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It’s all been cocks and hens recently.  As you know three hens went broody and hatched five chicks.  From the beginning of the process it’s been an impressive exercise in shared motherhood.

During the ‘sitting’ phase each of the hens left the nest once a day to eat and drink and while one was absent the remaining hens would roll her uncovered eggs underneath them to join their own clutch.  For 21 days it was a game of pass the parcel – for a while I was worried that all we would end up with was scrambled eggs.  Now that they’ve hatched we can only guess whose chick is whose and it doesn’t seem to matter to them one bit.  They take it in turns at mealtimes encouraging the chicks to feed.  When one hen sits in the sun for a snooze the chicks all sit underneath her and if another hen raises the alarm they all rush to hide under her wings or hop onto her back.  They seem to share the jobs instinctively.  

Could humans adopt this system?  Hmm, well I guess the egg laying part is an advantage we don’t have.  Much as a pregnant mum-to-be might like to say to her best friends – I feel like a night out on the vino can you grow the baby safely for a few hours – the biology simply doesn’t add up.   Also, while chicks pretty much look the same, small children are more obviously identifiable as belonging to someone even if their parents sometimes wish they weren’t (I’m recalling the mother next to me in the supermarket queue who looked fleetingly tempted to pretend her mid-meltdown two-year old wasn’t hers and do a runner!).  Most mums would confess too, that while other peoples’ kids are nice in small doses, taking them on as unconditionally as their own is a rather different matter.  So I don’t think we’ll be replicating this system any time soon – but in the world of chickens it appears to be one-size-fits-all when it comes to raising chicks.   I should add a note here about the only hen in the coop that didn’t participate in the hatch – as she is performing a quite different role at the moment and deserves a medal for stamina.  You see, during normal service the cockerel…ahem…shares-the-love around his hens but with three of them busy raising chicks he knows they aren’t up for any action.  This means Little Titch is getting more than her fair share of attention – so much so I have needed to buy her a chicken saddle – yes you read that correctly.  Chicken-love is brutal and Little Titch was starting to look cross-eyed and battered. The saddle provides some much needed protection and you will agree that she looks kinda stylish too? My earlier theory about humans adopting this system really falls down here – offering oneself as a substitute lover to keep the husbands of friends occupied might prove testing to even the closest of female friendships. (No offense to any of my lovely friends and their wonderful husbands  – I think I’d better shut up now before I dig myself in any deeper….!)

I wonder why it is that we call the rite of passage that marks the end of female singledom – a hen party? Why not a ‘mares’ mingle’ or ‘sows’ soiree’  or ‘does’ do’?  There’s obviously something about the hen that we women admire although I can’t say I’ve ever seen a hen on a night out three sheets to the wind on Bacardi Breezers.  The campsite played host to a hen party last weekend. Viewed from afar their style of celebration seemed to be the sort that only a group of intelligent, sophisticated women know how to do.  Yes, that’s right – giggly-booze-fuelled-high-jinx. One of the highlights of their weekend seemed to be taking the row boat out on one of our ponds (while legless of course) and singing songs.   On clearing up the campsite after they departed we were interested to piece together some of their party games.  Cock-fighting seemed to have figured as part of the evening.  The empty box suggested this was an inflatable game and explains the riotous laughter we heard wafting back from the campsite the evening before. 

Back in the chicken coop we’ve had some cock-fighting too.  Every morning Vera the (cross-dressing) cockerel exits his caravan and heads straight to the perimeter fence where Geoff the (bantam) cockerel is ready and waiting on the other side.  They square up to each other and do a lot of showing off – a rough translation of the conversation is:

Vera:  “shove off shorty or I’ll smack you one”

Geoff: “yeah right you flashy git, I might be small but I kick-ass’

Once the show is over (and to be honest none of the hens pay them any attention anyway – so their efforts are wasted) they ignore each other for the rest of the day.  Yesterday however, Vera decided to stretch his wings and landed in Geoff’s territory.  It should be noted here that Vera is a Sussex Buff and is at least four times the size of Geoff the Australorp Bantam.  In terms of a cock fight this is on a par with Mike Tyson taking me on.  In brief, Vera approached Geoff ready for a fight.  Geoff didn’t say a word or pull a fancy move, he just puffed himself up and looked splendid and Vera immediately ran for cover!  What a pansy!   One nil to Geoff.

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