When we bought the house in France some years ago, it was always our intention that we would try to be more self-sufficient and we started with fruit and veg and now produce enough to keep us going for about six months. Last year we got chickens which we intended to keep for eggs. Collecting fresh eggs every day and having enough to give away to friends and family is wonderful and I highly recommend it. This year we decided to go a step further and bought baby geese, ducks and chickens – with the intention of bringing them on for eating. All of our neighbours keep birds for eating – and they’ve encouraged us and give lots of advice.
I have been told I must not name my animals and make friends with them but I’ve found it impossible. I’ve tried really hard not to get emotionally involved but when the baby chickens who are now huge – like giant marshmallows – come running over when I go to feed them and then squat down to be stroked … well you know what happens. The geese are very unfriendly but within 5 days of arriving Flo and Fred were nesting. Flo sat on her egg for six weeks before she finally conceded that it wasn’t going to happen for her. During this time I’ve come to like and respect the geese as they lay there protecting their egg through rain, hailstones, heat waves and cold spells. The ducks, well – if you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know already that I’ve become fairly attached to them since they were bought up in my dining room as they were too tiny to go outside.
This week the plans for self-sufficiency have been put to the test.
Eaglet the gay cockerel hurt his leg. When we introduced the new kid on the block – Cocky Rocky the Italian Stallion – to the egg laying girls, Eaglet had to be put in with the baby chickens as we didn’t want any fighting between the two boys. We figured that actually Eaglet would probably just fall in love with Cocky Rocky but it wasn’t worth taking chances so we ran round the pen chasing him and in the course of this he came to harm.
He seemed fine when we put him in the other pen – a bit sulky and very unimpressed and he hid behind a tree – most un-cockerel like behaviour but that was Eaglet. However next morning when I opened the coop to let them all out, he fell out instead of running down the ramp like usual and then lay their panting with his leg splayed behind him. I told the OH that we should give him a day or so to recover in case he was just playing up to get back to his other pen but really I knew that there was something very wrong.
Later in the morning I boiled some rice for him as I thought it might perk him up and I took it down to the pen. All the chickens came running up to the gates of both pens to see what the human had bought but no Eaglet. Then I spied the OH at the bottom of the garden in a boiler suit. I wandered over to tell him I couldn’t find Eaglet who must be hiding somewhere only to find the OH plucking Eaglet’s headless corpse. He said he’d gone to check on Eaglet who had become very distressed and needed to have his suffering ended. I know he was right but I burst into tears for the loss of this little bird who never quite fit in – he had so wanted to be a girl and had tried so hard to be like the others – pretending to lay eggs and make girl chicken noises.
The OH has had lessons in how to prepare a bird from our neighbours so he decided to just get on with it. Pulling the feathers out, gutting it and all the other stuff you have to do takes hours, literally hours but eventually it was done and I was presented with a bird that looked something like you’d get in a supermarket. We decided to make a coq au vin and I marinaded the bird – I want to say Eaglet but it sounds so awful – in a bottle of nice Australian red overnight. My family started taking bets on whether I would actually eat it or not and my Facebook friends sympathised with me.
Next day I popped him, I mean it, in the slow cooker figuring that at over a year old this was going to be a tough one. The smell of the cooking wine, garlic, herbs and onions filled the house . Later in the afternoon I asked the OH to taste the meat. “I’m not really hungry” he said. I confessed I wasn’t either.
We had a chat. He said that he was okay about killing an animal that was in distress but he didn’t actually feel great about eating Eaglet and going forward he didn’t think he’d be able to kill a healthy animal so that we could eat it.
When it came to eating the coq au vin – we chickened out and its possible that we may never eat chicken again.