The Big Issue : Edition 547
THEBIGISSUE6–19OCT2017 13 PHOTOSBYJAMESBRAUND TURNS OUT YOU don’t need to have children to be a bad parent. One of my gals, Lally, has a bad case of scaly leg mite, which is, I guess, like not knowing your kids have nits. I had no idea. I’d be feeling the burn at school pick-up, if there were such a thing for backyard chicken owners. “That’s her,” they’d be whispering behind their hands. “Have you seen her chicken’s feet?” Lally’s infestation was first spotted months back by Nicholas, who is a friend and faintly burned-out advertising creative turned tree-change chook obsessive. You think I’m obsessed? You’ve seen nothing. Nicholas’ backyard is crammed with “best of breeds”, he’s infiltrated his local poultry club, and turns up when one of our girls goes broody with a winning smile and a clutch of fertilised eggs. “Go on,” he says, “don’t make me scramble them.” Over a cup of tea in autumn he gave our flock a once-over as they fossicked for biscuit crumbs around our ankles, and he pointed out some rough scales on Lally’s feet. “You want to get some vaseline onto that,” he says, “suffocate the bastards.” The scaly leg mites, it transpires, are a common chickeny problem. They burrow in under the leg scales, eat, breed and poop up a storm, and if they’re not nipped in the bud you end up with deformed feet and a crippled chicken. Oh, and they spread. So we got some vaseline onto that. But I relaxed too early, the pests stormed back, I didn’t notice, and Lally’s feet are now a painful, lumpy mite motel that we had to dip in petrol. Yeah, petrol. That escalated quickly. And there’s nothing quite like the look a chicken in pain gives you after she’s been grabbed non-consensually, and dunked in gasoline to control an outbreak you should have spotted earlier. Is it betrayal? I’m probably projecting. Nah, it’s definitely betrayal. I’m guilty of the most basic parenting error – wanting to be liked. » Fiona Scott-Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer, comedian and mother hen. FIONA In a Flap “It’s definitely betrayal. I’m guilty of the most basic parenting error – wanting to be liked.” The gals don’t care to be picked up, so I don’t. They bustle around the garden, eat treats out of my hand, follow me around, come running when I appear, but when I try to touch them they squawk and deftly move their fluffy bottoms just out of reach. Fair enough. I do the same when Greg surprises me with a cold hand. When Lally hatched her chicks, she got distressed if anyone picked them up. So I didn’t. I let her get on with being an awesome mum. When I sit and read outdoors Joan and Percy fly up, perch on the chair arm and eyeball me curiously, but “hello” is not an invitation to stroke. So I don’t. And, by extension, I baulk at holding their legs, turning them upside down, and dusting their flapping wings with chemical powder for parasites. Which is what I should be doing, but it feels mean. You could say I’m too chicken. Ahahaha. I recently met up with a friend who was fresh from putting her daughter to bed early. Bath time had been withheld, as a correction for some wilful behaviour. Liz was glowing with the achievement of successful discipline. “It’s so satisfying to watch her learn that there are consequences,” she said. Ah yes. Consequences. When I don’t farmer up properly, trying to please my chooks, they’re the ones who wear the repercussions. So we’ve farmered up. I’ve scrubbed the coop and dusted it with mite powder. The entire flock has been caught one by protesting one, given the old “unleaded” treatment, and legs slathered with petroleum jelly. Even though the dirt sticks to their feet and makes them walk like grossed-out dressage ponies. Even though, in the short term, they give Greg and me the hairy eyeball. Because I’d like to have Nicholas back for tea again some time.