Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicken dreams

What does it mean to dream of chickens? Just ordinary chickens, say four hens and a cockerel. None of your ritually sacrificed black specimens. In my dream the hens were destined for egg-laying until too old when they became confit de poule. The cockerel, of course, in the fullness of time, would become coq au vin, and would probably need much marinading to make him tender.

My dream was quite complicated. The giver of the fowls (in my dream) visited me the following morning to check on his birds. He told me triumphantly – whilst I was still in bed and not quite compos mentis – that our protection schemes had got one of the marauders. And then he vanished. Characters can do this kind of thing in dreams. So my dreaming self got up and went to see what had happened. I thought to see an electrocuted fox lying in front of the hen-house, thought with some pleasure of displaying it for a while to dissuade others of its kind. Only I am (in my dream) not sure if that works.

For some reason or other the dream hen-house had its top cut off and the protective fencing around it halved in height. I gave the birds some water. Then I woke up. My only interpretation of this nonsense is that I am wishful of having hens, or ducks, again at La Chaise. But the time is not right. There are signs of foxes everywhere, nasty little sausage turds in the pathways between one woodland and another. And Arnold has seen them in with the flock very early in the mornings.

Popular opinion is that there are too many foxes currently. The post millenium damage to the woodlands around, the subsequent scrubby regrowth, has made far too many suitable vulpine breeding and hiding areas. But the limits of your average country man's tolerance have been over-stepped. The fox, or the vixen, has been taking the ducks and hens belonging to members of the local chasse. The hunting season has just started. Vengeance is mine, says the man in the fluorescent orange jacket, shot gun under arm. Quietly, unofficially vengeance will stalk the woods..

The first chickens I had at La Chaise were said to be 'Marans' which look like nothing so much as speckled, grey, knitted tea-cosies. Actually since their eggs never got darker than standard egg brown I expect they were a local cross breed because the real Marans hen lays eggs almost chocolate in colour. I was very proud of them, even forgave them for scratching up my attempts at a herb garden, because of their wonderful eggs. But they kept dying on me, by themselves without the aid of today's fox.

When the fourth one died, I panicked and called the vet and got roundly scolded for my pains. Country people don't call out vets to attend to chickens. When I insisted he examine the corpse, he insisted on borrowing my kitchen knife. He ripped the hen open, pulled out its guts and showed me the liver. 'You've been scandalously over-feeding the silly bird (he did not add 'you stupid woman')look at the size of that liver...it died of over-eating, chickens don't know when to stop'.

The problem for commercial breeders recently is not the fox, or even other predators, but the climate. Hens are not very good at heat. Like old people, they will not drink enough to keep themselves hydrated. A friend, a commercial breeder of hens for eating, lost eighty in last summer's heat wave due to dehydration. A serious commercial breeder in Brittanny lost thousands ...yes, there is something to said about mass breeding of animals – it produces cheap, tasteless protein for the poor.

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