The hens are eating out of my hand

Wasn’t it just lovely having a long holiday over Christmas? All that time to enjoy the company of loved ones, graze on rich food and simply indulge in the luxury of time, pottering around and hanging out with the hens. As I noted in my last post just before the festive break, I was keen to put an idea to the test: Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple, but also The Chicken Chronicles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99), writes that as soon as she sits on the ground in her garden one or two of her birds sit in her lap. Our hybrids, a 13-strong flock at the end of the garden, are wonderful egg layers, but apart from one or two particularly friendly souls, are a pretty flighty, nervy bunch who won’t let you so much as stroke their feathers. So the other day, I tried getting down to their level, literally, as I commandeered an empty layers’ pellets sack and sat in the middle of the chicken run wearing old clothes, Wellington boots and protective glasses (lest the girls became a little too interested in something shiny).

The White Star has a surprisingly gentle beak!

Admittedly, I also had a container of corn – it’s early days for my new approach and I thought I could do with the helping hand of an incentive. I was delighted when I soon attracted a crowd, mobbing me for corn and even clambering over my legs to reach it – the girls interacted quite differently with me, compared to when I stand in the run.

Nothing gets in the way of the girls' favourite snack

I was no longer a giant human towering above them, but a chicken-height corn dispenser! It was great fun to be this close to them – and also to observe individuals at such close range: the differences in the shape and feel of their beaks was interesting – some, such as the White Stars, were beautifully rounded, others, including the Rhode Island Red felt razor-sharp as she pecked away into my palm.

The mob gather

My intention is to sit in the run every weekend and try the Araucanas, Audrey and Mabel, too, – that is, until my neighbours call the men in white coats – and hopefully the flock will become more and more welcoming. Here’s to a happy new henkeeping year!

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