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A Poultry Tale

If you grew up in the countryside, you probably have your own goose story. Chased, attacked, intimidated – most of us have been there, and some even have the scars to prove it. Geese are the thugs of the farmyard, beating any prize-winning bull, grumpy ram or bunny with a vendetta, hands down.


I grew up on a smallholding just outside Cranleigh, a place where the air was rich with manure and the apple trees blown sideways by the wind, like claws. It was beautiful, in a kind of Bronte meets Thomas Hardy meets Ted Hughes way. It was also, unsurprisingly, hard work.


We’d be awoken by the cock crow at dawn, hustled out of bed by our windswept parents and into our wellies to go feed the animals as the sun was rising. Needless to say, neither myself nor my brother relished this morning routine. This was particularly true during the winter, when our wellies were apt to become stuck in deep muddy puddles and our pyjamas lightly dashed with mud and animal faeces before we’d had time to brush our teeth. I heard tell that the kids in the village just got up, had breakfast and headed straight for school. What luxury.


On our smallholding, we had three geese. Two females, Betty and Wilma, and a younger male, Barney. When we first brought them home, the girls were already pretty much fully grown. Barney was still working out his baby down, so was that weird combination of baby-sweet and downright ugly.


Though he grew out of his adolescent case of the uglies, he never grew out of that teenage temperament that we had all hoped would leave him. If anything, as he grew into the big macho gander on the farm, he got worse. Much worse.


There was the time he catapulted himself across the orchard to bite my brother in the one place no boy wishes to be bitten. For this, Barney was awarded a sharp plank to the head, much to my mother’s chagrin, who rushed the injured bird to the coop to recover, while little br staggered back to the house, clutching his boyhood in agony.


There were numerous occasions, both prior to the orchard incident and since, where Barney would attack the car (ours or those of our guests) as it made its way up the drive. He was particularly fond of windscreen wipers, which he seemed to view as prey, or a threat to be annihilated at all costs. Come to think of it, Barney seemed to view anyone and anything that was not his two girls as a threat to be annihilated at all costs.


Yes, everybody, including the chickens, sheep, turkeys, bullock calves, dogs and any unsuspecting wildlife in the area, had a run-in with Barney at some point.


I generally got off lightly, knowing from day one the importance of standing one’s ground and spreading one’s arms out whilst shouting loudly. But one morning, during the dawn feeding ritual, my time came.


Trudging through the barn, sleep still crusting my eyes, I made my way to the feed bins and scooped the goose feed into the tin bucket at my feet. It was a wet, dark morning, the sky thick as paste. I just wanted to get back indoors and warm up by the Aga as quickly as possible, so I didn’t bother to turn off the electric fence around the poultry runs. I just squelched my way through the farmyard, lugging my tin bucket, stopping at the chicken wire gate to the goose coop. Barney had spotted me before I even made it to the coop, and was already starting up:


Guh-guh-guh Guh-guh-guh
Guh-guh-guh-guh-hssssssssst


Behind him, Wilma and Betty, as usual, were trying to
calm him down.


Guh-guh-guh-just-leave-it-barney-it-ain’t-worth-it-guhguh-
guh


I was used to Barney’s warning ‘guh’s, and knew what I had to do to ward him off, so I paid him no heed, and slid back the bolt on the goose coop gate. I stepped over the low electric wires by my feet, and entered the coop.


I had barely got halfway through the gate when a blaze of white came at me like a lightning flash. I fell backwards, tangling my feet in the electric wire as I went. Zzzzap…


Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been simultaneously electrocuted whilst struggling with a rogue fowl, but I can assure you that it’s not something worth experiencing. I grabbed Barney around his long neck, trying to keep that snapping beak from my eyes. Wings still flapping with no sign of letting up, I struggled to kick off my welly boots and free myself from the ongoing electrocution. Finally free of the boots, I stumbled to my feet, threw Barney back into the coop, leaving the bucket of feed inside, and locked that coop up.


Squelching back across the farmyard in my wet socks, with my mud-soaked boots in hand, I vowed never to step foot in that godforsaken gander’s lair again.


Michele Baker – Copywriter

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