A FEW days ago I was surfacing from sleep at about 5.30am when I heard a cockerel crowing outside, which was surprising because we live right on a road. Looking out of the window I saw the bird strolling away towards the village, crowing as it went. A few hours later I opened the front door and there was the rooster on the step. Although the road is narrow and has a 30mph speed limit, cars and lorries come hurtling round a blind bend and I was worried that the bird would soon be run over. I called my husband Alan and we tried to catch it. Not a chance. Anyone who has ever tried to catch poultry will know, as we do now, that they have a sixth sense of the moves you will try to make and evade every one. Eventually it got a bit tired and settled for a rest in an inaccessible spot down a bank.
Our neighbour had already started ringing round to try to find out where the cockerel had come from. I went to the neighbouring farm and called at a house where they keep hens but drew a blank. Then I thought I would try the RSPCA. What a waste of time! The website makes it as hard as possible to find a phone number, and when you ring it you get an endless list of options and sub-options, plus stern lectures about how busy they are and not to bother them. Suitably intimidated, I tried their online chat function, which links you to a robot they call ‘Scout’. Here is our conversation:
Me: There is an escaped cockerel outside our house
Scout: These pages may be able to help you:
Me: Not any help at all.
Scout: You may find these pages useful:
Me: No, it is a male chicken.
Scout: These pages may be able to help you:
Me: Can you connect me to a real person?
Scout: Could you explain your enquiry to me so I can try and help you?
Me: I have found a stray cockerel outside my house.
Scout: Could you please provide more details? I’m a Conversational AI and I’m still learning. Please clearly state both the animal and your concern in your reply so I can give you the best advice.
Obviously at this point I gave up. One of the suggestions from the RSPCA phone line was to contact your vet, which I did. The receptionist was rather taken aback and said it was the first time she had heard of such advice, but she undertook to ask around.
By now the cockerel, despite the fact that Alan and I had chased it around, was back on the doorstep. As it happened we had a borrowed dog crate in the front room (having recently acquired a pup) waiting to go back to the owner. At our neighbour’s suggestion, we put the crate outside and scattered a trail of corn leading into it. To my great surprise and joy, it worked. The bird walked into the crate without demur and started tucking into the dish of corn.
Next thing one of the vets from our practice was on the phone. She said that if we couldn’t find the owner, she would be pleased to give the cockerel a home.
It was not long afterwards that the owner was located. She was away but the neighbour feeding the cockerel met us at the house. We discovered that the bird lived on his own in a dreary little pen, all of his accompanying hens having been picked off by a fox. I was not surprised at that because the wire netting enclosure was only about three feet high, and I have been told by a pest expert that you need at least 11ft to keep foxes out. It looked a miserable life, quite frankly, and I was sad at the idea of returning the bird to it, so I asked the neighbour to pass on the vet’s offer. It turned out that the owner was delighted: the poultry were her husband’s hobby and he had died about a year ago, and she was glad to be relieved of the responsibility.
So off the cockerel went to his new home on a farm. I had this email and picture from the vet:
‘We have baptised our new friend “Gaston”. He was a bit quiet and lost the first few days but is starting to flourish now. He has taken a liking to one of the girls and found his voice back a few days ago. Our days currently start at 4 am. Thanks again for letting him join our hen-family, he is a great character and we all love him already.
Please find attached a picture of Gaston and his girls.’
Looking back, it is as if Gaston was asking for help by coming to our house, where we just happened to have a suitable crate and were able to find him a better home. That is what I would like to think, anyway.
Sheep of the week
THIS is a Blue Texel sheep, a colour variant of the Texel which I wrote about here. The blue colour is a recessive gene linked to the earliest sheep in the Texel breed, and was first noticed in the Netherlands in the early 1970s when a blue lamb was born to white parents.
After more blue sheep were found in white flocks, there were deliberate matings for the blue factor. By 1983, there were 11 flocks with 213 blue sheep. Now there are 8,000 sheep in 300 flocks in the Netherlands, and around 300 registered flocks in all parts of the United Kingdom.
If two white Texels each carry the blue gene, there is a 25 per cent chance of a blue lamb. Two blue sheep will always produce blue lambs.
The blue pattern can vary from very pale animals to quite dark, but no part of the fleece is wholly black or white. The black head, ears and legs have symmetrical white markings. The flank wool is lighter than the shoulders and belly, sometimes a pale silvery blue.
There is evidence of higher fertility in Blue Texels, and the heads are slightly narrower, which may make lambing easier. Rams are used to cross with other breeds to produce prime lambs for the meat trade. The Blue Texel Sheep Society says they are attractive and friendly occupants of home paddocks, parkland and orchards.
You can read more about the breed here.
Wheels of the week
THIS is a 1975 Hillman Avenger 1600 DL Auto. The Avenger was launched in 1970 with 1250 and 1500 engines, upgraded to 1300 and 1600 in 1973. The DL (which stood for De Luxe!) was the basic model in the range, with rubber mats and a simple dashboard, whereas the top of the range GL had brushed nylon seats. At launch the DL model sold for £766.0.10d (£4,804 now) with an extra £32.12.9d (£200) for the 1500 engine and £88.15.7d (£550) for automatic transmission. The 0-60mph time for this model was 14.2 seconds.
In 1975 the Avenger was rebranded as a Chrysler and in 1979 as a Talbot. Production ceased in 1981.