Cold comfort coop

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The theme of the week has been keeping warm – both for our feathered flock and us! We discovered that the wind had torn through some of the clear plastic sheeting (actually, just a value shower curtain from B&Q!) we’d used on the coop over the chickenwire at the top to give the hens more protection from the elements. James had fixed it onto the wooden uprights with drawing pins, so we reattached it at the weekend using our fence stapler to secure it and this worked a treat. The screen gives the girls a bit more shelter – they might be tough old birds but I imagine they’re just as tired of the incessant cold as us humans.

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Once the insulation was secured, we scattered plenty of corn inside so the hens came into the relative warmth of their undercover run and could enjoy a treat. This gave us a chance to check on them, too, as recently it’s been a case of jogging down to the henhouse to let them out and top up their drinkers and guiltily dashing straight back inside, but in the newly repaired shelter we hung out with them for a while and observed them to make sure they were all in fine fettle and, thankfully, they were. Over the coming long weekend, it’s our own home’s turn for some DIY as we’re tackling redecorating the bathroom (which wasn’t finished the first time around!) – fuelled by lashings of chocolate and some splendid, very special Easter eggs for breakfast, laid by our lovely hens, of course.

Happy Easter, henkeepers!

Khaki eggs and new recruits

Mabel's first egg of the season
Mabel’s first egg of the season

Hurrah! At last, it’s a full house when it comes to laying. Little Araucana Mabel has joined forces with her sister Audrey and is now producing her exquisite pale khaki eggs, every other day. I know you’re not supposed to have your favourites, but both James and I are rather partial to these sweet little offerings. Their shells are stunning, of course, and the yolks are huge compared with the white. I had one – poached, naturally – for my tea last night. Well-worth the six-month wait.

Another lovely occurrence this week was seeing the girls before we headed out to work. It’s now light at 6am so when we open the pop-hole to let them out they emerge to greet us rather than staying in the warmth of their coop until long after we’ve left home.

Audrey greets me with her lovely chirruping tones
Audrey greets me with her lovely chirruping tones

Regarding new recruits, I’m hoping to hear back from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust about Ixworth chickens (James is keen to start a table-and-laying flock) and my search for Marsh Daisy hen is proving tricky. Fellow blogger Nessa got in touch this week to say that she keeps the delightfully named Scots Dumpy. Here is a list: Ancona, Andalusian, Australorp, British Faverolles, Brussbar, Buff Orpington, Campine, Cochin, Cream Legbar, Croad Langshan, Derbyshire Redcap, Dorking, Hamburgh, Indian Game, Ixworth, Legbar, Leghorn, Malay, Marsh Daisy, Minorca, Modern Game, Modern Langshan, Nankin, Norfolk Grey, North Holland Blue, Old English Game, Old English, Pheasant Fowl, Orpington (non Buff), Rhodebar, Rosecomb, Rumpless Game, Scots Dumpy, Scots Grey, Sebright, Spanish, Sultan, Sussex and Welbar. Take your pick!

Felt rather sorry for the hybrid flock at the weekend - just when they thought winter was on its way out...
I must also pay tribute to our wonderful hybrid flock. Felt sorry for them at the weekend – just when they thought winter was on its way out…

Limited edition hens and eggs

At last. I lifted up the nesting box on Sunday and discovered a stunning pale-blue egg. More than a fortnight later than usual – and is traditional for pure breeds like our lovely Araucanas who are meant to begin laying again around Valentine’s Day – it was even more keenly anticipated than in previous years.

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A slightly rough shell suggested production was a tad rusty after the long autumn and winter period off and since then we’ve had some smoother offerings. But never mind the packaging – the beautifully orange, large yolk more than made up for this. As soon as I saw it I knew which of the girls had laid – a rounder shape and deeper blue told me straightaway that it was Audrey’s. Mabel still hasn’t followed suit sadly, but I’m hoping any day now that her diminutive, pointier, paler eggs will be waiting for collection in the nesting box.

It’s that time of year again when drafting in some new birds is most tempting. The flock of hybrids are doing great – I’ve another dozen eggs to sell today – but we’d like some more pet chickens like the Araucanas. I’ve had my eye on a pair of Silkies for a while now, but during my research for an article I’m writing on rare livestock breeds (see the June issue of Country Living, on sale 3 May!), that I realised I should be seeking out some of those endangered native kinds and helping their survival (see the list from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust by clicking here). The Marsh Daisy (pictured below), developed in Lancashire in the 19th century,  is one of those most under threat. Of course, the trouble is that obtaining hens of this kind is difficult due to their scarcity. I’ve emailed the Marsh Daisy Breed Society secretary and am hoping she can suggest a source. Anyone else keeping rare breed chickens?

Northmoor_Brown_Pair

The big dig

We’ve a scrubby piece of land at the bottom of the garden where we intend to raise some pigs one day in one area and have a pond in another. Ever since I visited Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetland Trust I’ve hankered after some Chiloe Wigeons simply because they’re the cutest ducks I’ve ever seen, though of course, they’re purely ornamental and we’ll probably end up opting for a good layer such as the characterful Indian Runner duck.

Chiloe Wigeons, which originate from South America
Chiloe Wigeons, which originate from South America

I digress! Anyway, it struck us the other day that the simplest way to let the flock of hybrids free-range is to let them out into this wilderness. Fenced off from the rest of the garden, this rather unkempt area of ground is defended from our rather excitable German Shepherd Darcy, who we don’t trust 100 per cent around poultry. So both canine and chickens roamed at will – without our having to keep a watchful eye and go about our business of starting to clear some of the logs we’ve stored down there to dry them out under the lean-to at the back of the house.

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The hens were in their element and seemed to enjoy themselves, digging so ferociously that I remembered why their run is like a mudbath these days (and why chickens always need a far bigger space than you realise!) even more than when we allow them out onto the lawn. I soon twigged why: this environment resembles the wooded areas in which the ancestor of domestic chickens, Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) originally enjoyed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEkoC9LS0H8

Still no pale-blue eggs from the Araucanas – the resumption of laying is a good fortnight overdue. They’ve officially achieved pet status! I’m going to have a gentle word this weekend and see if they can rustle something up for our breakfast.