Serving Chickens

We now have six mostly black chickens tied to a curtain pole on the verandah. Two varieties – I could tell you how many of which but evening has fallen, tis brillig, and they are resting after a long and very tiresome day on the road, as are we, so I’d rather not disturb anyone till morning to find out the precise logistics. One is a glossy black with various other colours gleaming, while the other looks as if someone got hold of a Leghorn and a can of black spray paint as some kind of heartless prank. Neither are good layers – perhaps 150 a year or less, according to the wonderful chicken man, Jujhar. Jujhar may have been mentioned before as it is he whom we met at a dinner party five or so years ago when he was in full chicken swing producing 40,000 eggs a day – none of which he ate, he pointed out, as he knew all the chemical crap they were pumped full of that kept them alive long enough to produce the optimum number of perfect white eggs to compete with the rest – such is the capitalist system – love it to death.

A lovely generous man who even at the time kept a small flock for his own consumption, along with a couple of cows, and although he’s now given up on the factory system can’t quite fully loosen his grip and has 100 free rangy chickens, mostly 12 week-ish pullets, six of which are now tied to a curtain pole in Solan, not five yards from this very point. [Ed. Only one of them appears female…] Leaving Jujhar with 94. The sort of decent chap who helps people simply for the pleasure or satisfaction – no strings attached nor reward sought.

I feel your concern regarding the curtain pole, but fear not, this is a mere temporary ad hoc in extremis affair and tomorrow evening they will be adjusting to their new life in a far healthier Himalayan Orchard environment, and coming to terms with the chicken house band, who are 95% white, so far.

The reason why they are tied to a curtain pole is that I reckoned they should stand upright, individually, in order to eat and drink, rather than leave them in a couple of crates, tied together, in the back of the jeep, or fly around the flat. It’s a two-day event getting from Chandigarh to the farm. The curtain pole was to hand, on the floor. They’re not suspended upside down from the ceiling.

Having tied them at foot intervals along the pole on the floor in the verandah, I then grabbed a handy set of metal thali bowls, two each, one water and one feed (Jujhar put 5 kgs of feed in the back of the jeep) – that’s 12 thali bowls, on a tray, and served the bemused looking birds, proper waiter style.

In the long run we are bound to create a new Himalayan Orchard sub-chicken species – Leghorn, Desi, Aseel (fighting cock) and Karaknath crossbreed – just identified as such – black chickens from the desert and way down south.

Jujhar is one of those people you meet every now and then who give you hope for the future of mankind and the world as a whole. With no false modesty or fake anything else, he gave us 6% of his flock plus 5 kgs of feed and refused any offer of payment, or even to entertain any compensation, other than perhaps goodwill. He’s a friend of the husband of a friend (we met once only) but even if he wasn’t I doubt his reaction would have been much different.

We left with a wave and a honk and re-joined the Indian road system where the exact opposite is painfully evident – the self-centred headless chicken syndrome. As I may have mentioned, our main man, Laikram, moves a chicken on to its next reincarnation by twisting and pulling its head clean off, after which the chicken’s body keeps on going for a minute or so, and we’ve all heard stories of headless chickens running across the farmyard on auto-pilot. A significant number of drivers in India seem to operate on a similar system. Let’s stick our nose forward so that temporarily we are ahead even if it means that the traffic is now completely jammed for the next 20 minutes as a result, until somebody else has to sort it out.



Me first and to hell with the rest, (unless you happen to be related to them and they might therefore be of some use eventually, in which case you stop in the middle of the road, blocking it in both directions, and engage in friendly banter).

When we left our white chickens a week or so ago they were full of the joys of spring, jumping on top of each other at every opportunity and giving up to four eggs a day – from three daughters, a brother, and the parents. It’s just past the spring equinox, as you know, which might have something to do with the rampant fertile behaviour – the other day the brother jumped on the sister followed by the father on the son, creating, briefly, a vertical AC-DC threesome tower. So when you come across someone telling you “It’s not natural” you can throw that one back in their faces.

Testosterone-fuelled headless chicken syndrome seems to be the order of the day, going on recent political events in this part of the world.

Anthropomorphism, is, according to, “attributing human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, or to God.”

Last year, for example, a couple of things popped up on ‘social media’ – one was a video at a Chinese zoo of a large tortoise ‘helping’ a mate, who had somehow ended up on his or her back, to right itself by arduous friendly shoving. The final successful shove was greeted with loud applause at the zoo and thousands of viral online comments along the lines of ‘animals show compassion for the suffering of their fellows’, until some knowledgeable tortoise expert pointed out that tortoise behaviour is instinct-driven and tortoise A was most likely a randy territorial alpha male who was either trying to hump (female – but who knows?) tortoise B or attack and repel him/her.

I sometimes wonder whether self-anti-anthropomorphism exists as a term – if not, I hereby coin it.

Our alpha cock, for example, (my wife calls him Ernie, which I associate with Benny Hill, and come to think of it there is a certain similarity) clearly can’t help himself – he’ll jump on any of his family in an alarmingly aggressive manner, and never ceases to attack yours truly, despite the fact that every day I bring him and his clan food and fresh water. He just doesn’t know any other way of behaviour. I am infringing his territory and he lacks sufficient brain cells to work anything out. Do some humans mimic cocks?  Are they self-anti-anthropomorphists?

Someone’s infringing ‘my’ territory? Attack! Attack! (Provided, naturally, that I am nowhere near the firing line). I actually have far more respect for Ernie the Chief Cock than I do for his human near-behave-alikes – at least he has the guts to put his claws where his crow is and dives straight in willy-nilly to a dangerous situation (I have been known to retaliate), whereas his human counterpart blathers from the comfort and security of his own sitting room and, like the schoolboy bully he no doubt once was, would be the first to hide behind the metaphorical sofa in the event of any real imminent danger.

As a result of such blinkered knee-jerk absence of the ability to connect dots, “Since 1990, more than seventy thousand people have been killed in the conflict [in Kashmir], thousands have “disappeared”, tens of thousands have been tortured and hundreds of young people maimed and blinded by pellet guns.” (Roy).

A while ago I found a 1962 India newspaper stuffed behind an old mirror. In one article, President Kennedy expressed hope that the Kashmir conflict would soon be resolved. If only the world had such leaders – instead we have the Trumpists, incapable of seeing anything from another’s point of view, and thus condemning the world to incessant warfare. (Wiki).

On a happier note, but maintaining the poultry theme, Himalayan Orchard has invented the 20 litre chicken waterer:



As you’ll no doubt be aware the two most important considerations when keeping chickens are food and fresh water. And somewhere safe to roost.

The three prerequisites are food, water, a safe roost – and if you believe the legendary John Seymour, sex.

Let’s start again – among the prerequisites….


Not just any water – water left in an open bowl will quickly go stagnant, and the birds will jump / crap / scratch stuff in its general direction. The 20 litre ‘bouncing bomb’ keeps the water clean and cool, as the semi-porous terracotta evaporates, and only needs to be refilled once a week or so for a small flock.

Bees back

Equally happily, the bees are back, having spent a somewhat miserable winter on a terrace in Solan, to their favourite spot under the persimmon tree, slightly shady, protected from the full blast of the anabatic and other prevailing winds by the temple roof. According to Beekeeping in India (1962) by the Indian Council of Indian Research, “the site should not be exposed to strong winds. Trees… may be provided … to make it less windy…. A shady place is very good for an apiary…”

Marvellous things, books.



Sargent 1922



Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?


Wilfred Owen


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