There are worse things than being ill..

… dead for example. This morning my Lemsip anti-cold barricades were over-run by man-flu-lite and asthma heavy. At this point I tend to wang the grumpy meter into the red zone, and demand that everyone treats me as a dying swan.

An hour later, I stopped feeling sorry for myself after being informed that a second (of six) chickens has squawked off this mortal coil. The first one we assumed had passed over due entirely to natural causes late last week. Those causes being a ruddy great abscess Ledbury’s finest vet* diagnosed as malignant and fatal.

So sad as it was, not a huge surprise although the suddenness of happily vertical to motionless horizontal gave us pause for thought. Then this morning, our longest serving, largest egg laying, fox surviving proto-hen hailed by all as “Nugget” dropped dead as well.

This after just laying an egg. It’s not a fox because she would have been carted away and the rest killed. Current theory is mink although having only ever seen dead ones worn by posh people, it wasn’t until some lunchtime googling, I had even the slightest inkling of what this chicken-stalker looked like.

Evil I reckon. Nasty little bastards they are by all accounts. The irony of extending the chicken coup but letting them run free is not lost on me. What to do next is. I’m considering using the remnants of the wire to build myself a minx trap. Then inviting my friend round with his mate Mr. Shotgun.

Random is now doubly upset as that’s two chickens in less than a week.  We’re not going to attempt repopulating to a strength of six again, until the cause of chicken-gate is fully understood and dealt with. Right now I’m thinking Col Mustard in the Library with a Iron Bar.

And no we’re not eating the dead one. How could you even ask.

* Yes I know you shouldn’t spend £25 at the vet on a £2 chicken. UNLESS they happen to belong to a very teary 9 year old.

Chicken Run

Chicken Run!

Sometimes Genius takes many forms. In this case, it’s a wire tunnel connecting the perfectly secure – if bijou – enclosure to the structure supporting our Trampoline.

What kind of person could not look at those two disparate objects without thinking “Hang on Grommet,  there’s an invention here to be had“? So humming the tune to the Great Escape, and making light work of spade, wire and pliers, we’ve created quite the extension to Poultry Alcatraz.

Chicken Run! Chicken Run!

Chickens are pretty intelligent*, so once we’d enticed them into the escape hatch a couple of times, it all seemed to become second nature. There were a few collisions and one of the larger ones appears to enjoy accelerating to ramming speed and punting the smaller one out, but otherwise the project is  a complete success.

Except, two small issues. First is we’ve already pretty much let them have run of that garden section. To make the whole thing properly fox proof, we’ll need to be doing more than mending fences. Installing them more like, and creating an environment that a hundred years ago could have easily housed a couple of families.

Secondly, what happens if the buggers start laying egg in there? Option a) is to send one of the kids through the tunnel but I’m not sure they’d fit. Be fun to try tho. Option b) is dynamite and build a proper tunnel under the ground in the manner of an escaping WWII prisoner.

Pretty classic Al really. Solve one problem, create a few hundred more.

* I have this feeling they’re quite a lot brighter than me.

Chicken’s run.

After only eighteen months, “Poultry Alcatraz” is finally complete.  Not complete as in properly finished, but sufficiently secure for a complete relocation of our six mad chickens to their new home of “much squawking”.

Garden/Chicken Run - July 2010 Garden/Chicken Run - July 2010

Garden/Chicken Run - July 2010 Garden/Chicken Run - July 2010

It may not look like over a years’ work, and of course it isn’t. Because we had to wait until the diggers moved out, the pond was drained, that area was laboriously cleared of mutant vegetation before even the ground could be dug up by a team of two with many other calls on their time. Two of them generally hanging around asking for food/money/toys/the other sister to be buried in a trench.

But, after a harsh lesson in rural animal husbandry, we took extra care this time with six foot of tightly meshed fence bolted firmly to stout posts.  Below ground another twelve inches* are dug in against fox attack.

