Friday, 14 October 2016

The Ripple Effect

In six years of chicken keeping, umpteen minutes of my life have been lost to chicken watching. The free range chicken is a busy bird; scratching, pecking, running, bathing in sun or dust or a big hole in the lawn, jumping, preening, stretching leg or wing or both, digging, eating, chasing, tugging (usually a frog between two chickens), eyeing up then snatching a sandwich. At some point in the day an egg may be laid, usually early morning and unseen in the safety of the nest box. Occasionally late morning and unseen in the safety of the sage bush, reed bed or atop a bank of rosebay willowherb. Just once in the afternoon in the middle of the yard watched by me.

Given this assortment of behaviours, spotting something out of the ordinary in any one chicken is not always easy, but once spotted a change in behaviour is more often than not an indicator that all is not well. Sulking, squatting, separation from flock for too long give me pause for thought. Failing to come in for corn at tea time rings alarm bells.

When Seren totally ignored the tea time clapping and calling. standing unresponsive by the house, I suspected sickness. A trail of corn got her waddling around the corner. A gentle coaxing with the hand got me a sharp peck. That in itself was a worry as the usual reaction to a coaxing hand is annoyed flapping, squawking and running off. A second gentle coaxing got a second, and harder, peck. Still Seren refused to move. Then things went really weird. Her tail went down. It kept going down. Her whole rear end went down. The front end went up. More up. More down. Until Seren was the world's first vertical chicken. Her whole body was in line with her legs. It looked awkward. She looked so tightly held in I half expected her to explode, go pop like a feathered balloon. David and I could only watch, part horrified, part fascinated. As she reached tipping point, I no longer expected an explosion, just a keeling over backwards, stiff as a board. Then out popped an egg and off she went right as rain, in search of corn as though nothing untoward whatsoever had just occurred. I stared at the spot where she'd been and where an egg now sat, glistening wetly. Rousing myself from my stunned trance, I reached down tentatively. I expected the squidgy wobble of the soft-shelled egg, but my fingers met a proper shell. I lifted it up for inspection. It wasn't an especially large egg. The only sign that it's arrival in the world might have been slightly out of the ordinary was a rippling in the shell, which is hardly surprising given the angle of departure.