ROYALS The at Cluckingham Palace
Despite a self-promise to keep numbers static, Janine Marsh takes on nearly a dozen new chicks on the day that Harry and Meghan tie the knot
After last year’s baby boom in the bird pens, I made up my mind to have no more this year. From my eight ducks came an astonishing 52 ducklings over a period of three months last summer. It took me ages to rehome them all when they were grown up. Finding new parents who would care for them in rural France rather than put them in the pot took a fair bit of effort. Some went to a chateau with a big lake, which they loved — in fact, they took to it like ducks to water. Others went to a lovely French lady who believes birds are the souls of decent humans come back to life. They are being very spoiled there. The rest went to my friends and neighbours — I still see some of them and I’m pretty sure they recognise me.
But… you knew this was coming, didn’t you. It’s addictive this bird keeping malarkey.
When my friend Annette had loads of baby chickens arrive all at once and begged me to take some off her hands, I gave in and took three chicks with pompom hair styles — I think they are Silkies — and eight miniature Marans.
The birds came to live with me on the day of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding — a lovely sunny day. My neighbour, 88-year-old Marie-Therese, was glued to the telly — she does love a royal wedding — but she came out when she heard me chatting away to the newbies. She is a very experienced poultry keeper and she cast a keen eye over the tiny birds.
“That’s a boy and that’s a boy,” she said. “The rest are girls.” And then she went back to watching Meghan and Harry tie the knot. She had her little black and white set on full volume, so I could hear music, cheering and sermonising echoing around the valley in our tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere in rural France.
“What are you going to call them?” asked my husband, Mark. Despite Jean-Claude, my neighbour and mentor, a chicken keeper for 50 years, telling me that I mustn’t do it — “You’re just making it hard on yourself when it comes to coq au vin” — all my birds have names. Inspiration was instant. “Meghan, Kate, Liz, Anne, Zara, Victoria, Diana, Beatrice, Eugenie, Harry and William,” I beamed.
A few months on and these baby birds are cheeky, healthy and very used to having the maid come every day to feed and water them and clean their house. They’re a small breed that can easily squeeze through the wire fence and they go wherever they want to, running circles around the territorial geese in their pen, pinching food from the old girls and annoying Gregory Peck, the cockerel. Even Bossy Betty, queen of the coop, can’t keep up with them.
We’re going to build a new coop for this royal chicken family at the bottom of the garden so that the other birds can get some peace and quiet. It will be called Cluckingham Palace.
Janine Marsh is the author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, and editor of www.thegoodlifefrance.com.
ABOVE: The new birds were inevitably christened Meghan, Kate, Liz, Anne, Zara, Victoria, Diana, Beatrice, Eugenie, Harry and William