All we’re missing is a roof and some motion sensing machine guns. Even this evening, I was shifting large logs in the proximity of the pen to prevent a possible roof assault. I did wonder if Fox’s now come equipped with grappling irons and wire cutters, or we were in thrall to an Olympic gymnast hiding a chicken rustling habit.

But better safe than, well, dead. And while the construction methods are somewhat rustic, all done by eye and then by hammer, the end result is chicken heaven right now. As we’ve left all the spiky vegetation that’s about head high and adding a few inches per day. Well it was but within a week, the greedy buggers will have reduced it to shrubbery swarf, so turning the entire area into first a dust bath and then a mud pile.

While recording this rather satisfying, if structually second rate, building of all our own work, I ran around in the summer rain shooting random garden scenes. A quick browse shows a pretty impressive transition from pea shingle to mostly garden via phases of four foot trenches, ten ton hardcore lorries, a week with a mini digger and six months from a man who came for a week to finish a single dry stone wall.

Tallet (2 of 33) Gardening

It makes me realise how much we’ve done, but also how much is left to do. And that’s before maintaining what we have. Next person who says “oh I wish I had a lovely big garden like this” shall be presented with a spade and a bucket and told to put their trowel where their mouth is.

Garden/Chicken Run - July 2010 Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (18 of 31)

Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (14 of 31) Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (15 of 31)

Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (25 of 31) Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (26 of 31)

Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (31 of 31) Garden and Chicken Run July 2010 (30 of 31)

Tomorrow I have to spend 18 hours travelling to and attending a “Developing your edge” course. Something I’ve only previously considered when sharpening disemboweling weapons. Apparently even for the lightly tinged self conscious individual, this is a very long day of gruesome toe-curling embarrassment.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to it. I may be able, however, to explain exactly how much I enjoyed it on my return. Could be quite a short post I feel.

* I measured it and everything. Couldn’t help thinking “12 inches is always a bit more than you think”

Dog-Gawn

Strange phone call the other day, starting: “Have you got a black Labrador?”. A swift review of my personal inventory showed a worrying absence of stinky mutt.  “Not right now I answered” wondering what this dog obsessed stranger wanted, and how he’d got my number.

The answer came quickly; the number was on Murphy’s collar which was co-located with the mutt on the main road between Ledbury and Ross. An arterial trunk that carries much in the way of heavy lorries and dopey tourists – both of which are piloting vehicles that would deliver much squashage to fur and flesh. Especially if it’s wandering about in the middle of the road attempting to lick bumpers.

We retrieved the dog – much chastised – and even though he knew he was being pointlessly bollocked, his little brain would not have picked up that those very bollocks were in line for an expensive operation with a couple of house bricks. Dog Lore says that wandering mutts are generally chasing *ahem* ready ladies, and the best way to nip that in the bud is to nip the poor bugger in the nuts.

If that wasn’t bad enough – which let’s face it if you’re any sort of bloke, it’s way more than enough – the Hound of Smell is on starvation rations.  A review of his bi-daily snout experience suggests that now he’s stopped growing*, his bowl should be filled to a mere 3/4 of the previous amount. Still Murph’s having the last laugh with supper augmentation of smelly cow shit.

And while recent visitors have accused us of replacing the lovely puppy with a crudely reshaped horse, this is not the animal that is giving us the most gyp. After nearly three months of bulking up, fighting and failing to lay any eggs. At least one of the useless fluffies spent that time creating some kind of rifling system up it’s bottom as the much-awaited first egg appeared to have been fired from a cannon. Very odd shape.

That was the only egg. We haven’t seen so much as a yoke since. One key reason behind this is the bloke selling to us was clearly a Grade-A liar. Because two of the chickens have started crowing and performing technical rape of the other three.  I have a feeling they may be boy chickens.

I might send Murphy in there to go check them out. Still if he can’t shag it, he’ll probably eat it.

While I have been writing this the England cricket team are attempting to lose the ashes by chucking wickets away with the kind of gay abandon that has any avid fan chewing the keyboard in frustration.  Never has the phrase “Snatching defeat from the jaws of Victory” been so apposite.

