Tag Archives: chickens

The Secret of the Tortoise

14 Aug

Bunty and I are in Morocco. Last night, we slept in a tent surrounded by fruit trees and palms and jasmine, and crickets and stars. The tent stands in a garden called Manzil la Tortue – the Secret of the Tortoise.

We now understand what makes it secret. To find it, we drove along a long, long dirt track, past tiny hamlets of ramshackle houses where all the villagers were sitting out under the stars at their Ramadan feasts. Fearing we were lost, we stopped at a shop the size of a wardrobe, and I got out of the car and asked the three men outside its door for directions. They spoke no English and I had not managed to bone up on French or Arabic, but somehow, with a lot of laughter and a hastily-sketched map, we managed to communicate with each other.

I awoke bright and early, having slept through the muezzin’s call to prayer that woke Bunty in the dark hours. The air was still fresh and laden with jasmine, and I wandered out to explore the grounds. I found three different species of ant, an array of pill bugs, a fly, and three species of songbird. A man raking flower-heads out of the pool greeted me.

“Bonjour”, I replied.

I was bonjoured soon afterward by the camp site guard, a man wearing the long djellaba and pointed yellow slippers seen all over Morocco; and a woman, also in a djellaba, who passed me in a covered avenue of white bougainvillea.

“Bonjour.”

“Ca va?”

A bee the size of a quail egg buzzed around my purple tunic. It was black and white and red – very striking – but it didn’t stay still for long enough for me to phtograph it.

I rounded a corner and found this rabbit enclosure.

I love that they are free to dig and socialise, and have burrows. I was surprised to see that they had been given a large number of orange halves to feed on, and had clearly appreciated them very much. I must try Broccles with an orange one sunny day.

Then I stumbled upon the chooks who will be providing my breakfast eggs a few minutes from now. They look alert and happy too. No battery hens, these.

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Pinky and Pinky

5 May

“Heeeere, pig-pig-pig-pig!” sang a voice over the hedge. “Heeeere, pig-pig-piggy!”

I had gone up the lane to photograph some of the lambs that have been gambolling in the fields since the beginning of April, but who can resist a pig-pig-piggy? I hurried to the gap in the hedge, and stepped through to find the two brothers from the manor house leaning on a gate admiring their latest arrivals. Two young large whites trotted through the undergrowth toward us. I was informed they were four months old: born on January 17th.

Don’t they have a nice meadow?

“How long do you think it’ll take ’em to turn it into mud?” the Pig Man’s brother asked. “A day?”

“An afternoon?” suggested the Pig Man.

They ran through some possible names to call them. Pinky and Pinky seemed good contenders.

The sow’s charming floppy ear is the result of a haematoma, poor thing. Perhaps another pig bit her. It’s very swollen, and she seems to appreciate having it held between cool hands.

The pig Man turned to me. “Would you like some freshly-laid eggs?” he enquired. “We’re selling ’em for a pound for six, but I’ll give you a freebie”.

“I’d love some,” I said.

He led me though a patch of woods and garden to the shed where he kept his chicken feed. He pointed out a robin’s nest in the corner, and said it has little blue eggs in it and he has to be careful going in and out. I really wanted to photograph it, but it was too dark to tell whether the robin was in it; she would have been distressed by my flash.

The Pig Man took me to his chicken run and scattered feed, then showed me into the hen house, where a cluster of six eggs lay in a nesting box as though the hens had thoughtfully gathered them together for me. He gave the eggs to me in his feed scoop, asking me to return it later.

In the garden, his wife was planting beetroots and carrots, and I had a little chat with her about the merits of growing different vegetables. The sheer friendliness of these people made my day. What a contrast to that angry farmer last month! It made me realise how unwelcome I had been feeling here lately. Thank you, dear neighbours, for restoring my faith in people.

Cockatrice

30 Jan

One evening last week, when the mist was drifting around in a state of indecision about whether to stay or go, I  took a walk through the old grove, where the lane forms a tunnel of arching branches. Out of the corner of my eye, living shadows were flitting between the trees, but whenever I looked directly at them, they were gone. They were almost silent, making  little flurries at the edge of my hearing. I crept into the undergrowth to investigate.

Small black forms, the size of my booted feet, were darting across the leaf litter from thicket to thicket. Dusk was drawing in and it was dark under the trees, so it was some minutes before I realised that I was looking at blackbirds carrying out their end-of-day back-and-forthing before settling onto their roosts for the night. Why do they do that, I wonder?

A flash of colour drew me towards the far edge of the grove. I would be  easy pickings for a will o’ the wisp, I am sure. Bending under some low-hanging branches, I came face to face with this chap, who eyed me balefully through the gloom.

Immobile, we held each other’s gaze, and I was reminded of the story of the Cockatrice, half cockerel and half serpent, who can turn people to stone with a stare. Then suddenly, he broke the trance, releasing a full-blooded cock-a-doodle-do into the air. It was answered by three other cockerels, who shared his enclosure. That’s a lot of cockerels for one small flock of hens.

I retraced my steps toward our cottage, and the mist made up its mind to stay.