The sap is rising, and Martin Gurdon’s cockerel is responding…
Out in the garden, something is stirring, and that stirring, gentle reader, is in the region of Svenson the cockerel’s loins.
I trust this won’t cause offence, but Svenson, a handsome, strutting bird now aged about three, is an unreconstructed sexual pillager.
This is not good news for Meringue, our ageing Marans hen, who must be pushing seven, and is the most frequent recipient of his maraudings, something I’d alluded to last month, but which is now getting steadily worse.
Not for Svenson the youthful charms of Slasher and Too (originally known to us as ‘the other two,’ until Slasher reacted to being caught by yanking at the skin of my hand with her beak). Slasher is an Araucana and a prodigious layer of greenish eggs. Too is a Welsummer cross – crossed with what I’m not sure. Both arrived last year, and if fecundity relates to productivity, she ought to be a chicken lust magnate, since she lays even more eggs than Slasher.
Meringue hasn’t laid anything for years, but none of this bothers Svenson, who ignores the youthful totty and keeps chasing her round the garden and squashing her into the grass.
It must be hormonal, because every spring, Sven, Svenson’s dad, wouldn’t leave her alone either.
Sven was supposedly of Swedish extraction, the result of a neighbour’s attempts to breed Nordic birds, which came unstuck when most of the hatchlings turned out to be male.
Sven was a bit of a gent; solicitous to all his ladies in a way his son is not, but when his sap rose, poor old Meringue was always on his hit list.
In rheumatic old age, Sven would sit for long periods, casting the garden with an increasingly liverish gaze, before hauling himself to his feet and going in stiff-legged pursuit of a girlfriend, who could often out-run him.
Not so Svenson, who can hurtle from one end of the garden to the other like a small, feather-clad rugby player.
Last year he grew so fixated on Meringue that she began hiding in the henhouse and missing meals.
We bought a canvas chicken saddle which has elasticated wing straps. This covers a bird’s back and flanks and offers some protection from a cockerel’s spurs, which can cut and injure. Meringue was not keen on this piece of couture, and getting her into was the cause of some stress and a lot of struggling.
It was only partially successful. After one particularly athletic coming together, it ended up over her head, causing Meringue to become increasingly agitated as she walked backwards, in circles.
Armed with a pair of specialist spur clippers and an elderly nail file, I began regularly capturing Svenson to give him a spur pedicure, which he absolutely loathed.
As I clipped and scraped, his neck feathers would puff out as he became rigid with tension. At one point, I thought he was hyperventilating and worried that he might have a heart attack.
Clipping a cockerel’s spurs needs a degree of care. You have to go for the newest growth, at the very tip, where the spur is almost transparent. Clip too far down and it will bleed. The thought makes me shudder, and I’ve so far avoided this.
I wasn’t sure how successful these ministrations were and, in the end, came up with what I hoped was a kinder solution.
This involved a tube of high impact glue and some little plastic caps, taken from the tips of an old metal clothes horse. I glued these over Svenson’s spur ends, which created a bright orange blur when he ran.
He seemed completely indifferent to them, they did a good job of protecting his girls, and only now, about eight months after I fitted them, has one fallen off.
Another gluing session is on the horizon, but, in the meantime, I’m keeping a close watch on Meringue, his favourite, and Brahms, his least loved chicken, to make sure his activities don’t stop them eating.
Brahms is a Brahma. She’s a large, vulture-faced bird with almost Paisley, dark brown plumage and a stand-offish nature. Svenson doesn’t fancy her; he sees little reason for her to eat food that could otherwise go to birds that he does, so frequently chases her away at feeding time.
Francine Raymond thinks that this may be because he’s worked out that she won’t mother any chicks, although this is equally true of Meringue, and he finds her irresistible.
It’s ironic that sex, or the lack of it, has caused our least and most fancied birds to join forces, eating together and hiding from Svenson.
It’s ironic, too, that we suspect Svenson is rather inept in the trouser department, waggling his bum inches above his beloveds. Basically, we think he’s spatially challenged aim-wise.
Proof? Last year we tried hatching a dozen eggs from his flock, but not one of them was fertile.