Qurna update. December 2015.

We had some good news this morning! Our turkeys are finally hatching! We are so excited as this is our first experience of turkeys and their offspring! We also have a goose sitting on her eggs so hopefully soon we will have little goslings running around too!!!

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There are more eggs ‘pipping’ too, so hopefully we will have around 9 or 10. The turkey mother is also sitting on chicken’s eggs and a couple of Pekin duck eggs and we were also give a few ‘ready to hatch’ Muscovy’ eggs by Nagat, Omar’s older sister, who is lovely!! They all hatched last week and are now under the lamp in a box in the hatching room. Omar built a couple of Hassan Fathy-style ‘sitting-quarters’- for the birds, so that they can lay, and hatch, in safety. They love them!!! There’s even room on top for another storey! So, in good Egyptian fashion, 2015-11-23 08.46.39we will have multi-storied turkey housing! 

The first egg was laid around a month ago, followed, pretty much every day by another and then another, until she had quite a number in her nest. Naturally a few duck eggs and hen’s eggs were added for good measure. We have two turkey hens and both were laying at the same time, in the same place! But one was finished laying so she decided to sit on them.

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Turkey eggs are narrower at one end and quite speckled and usually take around 28 days from the start of sitting to hatching.

We originally bought 4 turkey poults from the guy who comes every week on his truck. He sells lots of different types of birds, but they are not always in the best shape! Out of the four only one was male and he was the first one to die. We don’t know of what, but Turkey’s tend to be quite sensitive birds and get infections easily. Then there were three! Omar bought another male at the souk but it was too young so he bought another one for 200LE. A lot of money!!! He was an adult male and managed to fertilise a few eggs before he too ‘bought it’! The young male was now mature enough, and judging by his offspring was certainly up to the job!!! 2015-12-07 08.13.27

Omar went to check on the eggs and the little ducklings which hatched from Nagat’s eggs, and which Omar had put under the turkey a few days before they were due to hatch, were communicating with the unhatched turkey chicks! The ducks are in a separate box under a lamp! Omar had left them for a day with the Turkey, but didn’t want the turkey to think that she could get off the remaining eggs, so we decided to put them in a box beside the turkey’s nest so that they could still hear them.

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We want to leave the turkey chicks with the mother but Omar is going to keep his eye on them, as there are still eggs underneath her. They may end up in the box with the ducklings, so that the ducklings can teach the chicks how to eat. But we want them to gain the immunity from disease that staying with their mother gives them, so hopefully they will be OK. The ducklings are also allowed out into the house so that they to are exposed to bacteria and when the eggs have all hatched they can hopefully run with the turkey chicks. That’s the plan anyway!!!

Winter is usually the best month for turkeys here as it is not too hot for them, so hopefully by the end of the season we will have more turkeys than we know what to do with, although I think a couple of them will go to Nagat!!! I do love the turkeys and their noises but they are very bossy birds and tend to pus2015-10-31 10.08.01h all of the other birds out of the way when it comes to feeding time, so Omar now feeds them all in different locations. They also sell for a lot of money, so if we can get them past the danger point, which is usually about three months old, then we can sell them.

All of our birds live together, geese, chickens, turkeys and ducks and seem to manage well enough. Shame the people of different races can’t manage to do it as well as they do!

Qurna Homestead Update. April 2015.

Its been quite a while since I posted here and quite a lot has happened, even though it still feels as though nothing has! Much of the change has been on subtle levels, creating change within the house, so that for people looking in from the outside, it still looks the same. But every little shift here is important. People are so stuck in their old ways of doing things that it takes much healing to bring any change at all.

DSCN9923We are still looking after our animals, a bull, a cow, a pregnant ewe, a ewe and lamb, lots of ducks, turkeys, geese and chickens. Some of the chickens we now have were incubated by Ruby Tuesday on the East Bank, which was a godsend as all of our other chickens were wiped out by a particularly nasty cholera outbreak. Normally we lose a lot but never all of them. We were lucky that we managed to save the young Muscovy ducks and geese. Our Pekin ducks seem to be impervious to it! Even our turkeys managed to avoid it, once we used the right anti-biotics. Pretty miraculous really, as nearly everyone around us lost everything. We try to keep the place disinfected, but it is so difficult when all of the birds and animals share the same space.

