Thursday, 31 March 2011

You may remember me writing about Dennis the Cockerel - former Enfant Terrible of the Farm Yard; a pugnacious tyrant, and rampant defiler of his female companions, who escaped the axe by a whisker, by dashing through the executioners legs on the day of judgement.
After his fellow partners in crime had been despatched, his attitude changed dramatically for the better. Not only did he find himself lacking the security afforded by the menacing presence of his mob, he was suddenly the target of naked hostility amongst the hens he had previously violated whenever he chose.
The tables were turned. For several weeks after the cull, he was an outcast. The hens refused to converse with him, tolerating his presence with ill concealed disgust. They would shun his attempts to make polite conversation, drive him away if he sidled up for a bit of corn, and heckle him mercilessly. They would not let him share their roomy perches, forcing him to spend all night squatting in a nesting box, which he must have found very emasculating.
He was outnumbered by 15:1. He spent weeks trailing along uncertainly behind them whilst they wandered around the farm. In time, he seemed to grow resigned to his lowly status, accepting their derision as the price he had to pay for his former treachery. He was cowed and humbled. I would watch him stand well back and allow them to take their fill of the chicken pellets, before he would venture forward hesitantly to eat himself. He waited until they were all safely in the hen house at dusk, before he followed them in, and he would gallantly put himself between the hens and the prowling stable cat.
Gradually, the hens softened towards him. After all, he was the only cockerel, and they could feel the Spring Sun on their backs. They begun to allow him to feed with them, and shortly after that, were making space for him on their perch. The final coup, was the day he was permitted to lead them round the farm yard, as proud as a King. He was a reformed character; gentle and kind, he treated each hen like a Princess, visibly thrilled to have assumed a role as leader and protector.

He is an extremely loveable character, and i have grown very fond of him, so i was concerned when he became ill a few weeks ago. I noticed he was limping one morning when he emerged from the hen house. Instead of hopping down the ramp and strutting off round the corner with the hens, he hobbled down stiffly and stood in the grass looking glum. The hens stayed close to him, clucking uncertainly, unwilling to wander off without him.
The next day, he was worse. I picked him up and examined his feet. There was a small growth on his right spur. He cocked his head and looked up at me while i inspected it. After breakfast, Jasper gave him a shot of antibiotic, and i thought that would be the end of it. We watched him hobble off around the corner with the hens.
A few days later, he emerged from the hen house in the morning and stood dejectedly in the garden. His once rich red comb was an anaemic pink, and he had the tell tale tucked up appearance of a sick bird. I phoned up to the dairy, and asked Jasper if he could ask the vet to call in on his way home.
It was midday when he knocked on the door.
"Morning. I've come to look at a cockerel." he smiled, stepping inside.
I showed him the cardboard box full of straw, and gestured to the little white silky huddled inside with his head tucked under his wing, the picture of misery and discomfort.
I picked him up as gently as i could. He barely had the strength to protest. He briefly tried to flap his wings, and then quietly allowed me to hold him up for the vet's inspection.
I stroked the bony ridge of his back through the soft feathers. Through the silky white mop that fell over his licorice black face, i could see his once button bright eyes, now dull and half closed in pain.
The vet scrutinized the growth on his foot frowning. I watched his face, waiting for it to break into a reassuring smile. Instead he shook his head and sighed.
I realised i was holding my breath as i waited for him to speak.
"The infection is too far gone to save him." he said, touching the foot gently.
Dennis shuddered and gave a muffled squawk of protest.
"Can't you give him antibiotics? Or amputate the growth?" i asked.
The Vet straightened up and shook his head.
"Not possible i'm afraid. There's nothing we can do."
I nodded matter of factly, but i could feel my throat tightening. Before i could stop them, hot tears ran down my cheeks and disappeared into Dennis' brilliant white plumage.
I tried to remind myself that he was only a cockerel, yet holding his fragile, almost weightless body in my arms, my mind was filled with memories of his glory days, when he ruled the farm with regal pride, lovingly guarding his hens.
I thought about his fondness for gardening, sidling up along side me and standing tall as he watched the trowel turn over the rich soil with jewel bright eyes. How, during a storm, he would come in to the kitchen and sit quietly by the radiator waiting for the rain to stop.
I glanced up and attempted an apologetic smile at the Vet, whose kind expression of genuine sympathy almost prompted a fresh bout of tears.
"So, can you, er, i couldn't bear anyone wringing his neck..." i tailed off, biting hard on my bottom lip.
