house of happy

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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Last Warning

When we bought four chickens last August, it wasn't for their charm, company or meat. It was for the soon-to-appear-eggs. Seven months later we have four mini-raptors that eat non stop, follow us like abandoned dogs and dig up every inch of garden (if and when allowed). Oh and no eggs.

Volunteers and family have endlessly occupied themselves building huts and enclosures for the chickens, moving them about and keeping them fed and comfortable. There are two large yellow bowls in the kitchen continuously collecting scraps of food for them. Leftover rice, bread, wilted lettuce, spinach stalks, stale biscuits – all find their way to our four plump ladies of the coop.

A thankless job. Moona assures me they're on a par with puppies for cuteness, and their ploughing abilities are without equal. But where are the eggs?

In my kinder moments I picture the highlights of their lives: eating through the strawberry patch; chasing the handsome rooster away (read 'Galo Desaparecido' for a full account); seeing the yellow bowl make its daily appearance; following the nice man around the garden, in case he's hiding another yellow bowl inside his hat.

In my nastier moods I count the eggless months and take down recipes for stuffing and gravy. I go to the market and look longingly at egg-laying hens on sale (the brown ones, we now know). I call Moona on the mobile and issue an ultimatum.

He buys a mato frango. It's a contraption made of shiny metal, looks like a large funnel and is used locally to dispatch chickens to their dinner table destinies. Head down, they're supposed to go into a trance. A swift pull at the neck, job done. Pass the bird to the wife for plucking and cooking.

Sounds easy and I feel the boys are quite curious to try it. We step around it for a couple of days, consumed by conflicting thoughts. The mato frango is a testing presence, this much we can confirm. Having the power of life and death over other creatures – however annoying – is acceptable in theory, unconfortable in reality.

Humans have always done this stuff and we illustrate it with our own occasional chicken dinners, our first hand tales of chicken assasination. My grandparents' grilled chicken Sundays in Romania, the slaughter of the Glenternie cockerels by the four Wolfe Murray brothers in Scotland.

It's also part of our future, the self-sufficient life we're pursuing. Inevitable part of the chickens' lives too. They're plump and not exactly earning their stay and they'll taste good. The first one is the hardest, we agree, and go into long discussions about selecting the first victim. Then, although the mato frango is here, there's talk about the best way 'to do it'. Would an axe be better? Moona asks for detailed descriptions of my grandfathers' methods, Nikita wants to know if the chickens ran around the yard headless and, if so, for how long.

The execution date is set for Friday, 27 February. Moona takes the mato frango to the land, I steel myself for the plucking.

The children go with Moona, walk into the coop and find an egg.

Epilogue: We had rice and beans for dinner. There was no way to tell who was the author of the lone egg, and I'm sure that's how the four suspects want it to stay...


At 19 March 2010 at 21:18 , Anonymous Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

Thanks for the insight into the real life of chickens. I've been developing compost heaps in Bucharest and now I understand why Romanians don't know about compost heaps; anyone with land has farmyard animals who eat all those scraps of food you so diligently collect. Compost seems to be an Anglo Saxon obsession, not one where small farmers abide. There was just one error in your article: you said there were 4 Wolfe Murray killers at Glenternie but I remember there only being one -- and it was I. I remember being the one who would go out with cousin Adrian and behead them, strangle them and kill them with sticks. I don't remember Moona and Kim and Gavin doing it as they seemed to be good people, not natural killers. But one shouldn't trust memories like this. If you want my advice about what to do about this pestilence, invest in a Samurai sword and have the boys go down and show their prowess as Ninja trainee assasins. Oh, and chickens do run about without their heads after you chop them off...


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