Saturday morning dawned crisp and clear. Geoff, Rosemary and I, plus the canine executive, hastily convened on the patio. We knew the chosen purveyor of all things poultry was only going to be open until lunchtime, and the thought of having to wait until Monday was well, frankly, unthinkable. We wanted chickens, and we wanted them yesterday.
The day before, I had cut and drilled pieces of an old pallet to make supports for the ends of our structural broom handles and pickaxe handle, while Geoff and Rosemary fixed lengths of two by two together to make the frame for the moveable run. We had devised a sliding door to let the chickens in and out of the run, which was working beautifully, and felt much more innovative than the hinged one we had originally planned. Now all we needed to do was screw the ‘furniture’ inside the coop and staple the chicken wire and wheels to the run. We had no staples for the staple gun, so we decided to fit out the coop comfortably, and then make a trip into Huércal Overa to buy both chickens and staples. The chickens could sit in the car while Geoff nipped into the ferretería. Simple!
An hour later, we were bowling down the road in a fine state of excitement. Geoff, of course, was being very blokey and cool about it, but he was just as keen as we were.
Buying something about which you have only the vaguest grasp of terminology in your own language, becomes quite an adventure in Spanish. My diminutive Spanish-English dictionary does not cover the finer points of scabies or point-of-lay, and we knew the shopkeeper’s English was even more rudimentary than my Spanish. We walked in purposefully, but I could not help noticing that Geoff and Rosemary positioned themselves out of the line of fire, suddenly developing an interest in budgies and dog accessories.
The shopkeeper recognised us from our reconnaissance trip the day before, and asked what he could do for us today.
“Well,” I replied, in no doubt execrable Spanish, “we have the cage ready, and we need everything else.” There followed a tour of the facility, debates upon the merits of plastic or metal feeders, organic food or a complete but less eco-friendly feed, wood shavings and straw and whether we would like an automatic water dispenser. We soon had an exciting pile of chicken-related items on a trolley by the door. A rep, who had been there when we arrived, was waiting patiently, exchanging pleasantries with a few older Spanish men, who seemed mildly entertained by the goings-on.
“Todo?” asked the shopkeeper. “Is that everything?”
I raised a quizzical eye-brow. “Las gallinas?” How could he have forgotten the chickens?
He smote his brow theatrically and grinned. I love these flashes of complete understanding, when the veil of incomprehension is torn aside, and fun can be shared unhindered by the struggle to express, understand and be understood.
He disappeared briefly, and reappeared brandishing two rather small cardboard boxes. I had prepared myself not to be shocked, reasoning that chickens like to be snuggled up together, and that they would slither about less in the car if they were closely confined. The two boxes would be suitable for four chickens, and they would soon be in their luxury suite under the stairs anyway.
We followed him to the back room where the livestock live. It is comparatively clean and bright, with pens for chickens, pullets and quails. Facing them are racks of cages, containing pigeons and partridges. A far too small cage on the far wall contains beautiful rabbits in soft greys and whites, browns and brindles. I suspect they are destined for the pot, but part of me hopes that such pretty ones will be pampered pets.
“Gallinas Ponedoras 6€” says the sign on the first pen. This was the moment to choose our ladies. At first glance, most of them look very similar. They are comfortable, fat-bottomed, brown hens. The sort that Janet and John would have. They amble about in a good-natured way, having a muttered, not very deep conversation.
The shopkeeper let himself in to the pen, and quickly and expertly caught a fine, plump, gorgeous bird. She scarcely had the time to be surprised before he stuffed her unceremoniously into the first box. Rosemary and I were determined to have some say in which birds we had, so we pointed out one with paler feathers and a creamy froth of tail, like faded petticoats spilling out from under her brown skirts. Geoff wanted to know how old the birds were, and how soon they would start to lay. This was a practical question we had neglected to ask, but I had assumed that if they were on sale as ponedoras (layers) they would oblige in the very near future.
This time, the man caught the chicken, but held her for a while, groping about her nether regions in a slightly unseemly fashion. “I’m feeling the bones,” he explained. “You can tell when they will start to lay by the bones, and when their combs turn redder.” He fumbled a bit more. “About two week’s time,” he declared, with an impressive confidence.
Without discussing it, we tacitly agreed to let him choose the other two for us. In no time at all, we had our full complement, quietly muttering in their travel accommodation, perched atop the trolley. We were rather alarmed when the man whipped out a Stanley knife and started slashing the boxes in a rather Norman Bates fashion. There were, however, no signs of distress from the ladies, so we assumed, once again, that he knew what he was doing. The multiple holes would provide ventilation, and presumably, the chickens would move away from the noise and the slashing.
A quick calculation and fifty euros later, we loaded our purchases into the car and headed to the ferretería to buy the staples. Rosemary and I discussed names as we waited for Geoff. Henrietta was an obvious choice, and Rosemary had always wanted to call something Parmesina. Celestine seemed a suitable name, although neither of us quite knew why, and Cordelia completed the set. By the time Geoff reappeared, the decision was made.
We drove home, charmed by the quiet remarks of the chickens, who seemed to be passing comment upon our conversation in an eccentric dowager stage whisper. Maybe they were trying to work out what was happening, and who their abductors were.
The dog of the blog and her partner in crime were very interested in the boxes, and sniffed at each sack and feeder as we unloaded them from the car. Fortunately, they managed to contain their excitement reasonably well while we unloaded, spread the floor of the coop with wood shavings and set up the food and water. Unfortunately, their behaviour eventually showed signs of deterioration, so they had to stay indoors while we transferred the ladies to their coop. The process went off very smoothly, and we had the hens installed and an ancient fireguard across the door in no time at all.
The chickens set about filling their faces immediately, and seemed completely untraumatised by the recent upheaval. We decided to leave them in peace while we finished off the run for them.
The rest of the afternoon passed happily, with Geoff stretching and stapling the wire to the frame, while Rosemary and I took it in turns to hammer the staples fully home. It was a cheerful exercise in team building, and by the time dusk was setting in, Geoff still had the full complement of fingers and thumbs, and we all shared a huge sense of achievement.
We wheeled the run to outside the coop, pulled up its door, removed the fire-guard, and waited for the ladies to come out and explore. We waited a while longer. And then a little while more. The ladies had sensibly decided that it was warmer in than out and nearly time for bed. As we were feeling the nip in the air as well, we decided to put the fire-guard back in place and let them spend the last hour or so of daylight in peace. We had our lovely ladies safely home, and the morning would be soon enough to help them explore more of their new surroundings.