Heidi Padain: Entertainment in your garden

Rumours spread quickly in most communities and sometimes rumours start out sounding a little trivial. This one, however, had me rather intrigued.

There’s a park at the end of the road where we live and every Sunday morning there is a dog training class. Apparently the most recent addition to the class arrives alone and is a little unusual. As you can imagine, the appearance of a chicken provided much entertainment for both dogs and their owners, but by the third week everyone was becoming a little concerned. How did it get there? Also, with the winter season approaching fast, what were the chances of its survival?

Martin and I had occasionally talked about keeping chickens, not with any serious intent but given the potential demise of this rogue chicken in our neighbourhood, we agreed that maybe now would be an opportune time to start our very own Good Life project.

Erin, who runs the dog training classes, had kept chickens for many years but wasn’t able to take this chicken on, so when I mentioned that we would like to provide it with a home, she agreed to help us. Erin and I went to the park together, and in no time at all the chicken came out of the bush and confidently made her way toward us. To be honest, I was expecting to see a standard little brownish chicken. However, this was no ordinary chicken. This was Uber Chook. Large, very large, black, shiny and strikingly beautiful. The sun shone brightly on this day and what I noticed, was that she had iridescent blue-green running through her black feathers, not unlike a tui bird. She was gorgeous.

Martin was a little taken aback at the size of our new family member. His first words were “She’s bigger than the dog!” She is bigger than our dog. In the days that followed we learned a great deal about chickens, and our chicken, who we named Cilla Black. Cilla is a heritage breed, an Orpington. Cilla has a personality to match her size, she looks you in the eye when you talk to her and will follow you around like a dog. What surprised us most was how determined she was. Once she got an idea in her head, there was no stopping her. We had a fenced off area for Cilla at the back of the property but she had watched us climb the stairs often enough to get the idea that she was coming too, and late one afternoon she made an appearance up on our deck. We were shocked to see her up on the deck rail of our pole house. It’s very high off the ground but Cilla was fearless and very determined to join the tui birds partaking in the fruit banquet. All our frequent bird visitors treated Cilla as though she was just another bird. Cilla had settled right in.

On the third day after Cilla’s arrival, while Martin sat at his computer designing Chateau Coop, I went outside to release Cilla from her temporary night enclosure. She was very pleased to see me. Coffee in hand I spent some time with her. Suddenly, Cilla decided to impress me with what can only be described as a singing, dancing solo cabaret act from hell. Cilla crowed and then she crowed some more. The sound was horrendous, I felt the blood rush to my face as I considered the neighbours listening to this. I was horrified. It was very apparent that Cilla was more of a Cyril. My heart sank.

Martin and I were both sad about the reality, but living in a valley the equivalent of an amphitheatre meant that attracting the wrath of every local resident was inevitable.

The first thing I did was to call Bird Rescue. Lyn informed that they wouldn’t take a rooster and in fact they receive calls like this quite often because people are in the habit of dumping roosters, and this is becoming quite a problem. Lyn advised that we could take the rooster to the SPCA who will euthanize him for a small fee. Clearly this wasn’t a desirable outcome.

Eventually, the solution came from our good friend Graham who keeps chickens. Graham put us in touch with Heritage Farm breeders Raewyn and Gary Norton. They were more than happy to take our Uber Rooster. Raewyn advised us that there seems to be an increase in people dumping their unwanted roosters. Without appropriate food and warmth they will die. As a breeder, she always informs her buyers that when they purchase chicks at an age when the sex cannot be determined if they later find they have roosters, they can return them to her. Apparently a great many sellers, particularly on TradeMe, are not doing this.

As part of this journey, I learnt an awful lot about chickens and found people who keep chickens to be passionate and humorous. Chicken whisperers’ are everywhere. Kathleen who lives in Glenfield has kept chickens for around four years, and, despite the occasion getaway attempts, neighbours are very supportive and provide food scraps in exchange for eggs.

Hone, who lives in Kingsland, has neighbours who keep chickens and they do have roosters. Hone doesn’t find the noise to be a problem because they live near a motorway. There is a permanent low frequency rumble in the air here all the time. I guess amongst traffic noise, loud TVs, screaming kids and lawnmowers... when you do notice them crowing in the morning, it sounds insignificant.

So, there you go. Finding the ideal environment for roosters can be tricky, but not impossible. (HEIDI PADAIN)

Here’s a couple of helpful links should you ever find yourself with an unwanted Uber Chook...

Heritage Farm - www.heritagefarmnz.com

Arborfield Sanctuary - www.arborfieldsanctuary.co.nz

To see some of Heidi’s other photographic work go to www.flickr.com and type Heidi Padain into the search box or you can contact Heidi by email hidihi@xtra.co.nz