For all the animal joy that exists on the farm in every direction that you look – chickens, kittens and dogs on the lawn, pigs and horses in the stables, donkeys and more horses across the field – there is, unfortunately, also a good dose of animal heartache.
Late in the autumn, Coco lost one of her beloved pigs suddenly and without explanation. The twin Gloucestershire Old Spots had been her 10th birthday present the summer before last, and she fed them and cared for them all that first summer. When we returned the following summer, the girls were unrecognizable – huge and fat and not so appealing to cuddle. But Coco loved them, especially Clementine, the friendlier one. And so our hearts broke when Becca, our groom, called to say she found Clemmie stone dead in her pen one morning. She was so heavy that my husband had to tie chains around her and drag her out of the farm yard with a tractor. Coco and I had been in London the night before, and thankfully the whole ordeal was over before we reached home.
Then our beloved dog Ginger went missing. For 24 hours we couldn’t find her. We checked the stable and the barns and then walked, drove and rode horses through every square inch of the farm and the surrounding farms in search of her. Nothing. Sometimes she would follow home a neighbor who rode down our bridleway, but they would always call to say that Ginger was with them. No one called. I even drove down the nearest fast road, wincing at the prospect of finding her alongside it. We went to bed that night in tears and woke up to that dreaded feeling when your body remembers something is wrong before your brain has the chance to. It wasn’t long into that next morning when we all heard a bark outside the house. I ran outside and Gingy came running around the corner, barking and then murmuring reassurances as we hugged her and cried with relief. Becca explained that she heard barking while feeding the horses down in the field and discovered Ginger in an outbuilding that no one had been in for months. It was then that my poor husband remembered that he’d stuck his head in the building that morning and not realised that Ginger had followed him inside.
Ultimately for me, the greatest long-term sadness came when a fox ate our rooster. We bought Kaiser at our local agricultural show in the beginning of last September. He was just a few months old with humble feathers and a feeble crow. Soon we got a dozen hens to join his family, and his evolution began. Each month his feathers intensified in color and began to curl at the ends. His morning cry grew louder and more authoritative. He started to strut around the farmyard, seemingly posing for me when I got my camera out. In the months we knew him he went from being an awkward teenage boy to a magnificent and proud gentleman. Then one night in early spring, a fox got into our chicken house, probably the same one that ate 6 of my brother-in-law’s hens a week earlier. We didn’t notice anything amiss until Christopher walked into the side yard where the chickens live and saw a massive pile of feathers outside their door. We quickly realized that we hadn’t heard Kaiser cock-a-doodle-doing that morning. Slowly through the day the reality dawned on us and by evening we knew he was gone. There was only one other hen missing, and we like to think that Kaiser died defending his girls. I gathered up a pile of his most beautiful feathers, and I keep them in my room in a vase on the windowsill.
Our new rooster is called BangBang. I love the name, don’t you? It was Christopher’s idea. He is already a grown man, and we got him in the hopes that it’s not too late in the season for him to make some chicks with the hens. He is lovely but shy – I’ve barley been able to get a photo of him. But I have every hope that, in time, he’ll make his way into my heart as Kaiser did.
|Kaiser, on the day he came home with us.|
|The chickens live in our kids’ old play house. I love how they sleep on the banister of the balcony. Sometimes we check on them before we go to bed and can hear them snoring! That’s Kaiser down on the right.|
|Christopher giving Kaiser a cuddle.|
|This was the first snow, and I was so excited to see what the chickens were going to do, but they just went about their day as normal.|
|Kaiser and his bouquet of ladies.|
|Kaiser in his full-feathered glory, just before he died.|
|What’s left of our handsome boy.|