors. Addy was very excited.

My daughter Taylor's boyfriend is George. George will be going off to Uni in September but for now, to earn some cash, he is working on a chicken farm. We tease him a bit about smelling of chickens and call him Chicken George but I am so proud of his work ethic and the way he has thrown himself into the job. Taylor loves it that he comes round for lunch on work days and has started taking pleasure in having a sandwich ready for him.

George happened to mention to his employers that his girlfriend was getting chickens. Their first response was dump your girlfriend which Taylor did not take too kindly to but the fact is that if we were to have chickens and George was to be exposed to them, there was a risk of infection being passed on. Maybe there is a lingering paranoia after the whole bird flu threat but even a small risk of infection could still have potentially devastating consequences to the thousands strong flock and the livelihood they represent.

George, being a noble and responsible person, could not take the risk.

Taylor did not want to miss out on her precious 'George time'.

There was a solution. Instead of sourcing our chickens from the chicks we'd witnessed breaking free from their shells, we could opt for birds from the chicken farm which would be fully immunised and no threat. However, the birds on offer were the ones from the so called 'poorly pen' - chickens with defects that would mean they stood no chance of survival in the massive flocks required for commercial egg production.

Did I really want deformed reject chickens?

There were definitely pros. The breed was a proven good layer. George could still come round for lunch. We would be giving a home to previously unloved poultry.

In all, that was enough to swing it.

We explained the situation to Ivy's boyfriend. Although he believed the risk of infection to be so insignificant as to be virtually non existent, he sympathised with the chicken farmer's point of view.

Yesterday, George came home from work with an animal carrier. The children were beside themselves with excitement. Our empty chicken coop was suddenly buzzing with life. There were missing feathers, deformed feet, droopy combs and damaged beaks - but we fell in love with each of them at first sight.

I am hoping that with care, the reject chickens will be restored to strength and beauty and hopefully provide us with many fine eggs.  It may take time and they may never be the best looking birds but I look forward to witnessing their progress and am very happy to welcome them as the latest addition to the family.

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