Sunday 19 June 2022

'Chickens' and 'Ducks' by Emily Macdonald


We agree to keep chickens, anticipating a regular supply of speckled brown eggs. The debate about the size and style of the hen house becomes protracted, a battle between Sandie and Craig but all decisions are reached by democratic vote, a community rule.

The argument continues, but Sandie finally concedes to Craig after days of sulking, as he is the one with the practical skills.

I help Craig, following his instruction over a few spring days. The birds peck at each other, and to my disgust, stab and splatter the few eggs they lay.

We take advice, research protein, and calcium deficiencies, but one poor hen becomes so victimised, she loses more than half her feathers. She struts looking half-plucked, ready for the table. Sandie, vindicated by the hen’s distress, says she knew she was in the right all along.

Eggs still turn my stomach.



I have some brief experience of domesticated birds. My father once bought ducks to keep the grass down. I was grateful for the arrival of a pair of Khaki Campbells, as the mowing of the half-acre section around our house was my responsibility. The smell of fresh cut grass with the fetid sweet undertones of spliced dog faeces still transports me back in time.

The ducks shovelled under the grass with their bills, turning the lawn into a pitch of mud and slime. The female nested, aggressive in a bed of verdant mint until she paraded her brood of downy ducklings.

Most of them drowned, unable to escape the sheer sides of their slippery pond. The pond was a salvaged plastic fridge liner sunk into ground. The sharp-edged spade used in the digging cut through the roots of the bountiful passionfruit vine and its leaves curdled, as it withered then died.

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