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'Well I never! So this is 'outside' then!'

We have hens! Six ex-batt girls. There’s Lottie, Dotty and Potty (aka Hettie, Nettie and Lettie); Sergeant Major Pecker and her side-kick, Big ‘Evil’ Red, with Maureen-in-the-middle. But I’m rushing; gabbling on; I need to take you back a few years.

'Who are you?'

People nearly always ask ‘And hens? You must have hens on the farm…?’

‘Used to’ I reply.

A decade or so ago our well-ordered and regimented flock of Barnvelders and Indian Game birds morphed into feral mob. Every man and beast was wary of this fearsome gang terrorising the farmyard; maraudings, attacks, rapes, pillage and plunderings were a daily occurrence. A few hens canny  enough, escaped by laying their eggs in some far-flung nook or cranny; often these stoic birds were taken by the fox, but occasionally one would return to the yard proudly puffed and clucking, fluffly-cheeping-chicks tucked under her wing. Sadly no sooner had those cute chicks feathered their wings than they were absorbed into the poultry mafia. Things were quite out of hand. Action had to be taken

On one account the feral hoard were predictable. Each night they would hunker down in a large decrepit poultry shed on the back lawn, odd really, for such a wild tribe. Thus a decision was made; Mike – a friend living with us at the time and a much-talked-up-expert in the despatching of fowl – and Robert, would humanely-eradicate the majority of the rabble.

The night was chosen. The assassins ready.  The plot hatched.

Robert was to enter the shed, pass a roosting bird to Mike, who with a quick stretch and flick would wring the neck…and so on, till the task was accomplished. Not a willing accomplice I chose to stay in the kitchen, busy, but on hand in case I was needed. So far so good.

Shouts! Yelling! Squawking! Total mayhem erupted on the back lawn. Torch beams tracked across the  house, the trees and garden. Running footsteps, bellowing, panic.

I stuck my head out of the door ‘What’s happened? What’s going on?’

A body whizzed past me, breathless, panting, shouting back at me ‘They’ve gone. Oh for crissake. They up and ofted!’ gasping, rasping breaths ‘Get out…yeh, get out, get them! Bugger, bugger, bugger! Quick…they could be anywhere! Get out here! C’mon…quick!’

What happened? With the dastardly deed done, the boys were congratulating themselves and were about to pick up the mountain of dead fowl outside the hen house door…which had…yes, you’ve guessed… disappeared…completely. That’s right, not one cockerel/chicken/pullet to be seen!

Mike, it turned out, had not been quite so ‘expert-in-the-despatching-of-fowl’ area. I won’t elaborate on the Night of the Long Knives. Suffice to say the majority of the walking-dead were found and despatched, for a second time – that is except for Chicken. Chicken (with bent-neck) escaped and lived out her (long) life in a willow tree overhanging the pond. Never, ever to be tamed; never to be seen on the ground. Though sometimes, when the moon was full and the stars bright, a small hen-shape could be spied swimming in the pond.

More fowl-stories to follow shortly including an update on the ‘girls’!

'Chicken' in her willow over the pond 1995

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As normal I took the dogs for a walk this afternoon. We went down across Marymead, through the fields bordering the river and forest, past the two deer wallows, up and across to Bill’s chicken coop where I spent a moment chatting chicken-speak to the hens before crossing the small bridge into the pheasant cover, across a little stream into the smallest cultivated mowy mead (meadow) you can imagine. Almost across the meadow, it only takes a second or so, my head was full with thoughts of hens; wondering if I should get some more, what type I’d choose, going to have a look at a friend’s friend’s, or if I’d rather have ducks and geese…or maybe all three come to that, when I had an overwhelming desire to turn around…and there rushing full pelt towards me, her eyes shining bursts of pure joy, a grin to bust all grins, her tail going nineteen-to-the-dozen, and her whole body radiating unadulterated delight and excitement, was Jilly.

“Lilla? Lilla!” A whoosh of tingling pricklings rushed through my body one way whilst pure happiness flooded the other. Just before she could fling herself at me and explode with enthusiastic delight she evaporated…poof, just like that as fast as she’d appeared.
“Lilla, oh Lilla, Lilla.” I whispered. “Was that really you? Stay. Don’t go. Not just yet.”

And then immense, bottomless, black empty grief drenched and saturated every cell of my being. Hot tears welled up and cascaded down my face. I was looking through a dark watery lake. I felt the two hard panting bodies of Skye and Ness pressed close against my legs. I turned to go, not seeing, not caring, only aware of consuming sorrow and anguish.

Just as rapidly as the grief came it went leaving me exhausted, empty and shell-like-fragile to walk home. That’s when it came to me in a flash…it’s the exact day, the exact hour, the exact minute, possibly even the exact second, that Jilly had her fatal accident – six months on.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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