Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl (with feathers and a beak . . .)
“SCOTS Dumpy,” muses Jane. I’m sorry, I reply; ’tis true I am looking a bit flabby and will get that faltering New Year fitness campaign back on track first thing in the morning. “No, silly. You’ve misheard.”
A picture of a pretty hen is thrust close to my face. The Scots Dumpy – I read, once I’ve focused – has been kept in Scotland for at least a century. These chickens have been variously known as Creepers, Bakies and Crawlers, and are easy-ish to round up on account of their short legs. Those stumpy pins, and a low body, see it waddling rather than walking, apparently. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for it . . . even a kinship. And say so. Such weakness is a big mistake.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if we kept a few chickens? All those fresh eggs – and the kids would love it.”
The cats wouldn’t. No need to fret about foxes when we have two adopted felines of semi-feral tendencies ruling the roost and unlikely to stand for feathery interlopers.
I’ve so far managed to pour cold water on this long-held bucolic dream – the result, I suspect, of too much Lark Rise to Candleford of a Sunday night. After the novelty wears off, I know who will be despatched to feed them in the teeth of a howling north-easterly, or to let them out after Jack Frost has welded the latch to the clasp.
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Now I’m in danger of hoisting myself by my own petard. Someone gave me a book by Christie Aschwanden called Beautiful Chickens and I passed it to our resident poultry-fancier-in-waiting as a gift. Kind. Generous. But stupid.
I don’t dislike them. (Mighty fine with roast potatoes.) A-blink-of-an-eye-ago, when the kids were young, we could pass a pleasant afternoon at the playground by the allotments. A man kept gently-cooing hens on his 10-rod plot and would let the children lift the lids of the nesting-boxes and gather any eggs. It was one of those magical moments of childhood.
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But I know our hens – be they Barnevelders or Rumpless Tufted Araucanas, Croad Langshans or Welsummers like the one on the Kellogg’s Cornflakes packet – would be pets.
In desperation I play my trump card. “I reckon the cats would probably keep the rats away . . . as long as we kept them hungry.”
The book snaps shut – but not before I catch sight of the Appenzeller Spitzhauben. Now that’s not your common Orpington. Her feathery hood (think blow-dried Jedward) is likened to “a Las Vegas showgirl’s headpiece”.
Now that’s the kind of sparky minx I wouldn’t mind strutting across our lawn. She would sure keep the cats in their place.