Sometimes the list of DIY jobs on the house we’ve been renovating for five years can feel endless, so there’s nothing more appealing than a mini project outdoors that we can finish in a day. James has been particularly keen on creating a dust bath for the large flock of hybrids down the end of the garden, though I’m afraid I wouldn’t even entertain the idea till we’d at least bought a tap for my own much- anticipated freestanding bath that’s been sitting like a rather large ornament in the bathroom – unplumbed – since 2007. Tap received and installation in motion, I give the poultry facility the green light. The girls will love a place to clean their feathers and cool down and it’s the least we can do when they lay all those beautiful orange- yolked eggs for us, our friends and colleagues. A dust bath is also an opportunity for hens to rid their feathers of pesky insects – a handy poultry book we’ve been consulting sagely advised adding some louse powder so the girls shaking this into their plumage along with loose soil and ash from the woodburning stove so they’d medicate themselves. Tidy. We set to work gathering necessary tools and materials – all odd bits that we have knocking around – and wheelbarrow them down to the chicken run.
– 2 x vertical posts (for the legs)
– 1 x piece of wood (to run horizontally along the side of the existing undercover run and fix the dust bath roof to)
– 1 x thin plank (to place in front of the dust bath to prevent the girls’ shaking and kicking out the contents) 1x sheet of corrugated iron (for roof to keep the dust bath dry in wet weather)
– Selection of old terracotta roof tiles (we used these to prevent the hens catching themselves in the chicken wire that lined the outside of the undercover run)
In just an afternoon, the poultry spa area was declared open and one of our youngest hens was keen be the first to try it out (below).
The hot dry weather has taken its toll on the most elderly of our chickens. We’ve had them for almost four years now and, being hardworking hybrids, many of them have come to the end of their egg-laying lives. They’ve served us well during that time, offering up beautiful orange-yoaked eggs most days so the very least we can do is provide them with a comfortable retirement with all the space, lettuce and corn they could hope for. At the same time, we have to keep up with production. Customers include family, friends and colleagues who’ll be missing out on their cooked breakfasts if we don’t make up the egg shortfall.
Thankfully, due to a loyal following, our henkeeping hobby is paying for itself these days, so we can take some notes out of the money tin and head over to nearby Ardleigh in Suffolk to pick up some new recruits when needs must. Jenny and Chris of Landbase Poultry are always a pleasure to visit. I rang and reserved three brown hens (Bovan’s Goldline) and two White Stars (who lay snow-white beauties) last week, and picked the new recruits up on Saturday afternoon. Jenny sells them at point-of-lay which means they’re practically up and running in the egg department – thank goodness.
We unloaded the car and released the new girls out of their boxes and into the spare run on Saturday afternoon. After a few slightly undignified skirmishes around chicken runs in pursuit of young birds, we’ve discovered that it’s best to clip wings (to stop escapees flying out of their enclosures) at night when they’re considerably more docile. So we waited till dark (around 10pm these summer evenings) which is also an ideal time to introduce new additions to the flock (less disruption to the older members already peacefully perching in the coop, too). Then the answer to our dilemma of what to do with the Buff Orpington cockerel magically presented itself – if he goes to live with 16 hens (rather than the two tiny Araucanas) at least his amorous advances will be evenly shared out, with no one bird suffering all his attentions.
Phew – we just about had the dozen eggs James’ parents had ordered for Sunday morning, with the help of a tiny pullet egg delivered in the nick if time by one of our emergency brown hens. The reputation of the smallholdings goes unharmed.