How do you treat yours?

This Sophie Allport mug is among my poultry-themed favourites

It was while reading Alice Walker’s (author of The Color Purple) gentle memoir The Chicken Chronicles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99) that I was struck by the dull nature of my foodie offerings to the flock. In winter especially, they need extra carbohydrates to get through the cold, so I make bread porridge (slices of a stale brown loaf soaked in water), which they adore, toss them leftover potatoes or boil some extra spaghetti so I can watch them play with their food. And then there is the usual supply of greens, of course – lettuce generally as mine don’t seem to have a taste for brassicas. But before I read that author Alice treats her flock to all manner of foods including grapes, pear and mulberries it would never have crossed my mind to offer them such goodies. So on Sunday, feeling the need to make up for years of being decidedly mean, I headed down to the coops with a mid-morning coffee for me and some chopped up clementine and a beautiful russet apple to gauge the girls’ interest in fruit.

A little festive citrus treat

First port of call is the Araucana run where Audrey and Mabel were at first decidedly suspicious, approaching me and my strange offerings one little chicken step at a time – as ever, simultaneously. The hybrids were typically less cautious, steaming towards me and practically mugging me for my plate. The goods were devoured in seconds and the rabble were looking for more. (Sometimes, I realise, if I’m feeling a little underpar, I will put off entering the run until I’ve mustered the energy to resist their assaults).

Audrey and Mabel tickle their tastebuds

I guess in terms of quality control, it’s best to avoid anything too pungent. An excess of orange and I imagine you’d be collecting some citrus-scented eggs one or two days later (and perhaps dealing with some upset stomachs). Similarly, there are those crops to avoid such as rhubarb which is poisonous to poultry. Jane Eastoe in Country Living‘s Henkeeping (Collins & Brown, £6.99) recommends a handful of sunflower seeds as a treat, which no doubt does lovely things for their yolks, putting the greens you give them – cabbage, spinach and lettuce – in a string bag so they remain clean and off the ground and giving the flock leftover bits from breakfast such as cereal and toast crusts (soaked no doubt), though obviously no animal protein. After gleaning the wisdom of both Walker and Eastoe, I’m going to make it my resolution for 2012 to be more generous with foods I have up till now reserved for us humans. If anyone has any suggestions up their sleeve – or in their fridge – please let me know…

Those hybrids would eat anything...

One thought on “How do you treat yours?

  1. Lucky lucky hens! Good to lighten the dark winter days a little for them isn’t it, and I must admit to feeding my horse the odd banana which amounts to the same spoiling… The hybrids sound like proper gannets – that made me laugh! I like the idea of feeding them sunflower seeds and the string bag for the vegetables – very clever. It’ll be interesting to see how the colour of the yolks are influenced by different foods.

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