We’re looking after four ducks and six hens (along with the house and gardens of their usual minders). Today I woke before dawn and fretted. The hens are kept in a shed with all hens need for survival: a pellet dispenser, water dispenser, clean dry wood shavings, laying boxes, a perch and room to move. But when we go to collect the brown eggs and throw in a handful of greens, the hens crowd the doorway. Their heads are high and swivelling, their eyes alight with urgent curiosity. Won’t you let us out?
They aren’t let out. A reason was given but it seems inadequate, lacking in imagination. Sure, the chooks are healthy and vigorous. They lay daily and eat heartily. But I can’t help imagining that, like you and me, they aspire to a richer existence. Hens love to fossick about. They love to explore and find their own morsels. And they love the dust bath. I’ve heard hens purr as they nestle in and shower themselves with sun-warmed dust. In order to go back to sleep, I resolved to make a petition. It will be in the form of a drawing, of caged hens dreaming. I’ll get the girls to sign it — six muddied claws — and we’ll post it on the hen-house door for the owners’ return.
Dawn had broken and the lawn was silvered with the night’s rain. The little black rabbit (wild) was grazing just beyond the bedroom window. It sat up suddenly and shook water from its paws — far too cute for an agricultural pest.
I traipsed over the wet lawn to the duck pond, swinging a pannier of pellets. As I approached their wooden trough, a slim brown something shot along the water’s edge and leaped into the tussocks nearby. The tussocks shrieked and squealed in reply.
Only three of the four ducks were present. They dabbled listlessly at the pellets while I called for their unseen mate. Suddenly their heads shot up and as one they launched themselves into the pond and paddled away. Quacks rose from the reeds and their yellow friend swam out to join them. The tight-knit quacktet returned to the pellets. The yellow one leaped into the trough and shovelled up food while the others stood back and waited for it to take its fill.
I went inside and wrote on the daily log: ‘Rat or stoat nest? 5 eggs.’