Thursday, November 18, 2010


My youngest brother Bruce and his wife Margaret visited me yesterday. He’s a keen duck-shooter. We now have three wild ducks in our freezer. Years ago another brother Rick gave our widowed mother several wild duck – more than she wanted. She gave one to a friend who put it in the microwave to cook. The lead shot exploded, destroying duck and machine.

Bruce and I got reminiscing about Mum who died last year’s winter aged 97. Mum had a country contempt for those she called ‘Townies’. He told me a story I’d never heard before.

Mum’s next door neighbour was given some bantams. They got clucky as bantams do. After six weeks or so the neighbour commented to Mum their eggs weren't hatching. Mum said, ‘well, you don’t have a rooster’. “What difference does that make?’ asked the neighbour.

I remember Mum scornfully telling me another story about the same lady. Her husband had a good garden. Mum found her buying carrots at the local greengrocer’s. She asked why, (Mum was a busybody), to be told the lady in question did not like to get her hands dirty. ‘What do you think of that?’ Mum’s statement had a triumphant ring to it.

For a long time Mum kept a few chooks in her Christchurch backyard. They ate the kitchen scraps, gave her company and purpose, and supplied her with eggs. She grew silver beet for them and spread the ‘poo’ from their roosting area back on to the garden. To grow more silver beet.

On my boyhood farm, Dick, my stepfather, built a small concrete dam across the small creek that ran past the house to provide a pool for our ducks and geese to swim in. Princess Grace, our sow (so christened by Dick because of her outstanding beauty - she was the ugliest pig ever seen), used to wallow in it.

She developed a game of lying still, only snout and eyes showing, while the ducks or geese settled. With a snort she'd jump up, sending the birds flying in panic, her pig-eyes gleaming in triumph. She'd settle down, they'd return, the whole performance repeated. Ducks are slow learners.

There were turkeys and bantams as well as chooks. As the ducks didn't brood their young well, Mum put their eggs under the bantams. The little hens strutted round followed by a gaggle of awkward looking youngsters tangling over their feet chasing flies. Sooner or later the ducklings would discover the pond and paddle away, leaving their mother frantic on the bank.

Once Princess Grace startled the ducklings. The mother bantam stormed across into the water right into the pig's face. Astounded, the sow gave ground. We had to rescue the bedraggled hen.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely stories. It made me remember our bantams, also in Christchurch. My mother was a widow and kept them for eggs and meat. We had up to 15 or so at a time, including one that was my pet bantam (called, inevitably, Henrietta). Mum used to buy fertile eggs from somewhere and I remember watching at night as she sneaked out with a torch and slipped them under a sleepily muttering chook. I was about four or five, I suppose.
    A less pleasant memory was seeing one running headless around the back yard, blood spurting from its neck stump, before flopping dead. Mum had no compunction about taking the axe to them when she wanted to cook a chicken. She was a woman of considerable fortitude.