If you have ever seen the film Alice’s Restaurant, there is a scene where the cafe is shut, and the sign on the door reads: ‘Closed, on account of a lot of death’.
Whilst not exactly closed (we still manage to put eggs out for those all-important farmgate sales), we have been rather subdued these last few days, for the same reason as Alice’s Restaurant.
Well, let’s get it into perspective; firstly this week a chook dropped off the perch and floated off to join the ‘choir invisibule’ (as Mr Cleese says in the Dead Parrot sketch). It was one of the hybrid variety, a cross between exceptional laying breeds, developed to lay, lay and lay again. This egg-a-day genetic programming takes its toll on a chook’s body, like a Ferrari constantly raced flat out – it eventually runs out of gas. Then, just when the moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth (mainly by the Young Mistress, the sensitive one, bless her) had subsided, Gamford came back from Chicken Acres one day with a report that one of the quail was looking a bit peaky.
Why is this such a big deal? Folk who keep quail usually have quite a few, as they are such small birds and therefore it’s a lot easier to have, say, 30 quail (space-wise) than it is to have 30 hens. We started with 12 quail, so why the panic? Well, through sales and old age we were down to just three. Yes, just three. One boy and two girls.
Later that day, the Young Mistress (why is it always the most emotionally vulnerable who witness awful stuff, like finding dead things?) came in and reported: “Mummy! Come quick. There’s a quail lying down and it’s not getting up.” Gulp.
By the time I get there Gamford has already spotted it and removed it from the run and it is lying in state, on top of the veggie bed. We go over and peer at it. It is, indeed, deceased. I secretly note that it is one of the girls, so we still have a boy and girl together to keep each other company. Better that than two girls. Two elderly lady quail, I think, would be like two old ladies in a nursing home, bickering and whacking lumps out of each other with their walking sticks.
But for the Young Mistress, this is one death too many. The eyes fill and the sobbing starts.
Then, the inevitable questions about Heaven, and why bodies are left behind, and if the quail will be ‘up there’ with Nana Barbara and Nana Wilma looking down on us, and will it get new feathers?
And this is where smallholding really differs from farming. Because you are dealing with smaller numbers, the whole thing is more personal, and therefore more distressing when something shuffles off. And if it is something your child has named, then it’s double-bad.
And the moral of the story? Have more than one of each thing (preferably quite a few more, as children tend to get stuck after about five names) and make sure that they are all of different ages (the animals, not the kids), so they don’t all pop their wee clogs at once.
Animal death sorted.