"I can inject him, he won't feel a thing. " he replied gently.
I nodded, staring at a muddy smudge on the floor and listening to the receding crunch of shoes on gravel as the vet went to his car.
He returned with a large syringe. There seemed a lot of fluid in it. Dennis was only little.
I looked outside. The hens were gathered outside the back door , clucking anxiously, waiting.
"I'll inject into his chest, it won't hurt him at all," he said, parting the feathers on the breast bone. Dennis didn't struggle; a second later he was gone. His body went limp, and his head fell over my arm, the feathers splaying out sideways like a clowns ruff.
I turned and laid him in the box of straw.
"Thankyou." i said to the Vet and gritting my teeth. A tear escaped.
"Crying over a cockerel. Pretty poor show for a farmers wife..." i mumbled.
"Shows you're human." he smiled, patting me gently on the shoulder and turning to leave.

I stood still for a few moments, feeling slightly dislocated from reality.
A horse whinnied in a distant field, a tractor engine turned over and sputtered on the other side of the farm, a pair of magpies chattered crossly in a nearby tree.
Then, another sound. A sound that drowned out the other noises, with its sheer, almost palpable sense of joy at being alive.
I opened the door and stepped out into the dusk.
In front of me, perched regally atop the grassy ridge, resplendent in the setting sun, and crowing majestically to the heavens, stood a magnificent white Silky cockerel.
Dennis' Son.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Two Little Piggies (Part Three)

The pigs have been here three weeks now, and have settled in marvellously. They have been residing in one of the stables, whilst Jasper creates a purpose build Des Res for them, using part of the ramshackle pig pens up by the orchard.
I had not realised what characters they are; a most endearing double act with merry, inquisitive natures, a strong sense of humour and considerable charm.
On a nice day, they dig a trench in the warm, deep straw and bask contentedly for hours on end, shifting occasionally in order to stay within the patch of sunlight, which moves gradually across the stable throughout the day.
I am pleasantly surprised by their cleanliness. Whereas horses tend to defecate over every square inch of their bedding, making mucking out a somewhat arduous task, the pigs are very particular about their lavatory area, only using a small corner by the stable door, which makes mucking out a cinch.
When Jasper and Mother-In-Law aren't about, I open the stable door and let them run around in the yard.
After a few brisk circuits (they are surprisingly quick), during which they leap and pirouette for the sheer fun of it, they invariably trot over to the old water trough, which is the porcine equivalent of an Aladdin's cave; rich compost crammed with tulips, amaryllis, daffodils and dozens of other bulbs lurking beneath the surface as they push their burgeoning roots and buds towards the warm spring sun.
One day, they dug up the lot, and i found them grunting gleefully as they frolicked in the wreckage, snouts black with soil as they scooted about in the flower strewn yard. Subsequent attempts to vandalise have thus far been thwarted by a vigilant approach on my part. I never turn my back on them for a second, and any sign of impending annihilation is dealt with swiftly and firmly. (A brisk shove up the bottom with a yard brush normally does the trick.)
All things considered, they are a pleasure to have around, and Lily adores them, which is a bonus.
The weather was so glorious at the weekend that we decided it would be the perfect time to move them into their new abode . There are a row of four, fairly ancient, brick pig pens up by the orchard, the second one of which is in reasonable condition. Jasper constructed the fourth wall from giant straw bales, and sheep wire, effectively creating a spacious outdoor run for them to enjoy in the day time.
I felt quite excited about the prospect of their new pad, which I was sure they would be thrilled with. It's situated in a lovely position, with access to the Orchard, (they're mad about apples), all day sunshine and stunning views across to Bulbarrow Hill.
After Breakfast on Sunday, we went out to the stable. The pigs were sunbathing in the spring sunshine, but grunted amiably at us and ambled over to say hello.
We soon realised that although we had worked out where we were going to move them, we hadn't worked out how we were going to move them. Carrying them any distance was out of the question. Notwithstanding their considerable weight, they take a dim view of being picked up.
We scratched our heads thoughtfully and watched Lily share the remainders of her toast with them. They gobbled the scraps enthusiastically, then grunted lazily and flopped down in the straw.
"We've got two lead ropes. We could lead them there." Jasper suggested.
"I've tried leading them before. They dig their heels in."
"We could just pull them along then."
I raised my eyebrows at him. "Have you ever tried pulling a pig?" i asked dubiously.
"I pulled three at The Cotley Hunt Ball in 1998." he replied.
