During autumn and winter, being at work Monday to Friday and commuting to the Country Living London office before sunrise and returning when it’s dark I see less of the girls than I’d like. I’m more inclined to do a little reading when I get home, whereas in summer I’d hang out in the run in the light evenings, idly watching the flock peck and scratch about for a while.
I’m missing the hens during the week, so to help I’m enjoying Alice Walker’s (author of The Color Purple) gentle memoir The Chicken Chronicles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99). My colleague Lisa, Country Living’s Features Editor, gave it to me for my birthday and what a delightful gift it is. Among the breeds that she keeps are Ameraucanas, presumably some kind of Araucana cross. She describes the birds, which were lovingly raised from chicks by the small boys next door, hopping into her lap and how one ‘settled into my arms…like she’d always been there, drowsy and quiet, as if she were a cat.’
A favourite, similarly gentle, read of mine is Francine Raymond’s All My Eggs in One Basket (Kitchen Garden, £18.50), which is a diary celebrating her Buff Orpingtons as well as country living and the joys of each season, with stunning photographs by Sarah Bush. She also includes simple and very tasty recipes for eggs and kitchen garden produce (and runs courses, see kitchen-garden-hens.co.uk).
Other books on The Smallholdings shelves include the fascinating and informative Chickopedia by Charlotte Popescu (Cavalier Paperbacks, £7.99), an A-Z of hen- related terms, facts and legends, Celia Lewis’s Illustrated Guide to Chickens (A&C Black, £16.99) and Country Living‘s Henkeeping (Collins & Brown, £6.99) by Jane Eastoe – in association with the National Trust – is a no-nonsense and inspiring read containing virtually all you need to know about the hobby. And the least likely publisher of a poultry guide is Haynes, the car book specialist. Recently, it’s branched out into animals, too, and the illustrated Chicken Manual by Laurence Beeken (Haynes, £19.99) is a great general book that I’ve consulted on hen health several times.
On the topic of wellbeing, I was emailing Sara of Hen Corner on the lack of veterinary support when it comes to chickens. Many don’t seem to know any more about poultry wellbeing than us keepers, the majority having gone into small animal pratice and not livestock. Having said that, my local vet went to great lengths to obtain some medicine for a poorly Rhode Island Red cockerel last year and also waived the consultation fee, so that was very kind. I came across an online hen vet the other day, which may come in handy at some stage: Chickenvet.co.uk. It has a good informative section on hen wellbeing, though beware of the hotline, which may be worth paying for depending on the state of your chickens, but it’s a pretty pricey 0905 job.
Feathers crossed that there’ll be no need! Happy henkeeping.