It has been a very trying few months. Last November I finally thought we could escape Luxor. A British woman, converted to Islam, advertised for a job on her farm in Alexandria. We lasted a month before returning to Luxor. Lovely place, but terrible working environment, and completely lacking in integrity. But I did do much personal healing while we were there and so it was  not wasted. All we did waste was a lot of time, energy and money! It was a very emotionally challenging month. DSCN9659

When we returned, we found that our animals, who were supposed to be looked after by Omar’s brothers, were as thin as rakes. Even the bull looked more like a calf again. MIL had taken over the hen house, even though I had given the care of the birds to one of the other women, and it was in a state. We quickly put it back into shape and fed the poor birds. None of them were laying because nobody fed them properly. I bought a large bag of feed and within two weeks they were all laying.

Omar sold two of our sheep and bought a new ewe with her twin lambs. Within a month they both had died. We had no idea why, until the second one was dying. They were riddled with fleas, which were just sucking the life out of them. We tried to save the second one but it succumbed. We had to dip all of the remaining sheep and spray the pen. Then Ginger, my sheep with the lovely wool, gave birth to Paschal, on Easter Sunday. He is the spitting image of his mum, and the first ‘boy’ that we’ve had since we got the sheep.

2015-04-05 14.53.56But then we noticed that he was scratching. More de-flea-ing, but we had to be so careful as he was less than a week old. We got rid of those and three days later he had even more. So all of the animals had to come out, while we turned the place out and burned everything. Then we discovered the bull going nuts, scratching! Lice! Once again we had to race to the vet to get an injection. Omar had sold the cow, bought a bull, changed his mind and bought another cow instead. She brought lice with her; just as the two lambs had brought the fleas! It was getting a little crazy! All of the chickens had already died, plus one of my young geese; then the Muscovy ducks were ill and one of those died. Next it was the turkey’s turn. Having treated them for Cholera they developed a Vit. B deficiency! It was one thing after another! Then we discovered, that although the other young goose had managed to survive the cholera, she was blind! So she has to be taken more care of and we have to make sure that she gets enough food and water.

However, in the midst of all this chaos, our Muscovy hen hatched lots of eggs, so we ended up with more Muscovy and, Pekin  ducklings, plus 5 chicks. 2015-03-03 12.48.45They are all huge now and our first new chick from the latest hatching is now in the brooder. The Muscovy hen started laying again, but after two days we had to stop her being with the drake, as he tore her back to shreds. We put one hen’s egg underneath her, not thinking anything would come of it, but it hatched two days ago. In a few days hopefully we will get a few more ducklings to keep it company. It spends a lot of time sitting (put an ‘h’ in there and it would be more appropriate”) on my lap for now!!!

We have brought in the wheat harvest, which Omar’s brother planted, but harvested too early, and the onions have now been pulled. Omar is definitely the best one for the job. His wheat and onions were brilliant compared to this year. But his older brother thought he could do better; he has now changed his mind! But Omar has influenced the way that they think. They planted wheat in the sugarcane field too, so now even with the Gov., wheat shortages, we have enough wheat for the year.

We have stopped everyone from going into the garden as they kept taking all the tiny, pea-sized lemons from the tree. Everything is nabbed before it even ripens on the branches. So this year we are taking care of it and no-one has the key to the garden anymore. Everyone will get their fair share and no-one will go without. Plus, I am slowly convincing everyone that duck eggs are actually delicious! Two of them now eat them regularly! Small successes!!!

Although Omar did get bitten by a snake, while planting Okra in the dark, but that’s another story…

Chicken Cholera

Our flock of chickens, ranging from between two months old to 6 months have contracted Chicken Cholera, again! This morning we lost 7 birds, including one point-of-lay pullet. We had been losing at least one a day for the past few days, but because these were mother’s chickens which had been badly fed since the beginning, and which is why she wanted us to take care of them, we thought it was just down to bad health. However, once a healthy pullet was stricken, I knew it was more serious.

DSCN9593I keep our pullets separate from the others, but as one has succumbed I’m not sure if the others will survive. This disease seems to be seasonal and can wipe out a whole flock with a couple of weeks. I hoped that only the weaker ones would die but when Prince, our lovely cockerel, was ill this morning, I knew it could potentially kill any of them.

Last week, while doing some healing on myself, I had an image pop into my head of a black crow cawing into the animal pen. I knew it meant death, but didn’t know of what! Now I know!

