Today I went on a recruiting mission. I thought I had finally found some local Araucana chickens to add to our little flock of sixteen Australorps and Rhode Island Reds. I know my desire for those blue egg layers is buying into the wannabe farmer cliche – hankering after breeds with fancy feather patterns, comical poufy hairdos, or unusual coloured eggs… As if its proof our hens and eggs aren’t like the regular shop-bought eggs spat out by production-line ISA Brown hens. But I can’t help it, I so badly want blue eggs! Bugger the cliche.
I have wanted Araucanas since the beginning – a year and a half ago, in the lead-up to getting chickens, when my chicken-related internet research and habit of constantly reporting new discoveries about heritage breeds just about drove my partner mental. Previously I’d had no idea about the variety of chickens out there, let alone that some laid eggs other than the standard white or brown. So when we bought our original batch of ten day-old chicklets, along with the Australorps and Rogues (as we call our RIRs), we got a couple of Welsummers (I’m keen on chocolate coloured eggs, also. Technically could pass as peeled Easter eggs?) and some Polish x Araucanas. Naturally, the more “exotic” breeds turned out to be all roosters. Awesome. My fancy egg plans were foiled, and from what I can tell, purebred Araucanas are hard to come by in Western Australia. I have trawled the Quokka, Gumtree and the popular chicken sites… And finally thought I was onto a goer when I found an ad for “Arakana” chickens in this week’s Quokka.
I rang up and spoke to a chappy, Bill, whose responses to my queries were rather no-frills, but I specifically asked if the birds he had were the blue-egg layers – and he said yes! Six weeks old, $15 each. I got super excited! I tee’d up to stop in at Bill’s on the way home from the saddlery and feed store. My favourite type of mission, to pick up horse gear, stock feed and new chicks!
Well, after rocking up at the wrong place, I eventually found Bill and his wife, Faye, sitting on their back patio. Bill with a VB longneck in hand, Faye with a ciggie. Before I’d even had a chance to properly say hello, Faye informed me that Bill had got it wrong – they didn’t have Araucanas, they had Andalusians. Oh. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I have been looking for so long, and have had so little luck, that I had a feeling it was too good to be true – purebred Araucanas, so close to home? Yeah, no. They were apologetic, and didn’t attempt to foist any of their other poultry onto me. Although, they were rather keen on giving me the extended tour.
Upon closer inspection of their rather ramshackle facilities, I was somewhat relieved that the promise of blue egg layers had fallen through. Their birds didn’t look in the best of health. I would not have felt right taking potentially unhealthy chickens home where they might infect my existing flock. Blue eggs are not worth endangering the girls I’ve raised from chicklings to become power layers! Bill and Faye had three small pens tacked onto the back of their shed, with young chicks in one, turkeys and geese in another, and then the more mature chickens – the aforementioned Andalusians and a bunch of Faverolles with the craziest chicken feet I have ever seen: five toes, not four, and feathers! Actually they were crazy-looking in general, but I quite liked their grey beards, which made the girls look like little old men. I have heard that they are good meat birds but the idea of buying some didn’t even enter my mind. Their dirty little pen was way overcrowded and badly in need of a clean-out. There were too many roosters, and the girls all had bare backs and sad ragged tails from being jumped on by the boys.
I was quite taken with the geese and turkeys – it is probably the only time I’ve ever seen them up close without being chased through a farmyard or public park. Our local riverside park in my hometown was host to a gang of feral geese while I was growing up. They would gleefully torment adults and children alike with their loud honking, demanding chips, and then chasing their victims away. Needless to say, my experience and opinion of geese and turkey gobblers has never been all that positive. But Bill’s turkeys were rather sedate and very pretty coloured, and the pair of geese actually seemed bonded to their wiry, weathered old master. They would actually shut up their racket when he asked them to! And I thought they looked rather handsome, with a stately aura of goosey refinement despite their humble surroundings and the poor state of their owners’ teeth (or lack thereof). Geese don’t have teeth, so why would they care!
I don’t mean to be nasty, Bill and Faye were not bad people. They were just in want of a little TLC, some exercise, and someone to talk to. They eagerly spilled chicken info while they gave me the tour, tricks like how to tell if a fertile egg will hatch into a rooster or a pullet. Despite appearances, they weren’t creepy and I didn’t rush to escape, I was actually intrigued. Apparently they are the sort of people who are keen on breeding things in general – apart from the chickens they had budgies and a talking corella, and they told me that before they moved onto a smaller property they had over thirty-five horses. Bill even brought out the paperwork to prove they used to breed Welsh ponies – all “out of Drumcycler” (I didn’t correct them but the stud prefix is better known as Drumclyer), and named after cartoon characters, including Pocahontas and Ginger Meggs – I’m not making this up!
Things got a little uncomfortable when Faye started telling me about the recent deaths of her two sisters, and her own numerous ailments including diabetes, meningitis and spinal operations. I attempted to politely extricate myself several times, and each time they apologised for the Araucana/Andalusian mix-up and for taking up so much of my time, and then in the same breath, immediately resumed telling me their life story. I didn’t really mind. They were just a bit lonely and they said they didn’t get many visitors. It crossed my mind that maybe they had deliberately forgotten that they had Andalusians and not Araucanas, or purposely misunderstood what I wanted. I think that is being overly suspicious though. I mean, who would lie just to get a visitor/customer?
To me, they seemed genuine, and rather sweet, in a way. They offered to incubate, hatch and raise Araucana chicks for me if I could source fertile eggs. Plus they sold me some cheap, awesome honey made by their neighbours’ bees – you can’t get more local than that! It was lucky too because I was running low. But… they did keep me there for close on three hours. They were real talkers, for sure. So I got my honey, but no new chickens came home with me. So the blue egg search continues. Maybe I will find some fertile Araucana eggs and Faye might hatch them for me. It could mean hearing another three hours’ worth of their life story though.
Definitely crazy chicken people. But maybe that puts me in good company!