“They are NOT babies, they are chickens” remonstrated my French neighbour Jean-Claude. He had come to inspect the eight point of lay hens and two “babies” with which I had returned from the local street market.
“I’m going to call that scrawny baby one Eaglet” I said
“Non, non, non” came the emphatic response “You cannot give her a name, she is your food”.
But, for an ex-Londoner settling in rural France after chucking in the city job and seeking a shot at the good life, that was not such an easy notion.
I’d never had an animal before, not a cat or dog, let alone a chicken – and here I was with ten of them. We built a palatial coop, we fenced off part of our garden for them and I bought several books about poultry management. Nothing, though, had given me any idea of the fun and joy that keeping chickens can bring.
I moved a garden bench close to the pen and sat watching them, mesmerised by the to-ing and fro-ing, cooing and clucking. After a week, eggs arrived, I was as proud as if I’d laid them myself. The “babies” started to grow, Eaglet in particular seemed to respond to the TLC I was happy to dish out.
Jean-Claude warned me I must not get too close, how would I eat them otherwise? I already knew that wasn’t going to happen – I’d become an overnight chicken keeper addict.
Eaglet made soft cooing noises when she saw me and followed me round the garden. She was gentle and affectionate – and she was huge. I started to believe that I had a real talent for poultry keeping and thought about entering her in a chicken beauty contest (they have them in France!).
One day, as I did the morning feed, I heard an almighty ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. I looked round for the intruder, there was none. Eaglet came running up for her food then, looking confused, she threw back her head and crowed.
Yes, you guessed, this sister was actually mister! Despite this, Eaglet entered the nest box ever day and made as if to lay an egg with the other girls. And, although he towered over them and occasionally let rip with a startled crow, no-one seemed to mind him crashing the hen party…
Janine Marsh is the author of My Good Life France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream