The pecking order

You know those bags that are fastened at the top with thin string, whereby you cut the end and pull and it unravels, but it has to be the right end? If you cut the wrong end it doesn’t work and normally that seems to be the one you try first. Well, it wasn’t. The bag in the boot of the car – actually, the top one of three – opened at the first attempt and poured a good cupful of its contents on the floor. My pristine, valeted car has joined the household. I felt quite bad when I swapped the old one for it, actually, because getting the straw out of the fabric was nearly impossible. I’d had a tarp in the boot but wisps escaped.

Anyway, the chickens are out again, after three days franked up in hold (Shakespeare, actually a pigpen but who’s counting?) and they were thrilled to find the wet soil to scratch in. Most of the chicks are still at the stage where they could be girls, so I can look at them fondly and choose to believe they are. Only two or three have the legginess and general demeanour of young cocks, as yet. I was lucky with the last ten, though – or rather, they were – because seven of them are pullets.

We had prawns for lunch today. Paul the Fish called and I wanted a piece of white fish to bake in yoghurt, which is another story. I bought a piece of hake. But he also had some nice prawns in the shell, so I bought some of them too. We had salad and mayonnaise and I prepared finger bowls, complete with rosewater, rose petals and a slice of lemon, because just because.

Eating with our fingers, we discarded the heads and tails (but ate the shells) and I took the remains out for the chooks. It was entertaining enough to stay and watch. There were several chickens and chicks on the grass, so I threw out the food and they ran over. Mothers soon gave their babies permission to forage and the smaller ones had the food beaked up for them. I watched the pecking order. Jenga, alpha male, was the host. He called in his “great provider” voice to attract his wives. The young cockerels hung about hopefully. The two big black hens were snappy with the chicks, but if they were too snappy then the baby-mommas stepped in to take control. One chick possessed an entire head and took it off. She removed the meat and worried at it, bearing off a fat morsel triumphantly. Only then did the young cock dare to go in and peck at the rest. So chicks are higher in the pecking order than cocks. Jenga waited until all the girls and babies had taken food before he started to eat.

In the meantime, the barn cats were interested – Zain and Freddie, at any rate. Zain is the boldest, but even he knows better than to mess with the chickens. He also waited until everyone was busy with their food before venturing forwards. And he was pretty unimpressed. Clearly, he told Freddie not to bother, because they both wandered away. I don’t know if Betty Kitten came along afterwards because I know she likes some fish – tuna, at any rate. Eloise cat rejected my salad lunch the other day, understandably, and of course I can’t bear her to be disappointed, so I opened a small tin of tuna. After she’d eaten it a couple of times and I’d eaten it once, we were both bored and I took the rest down to the barn. Betty gets chased away from the choicest bits by her brothers but she knows I’ll sneak her a treat if I can, so she watched me put the bowl in a corner and went to eat it by herself, unnoticed.

The first night of the storm was so wet and windy that the food I’d put for the barn hedgehog went uneaten. I put down a small amount of Go Cat dry food and some tinned cat food. Interestingly, next day the cats hadn’t eaten it either. It was all gone by the next day though, so the urchin must have ventured out. The hedgehog food in the chicken coop had gone and the pile of straw was suspiciously rounded, so I have a feeling that hedgehog was having supper in bed. I didn’t investigate, but today it was gone, so I think I’ll put more straw down in case it’s thinking it’s a good place to hibernate.

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