I tittered despite myself. "Come on, be serious. How are we going to do this?"
"I know what we'll do. I'll back the car up with the boot open, and we can just put them in the back, then drive them up there."
Two minutes later, I was standing in the middle of the stable holding a lead rope. The pigs had backed into a corner and were watching me suspiciously.
"Come on little piggies." I cooed, tip-toeing towards them.
They grunted nervously and huddled together.
" You look as though you're about to pounce on them, that's why they're getting freaked out. Just act like you normally do and they'll feel secure." Jasper said.
"Since when were you The Pig Whisperer?" I enquired.
"I read it in Starting With Pigs." he said smugly.
I reached out to stretch the back of the one closest to me. It jumped as though I had poked it with an electric cattle prod, before shooting off into the opposite corner. I tried the same thing with the other one, with similar results.
I was still tip toeing around the stable, billing and cooing twenty minutes later. The Pigs knew something was afoot, and it was obvious that they weren't going to co-operate. I was getting fed up. I know that patience is a virtue, but it's something i've always been short of. I looked at my watch. The Eastenders Omnibus was on in ten minutes and I didn't want to miss it.
Having got almost close enough to touch one of the pigs, I threw the lead rope coil around its neck. It squealed crossly and plunged about on the end of the make shift lasoo.
"Sssshhh! Steady Piggy!" I said soothingly, to no avail.
Lily was whimpering in confusion. The second pig was rushing back and forward, unsure what to do. I noticed that the rope was sliding off over one of the ears, so i leapt forward and rugby tackled it, yanking the rope back round its neck and attempting to summon enough strength to grab it round it's rotund middle and bundle it into the car.
I had not reckoned on the reaction of a pig on finding itself in a half nelson. It went berserk. It wriggled out from underneath me, screaming blue murder and made for the door. The strength of it pulled me over, and I was dragged on my front through the dirty straw. Lily was screaming hysterically, the other pig was sprinting around the stable in dizzying circles, and Bandit was barking in a frenzy of excitement as he rushed in and out trying frantically to assess the bizarre situation.
"PIGGY!!! PIGGY!!!" screamed Lily as the lassooed Piggy plunged and thrashed and screamed.
"Get Lily out!" i shouted to Jasper. He had his back to me and was shaking violently, shoulders hunched. For a moment I thought he was sobbing, then he turned around and I could see that he was helpless with laughter.
Round and round went the loose piggy, leaping again and again over the taut rope that bound its hapless friend. Bandit zoomed in again, looking as though he were about to spontaneously combust. He darted towards the pig on the rope and nipped its curly tail, whereupon its screeching redoubled to a deafening volume. He sprinted out barking
"Let go of the rope!" Jasper managed to shout when he had stopped laughing long enough.
i managed to stagger to my knees and was cuddling the pig, attempting to soothe it, when Bandit shot in again like an exocet missile for another go. The excitement had proved too much for him; i didn't know he was sporting an enormous erection until, with a lascivious growl, he launched atop the pig and I where he commenced to thrust energetically, his lugubrious face a mixture of wild lust and abject confusion. (The last time i saw this expression, he was fornicating enthusiastically with an ornamental wrought iron pea cock at a friends Garden Party. Our howls of mirth did not diminish his lust. Only after his act had reached its conclusion, did he seem to realise what he had just done. To his credit, he at least had the grace to appear considerably embarrassed for the remainder of the evening...)
"Get your bloody dog out of here!" I shrieked at Jasper.
"EEEEKK!" screamed the Pig, as Bandit slipped sideways and began to jab rhythmically at its hairy sides with his grotesquely engorged member.
There was no shaking him off. He had hold of the neck of my shirt, as he continued to drive away at The Pig, scrabbling frantically to improve his grip, and uttering a lecherous keening, growling noise as he pushed himself towards the brink.
Such was the sordid scene that greeted the Colonel's wife when she peered over the stable door.
"Good morning Jessica!" she boomed.
If she was discomfited by this bestial tableau, she didn't show it.
Her sudden appearance seemed to shake Bandit out of his sexual reverie. After half a dozen half hearted thrusts, he climbed down, and walked off looking the other way.
I stood up, panting slightly, and pulled the straw out of my hair. The Pig stood quietly on the end of the rope looking shell shocked.
"Please, don't let me interrupt you. I can see you're fright-fly busy." she said, with a dead pan expression.
"I just thought id' drop the Parish Mag in on my way past, and i'd be frightfully grateful if you'd organise the Church Flowers next weekend."

