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The ups and downs of raising your own hens

PUBLISHED: 08:31 19 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:22 20 February 2013

The ups and downs of raising your own hens

The ups and downs of raising your own hens

Heidi Berry is the victim of fowl play on her smallholding

Exactly 28 days ago I switched on a dodgy looking electrical contraption attached to a small polystyrene box that Id bought on eBay back in March. I put inside a dozen of what I hoped were fertile eggs from our own ducks.

After 18 days turning morning, noon and night I left them for a week just adding water for humidity. The box buzzed and clicked happily until two days ago I heard a faint chirping.

Last night, I went to check and out popped a tangle of skin, bones and soggy feathers. I dont know why but we were surprised to see it sporting an oversized bill and webbed feet. I suppose were more used to seeing chicks. A night under the heat lamp transformed the scrawny mess into the most adorable thing Ive ever seen! Im a mum again!

On a not so positive note, a tragedy occurred on the small-holding last month. In the space of two days we had two suspicious fatalities. I was washing up one evening and looking out onto the fields where the ducks hang out. There were only five.

I went out to find Cyril, the male Indian runner. I didnt have to search for long as he was by the brook looking distressed. He was limping and when I managed to have a closer look I found he had a gash right down his belly. This is where I struggle to be unemotional and the line gets blurred between pets and livestock.

Being late evening by now my only choice of vet was the out-of-hours service. I was informed that there would be a substantial charge for the initial examination and if, as I predicted, Cyril needed to be put down another even larger charge.

I set off, Cyril in a picnic hamper in the foot well, with every intention of parting with a chunk of money. As I neared my destination I found myself driving round traffic islands several times unsure of what to do. I made some phone calls and was soon on route to my friends, whos husband is a trained killer.

Cyrils suffering was ended in a second. I was present and am not ashamed to say I cried a few tears for the poor duck. We still dont know what caused the injury but two nights later as I counted the chickens before locking them away found one missing. The plot thickened, I imagined that something or someone was picking off my fowl one by one. For the next 48 hours everyone was a suspect.

On the Tuesday at dusk I was leaning over the brook filling a drinker when I found a ghostly body bobbing under the brook bridge. Bluebell the chicken had obviously fallen in and drowned. Im not very good with dead things so without looking at it more than necessary I tried to fish it out with the rake. This is not the tool of choice. I ended up having to touch it after all; I grabbed the feet and carried it over to the burial area.

I dug what I thought was a chicken-size hole and manoeuvred the corpse in. I covered it over with soil and opened my eyes properly for the first time during the whole of this morbid operation. It was hopeless - you could still see feathers and the beak sticking out. I dragged an old slab from behind the shed and as respectfully as possible lowered it over the grave. The noise that came out from underneath still hasnt left me, something to do with still having air inside the body, I think. Suffice to say I ran into the house faster than you can say RIP.

This is why its even more fantastic that the eggs are hatching, the little fluff ball making all that noise in our spare room is Cyrils offspring! Over the last few weeks we managed to find replacements for Cyril and Bluebell but I still havent tracked down the culprit. I cant go without saying a huge THANK YOU to all those people who have lifted, shifted, supported me during the last few months - you know who you are! This life is by no means a bed of roses. Without you I would not have been able to keep doing what I do.

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