After Rocky’s departure the hens have been getting used to their new normal. Immediately I could see Popcorn’s feathers fluff back up, it seemed she was trying to make herself smaller to avoid his libido.
We thought for a long time that the hens weren’t laying at all. Then my husband went to cut back the hydrangea bushes that are on the outskirts of the potager and he found a treasure trove of eggs. About twenty!
Then we’d find the odd one in the coop, but they seemed to have stopped laying after Rocky’s departure. I had seen Popcorn fly up to the wall that separates our home from the next door neighbours garden. There is wooden fencing against the shorter end of the wall, and she was walking behind the fencing to avoid Rocky. I thought this had all stopped now, but my visit to the chicken coop this morning showed me I was very much mistaken.
As I got near the coop I could see Popcorn anxious to get out. I was a little late, around 10am, and instead of staying to eat the corn she dashed straight past me. I was coming out after feeding the others when I saw a fluffy, white bum poking out through the fence panels, I could see she was nestling down. I crept forward trying not to disturb her and she was definitely nesting. Something caught me eye – between the slats of the panel were eggs!
I called my husband and kiddos over and we all had a good look. Popcorn got down, and Belle flew up into her spot! When she was done the girls and I managed to get out 12 eggs, and another 3 broke as we tried to extricate them.
During the week hubby and I will be patching up the gaps and trying to coax them back into their nesting boxes.
Added to that we replaced Rickey with two younger chickens. We have to keep them separate from the other hens for now because of the brutal pecking order and possible viruses. The girls are loving them, and I’m trying to get them out holding them at each once a day so they get used to being held. They’ve called them ladybug and cat noir from the Miraculous tv show. As they’re red and black the names suit them, even though they’re a mouthful.
I thought I’d give you a little update on our latest chicken. For those of you who follow the blog you may remember that they were bought as little more than a chic from the local market. Previously I’d only bought fully grown hens, and it hadn’t occurred to me to check their sex. Being townies and buying all our meat wrapped in plastic it isn’t part of my consciousness of buying a live bird to later kill for eat. You can read our post here about our growing awareness that our latest chicken may in fact be a cockerel.
Pretty soon Rocky, as we came to call him, was crowing loudly at first light. Not just the dawn either, if we accidentally left the downstairs light on he’d crow. Throughout the day he’d crow. If it was windy he’d crow. My youngest daughter started to say “shut up” frequently and I was appalled. Why would she use that kind of language? Where would she hear the English? Not in our house surely? Then Rocky crowed as I went to the garage near the coop; “Shut up Rockie!” Ahh, that’s where.
He could be a little aggressive, but a couple of set tos between us, me with a broom, sorted that out. Not that that helped our poor hens, who were being frequently mounted. Even poor, blind in one eye Apple. They didn’t seem to like it at all and I expected to have a Me Too movement on our hands any day.
The girls started to hide to lay their eggs, as they didn’t want to be around him in their delicate position (How Jane Austen was that?).
The one thing he was good for was protecting the hens. Bertie, who had killed poor Lady Jane, would no longer go anywhere near the coop as Rocky had grown considerably bigger than him.
Eventually we came to the decision that that benefit and Rocky’s handsome self was not enough for us to want to keep him. I asked the boiler man if he knew anyone who’d want a cockerel. – No. – Wed bought him by mistake you see….(insert pathetic townie look)
As with the ducks I was met with a puzzled, albeit kind, expression. “Eat him?” Again I trotted out my embarrassed explanation – we only eat meat that’s been wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. Our kind boilerman responded “but they taste so much better this way”.
They probably do.
We started to discuss it because the early mornings and constant noise were driving my husband nuts. I suggested maybe having someone do the deed for us. But however much Rocky was aggravating him, he just couldn’t see himself tucking into him. Our daughter though has gone full French; not only does she ask for Camembert on this side with a bacon sandwich, her response to the thought of eating Rocky was “I wonder if he’d taste nice”.
Eventually I was so desperate I contacted the Parish priest. Did he know someone who would take Rocky, but not eat him? I went to mass and there was a lovely lady who had a farm and chickens who volunteered to take him under her wing (see what I did there?).
She turned up with her friend and a small box. I was convinced it was way to small and they’d never be able to catch him, let alone get him in there. They went in the coop and within a minute he was caught and hanging upside down by the legs. They trussed up his legs, then his wings. I went to find a bigger box, but when I got back he was already inside! I couldn’t believe it.
