The day the chickens came home to roost

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The Independent Online

I've had some unusual birthday presents over the past 45 years. There was the time a girlfriend decided to dump me on my special day and informed me in a birthday card. Basically, it was "Happy Birthday, you're chucked." Two years ago, I got a cigarette from Shaun Ryder when I was celebrating as best I could in the "Celebrity" jungle.

But this year will take some beating. My wife had organised a no-holds-barred dinner party for the main event, and friends duly arrived bearing gifts. One couple excelled themselves by turning up with a very intriguing-looking box that they insisted I opened immediately. I did as they asked, only to find two rather laid-back chickens staring back at me.

I'm not instinctively a chicken man. I've never felt the urge to own any and I have never thought of them as enormously lovable. But now all that has changed. Mine are a sleek blue-black colour and walk with the confidence of catwalk models. They also don't seem to make that annoyingly mental sound that I associate with other birds of their feather. Mine make a low, rather soothing sound, almost a hum. I believe that I am now the owner of a pair of extremely posh chickens.

My friends had checked with my wife before whether such a present would be well received and they had also brought along all the paraphernalia that a new chicken owner might need. They had paid such attention to detail that they'd even given me a book on looking after chickens signed by the author. This amount of work and thought made me realise just how mean and stingy I'd been in my own present-giving and I resolved to be a lot better in future.

The one thing we didn't have was a chicken coop, so the next day, Stacey and I set off to purchase one. Our friends had made us promise that the chickens (named Ant and Peck) would be allowed to wander around the garden in the day before being locked up in the evening in a fox-proof home. I was obviously more than happy to agree to this, but it did raise a question. Why were the chickens safe in the day but not at night?

Are foxes purely nocturnal? Is there some unwritten code in the fox-chicken world that allows hens to roam free and unbothered until sundown, at which time the fox is allowed to commence his homicidal behaviour? If all chickens are left to wander around during the day, surely those cunning foxes would be there like a shot?

Maybe foxes lead busy daytime lives that I am unaware of. Do they work part-time? Maybe they are just hampered by this infernal agreement and sit in their foxholes grumbling about the stupid arrangement."

I have no idea, but unless I am told otherwise, this is the pattern of life that Ant and Peck will keep for the foreseeable future. We are promised that egg production will begin in a couple of weeks, once they have settled in. I can't wait. I just hope they don't hear about the 50ft chickens the farmer on the hill is breeding in his huge secret barns. That will seriously freak them out. My dog is still getting over bumping into one in Macaroni Woods.