Housework has, historically, been unequally divided between the sexes – and you need only reach for the latest women’s magazine for findings of recent surveys on the perennial hot topic. And while I can’t claim the Smallholdings is a perfect example of feminist principles in this respect I do, however, believe matters balance out beyond our own home and in those of the hens.
We’ve two coops and runs: the large shed at the end of the garden by the willow beds where a gang of 16 hybrids reside and the smaller converted kennel nearer the house which belongs to just two birds: Mabel and Audrey. It’s generally James’s job to clean out the large flock’s residence and I tend to the pair of Araucanas’. This arrangement came about largely due to practicality. Being a touch taller than me, James found the smaller coop difficult to clean and would end up with backache. In the large hybrid shed there’s enough room to stand up so we took to our allotted houses and tasks happily enough.
While James scrapes up enough chicken manure from the newspaper-strewn floor to fill a bucket each week – we’ve got a magnificent compost heap thanks to it – I am at the top of the garden desperately searching for droppings in amongst the straw of my small coop. This is partly due to the fact that there are only two hens in my coop plus they’re pure-breeds, so eat considerably less than their hybrid colleagues who are bred to consume large quantities and lay throughout the year. But also because Audrey and Mabel have cultivated a rather endearing habit: they’ve obviously taken against littering their own home, so as soon as I’ve opened up the pop-hole, they run down the ladder through the covered run and outside to relieve themselves – as if they were stopping themselves from performing such bodily functions inside.
Who knows where they came up with the idea – perhaps they’ve been receiving some sage advice about house-training from the dogs. Despite their best efforts, however, there’s the usually one or two pieces of litter, but last weekend there was nothing at all. I wanted to come away feeling I’d found at least something to add to the manure pile, so I scrabbled around the coop floor – wearing rubber gloves, I hasten to add – in a desperate bid to recover a dropping. (The levels I stoop to.) Then I came across what seemed to be the most enormous one – which on closer inspection turned out to be a dead mouse (or perhaps a baby rat, but I’m telling myself it’s the former).
I don’t know how it met its end – it may have been the work of Beau the Bengal – or, more likely, Audrey and Mabel had a go at it with their spectacularly long ‘nails’ (it bore some marks that tally with that theory). Perhaps they were concerned it was after their food – or maybe they were just plain disgusted by its low hygiene standards.