Fun on the Veld

— Chapter 2 —

A Word on Poultry

The idea of keeping fowls never occurred to me until a day came when I couldn’t buy any eggs.

I wanted one; to test the strength of the brine with. You know the dodge — if the egg floats the brine is all right, if it sinks it isn’t. I didn’t know a potato was just as good, so I stopped work for one day and sent out eleven of my arbeiders in different directions to buy eggs for me. Had they all been successful I should have gone insolvent — as it was they all returned eggless, but full of hope for the morrow. They evidently were keen to continue the search. I wasn’t — one day was quite enough, and they all seemed disappointed when I said so.

But it struck me that I’d better invest in some fowls, and hearing that the kitchen-girl’s mother’s brother’s aunt had a few to dispose of, I bought half a dozen.

I immediately made nests for them, and after a happy night’s repose in which I dreamt I had soup-plates full of eggs, I spent the next day watching the fowls, to see if any of them went into the nests. One or two of them went really very close, but only one looked in.

This sort of thing went on for months — the fowls would go everywhere but to the nests; it really seemed as if they were afraid. I eventually moved the nests to where I saw the fowls mostly gathered together, and after I had done this they all fed just where the nests had been before.

Of course I know animals can have their little jokes — like the humorous lamb that pretends he’s going to live and then dies — but this was really silly.

I felt very cross, naturally, for I was anxious to have some eggs in the house, and I had vowed not to buy any now that I had got fowls.

And it seemed as if every fowl in the world except mine was laying.

I asked people’s advice — and everybody told me something different.

I tried all the advices at once. To have given them all a separate trial would have taken many years.

What I was told to try I did.

It killed some of the fowls immediately — and it had the opposite effect on others; that is to say, made them run about livelier than ever — looking for a place to die in, I suppose.

Still no eggs.

I was delighted one morning to find three hens burrowing in the cabbage-bed in the garden — the cabbages had been up just a week — the hens were, I thought, making nests themselves. I was very sorry for the cabbages, for I had spent some time watering them each evening, but I was jolly keen on getting an egg.

They didn’t lay that day — but tried the turnips and tomatoes the same week.

Then one of them died — with the rake — it was the lightest thing handy to throw.

Funnily enough, when I opened the fowl, I found it full of eggs. I believe it would have laid the next morning. However, it was dead, and couldn’t. The survivors lived their little lives serenely day after day. I think they must have been of a breed that doesn’t cackle, for the only sound I heard from any of the fowls was from the one at which I threw the rake.

However, I persevered. I felt I’d started poultry breeding and I meant to continue. Only they wouldn’t breed.

I bought a book on poultry, and the next day bought a sack of ‘egg food,’ highly recommended.

In the book I read that some fowls lay 290 eggs a year. In the sack I found a collection of stuff that I could have collected myself from the floor of the shed where my grain is stored.

Also in the book I read that you give fowls hot dinners and cold lunches and all that sort of thing. Regular epicures, these fowls. There was a lot about ‘Minorcas’ in it, too, which I thought was a tropical fruit, until I discovered it to be a breed of fowl. I’m sorry to say the book wasn’t much help to me.

Why the hen did it I do not know, but one morning, with a tremendous amount of cackling and noise, it laid an egg. At first I couldn’t believe it — thought it was a false alarm; but no, there was actually an egg in the nest. I ate it for supper the same evening, the most expensive supper I’ve ever eaten. The cost of that egg, reckoning all I’d spent in getting it, mealies, egg food, bran mashes, hot dinners, cold lunches, sulphur, bluestone, etc. etc., worked out to £5 11s. 3d.

After supper I discovered that £5 11s. 3d. would have bought me over two hundred and twenty dozen eggs — enough to have lasted me for years — and all I had got was one egg!

The hen laid again the next day, but cackled so much that the sporting instinct was aroused in my terrier, who chased and then ate it.

I ate the others, and gave up poultry breeding; but I bought a cock, just to crow in the mornings.