A children’s Permaculture story by Meg Sampson
© M. Sampson 1997 co-founder of Permaculturevisions.com
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a little chicken shed which held chickens and ducks. Henny Fenny was my favourite chicken and Half and half was the prettiest because she was half cream and half black.
Our first chicken family were very caring and sharing, but the next family of chickens were not. When mummy went to buy the first chickens and ducks, she had to catch the ducks herself because the owners were chasing them around the little concrete yard and they were getting very upset. Mummy said “Stop! They are getting very stressed.” (I think stressed means very frightened.) So she said she would fetch them herself.
She looked funny in her going-out dress, stockings and minnie-mouse shoes.
Nevertheless, it was quite extraordinary. She talked to them softly and just walked up behind them and picked them up and held them under her arms. When my little brother Ryan was only one and a half , this was his favourite game.
I don’t like it very much because ducks are always so muddy. Anyway, I’m older, I’m nearly six and I’m Lloyd.. We have to keep ducks and chickens to look after our special garden. The ducks weed and kill snails, while the chickens peck and scratch the ground and help to make the soil very rich. Chicken and duck poo are the best things for the garden. The chickens eat all our foodscraps, except meat, which we give to our worms.
Chickens are very clever you know. And if you don’t know, then I will tell you.
But some of these clever ways of chickens are secret. So I will have to tell you in a hushed and whispered voice.
You see, our neighbour, Mr Griggs was not a very nice man. He didn’t care about his neighbours, he used to let his chickens out to wander wherever they liked. They would run across the road and the cars would have to come to a screaming halt, to make sure they didn’t hurt the chickens and their chicks.
They would scratch and dig up my mother’s garden and one day they ate nearly a hundred dollars worth of rare seeds. Boy, was mummy angry!
Then the next thing they did was to break INTO our chicken pen and eat all the chicken feed. Some of the chickens refused to go home. They liked it so much, and our chickens were so kind to them. They shared their food with them, and let them wander about the chicken house, and even let them roost in the upstairs section of the chicken hut.
Mummy grew very cross with them and tried to shoo them home, but as soon as she took them out of the chicken yard they would dig up more valuable plants, and they kept digging. If she hosed them, they would run away and creep back into the garden when she wasn’t looking. They would keep doing this until she put them back with the chickens. One chicken used to run to the same spot so mum could catch her, where she could put her over the fence into the chicken coop.
Mr Griggs didn’t seem to care where the chickens were, because he was quite happy for us to keep on feeding them. Now and again he would come and ask for them back, but as soon a he let them out, they would rush straight back.
Poor mummy had to put them back in the chookpen just to stop them eating more and more plants. They knew how to get around her. I thought they were pretty clever. But later they proved they were even cleverer than I thought.
What happened next, was that mummy decided to find these chickens a better home. She said she was having them fostered out. I found out that this was really another way of saying she was giving them away and this was supposed to be kept secret. She took two of them to her friend’s chookhouse and two more to my cousins house.
Mr Griggs was very, very cranky when he came to visit his chickens in our chookhouse, only to find that they were not there! Well, what could he say?
Maybe the fox had taken then, more likely not!
Mummy didn’t say anything. She just sort of shook her shoulders in a funny up and down way. It was her way of pretending she didn’t know where they were.
The two chickens who went to my cousins house adopted the family immediately.
They used to wander around the back door just to say hello, and my cousins loved to play with them. One was called Blackie-Blackie because she was black, and the other one was white. She was called Snow white.
After a few weeks Blackie-Blackie disappeared, and we all thought she had been taken by a fox. She was missing for about three days when my auntie asked her neighbour Mary if she had seen her. Mary couldn’t speak English very well, but she did manage to say that Blackie-Blackie was a very, very naughty chicken.
She had found Blackie-Blackie in her yard, and not knowing who owned her, she had put her in her chookhouse. But Blackie-Blackie didn’t like it there, and kept trying to get out. She kept trying and trying. Then she thought of a clever plan. She decided she would make Mary her let her out. She would peck a hole in every egg until Mary gave up. And that is exactly what she did. Can you believe that! She pecked every egg. Mary had let her out, but had put her in a bird cage. She was very happy to be rid of her, and Blackie-Blackie was very happy to be back. She had never pecked an egg before and has not pecked an egg since. Who said chickens aren’t clever!
