Do not disturb

On the evenings when James is out and I walk home from the station, I can take a short cut through the willow beds and into the garden via the wilder part at the end. It was dusky last night as I did so and, the weather being dank and dull, I thought the chickens would be tucked up on their perches in the coop, so I could close it up for the night. I looked into the run and sure enough there weren’t any hens scratching about outside. Opening the gate very carefully and quietly so as not to alert them to a potential intruder, I stepped as lightly as possible across the ground to the door of their undercover run to find two brown hens having a bit of late supper together – the others were in the house as expected.

20130628-071222.jpg As soon as the pair made a sound, which I’m guessing was a kind of alert to their flock, the rest came tumbling out of the pop-hole and my mission of locking them up early for the night was thwarted. Instead, I reached into the corn bin and gave them a little bedtime treat before retiring to the house for my own supper: one of their beautiful eggs, poached.

20130628-071653.jpg Seeing those two birds feasting after the rest had retired for the evening made me think that there must be scope for a documentary about the secret life of hens – OK, perhaps it wouldn’t be quite as fascinating as the recent programme about cats, who free range not just around gardens but entire villages. However, I’d love to see how they behave when we’re not around. And I must get round to installing that nestcam so we can work out who’s laying what. Does anyone have one of these already?

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Special delivery

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As we’d reached desperately low egg levels last week, James was very keen to draft in some new birds, so on Sunday morning off we went to local farm shop Upson’s, where owner John keeps a lovely selection of pullets. He also clearly loves spending time with them, providing moments of respite from the bustling shopfloor. James was determined this time that we weren’t going to pick fancy types that don’t lay regularly, so we entered the spacious chicken sheds and chose two Bovan’s Goldline, one Redco and a Rhode Rock as we have these types in our flock already and know their yield is impressively high – around 280 per year, so they’ll be offering up lovely brown eggs most of the year. We were struck by how friendly and strokeable this clutch were and John agreed that the latest batch are particularly docile.

Back home, we know the drill by now, so it’s a pretty smooth operation. The dog kennel and small run, which is out of use at the moment, serves as the perfect holding bay for new girls. They remained there, with a bowl (or wide flower pot!) of layers’ pellets and a
supply of water until dusk, though the spirited Rhode Rock flew out on several occasions during the afternoon. Once it was dark, we clipped their flight feathers so they didn’t scarper and, as the existing rabble had already taken to their perches it was safe to introduce the new girls. That way they all wake up together in the morning and the interlopers are more easily accepted. There is still some hostility, however, and I always forget how mean the old flock can be to new recruits, but they’re all simply jostling for places in the pecking order.

The pullets spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the house, where James had providing food and water, suspecting they may not emerge, and have been hiding in the nesting box when we’ve gone down to shut them up for the night. We spent half an hour or so hanging out with them on Tuesday evening and are keen to keep handling them in order to retain their sweet natures. Does anyone have any other pointers for keeping friendly with your flock? I’d love some tips.

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Hen shopping

Having hens sure is handy when you’ve a custard to whip up! At the weekend I needed half a dozen and it was wonderful just being able to pop down the garden to top up those already in the tray on the worktop and collect some still-warm beauties instead of scrambling to the shops. Though I have to say that young, productive laying hens are rather thin on the ground these days. After an initial late-springtime flush, the nesting boxes are looking a little bare lately. And some of the offerings are unsaleable such as the ‘jelly eggs’ as we call the ones in the sack but no hard shell, and then there are others with very textured almost scratched-looking shells which aren’t very appetising. Obviously none of this goes to waste as our three dogs are more than happy to have an egg in their breakfast or dinner.

Our Rhode Island Red (foreground) is a spring chicken at three years old, compared with our Pied Suffolk, who must be pushing six
Our Rhode Island Red (foreground) is a spring chicken at three years old, compared with our Pied Suffolk, who must be pushing six

Many of our girls are in retirement now – half the flock must be around five or six – and so we’re going to pick up some brown hybrid hens at the weekend to help on the egg-production front. James is concerned he won’t be able to meet his mother’s weekly order for much longer otherwise. This time, we’ll ring their feet in a particular colour and make a note of the date so we’ll know exactly how old they are in future. Looking forward to hen shopping! Is anyone else stocking up, as it were, at the moment?

Poultry pensioners
Our beloved poultry pensioners

Nest egg

The title for this blog is a perhaps a little misleading but it’s at least partly money-related… There’s something hugely satisfying about playing shop. Selling our hens’ eggs for £1.50 per half dozen means we acquire a pot of money – or tin in our case – with which to buy their organic layers’ pellets, corn and straw. Towards the end of last week James and I realised we were getting low on supplies, so on Saturday we emptied the tin on the kitchen table and counted up the money! It came to a very pleasing £100-odd, so we took £80, emptied out the boot of the estate and drove off to Upson’s farm shop in nearby Ulting to stock up. Any surplus funds go towards acquiring new point-of-lay birds, once the older birds have stopped laying, and new pieces of equipment (such as the automatic pop-hole opener and the treadle feeder, which we purchased months ago and still haven’t installed!). Out if interest, does anyone else charge less or more?!

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Setting store was the theme of the weekend and while that might not sound very seasonal, summer being in full swing, James, thankfully is always thinking ahead and although we’ve just about weaned ourselves off nightly log fires until autumn, he thought to order a couple of loads of wood as it’s cheaper to buy now while there’s less demand for it. So on Saturday our timber merchant delivered 4 cubic metres of hardwood and we spend a couple of hours stacking. It needs to season for a couple of months but hopefully we won’t be needing it before October time!

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Audrey (pictured) and Mabel continue to demand their right to roam at will around the garden and we oblige at every opportunity if only to quieten Mabel’s ear-splitting squawking. She’s certainly ruling the roost!

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