It was when I saw this comical but distinctly grubby picture of Audrey last weekend, taken by James, that I decided it was time for her bath.
Following the interesting summer we’ve just had with downpour after downpour, the usually elegant Audrey became pretty dishevelled, not quite living up to her filmstar namesake. Her pom-pom head is beige rather than white and some of her feathers are still plastered together after those downpours in July and August, a real contrast to her usual snowy plumage.
I didn’t realise you could wash a hen until I read about it in Suzie Baldwin’s brilliant book Chickens (Kyle Books, £14.99; click on the link and order it for £11.99) where she suggests doing this, when necessary, using a small amount of baby shampoo. I’ve toyed with the idea ever since, but hadn’t yet plucked up the courage – though friendly, Mabel in particular doesn’t put up with much handling and isn’t afraid to voice her concerns in a series of deafeningly loud protesting clucks. And, really, chickens are a little like cats in that they’re preen and clean themselves. But there are some places hens can’t reach – unlike felines such as our Bengal Beau whose yogic abilities to stretch and flex are awe-inspiring. Anyway, I decided the best place to perform the task was the barn where we could shut out enough light so the girls were at their calmest – they become very docile in semi-darkness. Given the Araucanas’ small size I decided an oblong mop bucket would be the best vessel in which to bath them – anything larger and the hens could escape mid-shampoo.
Boiling the kettle and adding plenty of cold from the outside tap, I made sure the water was warm, but not hot, before scooping up Audrey as she free- ranged around the garden. After some initial fuss about being interrupted mid-forage, she was delightfully placcid and on being placed in the foamy water she became completely silent. I even began to wonder if she enjoyed being in the bath. After a light lather through her feathers and a thorough rinse, I wrapped her in a towel (last Saturday there was a bit of a breeze and didn’t want her to catch a chill) and took her back into the garden. After an initial drying, she resumed her amble about the garden and it was now Mabel’s turn. As I suspected, Audrey’s little sidekick has plenty of spirit and isn’t one to suffer in silence. She did, however, remain in the water while I washed her and seemed to quite enjoy a cuddle in the towel afterwards – but probably not quite as much as me.
Unfortunately, due to the fact James was doing some DIY – ripping down the ceiling in our spare room, one of the last hardcore tasks left on the house renovation list – I haven’t any pictures of the hens in situ, but there’s one of Audrey still wet and looking a little bedraggled above. The wash certainly gave their plumage a new lease of life, but Audrey’s pom-pom head didn’t come up quite as well as I was hoping. I suspect it’s somewhat stained and will improve only when she moults. Funnily enough, Mabel started shedding feathers this week, bit of a shame as cleaning them was obviously the object of the wash! Perhaps she’s getting her own back with a post-bath poultry protest.