When we were able to keep the chickens in the garden, only a couple of them died. But now we have to keep them in the animal pen as the men don’t want the birds in the garden. For me it is the healthiest place for them, and with a little care it could be managed so that the hens didn’t eat new seeds or young plants. But, things don’t work like that here. Common sense is rare here!

So far, it is only our birds dying, none of mother’s or Eman’s. I don’t know why ours were susceptible and none of the others. Hopefully theirs will be OK. We feed ours better, take better care of them, but yet they are ill. Two of the brothers have bought new young rams recently, which are now in with ours, and they might have been around other birds in their previous home. All the chickens run around the animals so if an animal is carrying anything on their feet, they then bring it into our pen. Its the only different thing that has happened recently!

But I decided that if none of the birds survive then I will not replace them until we have our own place and I can build them a house with a concrete, cleanable floor and proper outdoor runs. I will also see if they can be vaccinated. DSCN9563

The only good thing about this situation is that the women will not want to keep their birds with mine if it looks like they are just as susceptible there. That would save me a fortune and a whole lot of hassle!

In the meantime I will enjoy every egg that the hens produce and will eat it with immense gratitude. The sickness does not seem to have effected the ducks so hopefully they will be alright!

Here’s hoping…

Qurna Homestead update. September 2014.

I haven’t written here in quite a while so I thought I would share how things have developed during the past 6 months.

DSCN9417Omar is still working the eight Kirat field down by the Nile and we are still eating the onions he grew there last winter. However, our flat is the only flat where there are still onions, because the women here have no idea of how to store things and will use veges, etc. in huge quantities as soon as they get their share of the harvest. The result is they have to buy their onions from the souk within weeks.  Omar tells his mother proudly  that I still have most of mine. Bad move!  Mother then goes and tells all the other women who then come to my door asking for onions! We’ve now put a stop to that! I budget my produce so that it lasts me until the next harvest, which is still six months away! I am not giving any away, especially as they received twice as much as we did to begin with. They’ll have to learn just as I did.

We now have a bull calf and cow, 5 ewes and 1 young ram, 4 white ducks, 11 white chooks and 1 beautiful cockerel and 3 hens…and a partridge in a pear tree. No, we don’t have a partridge…or a pear tree…but we have considered quails…

We eat bread made from the wheat Omar grew over last winter’s season, and corn meal from last year’s 2014-04-27 16.21.14maize crop. It is hard to find a mill that still grinds the corn into meal for human consumption, there are a few for animal feed though. Since last year’s harvest Mother had kept back some corn cobs while Omar sought out a mill, but he had no luck finding one. Then, a few nights ago he had a dream where he was given detailed instructions on where he might find one. He woke up telling me about it and wondered if it was real.

At the souk, the following week, he randomly asked a friend he met there if he had ever heard of a mill that ground corn meal in the place he had been told of in his dream. His friend said that there was! Omar couldn’t believe it! He took the bags of maize and took a tok tok (A motorbike with a trailer) to Bairat, (another village a couple of kilometres away) to find the mill. It took him two hours, but he came back with hot meal, freshly stoneground in the only remaining mill to grind flour for human consumption on the Entire West Bank! His mother was elated. She had been dreaming about Bettaw, a sourdough cornbread, which she knew from years ago. She was going to make some in the morning. Omar told her to wake me up so I could see how she made it. 2014-09-03 08.28.04

The following morning she woke me up and I went down to the bread oven, which she was firing up with the straw and dung from under our cows and sheep. All the kids were there watching too. However, mother was guarding her secrets and had already made the Bettaw mixture. Sharing is not a word in her vocabulary, unless of course everyone is sharing with her! I got Omar to ask how she had made it and it took ages because she avoided giving the right info, etc. until Omar became confused and didn’t understand any more. I pushed until I understood that it was just a basic sourdough cornbread! Her final remark, as she put the breads into the oven, was “Of course you have to cook them in this oven…you can’t cook them in your  ‘gas oven’. This is because I bake all of my bread in my oven upstairs and never use the clay oven! I have mastered my oven’s idiosyncrasies! Cheap rubbish from China! But, this was Mother’s way of owning her Bettaw-making! She is the only one who can make it…or rather, was! Mother likes to be the only woman in the house who can do anything…or own anything.

