Pecking Order

Pecking Order

Can we call her Little Fatty?” I ask. One of our new chooks is adorably beak-down in some leftover rice and organic bacon rind. Greg is well-versed in the art of feminism, and wary of landmines. “Are we allowed to fat-shame chickens?” he asks. Solid query, but in the world of chooks, being massively into your food is a vocation, not an insult. I meant it in an adoring “this cat is CHONKY” kind of way.

As a breed, Belgian d’Uccles are rotund: little chubby Bantams with feathery tufts of face whiskers, feet sprouting feather “boots” (that cause them to run as though they’re wearing clown shoes) and surprisingly functional downward-slashing wings. Good flyers. Bing some images, I’ll wait. Gorgeous, right? I have two young ones, plus their nest mate, a black Rosecomb, and it’s been two weeks. It’s definitely time to start thinking names.

I’m struggling.

Fact is, I’m out of practice with chickens. I’ve been living a lie for the past year, a chicken lady without chooks. On the final day of 2019, in retrospect a Game of Thrones-style harbinger concurrent with the bushfires, I was awoken at 7am at the Woodford Folk Festival by a call from my then-housemate. There are only a handful of reasons your housemate will call you at 7am, none of them good. The positive was he hadn’t burned the house down, and I’m not ungrateful since it was an actual possibility (he sometimes vagued out and left the gas on), but a fox had got into the chicken run and massacred my flock. Yes, all of the lovely gals from my (still available!) book This Chicken Life. Well hello 2020.

We bought our house because there was room for chooks, but there have been no chooks. My “big dick” chicken energy dissipated. We’d hardly fixed up the old run and restock before moving, then COVID was off and running and you couldn’t get a chook anyway, because people had panic-bought them all. And there were renos, then a run had to be built, and it had to be, you know, really fox-proof.

So it’s been a year: a long time without chickens. Time enough to question myself. Am I getting more chickens because it’s my brand, rather than because I want them? The question is vexed and moot, because I have chicken enablers in my life and now I have more chickens. Lord, the instant drama. I’d forgotten! So much bullying, the tiny little molls.

My placeholder name for the Rosecomb is Sister BB, for Bossy Boots, because two minutes after arrival she turned, like a Disney villainess, on the chickens she’d hatched alongside and asserted her authoritah. She was like eight weeks old. “Out of my way,” she’s clearly saying to the d’Uccles. “You! Yes you! HURRY! I HAVEN’T GOT ALL DAY.”

Meanwhile, a different chicken-enabling mate gifts us two more Rosecombs, a blue and a splash. The splash doesn’t look great. She’s slumped. “She doesn’t look great,” I note to my friend, who prods her. She squawks and goes hyper alert, as you do when you’re prodded. “She’s fine,” he says. The blue, meanwhile, is hysterical about being removed from home and hearth. Slumpy and Screamy. The worst of Snow White’s sidekicks. These are not great names.

It’s early days. Of course I don’t love them yet. I loved my last flock. I loved Val. It’s obviously going to feel weird. Last night we weighed them for the first time. Plucked them gently as they slept, the three little ones huddled together like feathered bats on a strut inside of the coop. Fatty, a caramel marvel, weighs 50g more than her sister. She hoes into some corn. I appreciate her gusto. I take the opportunity to stroke her a little. She doesn’t seem to mind. Her feathers are very soft.

This is nice. Hey Little Fatty. Welcome.


By Fiona Scott-Norman

Fiona is a writer, comedian and fox-free lady.

First published in The Big issue edition #631