To buy a chook
Buying a few chooks is not a simple matter. In the country, there are complicated twists and turns and unexpected delights in most transactions. Few things are ever straightforward. You would be crazy to want it any other way. We have long learned to put aside any passing frustration. In the end, we know we will be enriched by the process.
Isa Browns. POL. It’s the first ad we Google. When I call the number in the local paper, Neil tells me to meet him in the car park next to the local BP station. He’s coming into town around mid-day. I offer to make things easier. Drive to his place. He won’t have any of it. He’ll be driving a white XF ute.
You will need some layers he adds. Red Hen, Darling Downs, any of those but not Golden. They hate it the Isa Browns. They are on point of lay, he adds helpfully. You want to give the right feed.
Fifteen minutes passes pleasantly in the sunshine. A wide blue sky betokens vast horizons of possibility. There are touches of spring in the air. Lambs gambol in a nearby paddock closely watched by some ewes whose vigilance and care inspires me. As it always does. The scent of acacia blossom mixes with the unmistakeable odour of cooking oil and diesel. A welcome swallow swoops fearless across the face of the day’s commercial trade. I feel like an undercover agent on a clandestine mission as I await my appointment with a complete stranger.
I look to see an old milk bar nearby which has been refurbished and repurposed. ‘George and kids fish n chips the newly painted signwriting on the shop. We are a long way from the sea. No doubt they will get around to painting the grey and peeling weatherboards when they prosper but at the moment the sign makes the place look flash. The old girl’s got her lipstick on.
I don’t know how long George has had to wait to realise his dream but we have waited years to get our own chooks. Waiting fifteen minutes is no big deal but I reach for my mobile in case there’s been an emergency. Secretly I am hoping to be redirected to Neil’s place but just as I squint to read the phone in bright daylight, a man in a scruffy white ute hangs a bold right turn and flashes across the stern of our parked Camry. I see the pen of chooks on the deck alongside the kelpie cross bolt upright beside it. They are a splash of russet against the rust of the ute’s tray. They glow health and wholesomeness.
Neil bounds out of the cab. He’s easily in his sixties and exudes an infectious vitality and cheery goodwill. He bustles with purpose. He wants to know where I’m parked and whether I have any containers. Have I bought the layers? I tell him I have bought some Red Hen from Mark at Farm Supplies. He is greatly cheered. Mark will look after you he tells me. I never met Mark before today but it boosts your spirits to be told that you are in good hands.
I have an old wicker hamper which I offer to bring across. I have also a cat basket and a cardboard box. For three chooks, it turns out, I am over-prepared.
Neil tucks one set of chook’s feet between two fingers of his left hand, adds another set of feet to his palm and grasps the feet of the third in his right wrist. The birds appear to fall asleep. He swings their bodies as he jogs to the Camry. I half expect him to throw them into the cabin.
Ideal! He beams when he spies the wicker basket. With one deft move, he’s opened it and deposited three birds inside. The chooks murmur contentedly.
Ideal, he says again. Don’t lose that! He makes me feel good about my basket. I am already feeling good about getting the chooks, finding a new fish and chip shop only half an hour away and enjoying the approach of spring and now there is his good will and proficiency. Life is rich. Now he is making me feel good about our choice.
You won’t have any trouble with them. He makes me feel we have made exactly the right choice. No fuss from these girls. Good layers. Very easy to deal with.
I can see he’s busy but venture that he must have more than a few chooks for sale.
Hundreds, he beams. But I’ve given away the eggs.
By this he means that he’s stopped producing eggs and now concentrates on breeding birds for sale.
I give him sixty six dollars in cash. He gives me his home laminated card.
Call me if you have questions. But these girls will be no trouble at all. He gives me a quick spiel on what Isa Browns like to eat and stresses the importance of protein and grit.
Then he jumps back behind the wheel, slamming the driver’s door with the crook catch. He just broke it this morning trying to open it when it was locked, need my bloody glasses for everything now, he tells me.
He drops the clutch and he’s off in a shower of roadside gravel, expertly picking a gap in the traffic and gunning the old Ford down the highway.
I turn the Camry to head home and the hens murmur a gentle communal warble. They quickly sing themselves to sleep. When I stop for a right hand turn they wake up only to coo reassurance.
I am intrigued. It’s a new experience. I have never driven a car with a chorus of chooks in a basket on the back seat. One hen relaxes into a soft warbling. Like Neil, she’s happy with the direction of events. Like me. Travelling home, with simple certainty of purpose, secure within the natural order, happily counting my blessings.