Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life


One of the greatest joys in my life is keeping ex battery chickens.
We collect them from wherever the British Hen Welfare Trust has managed to persuade a farmer to release them, rather than send them to the abattoir, and we load them into cardboard boxes, and bring them home.
During the drive they remain totally silent and unmoving, for they are traumatised, petrified, overwhelmed.
These chickens have lived all their lives in cages with numerous others. They have eaten the same food day after day. They have never seen natural daylight, never felt the chill of wind or rain on their feathers, and never felt the warmth of the sun.
They have never had the opportunity to do natural chickeny things, to stroll about through the grass, to scratch for seeds in the soil, to run about and jump onto tree stumps or branches, just for the fun of it, and to enjoy their lives.
So for the first couple of days after they arrive home with us, the chickens creep silently and fearfully about, afraid of their own shadows. They have to be lifted into their secure bed time coop, and shown where the ‘have an egg’ boxes are.
They have no idea that lettuce, sunflower seeds, and meal worms are edible and yummy, and they don’t realise that they can simply wander in and out of their shed as they please.
In short, they are living and breathing, but little else.
Until, that is, they realise that they have retired to chicken heaven, and explode into natural chicken activity!
Within a week the little lost souls blossom into bright, active, nosey bundles of feathers, spending their time digging deep holes, foraging, running about, and eating.
They are a joy to watch.
The chickens usually change their feathers once they have settled in to their new lives, and thereby become even more beautiful.
We named one very small chicken ‘Scraggy’, because although she grew her new feathers everywhere else, her neck remained bald. That particular part of her looked as though it should have been in a freezer in Tesco.
But she made up for this lack of plumage by developing into one of the biggest characters in the flock. She spent the greater part of each day running around, darting here and there, usually from one food source to another, and eating as if the food itself was going out of fashion.
Whenever I went into their enclosure she would follow me about, watching what I was doing, wondering if I was the bearer of anything edible, and she would always accompany me into the small shed when I cleaned it out. She would take the opportunity to help herself to as much food from the dish by the door in there as she could cram in, eating so fast that her beak tap tapped on the side of the dish.
Considering how much she ate every day it is something of a miracle that she remained so small.
Not many months ago Tod came back in after giving the chickens their breakfast, and opening up the sheds to let them out.
He told me that one of them had died overnight. I was devastated. We usually manage to get any sick chicken to the Vet’s in time, but they are secretive about illness, and I had obviously missed this one. Although we are very fond of each and every chicken in our care, we do have our favourites, and when Tod told me that it was Scraggy who had died, I was really upset. I would miss her and her funny little ways. She was a huge character.
Late afternoon the same day I went out to the chicken enclosure to clean the sheds. I went straight into the small one, and started to open the boxes and clean up, my back to the door.
My mind was far away from what I was doing. I was wondering what shopping I needed, and if I would have time to get it later.
It was probably because, over the months, I had grown so used to that particular sound accompanying my efforts to clean out the boxes, that it didn’t immediately register with me. Although the quick tap tapping on the dish by the door had been going on for at least a couple of minutes, it was only then that I realised I shouldn’t have been hearing it.
I whipped round and stared at the food dish.
‘Scraggy’ was standing in it, eating for England.
Oh wow! I thought. I can see her perfectly clearly! That’s amazing!
I was stunned at just how sharp and clear Scraggy’s image was. It didn’t waver, and it wasn’t obscured by mist or movement across it. I wondered if my mediumistic ability had taken a turn for the better!
I was mesmerised by this crystal clear vision, and slowly stepped closer, and dropped to my knees to see it better.
‘Scraggy’ paid me no attention, but continued to do what she had always done in life; eat!
Curious, I wondered if I would be able to touch her, to feel her feathers, and so slowly and carefully, holding my breath, I reached out towards her.
My fingertips brushed her wing. She stopped eating and raised her head. There was a moment of absolute stillness, of awe and wonder, and then she turned and pecked my hand hard.
Hummm, I thought, somewhat miffed, this is probably not a Spirit Scraggy! That could well account for the clarity of the vision, and the red mark on my hand.
Sure enough, Tod had muddled Scraggy with another little chicken, but one which had rather more feathers on her neck.
Scraggy remains here to this day, and can of course be found cramming her beak with food at every possible opportunity.
“For the soul of every living thing is in the hand of God.”
Job 12:10

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We Love Chickens!

“Hey, look Tod! The Girls are out! Yippee!” I yelled, and we both pressed our noses against the bedroom window and stared down at the garden below.

One by one, beak to tail, our beautiful chickens were making their dignified way out onto the lawn, where they spread out and began to graze the winter grass in a perfectly straight  line, two chicken sized spaces between each one.  We giggled. They looked like the chicken police in the middle of a beak tip search.