A few weeks ago she did a sneaky thing with me. She has her chicken house and I have mine. Mine is in with the animals and none of the kids are allowed in there unless they are doing a chore. Because of previous disempowering episodes with Mother I decided to push myself into the 2014-05-02 11.19.53space of this house. If we are paying so much to support the twenty people in this house then I want to be able to use a part of it, especially when it benefits the entire household. I refused to be pushed back up into my flat anymore, just passing out finance when they wanted it. It took quite some pushing!!! But, we built a chicken house and Omar bought me some day old chicks, which I raised upstairs until they were old enough to go downstairs. All the women in the house bought some too and we bought some for one woman who had no money. But the tom cats decided that unguarded chicks in boxes on top of fridges in houses with no doors, made a very good meal. The result? A lot less chicks!  So the women gave me their birds to raise upstairs until they were old enough to come downstairs. When they were ready I told the women, but they asked me to keep caring for them, as I do a good job of it, and they have nowhere to keep them  So all the chickens went into my hen house.

2014-06-26 12.46.50All was fine for a while. Omar went to the souk to buy me three ducklings and came back with twelve! So I decided to give each house three. Amira, the eldest girl in the house, and daughter of the brother who everyone thinks of as the ‘Authority’, took hers and kept them with her mother’s chickens. Her mother generally takes care of her own as she keeps herself quite separate to the other women. Mother does not like her because she gives Mother nothing! However, when they saw how well our ducks were doing Amira’s mother said to put them with mine in the garden to fatten them up! At my expense. They were not being fed properly and were half the size of the others. We had made a separate pen in the garden and put a hole in the wall so that the ducks could come out and swim. They spend the day there, while the chickens stay with the animals pecking around in the ground. Good for the cattle and good for the hens!

Mother bought 100LE worth of older chickens and put them in her hen house. But they started dropping like flies. So she put the remaining ones in with mine, thinking that it was the food or something. They feed their birds household scraps, which also DSCN9640includes rusty wire wool from cleaning the saucepans and plastic wrappers from the stock cubes! One by one, all of mine started dropping like flies also. Wasn’t the food! We bought some Dettol and completely cleaned both houses and put Mother’s back in with hers. She had one survivor!! We had quite a few more!!! Thank God! Then Mother began to make her take-over bid, just as she did last time. But this time I was on to her. She wanted me to keep her one cockerel in my house, then she started to feed the ducks and her one cockerel, in my hen house, with the same rubbish she feeds hers with. She kept doing it, purposefully and defiantly. It was her way of saying ‘she owned it’. But we fought her at every turn and put her birds back in her house. If she was going to try and play nasty games with me then she looks after her own birds. Being nice here is not an option! I have lost far too many chickens to that woman!

Everything was fine, Mother was being nice, even swapped her cockerel for a hen but insisted that we keep the hen with ours…again! We looked after her two Muscovy Ducks when one of hers died and fed them. We are still looking after the women’s birds and their ducks for 200LE a month! Mother was singing my praises telling everyone how I had saved her duck and her cockerel. Then the following day Mother has nearly forty new chickens in her hen house, not including the little white ones we had all bought in the souk the previous week. When Omar investigated, it turns out that all of the women had banded together, even the one who didn’t get on with Mother, and had bought fourteen chicks each, which Mother has complete control over in her hen house. But no-one had told me.  I was very hurt as they had all discussed this behind my back and had done everything without thinking of asking me if I would like to have bought some too. Mother was up to her tricks again.. Omar was furious as everything we do is to benefit all of the women and children, and the women know that they are free to take their birds whenever they want. They know we do nothing for ourselves, we have very little compared to what we give them. But because Mother was jealous and wanted to be in control she did a nasty thing.

DSCN9625On one level I was glad that the women all had birds now. Before I came here Mother was the only one who had birds. Now the women are thinking ahead. That’s a good thing. But the way it was done was mean. The woman I had sold our ram for, so she could pay for her C-section, felt guilty when Omar  said that no-one was to come to our door and ask for anything again. She said that walahi (I swear) she bought the three naked-neck chickens for me as she knows how much I like them. A month later however, I still have not received them. I didn’t want them, but the offer would have been nice as it would have meant it was genuine.

