🥀 🥀 🌾 By August 2017, Cosy Cottage’s garden was as chicken-ready as it was ever going to be. Drainage (whether it works or not, we will have to wait and see this winter) set in place; a proper compost heap permanently sited, ready for that delightful manure which would work wonders for the plants; a pond dug, planted (finally) and decorated with cobbles; stone borders transformed into flower beds; the side garden becoming home to a potted floral arena… And of course, the notorious coop taking centre place, proudly standing, no longer an eyesore but a prestigious abode, ready for its lady lodgers.
There was one thing bugging me though.
I didn’t have any practical experience of hens. I didn’t think I was scared of them, but I had never been in close proximity with chickens. What if they pecked? Or drew blood? Attacked me in my bright red dressing gown (apparently they are attracted to the colour red)? What if I, for some bizarre reason, was unable to lift and hold them? Was nervous of them?
This line of thinking was preposterous. I loved my family’s Jack Russells Molly and Teddy, had zero fear of rodents, and was more concerned of accidentally hurting a spider’s leg (although I do hate touching slugs, which I have done by mistake. Sorry slugs).
I had tried to enrol on a course but didn’t get very far. I must have read all the chicken books available but what I really wanted was some practical experience… Then a colleague came to the rescue.
J got chickens a year before, six months after he first started working on a coop. In fact, I modelled my coop roughly on his. Except he had a proper plan and I didn’t. Anyway, it took him months to build – which should have warned me that if someone says on a website it takes a ‘weekend’ they are, ever so slightly, exaggerating (unless Superman or Wonder Woman is building it).
Eventually, his hard work paid off and he had a fine looking coop – waiting for some inhabitants to fill it. Luckily for J, a fellow allotment-holder had four hens he no longer wanted and, once J had his coop up and running, the ladies moved into their new home.
So it was by good fortune that, when J went away, he asked if I could look after them for a week.
Sure, I said, it would be great experience.
And I would get free eggs!
Sweet Caroline, Lucy Muffin, Britney Starr and Lily Sparkles were a bluebell, marans and a white Sussex. Someone unkindly said they had names like strippers – actually it was J, but don’t blame him, it was his daughters who named them!
(The hens were moulting around the bottom area so calling them strippers wasn’t too far off the mark, wear some more feathers in public, girls please!) 🐔🐔🐔
To say I had a hundred fears (again!) is an understatement. What if they escaped? What if they died (J said to put them in a bin bag and into a bin if this occurred as they weren’t allowed to bury them on the allotment)? A fellow colleague said, how could he say that? How morbid!
But I was glad it was addressed. You know, just in case.
Thank the heavens, it was straightforward. The ladies enjoyed going out into the run when I opened the door (and no one escaped!) And were happy to wander back in when they realised I had lettuce or cabbage, or, a naughty, very seldom treat, a slice of bread. Britney and Co were hard working and supplied three eggs each day (one wasn’t pulling their weight, I’m not pointing any fingers, Lucy… Just joking, Lucy!)
No one died or got ill. Thank you very much girls.
The coop was fox-proof, so I didn’t need to visit twice a day. It was merely a case of checking they had enough food and water each day.
Of all my fears, finding a hen dead, the four running free and wild over the allotments…
There were actually three real concerns and none really related to the hens.
J showed me the hens one lunchtime at work. The next time me and my parents visited. But could we find the right allotment? Traipsing through other allotments, attracting vegetable growers’ raised eyebrows and suspicious attention, eventually I spotted the landmark sunflower at the front of the coop. Phew!
Second, the keys which appeared to go on strike when it came to opening the shed door for the hens’ feed and corn. I visualised having to go to the Superpet Warehouse for chicken feed. Thankfully my dad came with me the next time and figured out which key to use first. (There were two keys).
My last concern was leaving the keys in a safe but clear place for the next helper. I worried I had placed them somewhere too obvious for thieves or conversely, somewhere too obscure for the hen carer.
But when I went back to work a week on Monday, my fears were relieved. I had done a great job, J said, and yes the next helper had found the keys. Everything and everyone was well.
I passed the practical test. Now I could get my own hens. 🐤🐤🐤
Facts of the Day
1. Hybrids are commercial crossbreeds, developed for the battery egg industry in the 1950s.
2. Hybrids include black rock, white star, bluebelle, calder ranger, warrens, isa browns and hy-lines.
3. Popular pure breeds – which are light or heavy, bantam or full-size – include the Buff Orpington (the Queen Mum’s favourite), Sussex and Rhode Island Red.