From his early days as an adorable chick, we wondered if Doodle Doo would ever manage to be a big, butch rooster. We would look at him snuggled on Rosemary’s lap, and struggle to envisage him being a proper cockerel, doing proper cockerel stuff. He seemed to be the one at the bottom of the pile in any scrap, even after we had sorted out the these-hen-chicks-are-actually-boys fiasco. He could not hold his own, even against Bebe and Cecille. He was, frankly, a pitiful wuss.
As the baby chickens grew, Doodle Doo held firmly to his position of underdog. He could not have given a seven stone weakling even a hint of a trouncing. Cecille sat on him. Bebe bossed him about. He still ran to Rosemary for cuddles and protection. He was a mummy’s boy, affectionate and easy to pick up.
During the protracted process of introducing the babies to the ladies, Doodle Doo made himself inconspicuous, while Bebe and Cecille fronted up to the ladies and thumbed their metaphorical beaks at them.
“Ner ner! Can’t catch us!” the girl babies would chortle at the ladies from the safety of the Chicken Baby Palace. Doodle Doo would stand in the corner behind them, looking apologetic and distancing himself from their comments. We watched, amused, but concerned that when push came to shove, Doodle Doo would not have what it takes to be a man chicken and do the necessary to make babies. If he approached a lady, he would almost certainly be rebuffed, ridiculed or even attacked.
In short, the future for Doodle Doo looked rather uncertain.
When we finally put the babies and the ladies together, all the ladies could best the poor boy. It took time before even the gentle Cordelia stopped taking a pop at him if he got too close. Celestine was fairly unkind to him and Parmesina was viciously determined to show him that she was the head chicken. This was ridiculous, as he was, by now, larger than all of them, but he had a small chicken’s soul in a big chicken’s body.
The weeks passed and he learned to crow. Parmesina eyed him sceptically and crowed back at him. She did not have the right notes, but she compensated with attitude for what she lacked in accuracy. It was going to take a minor miracle for Doodle Doo to take his rightful place as head of the flock.
He grew larger and stronger, and developed a splendid cockerel tail. A froth of white fluffy plumage covered his manly behind, with a glorious array of tall, curled black and white feathers sleek and shot-silky, announcing his magnificence to the world. His wattles and comb were vibrant red, and his feet were huge and yellow and fabulous. His eyes were golden, beady and stern. He was the embodiment of gorgeousness and authority.
Parmesina remained unimpressed, but we did spot him playing leap frog with Bebe and Cecille. At least that is what we think they were doing.
Two or three weeks ago, I was taking some treats down for the chickens, when Doodle Doo came up behind me and pecked at my leg. He drew blood, and there were two punctures where his beak had sunk into my calf. It really hurt. I was torn between dismay that this two foot bundle of muscle could hurt me and delight that he was finally manning up.
I took to carrying the shovel with me whenever I entered Camp Chicken. Doodle Doo had found his mojo, and heaven help anyone who invaded his territory. He took a lump out of our neighbour’s leg one day, and the bruising he caused was impressive.
The ladies started to exhibit signs of enforced games of leap frog. Their heads sported small bald patches and they would crouch fearfully when he strutted past. I had to remove Cordelia from the run one day. She was looking, as the Monty Python sketch would say “tired and shagged out after a long squawk.” I sponged her down, fed her up, and gave her a pep talk. I felt like the coach of a very inadequate boxer.
“If he won’t leave you alone, I’ll see about segregating him.” I crooned at her. “Don’t you worry.” She warbled unsteadily at me. She was not convinced. I promised to keep an eye on things and returned her to the run.
The ladies settled into a routine under Doodle Doo’s not very benevolent dictatorship. They would sit at his feet as he crowed and posed on an upturned crate. They would defer to him where food was concerned. They would admire his spectacular tail and cluck their agreement with everything he said.
In return, he would look brave if trouble approached and jump on them whenever he felt like it. I did not feel this was a very fair exchange, but I am no expert in poultry etiquette. I made sure there were at least two sets of food and water, so that if he was too selfish, the ladies could eat away from him. It seemed to work.
We decided to let them out to free range whenever possible, so the ladies could get away from Doodle Doo and grub about for bugs in peace. As long as we are about to keep an eye on things, they are fine, so we have settled into a pattern. I let them out, and while they are busy I have the time to check and refill the feed and water containers, collect eggs and clean out the coop. Trying to fend off rooster attacks while doing these things is pretty tricky, but necessary if Doodle Doo is around. He is scarily territorial these days.
