Spouse and I have lived on smallholdings in the Durham Dales in the north-east of England and in the Charente Maritime in south-west France. Of all the animals and birds we kept, our feathered friends were the most entertaining and at times exasperating.
Up in the Durham Dales we decided to keep some ducks and our neighbours had a glut of young ducklings at that time and were keen to offload some on to us. Spouse built them a duckhouse to keep them safe from the foxes at night and then we looked about for a suitable receptacle to use as a pond. We didn't have anything big enough. So, we took ourselves off to the nearby town and found the very thing - a chld's heavy duty paddling pool in bright blue plastic. It was too large to tote down the street to where our car was parked, so spouse wore it on his head. Needless to say, I was ten paces in front and walking fast to make it twenty.
After that excitement, we got our new pool home and filled it up. Now we were set for our new arrivals. Six ducks and one drake came to live in the field next to our house. They were very entertaining and best of all, loved their pond. Our dogs were quite keen for a duck supper at first, but were soon made to know their place when they were on the receiving end of a few nasty nips from Henry, our drake.
Henry was an enterprising duck. At the time of his arrival on our farm, I always fed our dogs outside, as the retriever was a particularly messy eater. It didn't take Henry long to suss out when it was dinner time and he would come waddling up to the back door, elbow the dogs out of the way and finish off their food for them. And the dogs were so intimidated by him, they stood back and watched! So I brought their food indoors, but Henry was not deterred by this. He boldly marched into the back kitchen and carried on scoffing. In the end the door had to be locked against him.
in his favour though, was the fact that he was an unusually good parent. Unfortunately, our new mums never seemed to be too concerned about their offspring and would wander off in search of food, never caring whether their babes were keeping up or not. But Henry cared deeply and was very gentle, conscientious and caring about all his children, watching them as they took their first dip, making sure they didn't stray too far away from him and generally being a good dad. So I suppose a little doggie dinner here and there didn't go amiss.
His successor, Sam, however, was a very different kettle of drake. I described him the other day to a friend, as being like Hitler on speed and really, when I think of it, this is quite an accurate description. Henry had been a very handsome drake, plump and well proportioned, whereas Sam was long and stringy and obviously didn't care for the water too much, as he always looked dirty, his feathers hanging stringily about him. Worzel Gummidge comes to mind.
I could have forgiven him this, but he was a bully. He didn't treat the women well and they were afraid of him, always trying to escape his rough and demanding attentions. One day matters came to a head when my poor girls all squeezed under the field gate and into our garden to escape Sam. He, left on the other side of the gate, patrolled up and down, a mad Basil Fawlty gleam in his eye and squawking the odds at us to let him in and let him at 'em.
I had had enough. No male of any species was going to behave like that on my farm. I found spouse and asked him to go and shoot Sam. He was one drake we could do without. Spouse obliged and put the corpse in the clean dustbin we used to keep feed in, to await my attentions. It so happened, Sam had to wait until the next afternoon to be dealt with. I had planned a shopping trip to the nearby town the next morning and I think we were lucky to get out of there without major incident. As we were passing the hardware section in the supermarket, spouse remarked, 'Oh by the way after I shot Sam yesterday, I put him in the clean feedbin as he was bleeding a bit. It will need washing out.' As we passed we noticed a young assistant up a ladder. She had been in the process of dusting the shelves. The hand holding the duster was frozen in mid-air. She was white faced and looked shocked. We made a swift exit from the supermarket glad not to be met with an armed response unit outside.
A few years later we were keeping ducks and hens again. Our favourites were Sylvia the worlds most inquisitive hen and Pa Larkin, the cockerel and head of the tribe. We called him after Pa Larkin in 'The Darling Buds Of May' as he really looked after his family well, making sure they got the pick of the best food and protecting them from all comers.
Until the day of the rounding up. We were coming over to England for a month on a house hunting trip and our neighbours across the fields were going to have our livestock over at their place to look after. So, we had to round up the hens and ducks and transport them over the way. As they were all pretty tame, it didn't prove to be a problem, except for Pa Larkin, who suddenly found his wings and took to the air for the first time in his life and flew over the high wall of the enclosure, legging it at speed down the road and into the nearby wood.
Our hearts sank. However would we catch a cockerel stuck up a tree in a wood? There was not much likelihood of that. However, we were not ones to throw in the towel after the first round, so we got on our bikes and pedalled furiously after him. On entering the wood we got quite a surprise. There was Pa Larkin crouched on the ground with his eyes tight shut. If he couldn't see us, we sure as heck wouldn't see him! I suppose that is how cockerel theory goes. Spouse ditched the bike and gathered up the bird. I have to say he was none too pleased to be so easily discovered and spouse suffered some nasty nips from Pa's sharp beak, but at least he could be restored to his lady friends.
That was his only bid for freedom and he lived to a ripe old age, happily watching over his girls by night and day. Just nobody mention the woods again.