Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Emmeline Undignified

It’s really not fair. This is the poultry version of one of those paparazzi snaps: the celebrity on her way to the dairy for a packet of fags, with no make-up, jeans worn for a week, and a hangover her only matching accessory. Yes, the Light Sussex chicken mid-moult is undignified, abbreviated, undone. Usually the largest of my six chickens, Emmeline is a lesser hen right now.

She’s named for Mrs Pankhurst, first female lead in the famed British family of suffragists, and I’ve had cause to regret this. Quite often Emmeline goes broody (which means she’s planning her own family), and that’s when she shows her feisty side, shrieking at me and pecking if I go to remove her from the nest. She asserts her reproductive rights with the same determination that suffragists expressed in their “Votes for Women” campaign. Confined in a makeshift pen within the run, she engages in such daring escapes that I have bestowed on her a suitable second name, Houdinia.

Why not simply let her brood? Two reasons:
1. Though fertile eggs could be arranged and Emmeline Houdinia would doubtless make a very fine mother hen, I am less certain of my own ability to manage the family for which I would then become responsible.
2. It’s most unsettling for the other five hens to have Emmeline hogging that particular nest. Though there is a choice, they all like to lay their eggs there. And unfortunately broodiness goes on, and on, and on.

I believe that in my backyard, the best response to broodiness is to Stop Things Going Too Far. Fortunately, a new addition to the accommodation enables me to do just that. I simply restrict Emmeline to the communal sleeping quarters — the palais de poulet, as this structure is known — while allowing other flock members the freedom of the run (including the nesting structure, which we call the chalet de poulet on account of its sloping roof).

It may sound cruel, but I don’t think it is. I indulge her with treats to distract her from her plight, and her dreams of motherhenhood disappear remarkably quickly. She may briefly inhabit a gilded cage smaller than the one I call the chicken run, but it’s better than the practice that supposedly gave rise to the expression “mad as a wet hen”: dousing one’s broodies with water to shake up their ideas.

My Light Sussex has recently shed her maternal instinct and many of her feathers. She has lost her looks and her wholly admirable attitude. But these setbacks will be temporary. With some — perhaps not all — of those attributes restored in the near future, Emmeline will rise again, resplendent. Let’s see what the poultry paparazzi make of that.

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You’ve tolerated the inducements of major commercial enterprises to “Like” them on Facebook or otherwise aid their nefarious recruitment campaigns. You’ve spurned (or not) the proffered iPads, toaster ovens and other irresistibles. Here’s a more down-to-earth invitation, including an enticement more in keeping with the modesty of Egg Venturous:
1. Become a flock follower here at http://eggventurous.blogspot.com by clucking on “Join This Site”, OR insert a comment below one of the posts.
2. Send me (claire.gummer [at] xtra [dot] co [dot] nz) your New Zealand snail-mail address, and
3. I’ll send you by return post — possibly even by airmail — something as light as a feather.
Gone are the days when a white feather in your letterbox carried connotations of cowardice. Wear your white feather with pride, and think of Emmeline Resplendent.


  1. I'm (c)hooked! Eggerly awaiting the further adventures of Emmeline and Co.
    Yours ever,
    Shortland St fan

    1. Anon! (May I call you that?) Thank you for your encouragement. I'm not sure that the goings-on in my backyard will have quite as many cliff-hangers as Shortland Street — we inhabit a fairly flat section — but I’ll do my best to keep you on your toes.