They kept asking me – don’t you eat chicken? Obviously flummoxed by my reticence to eat him. She assured me that he’d have a good home.
The house is quieter now. The chickens are a lot happier and I’ve promised the girls that we can get another one to make up for Rocky.
Anyone who has followed the blog over the last year will know the attempts I’ve made to become more self sufficient – starting with constructing a potagère and leading to buying some chickens as well as other fowl. The final purchase were two Rouen ducks which grew to an enormous size and had to be seperated from the chickens into the wider potagère, which they subsequently wrecked by trampling down the blooming veggies and breaking the stone walls.
There were losses if our feathered friends during that time, with the final one being only recent. My husband had forgotten to lock the gate of the chicken area and my daughter had let the dog in there. Our beautiful Lady Jane is with us no more.
As de-confinement started and the markets opened up the girls and I went to get a new chicken. There weren’t very many full grown ones, so we had to buy a bigger chic. They were covered in fluff but bigger than a yellow chic that you see on an Easter card.
We bought two, one each for the girls, but it became apparent very quickly that the grey one was ill. It died shortly after we’d taken them home.
I was gradually rebuilding the beds and trying to get the area in some kind of order. However it soon became apparent that I hadn’t the time to divide between the potagère and the kitchen work, so I’ve accepted that I’ll leave this project until Autumn when I’ll start to prepare for the next growing year.
In the meantime I’ve used the rubble from the fireplace to make paths around the reformed beds to keep weeds down.
Unfortunately our desire to be more self sufficient has led to a new dilemma. My buying the chics had me unprepared to ask questions that I don’t need to think of for my normal, poultry purchase. Boy or girl.
As time has gone on our little Rosie seemed to have big feet. Her wattle seems to be bigger then her fellow birds. She seems to be head and shoulders above the rest, with a bud barrel chest. And even though she’s not yet fully grown the feathers at the bad of neck seem to be taking on a different hue and she seems more aggressive than the others. Finally, just during the past week, her tail feathers seem to be getting suspiciously like that of a coq.
In short, we think Rosie is a Rockie.
So we have to come to a decision; should we rehome Rosie/Rockie or should we keep her/him?
Our daughters are all for keeping him. We’ve explained how roosters fertilise the eggs and they’re excited by the prospect of chics. This has inevitably opened up the discussion to what do we do with those chics when they’re grown. We only have so much space – we can’t support an indefinite amount of hens.
The obvious thing to do would be to rear the hens not just for their eggs, but for their meat too. Yet, as I’ve said before, we’re city folk and the idea of eating meat not prepackaged in plastic is (hypocritically) horrific to us. But there’s something wrong with that isn’t there? Isn’t this why there is so much food wasted in the West? We no longer see the value of food, just the price on the packet. And when the price is low we value it accordingly.
So I’ve been talking to the children openly about farming practices, about where their food comes from and what it would mean to rear our own chickens to eat.
My oldest has decided that killing and eating our own chickens, instead of buying them from the supermarket, is worth it if we can keep Rosie/Rockie and get to have little chics. Obviously thinking and experiencing are different. Nevertheless I’m left wondering should we do this, even for a season, just so the girls have this deeper understanding of the value of food? They live in a world where they have so much. They break something and they think it will be replaced. They want something and they never doubt it will be provided.
There’s a lot to mull over. I’ve made my case about keeping our bird and the subsequent chickens to my husband (he’s not convinced) and tried to be honest to the girls. However it would be a financial, emotional and time commitment and as such we need to think about it some more. I’ll keep you posted.
We were invited to some friends home tonight and passed a wonderful evening in Franglais. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed by a blazing fire. In France there are lots of open fires in kitchens and food is still cooked on them. Our host has promised that one day he will cook duck there for us. But more about that conversation in a little while.
Our hostess was at the farmhouse style dining table making croque monsieurs. A little tip for you if you ever want to make them yourself; instead of using the traditional sauce she mixed cheese with crème fraîche.
She was preparing them for our supper. It had apparently been a very rough day and they apologized for the fare; though there was no need as it was all delicious.
I say all this because you are never served one course in France, no matter how simple the meal. We still had soup to start, with cheese and baguette following on from the croque monsieur and then dessert.
