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Monday, 13 May 2013

The Golden girls

Many years ago, not quite in a previous life, I kept chickens.

Actually I'm planning to again. The "Hen palace" has been built (not by my own not-so-fair hand, I hasten to add). It was finished months ago. All that's required now are the occupants to take up residence.

But I digress.

The brood of chickens - if it can be called that - was not exactly enormous. Just four, bought from a local farmer at around seven weeks and named after the characters in that long-running US comedy show the Golden Girls: Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche and Rose.

Theirs was meant to be a long and happy free-range life but sadly for three of them it was cut short by the unwanted attentions of a couple of my cockers.

Now they might not be the brainiest dogs around (add as many exclamations marks as you wish and don't hold back on the observation that dogs apparently often resemble their owners - or vice versa) but they are on the whole loving and tender creatures.

Unfortunately as I was to discover at the cost of three of the hens, their natural hunting instincts remained intact.

It was probably my fault for not having closed the gate to the pen properly, but one day I heard an almighty excited yelping from the dastardly duo and on rounding the corner, I discovered the scene of fowl play.

Dorothy, Sophia and Blanche lay bloodied and dead on the ground. Only Rose had escaped, unharmed.

Not the most propitious start, but I couldn't leave Rose alone now, could I? So another trip to the farmer and three more hens to replace those that were no longer with us.

Meanwhile I had learnt my lesson. The new arrivals remained unnamed (just to avoid soppy attachment) and the dogs were introduced slowly to them with an ever watchful eye and a barking command should they approach too close.

Fast forward a month or so and the eggs started coming.

But something didn't seem quite right - at least not with Rose.

Was she somehow still mourning the loss of her previous three companions?

Could that be the explanation for her more guarded and slightly less friendly comportment?

Whereas the other three would happily come when called (it was the period in my life when "cluck" became a regular part of my early morning vocabulary) she held back, seemingly eyeing me up with a look of disdain.

Was it it possible, I asked myself, for chickens to show contempt? Or was I just simply anthropomorphising.

But there was something else bothering me about Rose.

She was bigger, broader and altogether more masculine looking than the others, with a comb and a wattle to match that made her appear...well, different from the others.

And then it happened.

One morning I heard the distinctive dawn crowing and it seemed to be coming from MY hen house.

I charged downstairs to let the birds out and sure enough - Rose continued her call.

"She" of course was a "he" and had been all along.

It was just my inexperienced eye that had failed to acknowledge earlier what would probably have been patently obvious to anyone else; that Rose had been missexed.

Somehow I never quite got used to the idea of Rose being a "he" although that's most definitely what she was.

She proved it all the time, defending her girls and chasing the (now fully deferential) dogs around the garden. Oh yes how the proverbial tables had turned.

Gradually though, both Rose's aggression towards anything or anyone who came near her and the demands of her sexual appetite on the other three made her something of a handful, and not one I could manage.

So with a heavy heart I decided she had to go.

Not to the pot mind you. I'm sufficiently squeamish not to be able eat something I've named and raised.

Instead Rose took early retirement with the same local farmer from whom I had bought her on condition that she be allowed to live out her days ruling the roost - just elsewhere.

So Rose, this one's in memory of you. Perhaps not entirely appropriate as there was most definitely nothing "3e sexe" about you.

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