At the farm down the end of the road we live on, along with a delightful Border Terrier puppy, a sweet old chocolate Lab, a cat and countless horses, are some fine free-ranging fowl tended by ten-year old Toby with the help of his younger brother and sidekick, Albert, seven (but almost eight, on 26 January, he would like to point out). “Some of the birds even like nesting in the stables,” they say of the charming way in which members of the menagerie mix together.
The young henkeeper, whose interest in birds began with the ambition to own a parrot, first took a shine to chickens when visiting a family friend who had a flock and sold the eggs. When he turned nine, Toby acquired five black hens, and for his confirmation, was given three bantams – two hens and cockerel. Using not an incubator but one of the original five hens who was showing promise as a mother, he tried his luck with hatching out some of the bantams’ eggs the natural way with a magnificent result of five chicks. As is ever the case, he ended up with more cockerels than pullets.
We, too, hatched out more male than female chickens. Due to their overly amorous advances to the fewer pullets we managed to produce, they had to be segregated and put in another pen. Literally cooped up, they turned on each other and we had to allow them to free-range in the garden in order to avoid fights. Only recently had we got our German Shepherd, Darcy, who was then a young and rather lively dog. Doing our best to keep them separate failed and Darcy played a little too enthusiastically with them. So when Toby offered us one of his cockerels, despite a fondness for their crowing and splendid appearance, we declined and instead paid a visit last Sunday to see his set-up.
I was mightily impressed with his and Albert’s passion for their hobby and their expertise. They’ve come up with an ingenious way to fill up the chickens’ drinkers via a hose that’s fed into the inside of the coop and plan to create another pen for their warring cockerels, separating the relatively gentle and the decidedly aggressive, in order to keep the peace. It was particularly inspiring to visit my young fellow enthusiasts during what I find can be a quiet period for the poultry keeper and I look forward to seeing more of their chicken capers during the year.