The courtesy of ducks & the dreams of hens

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. Wont 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.’

2 responses to “The courtesy of ducks & the dreams of hens”

  1. Your hens are lucky, Claire, with your attentive eye on them. I must admit these ones look amazingly healthy so something is going right for them. I’m cultivating fat-hen around the garden to add to the brocolli thinnings, gone-to-seed lettuces etc that constitute their daily greens.

    I’ve only seen the brown thing twice and both times too fleetingly to tell its shape or even its mode of movement, except that it’s fast. I know I should take my cuppa down to the pond and make a longer observation. If we were staying longer, I dare say we’d have to get serious about pest destruction, but as it is, we’ll report the matter and pass on the responsibility. . .

  2. Gosh: I feel guilty enough that my chooks frequently eye the growing things outside the hen pen (which is essentially dirt with some greens thrown on top every day or so). I can’t imagine keeping them in a shed, which I suppose is a synonym for the nicer-sounding ‘barn’.

    I do hope the sleek, speedy brown creature is not a stoat. ‘Undulating’ is the word that springs to my mind when I think of a stoat moving. Here’s what a UK nature writer says: ‘stoats, when moving fast, undulate with small leaps, whereas the smaller weasel seems to slither almost like a snake. Both species need a reasonable diet of blood to satisfy their high metabolisms.’ (