It was when James returned from the chicken coop last Friday night with just two eggs in the basket that we knew we needed more hens, or rather some young ones. Yields have been fairly low over the past few months, but just a pair took the biscuit – we’ve got customers to supply! The flock is a respectable size of ten but the majority are lovely old ladies enjoying their retirement scratching about, devouring their afternoon treat of corn and not producing much in the nesting box. So on Sunday morning, we headed down to Upson’s farm shop in the nearby village of Hatfield Peverel to recruit three new members of the team. It was tempting to choose more, but we resisted as then they’d all grow old and cease laying at the same time, which is precisely what we want to avoid.
John Upson clearly loves his chickens. The farm shop which, as well as selling fresh produce, staple household supplies and poultry, stocks a large range of agricultural-themed toys, is very busy and I suspect that the opportunity to go and see his hens in the roomy coops and large fields outside is a welcome one. He ushered James and I into the light and airy shed where there were all different kinds of hybrid pullets (young female chickens which have not yet laid). We picked a Rhode Rock, Blue Rhode and a Redco, based largely on good laying abilities and the appearance of health – bright eyes, shiny feathers, upright tail – and John had the task of catching them as they attempted to run circuits around the coop floor. All three are Rhode Island Red crosses – this a popular breed to hybridise, being a utility bird (good for both eggs and meat) with a pleasant temperament and a fairly hardy constitution.
We kept the new birds in the pigsty-cum-kennel (not currently in use!), with some food and water, until dark when we placed them on the perches alongside the others. The theory is that they’re then more readily accepted as all the chickens wake up together. And it seems to have worked a treat – we shined our torch through the henhouse window last night and saw the new girls huddled up with the old guard on the perches. Now they just need to start laying and address the egg deficit.