When it is time for them to return to Camp Chicken, I wave some food about and call them in. The lure of yoghurt or lettuce has them leaping through the long dry grass like a herd of velociraptors. They sprint for the food, I throw it though the door and slam it closed as soon as most of them are inside. Stragglers can be lured up the stairs, and when they are not looking, I give them a gentle push on the bottom and they flutter down into the enclosure. It works very well.
One hot afternoon last week, I left the chickens ranging happily, while I started on dinner. We had guests staying, and they were outside relaxing with a book and a drink. All of a sudden I heard a huge clamour from outside. The chickens were making a terrible noise, the dogs were barking and Cheryl was making the most unladylike noise I have ever heard her make.
I threw my spatula onto the worktop and rushed out to see what on earth was going on. Cheryl, Nick and the dogs were at the fence, looking down onto the garden below, bellowing and barking at a black, stumpy-legged dog who has come and played with our three from time to time.
There were feathers everywhere. My heart sank. I grabbed a stone and lobbed it at him, screaming at him to go away. (Anyone who has seen me throwing things will know I am really bad at it, but I felt I had to try.)
Doodle Doo was making the most awful noise, which was understandable under the circumstances: Stumpy Dog had Doodle Doo’s magnificent bottom in his mouth. The ladies had scattered, squawking and chuntering in distress.
In less time than it takes to describe the scene of mayhem and potential carnage, Stumpy Dog tried to adjust his grip, and Doodle Doo pulled free of his jaws. He legged it back into Camp Chicken, leaving Stumpy Dog with a huge faceful of feathers. It looked as if the dog was wearing a huge fake beard. It would have been funny if it had not been so alarming.
We bellowed some more at Stumpy Dog, and he decided to make a tactical withdrawal before things got too nasty. The false beard fell to the floor in a lump, as he disappeared out of the garden and off up the rambla.
“The dog got in and was scaring the chickens.” Nick and Cheryl explained. “He got hold of Doodle Doo, but he managed to get away.” A patch of ground near to the coop testified to the scuffle. Masses of white feathers fluttered among the dried weeds and grasses.
“But then he got a hold of him again, and he wasn’t going to let go in a hurry.”
That was where I had come in. Nobody knew exactly what had occurred. It had all happened so quickly. I, however, know what I choose to believe.
Stumpy Dog came into the garden, looking to steal a chicken. Doodle Doo saw the interloper, and bravely lured him away from his ladies, giving them time to run and hide, nobly prepared to put his life on the line for the good of his little flock.
It would be churlish to point out that Doodle Doo’s tail would only have been available to grab if he was running away. It was probably all part of his cunning plan, in any case.
I hurried down the steps to check how everyone was, and to make sure they were all present and correct. The brown ladies were hovering about nervously. They were prepared to give a statement, but they did not want their names in the papers. I ushered them into Camp Chicken, where Bebe was expressing her shock and outrage. I do not speak colloquial chicken, but I have a feeling her language was somewhat ripe.
Doodle Doo was inside the coop, hiding under the nest box. His swagger was missing, along with his beautiful tail. Where there had been transcendent gorgeousness, there was a pathetic, naked little parson’s nose. Two or three feeble little black plumes were left. Not even enough for a decent comb-over, but miraculously, Stumpy Dog had not broken the skin anywhere.
I told Doodle Doo how clever and brave he was, and that his feathers would grow back. I told him that looks are not everything, and that his ladies would be forever grateful to him. He looked at me with thinly disguised loathing. I decided he needed some space, especially as I had forgotten to pick up the shovel.
Three brown ladies, Doodle Doo and Bebe were safely inside. But where was Cecille? Nobody had seen her. There were so many feathers drifting around the garden that we feared Stumpy Dog had hurt her and she had run off to die somewhere. Or maybe he had an accomplice who had grabbed Cecille while our attention was elsewhere. It did not bear thinking about.
We quartered the garden, checked the street, peered over into Juan’s garden, scanned the rambla and could find no trace of her. Soon it would start to go dark, and if she was not home safely by then, she would certainly not last the night.
My heart was heavy as I suggested we could do no more. Something had got her, and we would probably never know exactly what became of her. I turned to go back to cooking the dinner.
“Hold on! She’s hiding under here!”
Nick had spotted Cecille crouching in the undergrowth beneath the algorrobo tree in the corner. Terrified by the kerfuffle, she had found refuge and been too frightened to come out again. She was surprisingly well camoflaged among the weeds and grass.
With soothing words and the promise of protection, we encouraged her out of her hiding place, and escorted her back to Camp Chicken.
We decided we had better leave our feathered friends in peace to come to terms with their appalling ordeal. As we headed back to the house we could hear their quiet mutterings.
“I was so scared”
“Did you see his teeth?”
“Yeah, but I sorted him out…”