Stoical as ever, the flock didn’t seem remotely daunted by the snow this week. Thankfully, the day before the first covering, James had boarded-out the hybrids’ undercover run, which had previously just been surrounded by chicken wire. Now with the added wooden surround and plastic sheeting, it’s provided them with a snug place to shelter from the cold wind. With treats such as cored apples and blocks of corn strung from the twiggy perches, there’s plenty of entertainment, too, so we needn’t worry about them getting bored while the snow prevents them being able to peck and scratch about. Does anyone else have any tips for keeping hens amused in the snow?
It’s delightful spending time with the flock of hardworking, prolific-laying hybrids, and the adorable if somewhat unproductive Audrey and Mabel – who free-range round the garden, perambulating wing-to-wing like Austen characters taking a turn about a room – but surprisingly the best poultry activity this week has not been at home.
In fact, the main source of excitement hasn’t even been in the country but in the City of London at the Pop-up Farm outside St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday. The Country Living team were there to promote our Keep Britain Farming campaign, strategically positioned beside the pens full of animals from Surrey Docks City Farm, including several chickens, turkeys and geese, along with four sheep and one goat. Despite the cold, most passers by spared some time to look at the miniature farmyard, placed somewhat incongruously by the cathedral. The day was organised by CL’s Charity of the Year, the Addington Fund to encourage people to think about the farms behind their food – and the response was wonderful: from toddlers to tourists. Keep an eye on countrylivinged.com for more details and pictures later today.
During January you can hardly escape the calls to de-clutter your home, reorganise your cupboards and generally sort out domestic life (especially when you work on a home-interest magazine like Country Living). While James and I have largely ignored these pleas in respect of our own dwelling (though we did have our landing and stairway plastered last week, a major piece of the renovation jigsaw in place), we took it to heart on behalf of our hens.
First was the run itself, which during the spell of wet weather had become somewhat swamp-like. We emptied a couple of large bags of bark onto the lowest, muddiest point to keep the hens from getting too dirty and to stop us from slipping over. A tree stump also came out and the girls loved the chance to turn over some fresh earth.
Next, was the coop – it could have doubled as a house of horrors until I employed our trusty Henry vacuum cleaner to remove all the magnificent but very dusty cobwebs from it (please note: no spidery residents were harmed in the process).
James then cleared and cleaned out our dedicated henkeeping shed, where we store the flock’s layers’ pellets and corn in a plastic box, straw for the nesting boxes, oyster shell (which helps harden their own eggs’ packaging), grit (aids the breakdown of food in their crop), Diatom (a natural and brilliant red mite powder), Verm-X (the delicious-smelling herbal wormer), a broom, scraper (for cleaning the coop floor), dustpan and brush plus, of course, our Henry vacuum cleaner, which after years of hard graft hoovering up the dust and debris from our house restoration project is now in semi-retirement and used just a few times a year to clean out the coop. A satisfying morning’s work, followed by a poached egg lunch. Yum. And talking of such things, production is booming: I’m taking in one and a half dozen eggs to the CL office today. A great way to start 2013.
Today I’m returning to Country Living HQ in London after a blissful couple of weeks at home. And I come bearing a dozen eggs! The slightly longer days and oddly milder weather seems to mean higher yields, plus we’re pretty confident we’ve cracked the rat!
James and I decided that simple pleasures, including spending plenty of time with the animals – our two chocolate Labradors Megan and Amy, German Shepherd Darcy, Beau the Bengal cat and, of course, Audrey and Mabel and the flock of hybrids, plus copious amounts of good food and drink were the priorities over the festive break. And there was no holding back. This included: dusting off the OS map and discovered some great long walks; brushing up on some dog training theory and practice (we’re currently big fans of Jan Fennell’s Amichien Bonding approach); sampling different bitters in around ten local pubs; numerous wintry picnics; birdwatching at our local reserve; lighting a log fire every day; trying some new recipes, including a scallop, chestnut and mushroom dish (yum); playing the highly addictive card game Racing Demons; and eating an alarming quantity of Christmas cake, mince pies and stollen. So, all in all, a pretty idle time.
Among the most enjoyable afternoons was when we let out our hybrids out of their run to roam around the garden. Generally, we don’t have enough time to spend watching them to make sure they’re safe. The Labs are 100 per cent trustworthy when it comes to chickens, but we’re not so sure about Darcy. There was so much time over the holidays that we could simply stand and stare.
They certainly enjoyed themselves and so did we. New Year’s Resolution #1: make more time for simple pleasures such as this.