Giving the chickens the chop
PUBLISHED: 11:52 01 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:05 01 October 2013
We're all over-run with eggs. Mums skulk around the school gate like middle-class dealers, pushing half a dozen eggs on anyone who will take them
The chickens have gone. Between you and me, I’m rather relieved – they were making me terribly fat. A few years ago, back-garden chickens were the preserve of those living in rural idylls, with hundred-foot gardens surrounded by hedgerow. Now everyone I know has chickens. They’re the outdoor accessory to the Cath Kidston table-cloth and the Emma Bridgewater mugs. We’re all over-run with eggs. Mums skulk around the school gate like middle-class dealers, pushing half a dozen eggs on anyone who will take them. But the non-chicken-owning market is dwindling, so the eggs pile up and it’s back home to bake yet more biscuits, even more cake. I used to bake every day. The children loved it, but my husband would groan as temptation wafted his way once again, and the scales groaned even louder when I stepped on them. I hid them in a cupboard and baked some more.
We all love the little taste of self-sufficiency, we chicken-keepers, as we position our coops next to our narrow patch of vegetables. It’s true the eggs taste better than anything Waitrose has to offer, and the morning ritual of egg-collection gives one a warm glow which is hard to replicate elsewhere. When the children were at school and the weather was fine, I would hang the washing on the line and feel the sun on my back as the hens clucked their way around the garden. There is little better to feed the soul, in my book.
It’s not all roses, of course, and I weathered the red mite, the lice and the culling. I diligently scrubbed the coop once a week, and jet-washed the chicken yard to boot. I put up with the temperamental laying – either feast or famine – and even dusted off the scales to counter-balance the baking. But I drew the line at rats. I saw one, just as the sun went down, scurrying across the run and out of view. The rat man came the next day and said it was part and parcel of having chickens. ‘You can get rid of the rats, but they’ll come back’, he said. I considered my options for about a second. The chickens had to go.
He located the probable nest – burrowed deep in the compost bin – and left an unfeasibly large amount of poison in a location he assured me would be too tempting to resist. ‘You never get just one rat, you know,’ he said. ‘They breed quickly.’ I shuddered. Half the poison had gone by the morning, and ten days later the rat man proclaimed the issue sorted. I thought I had successfully kept our vermin problem quiet from the neighbours – although the council’s van screamed PEST CONTROL from every panel – until one day when the children were playing in the garden with friends.
“A MOUSE UNDER THE TRAMPOLINE!” screamed Georgie. I shot outside, darting between the trampoline and the tribe of children, whose excitement surpassed anything seen this side of Christmas morning. “LOOK! LOOK! A MOUSE! A MOUSE WITH GREAT BIG TEETH!” I intercepted an inquisitive toddler, bent on investigating this furry play-thing, and herded everyone to the other side of the garden like an extra in One Man and His Dog.
“Just calm down,” I said, not feeling in the slightest bit calm. Where precisely was the rat? What if it wasn’t dead? What if it was even now running towards me? I danced around a little bit, to deter it from running up my trousers. “There’s no need to get excited,” I told them, “it’s just a little rat.” I turned round and peered under the trampoline. Blimey, quite a big rat, then.
“A RAT?” my son bellowed, the sound bouncing neatly into each neighbouring garden. ‘A REAL RAT? A RAT IN OUR GARDEN?’
“Don’t keep saying it,” I hissed. The rat was definitely dead. Two huge yellow teeth protruded from his open mouth. I shuddered.
“Can we play with it?”
A plastic bag was fetched, and the rat deposited gingerly inside, whereupon all the children insisted on taking a proper look.
“Wow”, they sighed, “a real rat! How exciting!” Let’s hope the neighbours agree.
The hens are happy, I hear, scratching around a friend’s much larger garden, and I’m happy in my rat-less plot. I am reveling in being able to grow plants without containing them in chicken wire, and enjoying the quiet of a Sunday spent without covering myself in manure as I rid the chooks of lice. I do miss the eggs. But if I hang around the school gate for long enough, I can usually pick some up.
Clare Mackintosh is a regular contributor to Cotswold Life.
Visit her website here: www.claremackintosh.com
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