All Our Chickens Are Ladies
We haven’t got a rooster, all our chickens are ladies. But we do have father and mother ducks, so sometimes we get duck eggs which can grow into baby ducks. Mummy said we can’t have a rooster because they crow very early in the morning, even when it is still dark, and the people who live nearby will complain about the noise. I know my dad would be the first to complain. Sometimes he doesn’t even go to bed until it’s nearly morning. He has to do his study. It’s called a thesis. He thinks and writes a lot. And he always sleeps in… so he’s always late for work. But his work let’s him. I wish my school would let me be late every day. Or even let me go to school for only three days. Instead of five.
One thing about chickens is that they are very good mothers. Mum showed me that if you put a duck egg under a chicken, the chicken will adopt the duckling and rear it.
Another thing I noticed is that the grandma chicken is always the boss, and she eats first. They all seem to know whose turn it is. Not like the ducks, they don’t seem to care and they are always pushing and shoving and fighting.
Henny Fenny is the grandma, or she was. She died last week. We went down to the chookhouse and she was dead. Mum said she was old for a chook. She lay there with her little chicken chest sort of sunken in. A bit like a balloon half gone down. Her eyes were closed with grey eyelids, and she didn’t move.
I didn’t feel like looking inside her mouth like I did when the first duck died.
Then, I just wanted to know what their teeth looked like, and how far down the throat I could see. But not this time. Henny Fenny was nice. She reminded me of my nanny. Whenever nanny says she is getting old, I say: “Don’t say that. You’re only a little bit old”. Even so, the skin on her hands is a bit wrinkled up, but not as bad as Henny Fenny’s feet. I asked nanny if there is a heaven for chickens and she said she doesn’t know. She said, probably not for animals in the food chain. But when we went to the museum there was an ancient human called Lucy being eaten by a leopard. I don’t know if people are part of the food chain or not.
Everything seems to eat anything smaller than itself. Anyway, nanny said when she gets to heaven she will find out.
We said a prayer for Henny Fenny when we buried her, just in case.
I put some chicken feed and a couple of worms in her little grave, and some dandelions on top. I hope the worms don’t eat the chicken feed, before Henny Fenny goes to heaven.
The first duckling was hatched by our first chicken family. Mummy put the egg under the chicken when she went broody. They go like that now and again, and will sit on their eggs trying to make chickens, even without a father.
Eggs without a father can’t turn into chickens, and just go bad.
Anyway, the chicken sat on the duck egg for weeks, and one day it hatched.
Out came a little yellow fluffy duck. We called it Mellow-Yellow.
The Aunty chicken kept it under her wings to keep it warm, but when the other chickens came to see the baby, she let them have it under their wings. They sort of nursed it. I watched them taking turns, and it grew from a cute yellow duckling, into a full size duck. It is funny though, but it seems to think it’s a chicken, and not a duck. It stays with it’s aunty chickens all the time, and doesn’t play with the ducks.
Mummy says whatever the duckling sees when it first comes out of the egg, then that is what it thinks it is. It must think it’s seeing itself in a mirror. I wonder if I had been hatched by a chicken if I would still think I was a boy.
A sad thing happened the next time two duck eggs were put under a new chicken. She came from the second family. We bought them from a farmer because they were a different kind. They are called Bantams. Both eggs hatched one after the other. Mum was there at the time, and she made the mistake of helping the second duckling to break out of its shell. It looked at her first, before it looked at the chicken, and seemed to think it was a person. It started to chirp all the time. It sort of cried for mummy. The aunty chicken must have thought there was something very wrong with it. Somehow it was trodden on and it died.
The other little duckling survived, but the Aunty chicken would not share it with the other chickens, so we had to put it in a separate pen. It was black, and not as pretty as Mellow-Yellow.
The second family of chickens were not sharing chickens. I thought they would all be sharing and caring, but they’re not.
To the Botanical gardens.
When Nanny took us to the Botanical gardens, we saw another muscovy duck. We used to have one just like that. They look different to the other ducks. They are large, black and white birds with bright red throats and red skin hanging under their beaks. They are very quiet and very intelligent.
They will follow you about like a dog. Our muscovy was not happy with the other ducks and she was always fighting with the father ducks, so mummy let her stay out and nest in a large tree.
One day she just disappeared.
We don’t know where she went or why she left us.
We don’t like to cut their wings, even though they say that it doesn’t hurt them, it looks as if it would.
Besides, mummy thought if they could fly, they might just get away from the fox.
Did you know that a fox dug his way into old Mr Henderson’s chookhouse and killed all the chooks? Not just one for his dinner, but all of them. The bad fox carried some away, but all the rest were just left where they lay. Foxes bury the dead chickens and come back later, dig them up and then eat them. Still, they don’t have to kill all of them. Do they?