* Thankfully. He treads on your foot, you go to hospital for a new one.

Mad Cows if you please.

Stupid things, yes? Useful for milk, steak, looking English in Landscape pictures, but essentially the magnolia wallpaper of the countryside.

Yes, and indeed no. The Hound Of Smell’s evening walk perambulates through a field full of long grass, many sniffable trees and the badgers’ back passage*. From about now until September, this rather idyllic footpath also includes a herd of cows or, and you will see why this is important shortly, more accurately bulls.

Murf doesn’t quite know what to make of them,  so I generally attach the sledding lead and ski behind while he investigates interesting animal turds, served up with a side order of buzzy flies. The cows aren’t sure what to make of us either, which became obvious as they began to track us at a similar pace.

This apparent stalking made for one nervous dog and one slightly apprehensive Al. But – I told myself – they’re way more scared of us than we of them, at least one of us has higher brain functions**, and that fence looks jump-able.

I refused to panic because – well – they were cows, not elephants or lions and land-going sharks, and I was a man who’d faced down puffed-up commuters, people who have referred themselves in the third person, and small children pleading for ice scream.

And then they started running. Well one did at which point the horror of “herd mentality” became visually apparent. And this was not some unfocussed stampeding either – no these horny buggers were heading for us with the kind of intent that screams restraining order.

I loosed the dog believing he would play to the masters loyal hound stereotype, only for him to give it the full “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya” before running off into the long grass, where a huge, scary black dog then went with the cowering in fear option.

Fortified by a couple of pre-walk sharpeners, I chose to stand my ground, arms folded, knees shaking and in receipt of about eighty mad eyes shaking about in tossing heads. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cow? I have, and – having come out the other side – can authoritatively declare there is nothing going on at all back there.

Clearly juggling the chemical imbalance of four stomachs is more than enough for their knuckle head brains, leaving just enough to be stoke up the properly intimidating gland. I will say at this point I was mildly perturbed and not overburdened with good ideas. But as grisly visions of being butted to death began to play in my minds eye, the long grass – currently rustling with apparently unconcerned Man’s SortofBest Friend – offered a way out.

Hay fever, l pollen and my bent snozzle can have only one outcome, and that’s a sneeze so violent I’m always happy not to have popped both my eyes out.  A path to freedom opened up as the cows unclustered in the blast radius, leaving both me and my dignity to exit in a brisk trot.

The remainder of the walk passed in a blissful non event and it wasn’t until I was encouraging the chickens to bed***, it occurred to me this may be a conspiracy. That last chicken was giving me the mad eye, and a bit of beak attitude to go with it. I used to think I’m in charge of this menagerie of beasts but I’ve read Animal Farm, and now I’m not so sure.

I am sure of one thing though – those chickens have been talking to the cows.

* An animal trail that the dumb mutt never fails to nasily mine every evening. And one I never tire of pointing the name out to the kids, much to Carol’s irritation.

** That’ll be me in case you were in any doubt.

*** “WIll you PLEASE stop fucking about and get into the hutch? Otherwise tomorrow there shall be one less of you, and chicken salad for everyone else

Chickens foxed.

We’ve had our four chickens for less than two months. Past tense entirely appropriate here, after a fox killed two, took one and left the other for dead.  The casual brutality is shocking – especially looking to shove them into the safety of the chicken house for the night, and finding three pathetically still chickens, broken, flat on their backs.

The fourth was nowhere to be seen but the trail of feathers suggest a violent end that wasn’t in the story I fabricated for my youngest. This was “her” chicken, and while you could argue that shielding kids from the grizzlier side of the food chain is cowardly, it wasn’t you faced with a tearful eight year old needing reassurance.

And while unhappily bagging up the dead birds, we noticed the fat one that lays ostrich size eggs was still breathing. Upside down, clearly traumatised but just as clearly not dead. It must have been knocked over and gone into shock so fooling the fox it didn’t need finishing off. We gratefully moved inside clutching the catatonic chicken, and watched it stagger about a bit, before it went to hide in a corner.