As we dined we discussed table manners. There are differences between the two cultures and I was keen to learn about them. But I’ll post about that later.
Conversation turned to our ducks. I raised the topic actually and as soon as I did they both burst out laughing. You see they are the couple who I had the conversation about the goose.
I said that we’d sadly come to the decision they were just too big. Our host told me about a friend they had who had bought an ancient farmhouse and inherited animals with the property; a pregnant sheep, a goat and chickens. They’d be happy there.
Following on from our superb evening my friend came round to view the ducks and arrange their departure.
He looked at them. “They’re big ducks.” He said; slightly astonished. “I know” I said. Then he said again “They’re big ducks”
“It’s not just me then. Ducks aren’t normally this big.”
“I’ve never seen ducks this big”.
We both stared at the Godzilla like water fowl and, once the acknowledgement about their girth was done with, we moved onto how and when they’d go.
In between then and today an English friend came round. My French friends are the ones who casually mentioned eating the goose as a solution to our previous problem. Now the English friend was suggesting the same thing.
What is it about people wanting to eat animals that you know the names of????? If you’ve named ducks Micky and Minnie you can’t roast them and scoff them down!
As I’m now in a place where eating things that have never been packaged in plastic with a consume by date stamped on it, I side stepped the issue and blamed our lack of wanting to tuck in on the children.
“They don’t need to know” I was told.
Visions of “Do you remember that time you served us our pets after you’d lied about them going to live on the farm? Well mum, let me introduce you to the care home I chose for you…..”
Then my neighbour, who is apparently very adept at butchering animals and proceeded to tell me how you off a turkey in the most efficient way, offered to do it whilst the kids were out.
Now, for those of you who rear animals to eat this isn’t a judgement piece. I’m being a tongue in cheek; meat lover here and I appreciate all of you farming folk. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your efforts. However…I’m not eating something I’ve raised, who I’ve watched eagerly for their head to turn green and worried about the fox getting.
Today our French friend arrived and the ducks left. The girls cried a little. Even though they lived outside it’s still leaving a gap in our lives. But I know they’ll be a lot happier on the farm. Not a euphemism.
I told you all about my saga with the chickens, ducks that were really geese and the duck ducks didn’t I? Well, the story hasn’t ended there.
Gradually over time our brown ducks changed colour over the summer. One started to develop a very white chest, the other just a stripe of white around the neck, then one day we saw a glimmer of green on one of their heads. The green spread from around their eye, to their head and then all over. its beautiful, iridescent and similar to the shades of a Peacock. I’d finally found my Mallard ducks, no?
Then they grew. And grew. And grew. Honestly, at one point I thought I was in some kind of fairy tale the rate it was going. I think they’re bigger than our small dog now. My dad kept commenting on our massive ducks. We’re obviously very interesting people in our family, because over the summer we had so many conversations about them that eventually Pops decided he was going to do a bit of research; this is how we found out they were Rouen ducks.
They have colouring identical to Mallard ducks; males have green heads, white collars, black tail coverts and dark, ashy brown tail feathers, a gray body, and a deep claret breast. The female are a consistent shade of mahogany brown, with a brown crown and tan eye-stripes extending from bill to the back of the eyes. It was the eye stripes that had me thinking she was female before her mate’s head started turning green. Both have blue iridescent feathers on the tips of their wings. When you get a flash of it it’s wonderful.
The difference is size; hence our massive ducks. Adult Rouen ducks are significantly larger than Mallards. They can weigh between 6–8 lbs (2.7–3.6 kg) and 9–12 lb (4.1–5.4 kg) depending on how they’re bred. No wonder Bertie is afraid of them.
They originate here in France, and were refined in England in the 19th century. Well the French and English are cousins, so our ties are strong. The exhibition-type Rouen was eventually bred and used as a roasting bird. It does lay eggs, between 35 to 125 eggs a year, however as other breeds are more reliable and prolific egg-layers its size meant its meat was more desirable to eat. In 1861, the famous cook Mrs. Beeton said of it:
The Rouen, or Rhone duck, is a large and handsome variety, of French extraction. The plumage of the Rouen duck is somewhat sombre; its flesh is also much darker, and, though of higher flavour, not near so delicate as that of our own Aylesbury.
She doesn’t sound overly impressed does she?
