Hanging out with the hens for the holidays

It goes without saying that, like everyone else, I’m looking forward to eating, drinking and making merry over the festive break – not to mention the special episode of Downton Abbey on the big day itself – but one of the things I’m most looking forward to is the chance to spend time at the Smallholdings not madly rushing around as we tend to at the weekends, but simply taking it all in – having half an hour or so to idly watch the hens go about their daily business of raking over the ground for corn and insects.

Audrey and Mabel survey the area

I don’t think the relaxing effect of this pastime can be overrated – you soon find yourself entirely absorbed in their enviably simple world. It’s also a chance to see them properly in full daylight and to re-bond – I find during the winter months when, being a full-time commuter, I barely catch a glimpse of them during the week that I feel I lose a connection with them. So over the next ten days or so, I’ll be having the odd cup of tea in their company and reaquainting myself with all their lovely idiosyncrasies.

'The hen that will never grow up'

I’ve a bit of a soft spot for our tiny brown hen (who lays tiny brown eggs) at the moment. We call her ‘the hen that will never grow up’. Despite being the same age as the other ‘point of lays’ we bought-in during the summer, she’s only reached two thirds of their size for some reason, but is remarkably friendly – as if we hatched her out and raised her as a chick. If we’ve some dry weather I may take a leaf out of my most recent poultry read, Alice Walker’s book The Chicken Chronicles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99), and sit on a sack on the ground (wearing my glasses to protect myself from any curious beaks). She explains that being at chicken level makes you less of a threat and she often finds her birds take to settling in her lap. This must be lovely and, of course, it makes complete sense now I’ve read about it – imagine how giant we henkeepers must be as we loom over them. I’ll report the results of my experiment in the new year.

Till then, Happy Henkeeping.


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