There have been two periods when chickens were a feature of my life. The first was when I was under ten years old. Then we had a least half a dozen hens, they had a commodious coop and a run behind the garage. Despite having a run they often used to get out; actually I think my dear mother used to take pity on them and let them out. On one memorable occasion I was playing in the garden when I found a nest with a clutch of eggs under the fuchsia bush. The bush was still flourishing fifty years later when my sister Tiggie lived in the house.
I must say that I prefer keeping those livestock that produce a valuable crop without giving up their lives. Chickens produce eggs and cows give milk, which you can happily eat and drink without the thought of killing anything. Not that I have ever kept cows or even goats, but you get the point. Unfortunately when we went on our annual holiday to Southwold we had to get rid of our hens and start again with a new batch later in the year. My father could not kill the chickens, so we had Mr Zak out to wring their necks and take them away. No doubt he plucked them and sold them on his market stall. So the keeping of hens for their eggs was not without its downside.
The second period of my life when chickens again appeared in my back garden began when I retired. This time I built my own hen house. Thay had their run at the bottom of the garden and yes, we sometimes late them out too. We went and bought two young chickens from Roughton and waited for them to grow old enough to start laying. They were good layers and we averaged about one egg a day. That even provided us with enough to give some away. It became a bit of a chore for my wife after I had my stroke and could no longer help looking after them. Eventually the two original hens perished and we had just one replacement left. This hen was free, as it had begun its life as a commercial chicken producing eggs indoors. After a couple of years these chickens decline in productivity. They are disposed of although they still have a laying career ahead of them. As far as the farm is concerned however they are no more use and are destroyed, but they are available free to anyone who wants one. Eventually however this hen too stopped laying and we were able to give her away to an animal sanctuary. There when she no longer belonged to us she was given a name – Girlie! We had never named our hens.
Our rabbits on the other hand have all had names. Keeping rabbits for the table was quite out of the question. In fact I quite enjoy eating rabbits, but they have been killed by the car when they have run out from the hedgerow of a country lane. There was no intention to end the poor thing’s life, but once it was deceased there was no point in wasting it. I have certainly kept rabbits – but only as pets. Benjie only died a few years ago aged ten, and he was a good friend. There was nothing he liked better than to lie on you lap and have his fur brushed. In this respect he resembles our dog Wesley.
As you can tell, my attitude to livestock is thoroughly sentimental and quite at odds with the down-to-earth attitude of farmers who have to earn a living from the soil.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA