Saturday 18 November 2017

First person... Murder Most Fowl

Recently, Sarah Carey gave sanctuary to some battery hens, whose newfound paradise did not last long, alas

Quandary: Keep the hens safe in a cage or live with wild abandon...
Quandary: Keep the hens safe in a cage or live with wild abandon...
Nuala Carey

Sigh. You see, sometimes I wonder if it's me; and then life keeps throwing obstacles in the way of the tiniest scraps of happiness I try to eke out of the universe. Readers might recall that we acquired 'rescue' hens. In just a few weeks, the skinny, ragged creatures had recovered from their previously miserable existence in a battery farm. With shiny new feathers, they were plump and cheeky; scratching around the garden and digging up little clay nests for themselves around the shrubbery.

At night, they were securely locked into their swish penthouse chicken-coop, and soon they were all laying. The children loved them. I baked a Swiss roll. And when I saw the hens revert to primal habits in our garden paradise, my heart was lifted up by their funny ways. We might not live a high life, but this was a good life. Go hens!

Over at my sister's house, she and her fiance named their rescue hens Lucinda, Joan and Mary-Lou. But I took the precaution of not naming ours. I was too nervous. Something awful would happen. It always does.

They were safe at night, but I feared a daylight job. Our house is on an acre; surrounded by farmland and with lots of trees and wild garden. This made us highly vulnerable to predators. But I chided myself for worrying. Had I turned into a shrew, unable to experience joy? Or was I simply being practical?

While I debated with myself, the fox wasted no time. My husband raised the alarm one evening: a hen was missing. Anxiously, we surveyed the neighbouring fields, and checked the trees, in case she was roosting. But my older sons knew better. They raced out of the house in hastily improvised CSI gear; prepared for a murder investigation, not a search and rescue. In minutes, they found the crime scene: a bunch of feathers - just beside the spot where the hens liked to have their little clay baths. She'd lasted a month.

My husband was appalled. We sent for my uncle - our consultant in all matters outdoor. He reviewed the evidence and expressed amazement at the audacity of the crime. But worse was to come. Having completed his enquiries, when he returned to his own house, wasn't his own prize rooster gone! What kind of perverted fowlness was this? Was it the same fox using the commotion from one murder as cover to commit a second? Or was there a pack, stalking us? If not foxes, fear stalked us now.

I rang around my siblings for comfort. My brother was stoic. He'd lost his hens on Holy Thursday. He was going to lock them up after Mass, but didn't realise the fox had checked the leaflet and knew the Mass times. While he prayed, the fox preyed. My sister was more consoling. "At least it's nature. Better to be taken by a fox than gassed in a shed. Anyway, wasn't the last month of her life the best?"

That was a good perspective, but the garden had taken on a sinister air. When I went out now, I wondered if he'd be back. My parents confidently assured me he would. Foxes always come back. Meanwhile, the other hens were immediately confined to the coop for their own protection and let out for a wander only under strict supervision.

While they pottered about, my husband patrolled the perimeter, dismayed at their stupidity. "They have no sense of danger! They've got their backs to the ditch; so they wouldn't even see him coming! I'll have to put them on leads!"

Thus were we presented with a philosophical quandary. They could live safely in a cage with a few square metres of flat grass. It would be a dull existence, though still superior to their factory life. Or should they live with wild abandon, out among the shrubs and flowers; even if that meant certain death?

My husband had no doubts: they should live safely behind the fence. But part of me disagreed. I'd let them out. The fox will get them in the end. So why not live life in ecstasy? Nest in the flowers, and die there too.

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