Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wild chickens and homing bantams

Somewhere in the woods, between La Chaise and Chantepoule, there are now pairs of wild chickens, cock and hen couples, that have escaped from the chicken caravan and its park.  Perhaps as many as four pairs - or perhaps they are all dead.

Hen escaping

One reason for optimism is that no feathers have been seen littering the woodland floor.  When chickens are attacked inevitably feathers are torn out.  The mess left behind after a fox, marten or dog raid has to be experienced to be believed.   Believe me.

For several weeks the hens (the term 'hens' includes cockerels) had been refusing to overnight in their caravan.  Instead, they chose to roost in the lower branches of the huge bay tree that looms over the garden wall.  They could fly because their wings had not been clipped.  It is usual to clip the flight feathers of one wing, so that the bird becomes unbalanced and cannot take off in flight. Only then they cannot fly away from danger either.

Another reason for optimism - with a lot of imagination - is because of the name of our nearest neighbour hamlet, Chantepoule or Chantegeline in its medieval form (from the Latin gallus).  The name can be variously translated as 'Song of the Hen', 'Hen Song' or even 'Singing Hen', depending on mood.   So perhaps Chantepoule is a numenous place for hens.

Chantepoule church dates back to the 12th C with retouches in the 14th and 19th - it has a rather crude stained glass window

Or perhaps not.  This innocuous little hill top hamlet, complete with former school, small church and churchyard with maybe less than ten family vaults, had a very bloody history during France's Wars of Religion (roughly 1562 - 1598).   There is a famous battle that bears its name.  In 1568, the Comte de Brissac (catholic) ambushed and killed the Baron Paulon de Mauvan (calvinist) in the woods of Chantepoule.  Doubtless many nameless peasant foot soldiers died also.

Actually, I remember reading somewhere that when the Chantepoule woods were cut down, a skeleton wearing armour was discovered inside a tree trunk. I have a fly-paper memory to which random snippets of information stick.  But I am not going to get cross-eyed checking this again.

Odd things, chickens.  A long time ago we bought six bantam hens (poules parisiennes) because they were pretty and the eggs reputedly very good. The seller was a charming professional breeder with a stand in St Astier market.

We duly shut them up in the hen-house for 24 hours with food and water, then let them out.  They refused to enter that day and flew up into the crippled oak that leans over the hen-house.  No way of cajoling down into 'safety' in the hen house.   

The following morning there were neither bantams nor feathers.  John reckoned the seller had trained them to return home, like messenger pigeons.

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