Thursday, 17 July 2014

Playing Chicken!

As promised, a post about Banty, a hen that knew its name.

I can’t remember where we acquired her egg, but I know we hatched her using an old paraffin fuelled incubator my father had bought in a farm auction.  The clutch of eggs from which she came may well have been the first use of it, prior to it being used for raising ducklings and goslings. If that is true then her egg would most probably have come from an odd assortment of feral chickens that roosted in the rafters of the cowshed in the farm opposite.

Some of the eggs failed, but a handful, including two of the smaller ones. hatched successfully. Of these smaller eggs one chick was slightly bigger, a mixture of Rhode Island Red and Bantam while the other was a tawny feathered full bantam. Not using too much imagination or investing too much thought, (these were chickens after all) we called them Henny Penny and Banty.

From downy fluff they started sprouting their true feathers. We would make a paste for them to eat from ground cereals. But we noticed that Banty wasn’t thriving. She wasn’t eating and just stood alone with her eyes shut, occasionally being hen pecked by her companions. My mother’s concern led her to make a decision; I was asked to wring Banty's neck and put her out of her misery. I caught the little chick, it didn’t even attempt to escape it was weak. It just cheeped at me feebly “Pheep, pheep.” It was so small and helpless; I took its little head between my index and middle finger in my right hand. I began to pull but stopped.  I couldn’t see this unpleasant task through. I could force myself to wring the necks of adult birds for the pot but this little chick? I just couldn’t do it.  I put the chick back with its companions and went and sheepishly owned up to my mother that I was unable to do the task.

She was annoyed but understood my reasons. She went to have a look at the chick and came out with a smile on her face.  Banty was now furiously scoffing all the food she could find, her appetite fully returned. All we could think of was that she had a blockage in her crop and I’d stretched it a little and released the blockage.  Inadvertently I had cured her!

She became quite a character despite her lack of stature. She couldn’t compete with the bigger hens but unlike them she had no fear of us. We would always keep a little paste in the bottom of the bucket when feeding the chickens. We would listen for the distinctive “Pheep, pheep.” and hand feed Banty, and to a lesser extent Penny too when she saw how it was done.

Banty actually liked being handled, allowing herself to be picked up. If you stroked her wattles her eyes would close as if she was completely relaxed!

I recall February 1981 we had a hard winter’s  cold snap and a heavy snowfall. There was ice inside the windows of our house.  The electricity was down and we had to cook and boil water on the open fire. I was doing the night time rounds and putting the chickens in their henhouse before sunset fell and Mr Slyboots Fox came out on the prowl. I was counting the hens but someone was missing; Banty, where was she? I looked around the chicken run, she wasn’t there. Eventually, not knowing what else to do, I called out “Banty!” not expecting a response (this was a chicken remember?). I was amazed to hear a “Pheep, pheep.” from up above. There she was, perched up high in an apple tree on an ice encased branch, her feathers puffed out trying (and failing) to keep warm. I had to get a step ladder to get her down; I think her feet had nearly frozen to that branch, poor thing! It still amazes me to this day, a tame chicken that knew its name!

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