I shouldn’t have held his foot.
We were on a mission. The four of us. Myself, husband, son and daughter. We’d left the brightness of the house; the laughter on the TV ceasing as we closed the door and stepped outside into the darkness. I urged my husband to hurry up. He had the torch yet was straggling behind at the back, making our shadows loom up menacingly. I urged him again. It would not do to step on a hedgehog.
Our mission was to move the cockerels from the coop nearest to the house, to the one we’d moved earlier that day down the bottom of the field. I’d covered it in tarpaulin and tree branches, their dead leaves languishing; fluttering slightly in the breeze. I wanted to soundproof it yet still allow the air to circulate.
For the last week one of the cockerels had been crowing. Slightly hesitant at first, he became louder and prouder as the week went on. He seemed to strut, bossing the other two cockerels, keeping them in their place. And, when he felt like it, he’d jump on top of one of the girls. His youth only then showing as the girls turned on him, pecking at him and he would flee, squawking, confused.
I would watch him walking around the field during the day. He’d stop, his feathers around his neck would rise, he’d extend his neck and open his mouth to crow. It was a lovely sound. But I was anxious. The other two would start crowing soon, too. Our neighbours are not far away. And too many cockerels would create tension and fighting.
Every morning I’d wake early. Not because of the crowing, although that would start soon enough. But because I didn’t know what to do with them. I advertised on a website but there was no interest. And I even thought about finding someone to kill, gut and pluck them.
At that stage I thought I could eat them.
That was before I held his foot.
But when I went out during the day they were the first to come running towards me. Obviously it was cupboard love. When I reached out to them they wouldn’t come close. Not even for corn. Their mum, Wincey, was fiercely protective of them when they were chicks. We weren’t allowed to touch and if I picked one up she would fly at me. I only did it once or twice and fortunately there was a barrier between us.
So I’d never held them properly. And certainly not as adults.
Tonight though, on this mission, I would have to. We were, after all, moving them.
We opened the back of the coop and my husband shone the torch inside. There they were. The three boys, and their sister, Trixibelle. Perched happily, ready for sleep.
They were not amused as I picked the first one up. My son grabbed the second. Oh the squawking. Their collars ruffled up. Shout, shout, shout.
“Let him grip your finger,” my son said. His had calmed down as we walked slowly down the field. I did as he instructed. Placing my finger on the soft underside of the cockerel’s foot. His toes immediately curled around my finger. His squawking stopped and his feathers around his collar went down. It was like a baby’s grip. I felt a connection with the bird. I knew he was scared and wanted to reassure him.
Just five months or so earlier this year I’d carried the fertilised eggs carefully and placed them underneath Wincey. I’d watched, awestruck, when these boys entered the world. The first one breaking out of his shell I managed to capture on film. Every hour I would pop down to the shed, to check on their progress. The first time they came out of their little house. The first time they came out of the shed and stepped on grass. The first time they met other chickens. I was there throughout.
I was reluctant to let him go, but carefully, I placed the cockerel in my arms into the coop with his two brothers and they were silent. The darkness calming them. In the morning their crowing could not be heard from our bedroom. Result. I walked down to release them. Hesitantly they stepped out and we herded them back up the field to their food and water. One stopped to crow on the way.
We repeated the process the following night. It was working a treat.
But then, the following day, they went to their new home. The man I’d been in touch with who said he could take them was ready to collect.
My stomach sank with sadness. I should not have held his foot.
But it’s ok, really. They’ve settled in. I can see their progress on facebook. And the rest of the flock are a lot calmer now they’ve gone. I feel the girls are saying, thank goodness for that.
Even so. I shouldn’t have held his foot.
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