When I saw the Muscovy duck at the gardens, I hoped it was ours, but Nanny said we were too far away from our home. I thought it was not really that far.
There was a lady planting petunias in the garden. She put them all in neat little rows, like toy soldiers with the chocolate coloured dirt showing around them .
It reminded me of choc mint ice cream.
I told her we don’t plant like that. “How do you do it then?” She asked.
“We make a little forest of tall plants and short plants, we plant all sorts of plants together, and then we put chook poo and mulch all around the plants, till all the dirt is covered up. It’s a special way.”
“It’s called Permaculture.” Nanny explained.
The lady planting the plants said she knew about Permaculture, and that I was so lucky to learn all about it.
“Do you know what mulch does? ” I asked the lady in the gardening gloves.
“It keeps all the water in and stops the sun from burning the soil. The dirt can’t blow away in the wind, and the weeds don’t grow. ” I added.
I noticed she didn’t have any mulch to put on her garden.
She thought I was pretty clever to know all these things and I was still only five.
We didn’t stay very long at the gardens, Nanny had looked at the roses, and when I said you can’t eat them, she sighed. She said she was too hot and she too tired.
I don’t know why she wouldn’t just lay down on the grass and go to sleep.
But she said she couldn’t possibly do that. Someone might think she was dead, she said. Just like Henny Fenny.
Cats and chooks both catch baby snakes. Did you know that the Aunty chicken fed a baby snake to our little duckling? We saw it, and we know it was too thick and long for a worm.
We have a sand pit to play in, and lots of toys scattered about. The tap is nearby and we often make sand pies and castles. Sometimes Half and half and her other chicken friends get out of their chookpen. They run over near our sand pit and scratch the dirt under the peach trees.
Well, the other day mummy suddenly screamed out:”There’s a snake, get away.”
It was a red bellied black snake and it was at the edge of the sand pit.
It ran off as soon as mummy chased it with the rake.
My Nanny said when they are going to attack you they rise up on the end of their tail and come at you with their head up off the ground. She’s been gone at twice in her garden, so she always has a shovel near the verandah post so she can fight it off. Her garden is like a rainforest, she’s been growing ancient tree ferns, and they are very big. One of them was throwing off it’s spores (seeds) the other day, and it was like fine brown dust. Dust was everywhere. I saw spores on my video program, but I had not seen them in real life.
Sometimes, when our cat has caught a rat or a mouse, he puts it near the office door.
The other night after I went to bed, I thought I heard a swishing sound, so I went out to the office where dad was working. It looks like a garage, but we don’t use it for cars. Guess what happened! It was dark, but I know my way, and just as I reached the office door I saw a small snake, and had to jump over it. I yelled to dad, and he came running.
The snake was injured by the cat, but was still alive and wriggling. I was in a lot of trouble for that. I could’ve been bitten, and we all know that snakes come out at night. Maybe the snakes come out for a drink of water.
Mummy was very shocked and cranky when dad went in and woke her up with the dead snake on a bit of paper.
She thinks she should have let the chickens out more often so they could have caught more snakes, but they would have scratched up more seeds and plants. Living in a rainforest can be a bit dangerous for young boys. But secretly, that’s why I like it.
Wasps and Bees
My little brother Ryan is a real worry. We have to keep an eye on him. He is one of those people who can die from a bee sting. Mummy has a special needle to give him in case she can’t get him to hospital in time. He loves being outside, and is always climbing trees and showing how strong he is. He will be four soon, and he is very, very strong. Nearly stronger than me. The other day my cousins came over, and we were going to slide down the slippery dip when we saw the wasp nest.
My aunty thought she would try to kill the wasps and sprayed them with insect killer. This was not a very wise thing to do in the middle of the day. (You should hose them away at night.) Some of them died, but when the rest of the wasp family came back to the nest they were very angry. One attacked my cousin Sean by biting him on the face and one bit Ryan on the foot. Well, mummy really panicked and rushed up the road to the doctor, carrying my little brother who is so big and heavy and strong.
After a while she came back, and Ryan had a lolly because he was so good when having his needle. Mummy looked so awful, I gave her a chocolate biscuit. I had one too.
Last time Ryan was stung he had to go to hospital. Wasps aren’t as bad for him as bees. The trouble is, we need bees to get our fruit trees to grow fruit, and for all the other plants in the garden to make new seeds. Ryan loves eating honey and sneaks it from the jar but really, Ryan and bees just don’t go together.