Omar and I made a selfish decision then. We decided, that from now on, we keep birds only for ourselves. So the women were given their ducks, which they all promptly ate without so much as a thank you! I still have the original hens, we have four as so many of ours died when Mother had her hens with ours, and I divided the survivors equally between the three women as I didn’t know whose had been killed. One woman has only two, the other has four, which mother sees as hers also, but that woman has since left and I don’t know if she will return. But Mother is not getting her hands on them if she doesn’t,  the eggs will be shared with everyone. We have one cockerel, which we call prince as he is so handsome, and three hens. More than enough for our use.DSCN9632

We have four ducks left, two pairs, and Amira still has one male, which she will kill and eat when her Mother is ready for it, or until it is bigger!!! Mother now knows that my hen house is under my control and even though I share freely I won’t be manipulated or conned into giving her what she wants and more. I know all of her tricks now. But it is all so bloody exhausting.

However, I have learned some valuable lessons! Being too generous and putting ourselves last is not a good idea here. No-one will ever think of us, they will only think of themselves, so its OK to be selfish and take care of ourselves, so long as we are not taking away from anyone else. This is stuff I learned before I came here, but because of the apparent poverty it is hard to be selfish. But we have to be. Or we will have nothing left for ourselves.

Keeping really strong boundaries is a must here, as no-one seems to have any!! (But that will be another blog!) Using personal power wisely is also a must, not allowing myself to be manipulated or controlled by lazy men and selfish women. Its a sad fact that the good women in this house just do not last here. They can’t cope with the games. I have to develop a really tough skin to survive here and stop looking for approval. All of those wonderful things I was learning about on my path of self-discovery become necessity here!!!

You really do have to ‘walk your talk’!! If you don’t, you will be walked on, just like the proverbial doormat!

Rats and Cats.

Well the ongoing story of the rats is…ongoing! My brother-in-law Amer set some cage traps for them and it caught one. The rats, having lost their source of hens eggs when we moved the hens, began to eat the pigeon eggs next door! My mother-in-law was not impressed, to say the least!

The Villain.

Omar  brought the rat upstairs to show me. It was much smaller than I expected. I remember the rats from my childhood in Graiguenamanagh, Ireland.

The View of Graig from the Tinnahinch Woods.

We lived in the Step House, (so-named because we had six steps leading up to the door) beside the turf market, which in my childhood in the 60’s still had its water-pump for those who still didn’t have running water! Our house was right beside the Duiske River which runs into the barrow. Our kitchen was built out over the river so we could see all the wild herons and cranes who came here to eat. The Duiske ran along the back of the main street and there were three butchers on that side. The way that they dealt with offal in those days was to throw it in the river, so would see large lumps of fat and swollen offal getting stuck on the rocks and over-hanging trees as it floated downstream.

The Duiske River.

The cranes weren’t the only things that liked the offal however. There were huge river rats, well-fed as you can imagine, who also loved the discarded fat!! Our backyard wall was the wall of the river and we had a little wooden door which opened up to a platform beside the river.  As kids we  played there a lot as the river was not very deep. But, on occasion, the river rats would come into our garden and to my mind they were huge! My mother would scream at us to come upstairs and would then call my father, from our factory where he worked as manager, and tell him to come home!!! While waiting for him to come we would watch the large rats in the backyard from the safety of our kitchen window. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about!!! It was only a rat! My father would then arrive and get his shotgun and bang went the rats! I felt it was rather sad for the rats as they weren’t doing any harm!!

Poor Rat!

Our little rat, terrified in his cage, evoked the same feelings. I didn’t like the way he was eating our eggs, although I was not sure that he was the culprit while the chucks were in the big hen house, because there was never any left-over shell, so I doubted whether it was the rats taking them!! Pigeon eggs are very much smaller and they didn’t take them away but ate the contents and left the empty shell behind!! The poor rat, although a nuisance, still had the right to feed itself.  But this rat was going to be drowned…in the cage. Oh God…another emotional/ethical dilemma.

Omar took the cage out onto the balcony, filled a bucket with water, and immersed the cage, with the rat in it, into the water. Oh my good God! Even the thought of the poor rat…

He called me from the balcony to come and see. REALLY??? ‘No thanks’ I yelled back from the kitchen. ‘Think I’ll give it a miss this time’ ,I muttered to myself!!! I couldn’t believe he actually wanted me to witness it!!! Although I could understand the interest! I used to feel the same way while dissecting fish-eyes when my father was gutting salmon!!!