It’s still there or thereabouts two days later method acting a cross between Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo. Apparently chickens tend to just give up, stop eating and fall off the mortal perch. But we’ve high hopes for this feisty little bugger, it’s now eating a few hand fed grapes and has even managed a bit of outside pecking without mentally crumbling. Cast a shadow anywhere close though, and it freezes assuming it is about to be eaten.

This – fortuitously – is Verbal’s chicken, and she’s very keen to see it pull through. Personally I think it’s milking it now, but obviously I’m keeping that to myself.  And while I know that chickens are nothing more than noisy, mobile egg laying units, and foxes kill everything and take hardly anything, and you shouldn’t get attached to domestic poultry, and the fox has cubs to feed so who are we to choose, and, and… it was still bloody upsetting.

Some things have changed. We’ll not be putting them into their new enclosure until I’ve erected Colditz type electric fences, surrounded it with ninja voles and armed the new chickens with automatic weapons.  Yes, we’re going for four more, and this time we’ll try and discharge our duty of care with a little less naivity about how high foxes can jump.

And that’s not all that’s changed. My attitude to fox hunting has always been on the liberal side of hand wringing served up with a shoulder chip of class warrior. But having found that not everyone who participated was total dick, and having seen first hand the waste of fox kills, I’m not so sure anymore.

I am sure of one thing, if I saw that fox, I’d shoot the bugger.

What goes up…

… must hit a tree and then explode into a thousand sad little fragments. But, before we get to that, I need to explain the level of detailed planning that precedes creating a window of time into which you can smash what used to be money.

Kids Easter Egg hunt starts at 12:30sharp. Flying starts at 10. So roll out of bed at 8 and:

08:01: Release mad dog and receive traditional greeting of big slobber and 30kg of misplanted paw on my foot.

08:05: Engage in daily re-enactment of “attack of the killer chickens” as you release the hungry, fat peckers , and then run away as they hunt you down assuming there is a hidden lettuce about your person.

08:08: Complete removal of chicken poo from beju poultry residence. Count chickens and sum only three. Recount does not magically produce another chicken. Notice dog has helpfully nosed gate open through which “free range Willy” has motored through.

08:09 Corner chicken and attempt to catch through use of approved “double arm grab

08:14 Decide whoever approved that technique has clearly never dealt with Killer Chickens before. Examine bloodied peck marks while Mexican standoff breaks out. Dog attempts to break back in by herding escaped bird using an approach best described as “Bottom Sniffing”

08:16 Dog joins human on the bloodied side of Mexican standoff having been chastised by the beak of doom

8:17 With a “fuck this, it a sodding chicken not a bloody grizzly bear“, successfully apprehend squawking pray using “big wing” arm movements followed by swift Rugby tackle.

8:18 Flushed with success, don’t notice chicken flushing herself as she squeezes out a line of shit, perfectly aimed at my recently (as of 30 second ago) pristine new fleece.

8:19 Look into mad eye of the Chicken and know it’s laughing at me.

8:20 Return chicken to POW side of fence, attempt to clean up fleece poo but merely marinate remainder of clothing with liquid shit. All chickens now pissing themselves laughing.

8:25 Stalk out, return to house, stick both model batteries on charge, decant entire truck full of spares, wings, God knows what else from one room into the 4×4.  Congratulate self on remembering to actually pack same number of wings as fuselages*

8:40 Wolf down breakfast. Embark on walk with domesticated Wolf.

8:41 Notice key component of Dog Walking missing, namely Dog.

8:45 After some frantic searching, discover Murf in the pond with his “oh it’s me you wanted was it? Sorry I thought it was the other Murphy you’ve been shouting at desperately for the last five minutes” look.

09:20 Return with Dog. Wave in general direction of family and promise imminent return from amazing flying session in which the repaired Boomerang will once again aspire to aviation.

