Sex pest Sven and his Harem of Chicks
by Martin Gurdon
My wife and I have discovered a cunning way of frightening off the foxes that
prowl around our garden in rural Kent, eager to get at our chickens. It became
clear that we needed to do something when, one morning several years ago, I let
the birds out of Beak House, the old garden shed where they roost, and returned to
the kitchen for my usual cup of coffee.
As I did so, I heard an anguished whisper from Jane. ‘Oh no!’ she said.
Running back outside I could see the frantic flapping of wings battering uselessly
against something lithe and brown. It was a fox, carrying our cockerel away in its
mouth. Old, rheumatic and slow, he stood no chance — but he’d gone out in a
blaze of glory, protecting his ‘girls’.
It was the perfect exit for him, but we didn’t want to risk any more predators
burrowing under our fence once we’d fortified it. So we took to switching on the
radio in the summerhouse just opposite the hen shed. Not for our chickens the
banalities of commercial radio stations. We went for Radio 4, because 99 per cent
of its output is people talking. The idea that Jim Naughtie & Co are acting as vocal
scarecrows is rather an appealing one, and we are sure that the average fox
will be scared off by the tortuous delivery of the BBC’s business editor Robert
Peston. He certainly scares us.
With the summerhouse door cutting the noise to a gentle mumble, the half-heard
ebb and flow of on-air chatter has become very much a part of our garden.
Unfortunately, so too has another sound — that of agitated clucking as Meringue, a
speckled grey chicken who is the chosen favourite of our current cockerel Svenson,
tries yet again to escape his very insistent attentions.
Svenson’s exceptionally keen interest in procreation has come as something of a
surprise to us. It’s 14 years since we began keeping chickens, a diversion from my
writing for motoring magazines, and Jane’s work as an educational special needs
adviser. But none of the cockerels we’ve owned has ever been as rampant as
Svenson. This handsome bird, with his burnished copper and deep-green plumage,
is the son of the cockerel that succumbed to the fox, but their personalities were
always very different.
Svenson’s dad was much less of a sex pest, particularly in later life when his
rheumatism meant he spent extended periods squatting on the lawn, pecking
contentedly at the grass. Occasionally he would remember that he was still a ‘real
man’, lever himself to his feet, and beat a stiff-limbed path to the nearest potential
girlfriend, who would see him approaching and generally run off.
But they have no such luck with Svenson, whose interest in sex more closely
resembles that of another famous Sven, the former England football manager and
celebrated lothario, Sven-Goran Eriksson.