New birds in the flock

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.  

A Bovan's Goldline fresh out of the box

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.

The Buff Orpington can't believe his luck - 16 birds all to himself

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.

The trusty flock of hybrids and the Buff Orpington cockerel (far right)
Once the Buff Orpington cockerel had vacated the spare run, I cleaned it and strew the floor with straw and in went Phyllis the pheasant. She was out-growing the brooder in our dining room at a rapid pace and needed some space in which to stretch her wings. It’s all undercover, too, so she should be safe to grow and develop into the fine game bird she’s destined to become over the next couple of months. Due to her flighty, rapid nature, I’ve not been able to photograph her – all she leaves is a blur in her wake. The trick will be to leave her alone now, save for topping up her food and water, so we don’t domesticate this feral creature and she’s fit to be released into the wild. All our bird problems resolved – the Araucana girls free of the Buff Orpington’s attentions, the Buff happily out of his batchelor pad and in the company of a bevy of beauties, new layers plugging the egg gap, and Phyllis the pheasant well on her way to flying the Smallholdings nest. 
The Araucana hens happily roam their run minus the cockerel

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