Posted by: puebloman | August 11, 2009

Funky chicken

Thank God bird ‘flu turned out to be one of nature’s little bluffs. The idea of quarantining chickens in a place like this, where everyone lives cheek by coxcomb, is ridiculous. Once we went to tea (sic) in a Spanish neighbour’s immaculate parlour. Feeling our feet being pecked we looked under the tablecloth to discover a hen sitting on a wooden crate with six chicks under her. People in the villages live like this – all mixed up with their animals, and it’s not unusual to find the whole of the lower floor of a house given over to livestock.

I’ve been holding off getting poultry, not wishing to have to slaughter them if they catch cold. Not that the Spanish government cared much. They watched the Britsh in a mad panic running around like, well headless chickens, and explained that they are taking no measures or precautions because there is nothing to worry about. They did this because they wanted to keep hold of their supply of ordinary ‘flu vaccine, which was used up in the UK by a panicking population, though everyone knows perfectly well that ordinary vaccine is useless against ‘flu mutations. Ordinary ‘flu kills an unreported 20,000 people each and every year in the UK alone. Well, thank goodness we’ve now moved on to swine flue, which is a great comfort to us because even Spaniards don’t keep swine under their dining tables. At least I haven’t met one who does. Yet.

Freed from the fear of pandemics I have permitted my thoughts to turn once again to supplementing our patch of fruit trees, chard, cabbage, tomatoes etc., with meat. I have this fantasy that Jude and I shall become pseudo self-sufficient. Our meagre diet would be supplemented of course (by means of hard cash) with serrano ham, manchego cheese, balsamic vinegar, chocolate, tea, coffee, cream . .all essential to the modern larder. When world food prices rocket, as they are set to in the next few years (and here the fantasy gets a bit hazy) . . .we would already be growing our own wholesome, ethical and affordable food! We would, in some vauge way, barter figs and bits of chicken for cash commodities such as salt and flour. Huge numbers of starving people would presumably come from elsewhere in Europe and Africa to stand round our bit of land, congratulating us on our foresight and wishing that they too had thought of doing what we are doing. . . . .

My research into animal husbandry has so far have brought me face to face with the magnificent “Andalucian Blue” chicken – a prolific egg layer, flighty yet able to withstand the hot and punishing climate of southern Spain. “Blue”, as is usual in blue animals, refers to their steely grey colour. The colour is recessive, so a pair of “blue” adults will produce 25% each of whites and blacks the the actual dominant colours for the Andalucian blue. Unfortunately the Andalucian has been bred so as not to be able to sit on its own eggs, so you need a “broody” mongrel chicken to follow it around. Hopefully the mongrel’s desire to sit on eggs would somehow correspond with Andalucian’s desire to lay them. . . . Mmm.

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How fascinating that this chicken in fact contributed to Medel’s studies of recessive genes!

Armed with this information, I took off to the agricultural supplies warehouse in Velez-Malaga, to engage a professional in my quest for suitable poultry stock. I hung around a cage crammed with yellow chicks until the manager passed by.
“What are those birds?” I enquired.
“They’re chickens” he replied wearily, throwing a look to the Saturday help, who sat slumped and bored on a pile of sacks. The Saturday help made a sucking noise, the meaning of which I didn’t understand, though I took it to be less than complimentary.
“Ah yes” I rejoined ” But what sort of chicken? What race of chicken, what pedigree? Are they fit for egg production, or meat production or are they, as we poultry farmers have it, “dual purpose?”.
“Look” said the manager, summoning up all of his patience ” These here are hens. Hens lay eggs. Understand? These in here (he indicated a second cage) are cocks. Cocks are for meat. Got that?” He cast a look to the Saturday help. “He thought those geese were ducks” said the Saturday help, indicating a third cage, and slowly picking his nose.


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