So the rat was ‘dispatched’.  And everything was fine for a couple of days! THEN we were told by Omar’s brother that he had seen a big cat jump into the chicken house and take away an egg!!! Three times!!!!  So we have had to dismantle the chicken house and put wire above it to stop him from getting in. The amount of stray cats  here is a nightmare!!!

Looks cute doesn’t he???

Where is the pied piper when you need him!!!

The Unexpected Newbies.

This morning we went downstairs to feed the chucks as usual!We gave them their water, checked the eggs and counted them to see exactly how many laying hens we have! We get around 6 eggs a day from 16 hens!!! That’s Egyptian breeds for you! We only own three of those hens! And I’m pretty sure that one of them is only starting to lay, as  in the last week we have found soft-shelled eggs.

Soft-shelled Egg.

Initially we thought that she needed more calcium so we added it to their feed but the second time we found it it was in their basin of water!!! My mother-in-law had told us that when a hen lays a lot of eggs and uses up her resources that she will lay soft-shelled eggs. But I pretty much doubted that she would lay them in the water! Then I remembered that when young hens are getting ready to lay that they lay ‘odd’ eggs. So I looked it up! Yep. It happens! It is one of our hens.

Water Fowl. Keeping Cool.

This morning while we were feeding them I saw one hen, the one with the bare sides and head, get into the basin of water and just sit there. Aha!!! Now I know which one it is! Easy to identify when we come to separate them next week.

Yesterday morning, after we had fed the chucks, we heard a van announcing something over a loud-speaker. It was the chicken man! He sells poultry door to door. We ended up buying twelve four-week old hens, well, one of them is a cockerel but never-mind!

New additions…

I wanted some Naked-necked chickens and a silver pencil Fayoumi as I love the colours. The Naked-necked ones are the best layers of the Egyptian varieties and better suited to the weather so I definitely wanted them. Although, finding pure-breed anything here is an impossibility as they are not really interested in breeds so much as egg and meat production in the home.( But I’m not sure that that the one in the picture is female!!! It has a bigger comb than all the others. If it turns out to be male we will have to think again about how to house them as we have a cockerel already.)

Lovely little white patches…

The man in the van grabbed all twelve chicks by one leg and handed them to me in a bunch, squawking! I tried to make sense of this bundle of legs, wings and heads and supported them underneath so I could bring them upstairs to our flat!

Beautiful colours.

 The family expected me to put them in with the other laying hens but I wanted to quarantine them first and then introduce them slowly, or even give them their own run!! Our other four new hens were still getting used to being with the others and, because we are building a new place for them, I didn’t want to add to their stress!!! The newbies would just have to stay upstairs in the spare room in the flat!! With the overhead fan and ceramic floors!!! The family all think I am crazy! My mother-in-law joked that  the hens were living on ceramic tiles while she had a dirt floor!

The naked-neck.

But I want to do this the way I would have done in Ireland and the UK. The chickens welfare comes first!  Because animals are not really seen as having any value other than their function they are used to the full but not taken care of properly.  People here do not realise that animals feel pain, or might not be happy or might be hungry, or might not like actually being chained to a three foot long chain for all of your life just so you can guard the house!

Bob having a nice shake after his dip!

Chickens are just food and therefore deserve no real care. When we were given a broiler this morning as a gift it was handed to me by the wings. I held it the way I would normally hold a chicken, supporting its whole body, and when we sent it upstairs with one of the girls she immediately went to grab it by one leg. I told her to carry it properly and she was worried about it pooing on her!!! She would be eating it in two hours so what was the problem!? Even a broiler needs to be treated well before it is killed.

Anyway, I put it in with the new chicks and gave it a little peace, and water, before it had its throat cut, Halal-style. Its life might be forced but at least its death gave it some respite!

Pecking Order? What Pecking Order?

Well, buying chickens has led to a whole host of interesting issues within the household! Here in our house there live 19 people: mother, father, four brothers and their families. Each family has its own flat. I live with my husband on the second floor opposite his brother, with his wife and daughter. On  the ground floor live two brothers and their wives and children.  Mother, 70, and Father, 90, hover on the ground floor as they were displaced as sons got married and wives were brought in to live in the family home.

