Sunday, May 27, 2007

Geese—allegedly—are silly: hence the expression, “silly as a goose”. But they are also characterful and we get tremendous enjoyment walking them from their fox-proof home to the field in the morning and back again in the evening. One of them has had a poorly eye—not uncommon for geese, so we understand—and we’ve been treating it three times a day with eyewash followed by antibiotic drops. Morning and evening, contained in their house, it’s fairly easy to get hold of the goose in question as they all run into the corner together, making a tremendous fuss, and then hide their heads, much as very young children cover their eyes with their hands and then thus believe that you can’t see them. But the midday treatment involves lots of running, chasing them around their enclosure, and often ends up with me on the floor before I have a firm grasp on the bird. The way to catch a goose is to get a hand around the neck, gently but firmly, after which progress is arrested and one can scoop up the rest of the bird. Squatting down, I then held it, sat on my thigh with my arm over its body, leaving both hands free to turn the head, while Gabrielle administered the medication. She’s away for a few days, so I now sit on top of the bird and use my teeth to hold bottle tops, etc. The eye looks a lot better and I shall stop treating it soon.

Regarding the relative intelligence of animals, if geese are silly (and I’m not convinced they are) then chickens are definitely not birdbrains. Ours are completely free-range during the day. The downside is that we’ve lost a total of five over the year, some perhaps to a fox. But we have positively identified a neighbour’s dog, Chados, being responsible for killing three and, after some friendly negotiation; he is now always tied up when he’s outside their house. The upside is that they range where they please, eat what they want (giving us amazingly tasty eggs with the deepest orangey-yellow yolks) and get up to some immensely entertaining antics. Aside from the well-known pecking order, they have some very complex behavioural patterns and are all clearly different characters. Our latest cockerel is by far the best we've had: he is ever watchful and will let his hens eat before he does. He is protecting to the point that I now need to pay close attention if we have small children come to feed the hens and chicks. Not content with shagging our five hens several times a day, he crosses the road in the morning to visit Alan’s and Carole’s eight hens (seven now as ones died, shagged to death, according to Carole!) and Celine’s and Michel’s two bantam hens. Much to everyone’s amusement, he runs across in the morning and walks, perhaps even swaggers, back in the afternoon—when he hears me whistling the hens back into the henhouse—with a certain macho self-assuredness, and I can imagine him smoking a cigar and wearing a smile too!

Our first lot of chicks are now cheeky adolescents and I’ve got one “trained” to squat down and then leap and flap up to my forearm, scramble up to my shoulder and wait there to be fed grains of wheat. It’s impressive to see, like some trained falcon yet more weighty and benign. The last guests in our holiday cottage remarked on seeing this whether I’d find it difficult to slaughter these chickens to eat, having become so attached. My response is that I find it easier to live with precisely because I know what a free and rich life they have lead. In doing some research for this blog—via the ever helpful Google—I typed in the search terms “chickens intelligent” and discovered this link from a vegetarian website called GoVeg, which is really worth a read. Their aim is to convert you to vegetarianism; my suggestion is that, if you eat meat (like us) then eat animals that have been well cared for. I’ll tell you more about chicken behaviour in my next blog.