When I was new to haggling (the act of keeping hens for eggs, for those down the back), I was continuously amazed by how thick hens really are, and how they managed to lose each other in such a small 2mx1m space, so quickly and so completely. I seriously think that, as well as the miraculous ability to lay eggs, some of them might come with the ability to procure parts for a personalised cloaking device. We had two in particular, Foghorn and Leghorn, whose antics reached notoriety in our small neighbourhood.
Without fail every morning Foghorn would wake up early, shout to be let out of the coop, fall down the ramp backwards and run straight for the feed – mind on the job; focused like a ninja. Leghorn slept on. Because it was 5.30am. Then panic set in for poor Foghorn – Leghorn was not beside her. The calling and the squawking would start, much to the neighbours’ delight, as its now about 6am. Foghorn (aptly named as it turns out) would run up and down that 6ft run desperately trying to find Leghorn. Leghorn, I swear, sat up in the coop out of spite, watching that stupid bird run up and down below it, plotting the revenge the rest of us so desperately wanted. Eventually when it actually sounded like Foghorn was going to have a stroke with the panic, Leghorn would saunter down the ramp and present herself, at which point Foghorn would promptly forget she was ever missing. They reminded us a little of Pinky and the Brain and Foghorn was certainly not the Brain.
Every so often when the events of the day were dull, Leghorn would wait until mid-afternoon (when anybody with small kids would be putting them down for a nap), and as soon as Foghorns back was turned for a moment, Leghorn would disappear as if by magic. It may seem difficult to do this in a 6ft coop composed solely of a run downstairs, a ramp and an empty roosting box on top, but just like in the Shawshank Redemption, that hen would disappear into thin air. And then the siren that was Foghorn would go off;
“Leghorn.” “Where are you, Leghorn?” Leghorn?” “LEGhorn.” “ LEGGGHHOOOORRNNN.”
Hearing the distress, as a show of companionship and solidarity, most days all the dogs in the neighbourhood would join in, barking and howling and calling and squawking and generally creating a total rumpus (much to the delight of our ever tolerant neighbours, the Neighbourhood Watch Committee and the Residents Association) until one of us went out to look for Leghorn. After a little more searching than should be necessary in such a small space, we would locate Leghorn and the two would be reunited side by side, calm returning.
Although never proven, the deep suspicion was that Leghorn had a secret workshop somewhere in that coop, that she hid in and used to prefect the stealth generating field that hid her each morning.
Foghorn, now happy that everyone in the Big Coop was where they should be, would wander into the nest box to lay an egg (it has to be said she laid really big, nice yoke-filled eggs – yum!). And you just know what is coming next, yes, Leghorn would wait until Foghorn was about half way through her business and then pull her own bizzerker attack. Usually this would only last a minute or two, just to make the point, upset Foghorn and put her off the work at hand. That hen was positively Machiavellian.
That went on all summer. We talked of putting Foghorn in the pot, or returning her to the farm from whenst she came, but somehow we couldn’t seem to separate them. Then one morning I woke up at 7am, my alarm clock going off. I hadn’t heard that sound in 4 months and knew it was not a good sign. Sure enough, we went down stairs and opened the coop; Foghorn was dead. Of what appeared to be natural causes (although with Leghorns advanced scientific qualifications I guess the true causes could remain obscured).
A week or two later we got Leghorn two new buddies. We toyed with the idea of getting just one new hen and calling her Foghorn, the way soaps just get a new actor, but instead decided to get two and call them Maude and Hildegard, names which were not interdependent – allowing any disruptive newbie to be removed. Zero Tolerance, that was the way forward.
Actually though, they settled into a peaceful and markedly quieter existence (so much so that the Residents Association even invited us to the Christmas social). While life is better with those extra two hours sleep in the morning, every so often I catch Leghorn peeking out from the coop upstairs, glaring as the other two hens wander around the garden, clearly annoyed that nobody noticed she was missing for hours or caring that she finally perfected her cloaking device. It’s like watching Q without James Bond.