When they arrived in England, they were variously called Rhône, after the region in southwest-central France, Rohan, after the cardinal of that name, Roan, for the mixture of colours, and Rouen after the northern French town; Rouen was eventually adopted in England and France.
If you’re reading this blog in the States the first Rouen came to you in 1850 via D. W. Lincoln of Worcester, Massachusetts. They were included in the Standard of Perfection of the American Poultry Association in 1874 and since then have won many titles, often having the most entries in the heavyweight class and doing well in competition with other breeds.
All good so far; except that it’s not actually all good.
Do you remember the warning my friend gave me about the goose; great eggs, big doo doo? Well, its the same with these large birds. The thing is with water fowl is their poo is, erm, splatty. The amount of water in the poo makes it decidedly runny so when they go it has a wide reach, believe me. Eventually I had to move them out of the enclosure with the chickens this summer because their poop was all over the hens’ feet and wasn’t nice.
So they went into the wider potagere. I bought them a duck house with a sliding tray to clean easily and they settled. They regularly sit next to the fence where the hens are and quack at them, but they had a lot more space. So problem solved we thought.
Then they bashed down all the dry stone walls I’d constructed in the potagère and ate all the veg I’d been growing. It’s why I haven’t been updating you on the potagere. It’s pretty much been destroyed.
I actually started to move the veg beds elsewhere in the garden and we were thinking of putting a pond in there for them and just having that area for poultry. But that poo.
The potagere backs onto the garage where we keep the car and it was a bit tricky to walk there as it was either yuck, or I’d just cleaned it all down and it was wet. But you only have a short window even after you’ve cleaned it all down with these messy birds.
They’re so big and more and more I look at them thinking; are we being fair? They obviously want to be in with the chickens, but there isn’t the space for them to be with them as the same dirt problems would start again. So we’ve eventually come to the conclusion that it may be best if we get them a new home. More about that later.
In the meantime here’s a some photos of our lovely birds as they are now.
I hardly knew how attached I’d become to my little birds prior to bringing them home, or what a challenge they’d be. We’ve sadly had two more losses; a death and one being moved to a better home.
On Tuesday morning I’d walked to school with my girls and come home with the intention of going to the market. On my way to the car I passed the chicken coop and went to let the feathered girls out. As I opened the door I saw it. One of my little ducks was lying on the ground, deflated as if all the air had left his little body. Which of course it had.
There was no mistaking what had happened. He was lying in the middle of the room, so there was no chance that it had been caused by something outside of the coop. As I looked closer I saw he had marks all over his body. He’d been pecked to death.
The goose and remaining duck were running round the coop chirping and, to me, seemed to be distressed.
I called over my husband and thankfully he took charge of the little body. We had a disagreement about what we should do. I wanted to get another bird about the same size and not let their girls know. He wanted to wait and see how the others fared.
As I approached the market I’d made a plan of how to protect the other two birds. I would keep them in a cage each night to protect them. I’d done this when I first introduced each chicken, but the size of the gosling and duckling obviously meant they were open to increased danger.
As I arrived at the market I immediately saw a stand with poultry for sale with ducks the same size and breed as the one we’d lost. I spoke to the man and explained the situation and he seemed surprised that the little one had died. He confirmed what I’d read, that ducks and chickens can live together. He added perhaps mine were a little young and when I told him what my intention was he agreed this was a reasonable course of action.
I made sure to ask him for a female duck this time.
With a new duck in a box I travelled home to put her in the coop. She wouldn’t go in the cage we had and seemed a little distressed. So I gave the chickens a time out for their bad behaviour and locked them in their coop. The gosling and the ducklings were left to room outside in the enclosure.
It became clear as I looked at them all together that the bird that I had already had was a male as the marks around his eye were a lot stronger and you could hardly see hers, which a distinguisher between the sexes in Mallard ducks.
I set off to my parents to borrow their dog crate, which I planned to house them all in that night.
In the evening the ducks went into the large dog crate and the gosling went into the smaller cage I already had, which was way to small for more than one of them now. They’re getting a lot bigger.
The second night the ducks happily went into the large dog crate and the gosling insisted on going with them. They were a firm team the three of them.
