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Mama Said: Emily Martin is counting her chickens

Emily Martin’s family is no longer complete without Vanessa, Sarah and Neville

Mama Said - Emily Martin's family is no longer complete without chickens (46890657)
Mama Said - Emily Martin's family is no longer complete without chickens (46890657)

When the idea of getting chickens was first suggested, I wasn’t keen. Actually, I was horrified. Chickens? Like a farm? Oh no, thank you. I’m not a fan of that fresh, farm smell. And I tend to like my chickens with crusty bread, full fat mayonnaise and sweetcorn… not glaring at me out of the sides of their heads.

But things progressed anyway despite me saying “No”, as they often do, and before I knew it I was driving a car with two very excited children in the back seat and three, as it turns out, completely deranged chickens in a box, in the boot.

Rapunzel, Ariel and Moana lived with us for three years and over that time we had many nice fresh eggs and many screams of “Mum! The chickens have escaped!”, where I’d rush to the window to discover them scrabbling gravel everywhere, or pecking the flowers to shreds.

Tom has a big, homemade greenhouse at the back of our garden, tantalising the chickens daily with its closed door. They know, somewhere in their tiny little bird brains, that inside are strawberries, tomatoes and possibly sweetcorn, ready to be pecked and destroyed. So they wait by the door, just in case one day Tom doesn’t shut it properly.

For each one of the three years we had those birds, Tom would spend months carefully propagating seeds, planting them out into beds, the chickens’ shadows stalking him from outside. And come July, there’d be a day when he’d come in and say: “Well that’s it, the chickens have got in and everything’s gone.” We’d try not to laugh.

It was quite sweet how as the evening drew in, our feathered friends would take themselves off to their coop and snuggle up together. And if we forgot to shut the coop door, it was less sweet how they’d come back out at 5am and start clucking at the top of their voices. “Mummy! The chickens are barking!” Sleepily I’d go outside in the frost and throw an apple at them (I mean towards them) and they’d stop “barking” and peck it to smithereens, buying us another hour in bed.

Sadly, Rapunzel had to leave us after a year because her behaviour was not acceptable. I won’t go into the details, but Ariel and Moana weren’t sorry to see the back of her, and those two rubbed along quite nicely after that until, one day, they stopped laying eggs. Apparently, this happens to old birds.

“We’ll get rid of them and get some new ones,” said Tom. He floated the idea of us eating them but I shut that down STRAIGHT away. I do understand that my chicken sandwich comes from chickens, but eating our pets seemed unnecessary. We’re not making a documentary about the food chain, this is just our lives. So arrangements were made for the ladies to go to a chicken retirement farm.

I didn’t think much about it until yesterday when Tom got a big box and out of the kitchen window I saw Ariel’s feathery legs travelling through the air as she was lowered in.

Neither Tom nor I thought to tell the children the plan which in hindsight was an error. It just didn’t occur to us that they’d be bothered. “What are you doing?” said Boy.

“We’re taking the chickens to a farm! And then we’re going to get NEW ones.” Girl appeared, “You’re WHAT?”

Sensing the tone we tried again: “Umm, the chickens are going to live on a farm, with lots of new friends... And, we’re going to get new ones. They’re not laying eggs you see so…” We tailed off. And then the weeping started, followed by the wailing and then the sobbing. “Don’t take them away!” sobbed Boy, tears springing from his eyes like a cartoon George Pig. “Put them back! Please! CHICKENS COME BACK!! NOOOooOO!” Girl wept quietly on the stairs. Truly, it was harrowing.

“But you HATE the chickens,” offered Tom as he stood over the jiggling box. I started to cry too at that point. We had hated them, in a way. But it was a thin line. They’d been part of our little family and we hadn’t realised how attached to them the children were until that moment. Tom looked forlorn. But still put the box in the car and drove off leaving me to deal with two devasted children.

And the three of us sat on the stairs. Boy, trying to be brave, managed to say some words of comfort to his sister through his sobs, “Daddy, says, we’re, get-ting, NEW, chickens”, his eyebrows raising, his little face trying to lighten. My heart broke.

So that was my children’s first taste of loss. Orchestrated entirely and unnecessarily by their parents, on a Bank Holiday Monday. I’m sure they’ll remember it forever. It’ll be one of those stories they remind us of. The time we put their perfectly good pets in a box and drove them away as they sobbed and begged us not to. Thank GOD we didn’t eat them.

Tom came back and said the chickens LOVED their new home. “No they DON’T,” snapped Boy. He wouldn’t even look at his dad. Happily, I had to go to work and when I got home, three new chickens had come to live with us and the children were completely over it. I miss the old girls though. Vanessa, Sarah and Neville have big chicken-shoes to fill.


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