Front Garden

Up until the point where we acquired our chickens Mother looked after the hens, and the women of the house threw them their scraps  She had bought fifty hens from the souk and housed them with the three rams. She looked after them all. But here in Upper Egypt chickens are not taken care of in the same way as chickens in the West. The same chickens which they get eggs from are the same chickens which they eat when they want to eat chicken.  To buy a broiler, or chicken specially reared to be eaten, costs 50LE. A lot of money when that same amount of money can feed you vegetables from the souk for nearly three weeks!!

So, when they fancied chicken they just went out to the hen house, grabbed a chicken by its legs or wings, brought it into the house and cut its throat. Halal meat! It didn’t matter whether this chicken was a good layer or not. It was not even considered. The flock of hens slowly dwindled and flock dynamics were in a constant state of flux!

When our friend Chris bought us our first three chickens and the rooster, we housed them separately so that I could raise them in the way that I always did in Ireland and in the UK.  We put them in their own enclosure and put a lock on the door so that no-one could help themselves to the eggs!! I wanted to go in everyday and collect them in one batch. Here the kids would randomly go and take whatever eggs they could find and bring them into their respective house. However, a rat decided she wanted to eat Mother’s eggs so we put her hens in with ours so that we could deal with the rat! The kids got the message pretty rapidly that this was now a no-go area!!! However, the adults were a different matter altogether! We gave a key to Mother so that she could continue to feed her hens and we tried different ways of allocating the eggs. None of which worked! The women of the house were used to going and taking the eggs whenever they wanted but now, they couldn’t do that. On top of that I noticed that the hens were dwindling in number and it turned out that they had been eating them! Unfortunately I don’t know if my new hens had gotten the chop as we had only gotten them and I didn’t recognise them yet, apart from the rooster and the one with the limp!

Hens in the Henhouse.

So we had a chat, or rather Omar did, and we put a stop to that!!!  Then we bought four new hens and I put them into a separate coup within the enclosure so that the other hens would get used to them! I wasn’t sure how the pecking order would establish itself as the flock was in a constant state of change and people here are really not all that interested in flock dynamics!!! But I wanted to ensure that the new hens integrated properly. When we first bought them we put them in the large, palm-tree cage where they felt at home. But because of the way chickens are handled here Mother would let them out, thinking that they needed space! However, the other hens pecked them badly and these newbies had lived in a small cage with other hens their entire lives, They were being sold as food! Letting them out of their, now larger, home was traumatic! I watched them for a couple of days, allowing them to be out as Mother wanted, but they were not eating or drinking as the other hens wouldn’t let them near the food!  They hid in the corner or in any dark place they could find. It was like watching freed prisoners of a concentration camp, who are so traumatised that being given freedom proves to be too difficult to manage. They feel safe in their confinement.

Improvised feeding!

I watched one of the hens as she ran around the edge of the hen house and it seems that she had a strange nervous habit. Like a tic! She would run and hop and try to peck at something in the air. I realised that because she was used to living in a tiny metal cage with no food for most of the day that she would try to catch flies as they flew by. It really was like looking at a freed concentration camp prisoner who is still acting as though they were captive.

Happy in their Confinement!

I put the four back in their run with a perch and they were perfectly happy! Hens here are not provided with nesting boxes or perches. But are allowed to eat greens.  We built them a couple of nest boxes, put straw in them and Omar made a traditional earthenware nest from a broken water jar!   But we are still trying to get the message across that the new hens need to be kept in the run! They keep being let out and so their food is eaten!! Yesterday I was concerned about the health of the strange hen with the nervous tic as she seemed to be quite weak and was hiding all the time. We took her upstairs and she ate and drank for a full half hour, non-stop! She is obviously not getting enough food! Then she pottered around quite happily, jumping up onto our bed and checking our carpet out! It is only when she is with the others that she is hiding. The other three are a little more confident but only barely. If they have been let out of their run they hide behind it. So I have to keep putting them in and explaining what we are doing. Well, Omar does that as my Arabic has not reached that level of proficiency yet!

I know! Chickens and carpets don’t mix!

Its a constant battle and a very frustrating one but we have to keep going. Hopefully, when they are producing more eggs they will see what we are trying to do and resentments that have built up from the women who are not free to take the eggs whenever they please will hopefully dissipate when they see that they are getting a lot more than they were before!