We had our French friends over for a barbecue and I showed them the coop with the birds. Being a former townie my knowledge is severely lacking, yet it seems the provincial French have a wealth of knowledge. Our friend Lennie looked concerned. « You know the goose is going to get a lot bigger? »
The thing is that, even though us city folks have seen farm animals we probably haven’t seen them up close since we were children. I take the girls to a petting zoo, but there are no geese there. So I was surprised as Lennie continued that the goose would need a lot more space just to stretch its wings. Annalise, his wife, said « you think they’ll grow how big, like this? » and indicated hip height. « Or even bigger » said Lennie, to my ears, ominously.
We talked about the possibility of the goose going in the wider garden, but as Lennie pointed out his, ahem, waste would be very large and messy. Also geese are known to be territorial and are happy to attack those who think are a danger. This was getting better and better 😧.
It was obvious that we couldn’t keep him. What were we to do? Of course the French being the French responded that we could eat him! 😵I replied that we got all our meat from the supermarket and I couldn’t nurture, then kill and eat him. I was about to add that I wouldn’t have blood on my hands, but it was time to offer the beef burgers and chicken skewers 😉😁.
Lennie suggested maybe a fiend of his could take him, making sure I understood that he wouldn’t be eaten. I was happy with that.
The next morning I got up and let the feathered girls out and immediately noticed that, despite being in the cage, the gosling had marks all down her neck. Any reservations I had flew out the window and I decided on additional steps to protect the ducks. I bought a large dog crate with a metal door on it. Everything was rearranged and that night the three of them slept there safely until I could make arrangements for our gosling. My heart was already breaking from the thought of separating these three amigos.
As Lennie had found it difficult to speak with his friend I spoke with a woman at the school. She’s a teaching assistant there and I remembered that someone had told me that she owned the beautiful duck pond I’d fallen in love with when I first saw our village. I explained the situation to her and she was so kind, suggesting I bring the gosling to her and then the girls could still come and see her.
On Friday night I put her in a pet carrier. My heart is still breaking just thinking of it, but I knew we couldn’t keep the little darling. I drove her to the pond, only a short distance away, and we took her into the pond area.
When I let her out of her cage she wouldn’t leave me. She just stayed nearby, chirping. She could see and here the other foul, but just stayed.
I walked away, trying to give her an opportunity to meet the others, but wherever I walked to she followed. Some large geese came over, three of them. These are really big creatures! No wonder fairy tales have geese laying golden eggs, they must be significantly bigger than chicken ones!
The little one igñored them and just came to where I was stood, further round the pond. I videoed her a little, so I’d having something to show my girls, and moved on. Again she followed. This time the large geese, who had immediately recognised her as one of their own, chased me off. Honking and flapping their wings – they were quite a site!
I came home, amazed at how much I missed her.
We’ve gone a few times to walk down and make sure she’s ok. Each time she’s come over to the fence to say hello. It’s amazing that she seems to have attached to us after such a short period.
The ducks are doing well in the carrier. More on them later.
After my last, sad post I thought I’d update you on some more cheerful potagère news. The weather has turned very warm here so, rather than contain them for the extra week advised by their seller, I’ve let the ducks go out into the poultry enclosure.
They of course had their friend the gosling to keep them company. The trio are forever together and sometimes it looks like the little goose is their surrogate mum. After the loss of the other gosling this makes me so happy to see the little chap have companionship.
Their first night outside I had shown them the old, plastic dog kennel that I’d filled with grass cuttings. It was like a soft warm bed that I kept catching them up and placing them in. Of course the others would be running around and at first this made whichever member of the foul family I had in there waddle out asap. Eventually I managed to get them all in and they seemed to like it.
The produce in the potagère is growing well. My surplus of lettuce is being shredded and fed to the poultry and I’m going to pot some up and take some to the neighbours tomorrow. The beds are kind of crowded you see and reading my month by month veg grower book I’ve started,to think about planting others things that will come to fruition later in the year.
This week we had our first meal with our own grown veggies; lettuce and peas. I waited until my daughters came home to pick them as I thought they’d be excited to do so. I was right. They chatted away as we selected leaves from still growing lettuce, leaving their stems to continue on their merry way. My youngest, seeing me shred leaves that had been nibbled by insects and throw them in with the chickens thought that was the point and was happily grabbing handfuls to give them, eek!
So we moved on to the peas, squeezing the pods to see if they were firm and plucking some that were from the stems. We had them in a salad and I’ve never seen my eldest eat so much green.