10:30. 20 hours repair, 20 minutes flying. Let’s just leave it there should we. Okay let’s not, it was another TREE, ANOTHER ONE. One day I’ll have a proper accident where I crash into the ground or myself. But no, I just clipped a tree on the final approach. Final being the right word. Plane is wrecked, completely. I’m setting fire to it later.

11:50: Completed my first ever landing with a proper engine-y plane. Well second if you want to count 25 foot in a tree as a “landing”. Second training aircraft is nowhere near as nice to fly, but at least it still looks like an aeroplane. Amusingly everyone was commenting on what a great repair/recover/rebuild job we’d done on the boomer. Makes smashing it into a million pieces so much more easy to bare.

12:30: Return home. Sweep out sorry remains from the truck.

It’s still there. I can’t bring myself to sort it out. What you probably won’t believe – and I know I’m struggling – is apparently, my flying is actually pretty damn good and not many people make their first landing after 8 training flights.  Loads of people have been in that tree. Think of it as a rite of passage they say.

I’m thinking of a beer 😉

* Ask me why. Go on, ask.

Eggcellent.

Finally AN EGG. After a week in which the chickens have consumed a gross ton of feed, laid around a thousand poos – most of them in their hutch* and a few in Murphy’s mouth – and wandered around in a vaguely charming way.

A rough calculation informs that we’re running at £63 an egg. Which tells you everything you need to know about the myth of self sufficiency. My firm – if uninformed – hope is this miracle of egg birth shall spur the others on through a period history shall record as “The Great Laying

I must offer myself up as the blunt hammering instrument to Carol’s architect so we can furnish the chirpy little buggers with some improved accommodation. Unfortunately, it sits somewhere around 53 on a to-do list topping out at over 100. Number one of which is exactly how we’re going to manage the lower half of the house having added six inches to the existing slab.

My only current solution is to chop my head off so I don’t bang it on the door frames.

I would have taken a picture of the first egg but didn’t because a) it looked just like an egg and b) it’s just been eaten.

* It’s not a Chicken House at all. It’s a bijou rabbit hutch conversion that – from the sounds of vigourous pecking – may not be quite large enough for four fat chickens.

Do the Funky Chicken

Readers of a certain age will have just suffered an involuntary twitch on scanning the title. And I suggest you go with it; stand up, clear a space and DO THE FUNKY CHICKEN.

It is the defining icon of the pointless pop song. Beak and shoulders above such shady parodies trying way too hard with Polka Dot Bikinis and made up words. Agado for pity’s sake, it’s just not chicken is it?

And if anyone should question your sanity, tell them you’re under instruction from a man who thinks he is a hedgehog. The worse thing that can happen is a properly fun conversation with HR. And, at best, free therapy.

Having jumped through a complex serious of logistical hurdles – starting with me saying “Hey let’s get some Chickens eh Kids” and Carol saying “Wooah, no way” – we are now only a few hours away from chicken husbandry.

Normally, such an endeavor would be preceded by a detailed study of exactly how one keeps chickens, the construction of an appropriate poultry based dwelling, and the sealing off of a goodly portion of the garden for birds to roam, and predators not to eat them.

We’ve done none of that, because entire Leigh clan has been extremely busy on far more important chicken related activities. Specifically naming, and I initially set the bar high offering up “Sporty”, “Ginger”, “Posh” and “Scary”.

However my entreaty to complete the “Spice Birds” by simply augmenting our four with “Baby” was dismissed on the nebulous grounds of being extremely childish. I retaliated by exercising the power of veto on “Nugget”, “Drumstick” and “Chicken”*

Right then, anyone out there with chicken knowledge**, feel free to share it right here. Stuff like “what do they eat?”, “What eats them?”, “Does the previous answer include daft Labradors?” and “What the hell am I going to do with all those eggs?

Offers of names also gratefully excepted. In return, there is the open post of “Chief Builder with Responsibility for hurting anyone who uses ‘integrity’ and ‘building’ in the same sentence

* Even though she has just turned eight, Random is still only distantly connected to this thing we call the “Real World

** And I’m not interested in “Well, when I was pissed one night I got hold of this chicken and some whipped cream and….”