R.I.P. TONIA TODMAN
Hurray, we’ve moved to the country!
We are miles away from friends and family and we have a brand new baby so we will have lots of time and energy to devote to that market garden we’ve always wanted. We’ll have goats and sheep and a cattle dog to keep an eye on the goats and sheep. After tending to the garden and livestock we can whittle in front of the fire because that’s what you do in the country.
We settled for some chickens in the end, from our local chicken ‘adoption centre’. We drove, baby on the lap in the January afternoon heat, excited. We’d already picked out names, we’d purchased an expensive but cheaply made chicken coop online. We were ready!
I imagined a cute cottage, a flowery meadow and little poultry poppets welcoming us with open wings, ready to be adopted. The reality was a Deliverance-style shack at the end of a dirt road.
We were told to honk our horn when we arrived as the Ol' mates dog was ‘temperamental’. An older gentleman with a peg leg came out of the shack and pointed around the corner. My partner Paul took a deep breath and got out of the car. A little while later Paul returned, wide-eyed, carrying three chooks in a box. All Paul said was that there were HUNDREDS of chickens and that Ol’ Peg Leg claimed to love them all.
Back home, we took our feathered friends out of the box, gave them the once over, fed them blueberries to earn their trust and named them accordingly; Rhonda Burchmore, Noni Hazlehurst and Tonia Todman. Tonia became our favourite, she was clearly the runt of the litter. She would happily eat out of our hands and let us carry her and was bullied by Rhonda and Noni.
There was something a little NQR about her though; she was a little bit snotty and little weepy eyed but we put it down to her runtiness. We bathed her eyes in salt water and wiped her face but after a couple of weeks she remained a bit off. I called Ol’ Mate, explained Tonia’s health issues and asked for any hot tips to make my chook better. His response? “Just bring her back and I’ll get you a new one”.
WTF - just trade her in? Our new baby, the underdog, Tonia Todman? We were not trading her in.
“Oh no, we love Tonia, she’s got such personality, we want to keep her, I’m just after some advice”.
“They all have lovely personalities, you just bring her back and we’ll swap her over.”
When I got off the phone I was livid. This man had no heart, this man didn’t give a shit. Hmmm, wrong, this man was a farmer running a business and he knew that Tonia’s days were numbered. What a silly city slicker animal activist type vegetarian, high horsed fool I was.
We bought bird antibiotics. They didn’t work. So we bought more. Tonia went through different variations of better and worse. Some days she would be good as gold, a spring chicken in her prime. Other days we would find her dozy in a corner guarded by another chook, fatigued, bubble nosed, an off smell permeating from her face.
Eventually we were forced to make a decision that no city dweller wants to make; we had to put her down. Oh the stress, the anxiety! How would we do it? How would we make it humane? (And when I say we, I mean Paul.) What’s the sharpest tool in the shed? What would Tonia want as her last supper?
Paul thought the best method would be to stick Tonia’s little head through a witch’s hat and chop it off. The babe and I decided to go for a walk that grim afternoon. We wished Paul luck and told him to call us when the deed was done. A while passed before he told us we could come home. The witch’s hat didn’t have the desired effect; when Paul placed Tonia in the hat, the tip was on too sharp an angle so her head wouldn’t fit through the hole. He had to think quickly; he found a plank of wood and put two nails in about a centimetre apart. He grabbed Tonia, wrapped her in a towel like a little baby, placed her head in the little nook, stretched her neck out and did the deed. He said he had to sit there for five long minutes as she writhed around. The trauma!
When we got back Paul had made a little grave, wrapped Tonia up in some newspaper and topped her off with a bouquet of flowers. We said our farewells. Tears were shed. We learnt a few things that day thanks to Tonia. We didn’t buy any goats. Or sheep.