I’m still trying to figure out how and when to harvest them; do I just keep them on the vine until ready to eat, or collect and store them? I do know that to store them I have to leave their little ‘hats’ on.
I’ve already spoken of how carrots can be left in the ground even after a frost, but I thought I’d show you how they are popping up from the ground. Yesterday I could only see one group, but I swear that after today’s intense heat lots more seemed to have shown themselves.
The beets have at least one plant that are the size of a golf or tennis ball and others are growing well.
The spring onions have grown so well that I’ll definitely have to harvest some tomorrow. The bulbs on some of them are just lying outside of the earth on the ground.
The red cabbages aren’t ready, but I’m finding how they grow fascinating. You can gradually see the shape form, with the central leaves closing in on themselves and the outer ones spread out.
As I can make space in the beds I’m thinking of broccoli, leeks, more parsnips maybe and carrots too if I can get them (they can stay in the ground so long so can be used in the autumn and winter), as well as Brussel sprouts -maybe even some pumpkins?
The markets here don’t just sell good food, you can buy veggies and some fruit ready to put in the ground to continue growing. I’m going to go with the girls and choose some more things to go in.
To hear the birds sing as you tend to, select and eat your own grown food. Yes, this is life pre fall in Eden. I don’t know why I’ve been blessed with this, but I’m so grateful. To think this was God’s plan for all of us. It still is when His Kingdom comes.
Last Wednesday I took my little ones to the market. They sell calves, veggies for your potagere and poultry for your backyard and table. There were lots of discussion; would this one just be good for laying or can you eat it as well? For a city dweller’s ears it was a revelation. The girls, of course, thought it was all wonderful and were especially keen to go and look at the various types of chickens and ducks on display.
I was tempted but by the time I came back to give in to the temptation he’d sold out of the ducks that I’d wanted. He told me he’d be at another maket Saturday with more. Perhaps I’d had a lucky escape?
Nah! As Saturday morning rolled around I had the girls in the car and off we went to hunt some ducks down – metaphorically speaking of course. I asked the man for the ducks that were ‘collar vert’ which are Mallard ducks. In they went into a box and we set off for home.
On the way we stopped at my parents place to show them our ducks. They duly ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’, the ducks went back in the box and home we went again. Here are our ducks after we’d put them in the enclosure with the chickens. The chickens seemed quite scared of them at first; running away, clucking loudly and simply refusing to come in at night. This was the case even though the little ducks were in a cat box that I’d put them in to make sure they were safe from the larger birds over night.
I contacted my hubby in America. It’s safe to say he wasn’t too happy about the additional birds in our coop. I swore to him -these would definitely be the last ones.
We set up a paddling pool and put rocks on one side so they could climb in and out themselves. They made a lovely little cheeping sound whenever you were nearby and followed you around like you’re their mum. Adorable.
On Friday a French friend Sophie came around. She told me ‘that’s not a duck it’s a bird’. I told her that I’d specifically asked for a Mallard, collar vert, and that’s what he gave me. She kind of agreed. Kind of.
That night the ducks didn’t want to go in the coop and evaded me for a good twenty minutes as I chased them round the coop. In the end I thought to myself that they’d evidently been accepted by the chickens so they be ok and find somewhere to nest.
On Saturday morning the girls had to go grocery shopping and we were going to let the girls out on our way. I looked inside and saw one of our ducklings next to the other one; the latter was lying with its feet showing behind the dog kennel that I thought would be their duck hose, in between it and the wall. It was lifeless – my heart broke as it’s pair chirped next to it, staying with him as if for company.
I moved my way inside, ushering my daughters to get back and not come in. I hoped it would move as I got closer. Had it been pecked by the chickens? Was I completely wrong about their acceptance? I expected to find a battered and scarred duckling.
As I looked closer there were no markings. Silly of me, but I wondered if I picked it up if it would move like Apple the hen did after Bertie grabbed her. She didn’t of course.
I searched again for signs of beak marks, wondering if she’d just got trapped between the wall and the kennel. But I couldn’t see how that would kill the little thing.
That’s when I noticed the true extent of how horrible it was. Her head was missing.
She’d obviously popped it out of some hole in the coop and it had been bitten of by a predator.