But seriously, it was just great to see them back. They had spent the last two months unwilling to leave the large greenhouse that serves as their bedroom and their shelter from inclement weather. Mother Nature seems to have mislaid the tap that switches off the rain in this part of the world, so we have been unmercilessly drenched for weeks on end. Try as we might, we hadn’t been able to coax the Girls outside, even during the occasional gap in the bad weather.

They remained in the greenhouse week after week, sitting dejectedly on their bales of straw, beaks against the panes of glass, staring outside at the rain hammering down on the house and garden. Our normally lively, inquisitive, nay downright nosey Girls had become chicken zombies. I was frantic, “What’s wrong with them?” I squeaked half a dozen times a day, “They must be so bored!”

So I had another look at my list of   ‘ The 100 Best Chicken Treats’  and  ‘Fun & Games for Chickens’ , and we went over to the mill and bought another bale of straw, some yummy organic chicken pellets, and a hanging seed thing that you’re supposed to peck at. Tod said they wouldn’t like it, but I ignored him. Well, you can’t exactly provide them with the latest chick flic, or a pile of  ‘Fashionable Chicken about Town’  magazines, can you? or even a DVD of the ‘Chickendales’…. huuum.

I had the idea that tempting them with a series of chicken- favorite treats might perk them up & instill some life into them, and actually it did. Well, for a short time anyway.

But of course what they really wanted was an end to the rain so they could rampage round on Tod’s newly laid lawn, and dig in his neat borders – that’s fun! You never know what you may find there. Worms top the list of goodies.

Our Girls are certainly not wimps, but they don’t like getting their feathers wet. The longer they spend out in the rain, the smaller they become as their feathers start to weigh them down. Have you ever tried drying a chicken with a towel? Don’t.

So when finally the deluge stopped, out they came in a pecking order row, onto the lawn. How good to see them back.

So remember, my fellow chicken loving bloggites, pray for dry weather and an updated list of the  ‘100 Favourite Chicken Treats’.



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So, am I eccentric?

I’d never given it a moment’s thought.  The word  ‘eccentric’  had hardly ever crossed my horizon, and I’d certainly never imagined that it could apply to me.  But there you are;  we don’t usually see ourselves as others see us, and therein, my fellow bloggites, lies the whole point.

So when my friend Carolyn suggested that I write a blog, I said, “Why? Why on earth would anyone be interested in the ramblings of my life?” and I shook my head. Now that’s something I’ve caught myself doing recently; and I suppose it’s another of these ‘age’ things that float around in the ether, waiting until you reach a certain number of years on this planet and then they zero in and stick to you.  It’s on my list of things to stop myself doing, along with the small grunt when I bend down to pick something up; and saying “phone” whenever the phone rings.  Personally I blame Pavlov.

It wasn’t until I’d filled my mouth again with an over generous helping of heavenly ice cream, the sort you get at a certain pizza restaurant, that I noticed Carolyn was staring hard at me across the table. I smiled and dribbled. That’s another thing on my list, “People may well enjoy your blog because of your…. well, your….lifestyle,” she said.

“Huhh?” I said. Now Carolyn and I have eaten together at this restaurant many times over the years and she is well aware of my, shall we say penchant for their ice cream. She is also well aware that if she wants answers to any questions, or indeed any intelligible conversation after I have begun shovelling in the ice cream, she must work fast. Her time is limited. That is because this heavenly dessert has the ability to remove the faculty of speech from me, and freeze my facial muscles into a series of grotesque twitches,

“Well, you are eccentric,” she said sweetly.

“Shllowh?” I said, “Hosshhway?” and we both knew that the window of opportunity had closed, at least until I defrosted again.

“Look,” she said, “there’s your writing; the chickens; your trips to Nepal; the ‘spooky’ work you do; and then there’s Tod. He’s eccentric too, isn’t he?”

“Whooshy? Shubbell?” I said,

“Well, his beard isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, and that hat is great, but maybe a bit unusual….” Carolyn said.

“Hummbloo!” I said.

Back home and waiting for the return of speech, I thought about the only memorable occasion I had heard anyone referred to as ‘eccentric’.  I was in the green room at the James Whale TV show (ha!) and Sir Patrick Moore was waiting to go on. He was wearing a dark green jacket and as he stood up he turned to me and asked me very politely if I would mind smoothing it down at the back.  I did so, and wished him luck for his interview. As he left the green room someone with a loud voice said, “Now he’s a true eccentric.” I have never forgotten that.

So we come back to the original question, am I eccentric? Is Tod eccentric? Having given it some thought I feel that eccentricity must be in the eye of the beholder. It’s how others see us. And as we left the restaurant that day Carolyn reached out and removed a piece of straw from the back of my pullover, “I know,” she said, “chickens!” and I swear she shook her head. I must have a word with her about that.

(Please have a look at the ‘About’ button, which may shed some more light on our way of life.)

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