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Two Little Piggies (Part One)

For a long time now, I have secretly harbored an ambition to establish my very own small-holding of animals. I day dream about gazing out into a stable yard of geese, ducks, chickens, lambs and pigs. I imagine myself and Lily in our wellies, frolicking with our menagerie in the spring sunshine, petting woolly coats and stroking silky bantam feathers - an enchanting tableau of bucolic bliss, played out against a farmyard symphony of bleats, honks, quacks and grunts.
I have a recurring dream, in which we are entrants at our local Agricultural Show - it is a beautiful Summer day, and Lily, (wearing a Stockman's coat and flat hat) solemnly parades her prize pig around the main ring, before tottering out to rapturous applause, brandishing a big, shiny Gold Cup...
One day, in an unguarded moment, I mentioned my Grand Plan to Jasper. The fact that he didn't even glance up from his newspaper is testimony to how many ponderous whims and fancies I assail him with on a regular basis.
He chuckled slightly, shook his head and muttered "Don't be a silly bunny."
I bristled, slightly affronted by his dismissive response.
"And why is it "silly", might I ask?" I replied sulkily.
"You can't just keep animals for the hell of it you know. You're not Dr Doolittle."
"It IS almost my Birthday. Can I have a couple of lambs?" I said in a wheedling voice.
He put his paper down and looked at me sternly.
"And what are you going to DO with these lambs? You can't just keep them until they die of old age you know. They don't stay lamb size forever. They turn into great, ignorant woolly sheep with horrid maggotty bottoms! It's all very well to pull that face, but it won't be you who has to deal with the maggotty bottoms; it will be muggins here."
I opened my mouth to protest, but Jasper shook his head.
"Look out there! What do you see?"
I looked into the garden at the two enormous geese strutting round the front lawn like a pair of bouncers.
I hung my head sheepishly.
"You smuggled those things in by stealth manouevre, and you fibbed about killing them. You never had any intention of fattening them up for Christmas! You just wanted them to waddle about looking decorative."
"I thought they were sweet." I said in a small voice.
"Ha! I'm glad you're using the past tense. They were sweet twelve months ago. They're not so sweet now are they? They're a pair of over grown, anti social bullies who poo all over the yard, wake us up with their bloody honking, terrorize the poor dogs and attack people."
"Attack is a bit of an exaggeration." I tutted.
Jasper took a deep breath and picked up a letter from the side board. I could see the Royal Mail emblem through the paper. Oh dear, I had forgotten about that...
"Dear Mrs Miller, we regret to inform you that on 15th February 2011, one of our Royal Mail delivery workers was menaced and subsequently attacked by your geese. I have to warn you, that should this happen again, I shall have no alter-"
"Yes, yes. I know what it says." I interrupted hastily.
At that moment, the man who rents the cottage next door pulled into the stable yard and got out of his car. As he leant over into the passenger side to retrieve his shopping bags the geese crept up behind him, heads lowered, hissing menacingly, before simultaneously rushing forward and grappling at his bare white legs with their monstrous beaks. He gave a bellow of fright, dropped his shopping on the floor and staggered to the refuge of his front porch, closely pursued by his attackers.
Jasper looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
"I know, I know!" I sighed.
Later that afternoon, Lily and I wandered down the lane to Ali's house. She and her husband have set up a fabulous small holding, complete with geese, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, turkeys, sheep and goats. After we'd had a guided tour, and admired some very smart rare breed partridge, and I had lusted over an enchanting pair of Barber Danvers bantams, Ali announced "And now for the new additions!" and led us round the back of the barn to the old stables.
I looked over the door, and there, nestling in the straw were two beautiful pink and black piglets. They grunted a greeting and stretched luxuriantly. The sun streaming through the windows shone through their pink ears. It looked for all the world as though they were smiling. Lily was enraptured, mouth open as she gazed at them in wonder.
"Look Lily - Piggys" I whispered.
"Piggys!" she repeated in a hushed, reverential tone.
I was overcome by those dreaded, all too familiar sensations - the clammy palms, quickening of the pulse, a pre-mature stab of guilt; the same dizzying symptoms a shopoholic experiences shortly before blowing a months salary on a pair of Jimmy Choos.
The pigs grunted again. I breathed in their pungent Piggy smell and admired their curly tails. Beyond them, spectral-like, rose Jasper's face from the straw, puce with rage.
No, I mustn't.
"......they're great pets too. So friendly. We've got two left in the other barn if you know anyone whose interested."
Oh God....