It’s bizarre. When I was younger my first career was as a police officer. I’ve dealt with numerous dead bodies in various states of decay and coped. Yet this little duck really upset me. Later on as I was driving round trying to sort things out I found myself having to pull over to the side of the road to be physically sick! I don’t know what my girls thought.
Panicking and disconcerted by the memory of the solitary duck next to its dead friend I decided that I had to get another one. I went to the same market and found the same stall open and asked the man for another duck, pointing to similar birds I’d bought before. The man said « they’re not ducks, they’re birds » using the same word, oiseau, Sophie had used.
My mind raced. What did he mean they weren’t ducks? I’d asked him for collar vert canards last time and he’d given me ones just like them.
He was looking at me strangely and I said again « collar vert mallards » and he said « oui » and pointed at a completely different set of birds. I started to panic even more and he was looking at me like I was a little insane so I just asked for two. He was still looking at me strangely (unsurprising really) as he told me I’d need to keep them inside for another fortnight and mentioned a heat lamp. I was asking him if I could just keep them inside and he said yes…..but I’m really not so sure. As the encounter went on it was evident that I didn’t understand what was happening as I struggled with the language and shock (it was shortly after this I was sick), but there I had two little duck in a box in the car, with my girls in the back seat and I was driving to pick up provisions for the new little lives I had suddenly acquired.
After a trip to the garden centre I had a wire cage with plastic trays, straw, appropriate feed and new chicken wire.
As I arrived home my mind was still racing. What is the animal I have? What is a bird with webbed feet but isn’t a duck”? I racked my brains, called my mum who hadn’t a clue and was increasingly confused. Eventually an Internet search of « baby bird with webbed feet, not duck » brought up this image….
Yep. I had a goose, or a gosling to be exact. And on the same page….
Yep. I had Mallard ducklings too. That couldn’t be let out. They went in the cage.
I managed to speak with my hubby about it all and I think my still evident distress helped him be sympathetic to the two new little birds under our roof.
So for the rest of the day I hammered chicken wire all around the base of the coop with four layers going on the inside too. I think they’re safe.
I was bringing the gosling in with the ducks with the cage’s metal divider between them, as I didn’t want the little thing to be lonely.
Ducks poop a lot! I have to clean them out about twice a day and they want lots of water. So yesterday I let them out in the chicken coop as it was lovely and warm out. I gave them a little bowl of water which one immediately jumped in and splashed around.
It was so sweet; the little gosling ran straight over and was so excited when he saw them. The three were inseparable all day. Last night for the first time I took the grill out and they all snuggled up together.
If I’m worried that they may not be warm enough at night I turn the kitchen heater on.
So. Four chickens, two ducklings and one gosling. It’s crazy town.
The potagère project has been a far bigger task than I first thought; that added to some disasters we’ve had along the way has resulted in my lack of blogging.
Let me see, first there was Apple’s injury. In my last post I explained how the concrete post crumbled when I shut les poules inside, leading to a week of desperately fixing things to try and make a safe place for the girls.
Well, I made it fox safe. However, I failed to make it Lilly safe. I didn’t even think of the need for Lilly safe to be honest. So, when I was in the kitchen doing the dishes and the girls where outside playing I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
The hubby and I had put up a fenced area for the feathered girls to peck around in and we were due to sort out a gate for them. We were alternating between the hens and the dog being outside. We’d just done a changeover and Bertie our Tebitan Spaniel was out having fun.
Suddenly I heard this mad clucking and I knew something was wrong. I raced outside to see Lilly with the chicken shed door open and Bertie excited over something. Embarrassingly I was screaming, using language like a sailor to be quite frank, as I tried to get them both away.
Lilly was saying “Arrête” over and over again to Bertie, but evidently not fully understanding what was happening. On the floor was Apple. I got Lilly out of the way and grabbed Bertie, calling for Toby to come and get him. As I carried him off Apple seemed to be lifeless on the ground.
I went back to pick her up and I was dreading what I’d find. Picking her up she came back to life, but the poor little thing had great globs of blood dripping from her head.
I got her in the kitchen and cleaned her wounds. I didn’t know what to do from there, so I put her back in the chicken shed and made her comfortable, hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
I kept checking on her that night and then the next day I got up early so if it was bad news I could find out before my little ones did. But there was Apple, in a corner and alive at least. She’s now been given antibiotics and can definitely see from one eye, but the other is recovering so we wait and see.
