buying chickens in wiltshire

Two Cocks in the Country

Since July, my good friend Elliott has been attentively rearing two chickens in his garden. He built them a coop, christened them Betty and Leia, fed them, and even read Animal Farm to prepare for all eventualities. He has waited day after day, week after week, month after month for eggs, but none have come.

It is now fast approaching October, all of three months later, and the chickens have failed to lay a single egg. Instead, they have sprouted red frilly bits from their heads, started attacking Elliott’s dog and developed the habit of crowing very early in the morning.

It turns out the chickens are cocks. Betty and Leia are in fact Bruce and Luke. Without the ability to lay eggs, Bruce and Luke are of no real use to Elliott. Seeing as all they do is cock-a-doodle-do in a quiet residential street in Swindon and terrorise Leo, his beloved Kelpie dog, Elliott has decided that they have to go.

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Elliott fills me in on the dire situation in the pub. On hearing his plight, I instantly volunteer to follow him every step of the way until he resolves his dilemma. The next morning I receive a text – it seems we’re taking the first step today. The plan is to go direct to the farm where the chickens were purchased. I agree to accompany Elliott. Not, you understand, to provide muscle or moral support, but to indulge in several hours of cock puns.

Elliott pulls up at my house an hour later. He pops the boot before getting out of the car. Inside the boot within a large cardboard box are two impressive feathered-creatures strutting in a distinctly manly way. I can tell that Elliott is proud of them. They are well-groomed chickens with glossy feathers and prominent masculine chests. There is a certain sadness in Elliott’s face as he folds over the cardboard box and closes the boot. They are his pets after all. He could never blame them for their sex which has rendered them so completely useless.

We drive through the market town of Wootton Bassett, notable because the residents call earwigs earth-prawns, and out to the country road where the farm is located. We pull into the large gravel driveway alongside the farmhouse. I instantly feel uncomfortable as we drive noisily over the lightly-talcumed gravel, disrupting the small stones. This is an intrusion, an affront and farmers tend to shoot and ask questions later.

I am aware that we have already created a bad impression, and that is before the farmer has even seen our city-boy clothes and heard our city-boy predicament. No phone call, no email just two boys with two cocks rocking up at a farmhouse with a gender-orientated complaint. Getting out of the car, we walk with as much purpose as we can muster over to the door and knock. After a few moments, an attractive young woman in jodhpurs opens the door. Elliott decides to opt out of any niceties and comes out with the bare bones of it, the elemental unadorned truth: “I bought two chickens in July. They turned out to be cocks.” The statement hangs there in the air, doing nothing for a tortuous amount of time. It doesn’t help that she really is quite attractive.

Eventually, the young woman explains that we’ll need to speak to her dad but that he’s away. She doesn’t say where. We stand there, still in her doorway, clueless. She shouts up to her mum who confirms that yes, indeed, we need to speak to her dad. A mobile number is recited. Back in the car, we sit saying nothing. Things didn’t go to plan. The cocks scratch rowdily in the boot, incensed by the sound of other chickens.

The reality of the situation presents itself thus: Elliott bought two chickens, costing five pounds each in July. They were supposed to be hens; purchased as hens. In fact, as we now know, they are cocks; cocks do not lay eggs. Elliott wants eggs for his tea and breakfast; cocks will not lay these eggs. Elliott needs to get rid of the cocks and get some hens. However, Elliott did not buy the chickens in Primark; he has no receipt. All he has is a mobile number of a farmer and two cocks in the boot.

Elliott calls the mobile number; no answer. He calls again and leaves a message. I can’t help but think if I was a farmer and received the message Elliot left, I would not call back. To cheer ourselves up, we make puns about giving our cocks to the daughter. It works for a while.

We decide to drive back to Wootton Bassett; today is market day after all. A town-crier is crying about the market as we walk through the arcade. Inevitably, we visit the market; Elliott buys a pig’s trotter (for the dog) and I buy some lighter fluid (to clean my LPs). It dawns on me as we put our purchases in the car that if we were to have a car accident it would look distinctly weird. Two live chickens in a box, a rotten pig’s foot and some highly flammable liquid is a hell of a lot more suspicious than wearing an embarrassing pair of boxer shorts. It is time to call the farmer again. This time he answers; his name is Alan. I try to listen in as Elliott proceeds to say yes a total of seventy six times in fifteen minutes. After this time, Elliott puts the mobile on the dashboard and looks confused.

“Yes?” I enquire.

“Alan doesn’t have any hens, but he will take the cocks. Only he’s not in to take them today. He told me that a man called Steve in another farm has hens for sale. But Steve won’t take the cocks in case they’re diseased.”

Elliott is indeed confused. Not only has Elliott fed, watered and loved these useless cocks for three months, but he has just wasted half a tank of petrol driving out here and spent the best part of his mobile credit on a ridiculous and fruitless conversation with a farmer called Alan. He is not going to get any money, nor hens, nor does it seem any form of compensation. Our only hope rests with Steve who has hens but that does not resolve the issue of the cocks which incidentally are beginning to smell. And worst of all, I only got to hear one side of the cock-pun conversation.

Steve’s farm is a little further into the county but we find it easy enough following the signs for free range eggs. The farms is expansive with several outbuilding and thousands of chickens running free in great fields beneath electricity pylons. We walk through the farm before coming across a lady who directs us to Steve. It turns out Steve has never head of Alan, but yes, on Saturday morning he will have thousands of hens for sale for only a pound each. The hens are no longer commercially viable and are to be slaughtered. He asks Elliott how many he would like.

‘Three,’ Elliott replies.

‘Three hundred?’ Steve asks.

‘No, just three,” clarifies Elliott.

We get back in the car henless and disheartened, knowing that this farm is soon to be overrun with blood and feathers. Somehow Elliott has also been burdened with the moral sting of only being able to save three, not three hundred, or three thousand chickens from their death. Once more we hit the road, heading back to Alan’s farm, the source of all problems. Pulling up outside the farmhouse with yet more noise and churning of gravel, Elliott proceeds to open the boot and with great speed and dexterity punches air holes in the cardboard box with his car-keys. Then in one fluid movement he dumps the cardboard box containing the two cocks on the back porch, knocks on the door before jumping back in the car. We speed away from the farmhouse. I can’t help but think, “That’ll teach you for being a cock,” over and over in my head as the comfort of urban Swindon becomes closer.

61 thoughts on “Two Cocks in the Country

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