Hubby and I have now put up two fences – one as a barrier to the potagère and one as a pen surrounding the chicken shed so my feathered girls can have some time outside in safety. Both gates have locks so Lilly can’t open them.
I’ve also been planting in the Potagère and I’ll share more about that later. Just one point – who knew growing some veg was this complicated!
One more thing. I think I’m going a bit mad. I’ve bought another chicken. A little grey Bantam who is so pretty I couldn’t resist. I’ve called her Lady Jane Grey, she’s gorgeous. I’m gradually introducing her to Popcorn and Apple; I hope I haven’t made a huge mistake!
In my last post I spoke about my joy at having completed some of the huge stone beds in our potagère and how, in celebration, we’d bought some chickens. Wowee! That opened up a can of worms, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The girls were so excited when we went to Jardiland on our way home to pick them out; I’d spoken of a surprise all day. As we went in the shop Lilly was eager to see the chickens in the enclosure there. She always loves to go and look at them; just a year ago she would scream blue murder whenever I had to eventually haul her away. She’d literally stop the shop! She’s growing up so much as, although she was happy to see them, she wasn’t behaving, well, manically, around them.
However, when the woman came over to get them and Lilly realised something different was happening she became so ecstatic. She was literally jumping up and down on the spot. She couldn’t get any more words out except for ‘This, this, this’.
As I took the trolly to the cash register everyone in the vicinity was laughing, delighted at her delight. She was climbing on the bars of the trolly to take a look in the boxes, in little girl heaven.
We managed to get them home and I had to sort out the food, water, nesting box etc before putting the cluck clucks in the coop. Here’s a video of their introduction….
Then as I shut the door to the coop disaster struck. The uprights holding the gate and wire fencing are made of concrete, but they were evidently too old as when I closed it one broke. I couldn’t believe it. Two chickens in a broken coop!
I managed to temporarily fix it and we all went in, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t sleep at all that night. Fear of the cluck clucks being taken by some fox in the middle of the night gripped me. How would I explain that to the kids? Ruby’s set of Role Dahl books with their fantastic Mister Fox took on a whole new, sinister meaning.
I’d been praying all night for an idea to mend the coop when I found myself wandering into the spare room. There was an unused iron bed base and I realised it was the size of the door space.
For the next three days I lugged that bed base between the coop and the shed, trying to work out how to use it as a secure gate. There were many trips to the bricomarché I can tell you.
Each night, desperate to keep the chickens safe and for some sleep, I had to move the chickens from the weakened coop to the bathroom in the studio apartment we have next to our house.
During our first such transportation Ruby watched me pick up the chickens to take them inside. She was fascinated by my holding them and after some time she plucked up the courage – maybe she would try holding them too? Just as I handed her to her Lilly let out one of her excited squeals and the chicken, frightened, flapped her wings.
The opportunity was gone. Ruby had decided, no, holding a chicken was not for her. “Maybe, Mummy, when I’m your age I’ll hold a chicken.”
Closing the door on the chickens in the bathroom I couldn’t help but remember the stories of my grandfather’s set of chickens, given to him by an old lady on his milk round. They lived in the bathroom too, and their feet had grown deformed from clinging onto the side of the bath.
Was history repeating itself? Would I too psychologically damage my children for life serving up their favourite chicken for Sunday lunch one week?
“I want a leg Dad.”
“I want a leg too Dad.”
“There’s only one leg.”
Ours are layers, not cookers.
As the days wore on and I dragged the bed base around the garden some more, my body becoming more and more tired, along with the same process each night. Pick the kids up from school. Walk them home. Get them dinner. Go into the garden to get the chickens in. Chasing round the garden to grab the dog, to keep him away from the chickens. Being surprised by the reappearance of the dog, let out by Lilly, as I held a chicken in my arms. Trying to get the dog back away from the other chicken with my feet, original chicken still in my arms.
I won’t tell you how chickens express fear. You can guess.
Then, on another half hour drive away to Bricomarché, I came across another dog. A Yorkshire terrier was in the road, obviously lost and tired. I’m English, I couldn’t leave her there. So I had to chase her down and as the Maire was closed she joined the circus that had become my life.
Finally the dog was given to the Maire, the coop was completed, the chickens were permanently placed inside and I managed to sleep.
Ruby’s talking about a black chicken now. And some ducks. I need a drink.