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Over the past fortnight, members of the animal kingdom of The Smallholdings – a dozen hens and a cockerel, a German Shepherd, two chocolate Labradors and a highly strung Bengal cat – have been acquainting themselves with the latest addition to the family: our baby son. Charlie George was born in the early hours of 9 June and came home exactly two weeks ago today. 

 It’s been fascinating to watch the behaviour of our pets around the new addition. Our cheeky brown hen (pictured above) gave the pram a full inspection yesterday, pecking at the wheels and parasol in the basket. Of course, the poultry are mostly oblivious to Charlie – Araucana cockerel Jeffrey crows freely right by the pram and, remarkably, doesn’t wake the little fellow from his afternoon nap – in fact, the garden is where he sleeps best. However, our cat Beau’s nose has been seriously put out of joint – despite our best efforts to make him feel as loved as ever, he spent much of his time in next-door’s greenhouse where our neighbour made a fuss of him. The poor creature can’t work out why all the new feline-sized pieces of furniture and transportation are out of bounds. We’ve discovered him sleeping in an empty pram twice now, despite it being covered with a cat net. His attempts to make himself at home in whenever he gets the chance is a little exasperating, but we’re trying to be patient…

It’s Amy, one of our 12-year old Labs, who’s been transformed by our little one’s arrival. Rather touchingly, she seems to have taken it upon herself to guard her new charge and has been lying loyally beside Charlie’s cot, pram and newborn highchair whenever she has the chance. 

There’s obviously something in the air here, as new father James is keen to bring on some chicks. We’re going to start breeding Jeff (below) with the black Araucana ladies as well as the marvellous Margot. The eggs of this trio are our favourites, not only for their pastel-blue shells but those stunning deep-orange yolks. It would be great to have some more young birds to draft into the flock – and rather fun to try our hand at hatching out our own hens’ fertile eggs for the first time.

Yet again, I’ve recently been reminded just how special freshly laid eggs are. Poached on toast, they are proving the perfect speedy, nutritious lunch in between feeds, changes and naps at the moment. 

 Happy henkeeping all. 

On the nest

Our baby son hasn’t shown any signs of appearing after 42 weeks so we’ve had to change plans from a home birth to being induced in hospital. Meanwhile, our usually trusty hens have decided to start generously spreading their laying efforts throughout the garden. They range so freely these days, over the best part of an acre, that a waddle back to the coop is clearly too much of an effort for most – so the birds are adopting new cosy spaces in which to leave their much sought-after eggs. The diminishing yield in the nesting box was the first clue that this was happening – then our dogs’ sudden enthusiasm for certain spots in various outbuildings around the plot. Especially popular is their old kennel, which is still straw-strewn from housing Poorly Pig when he was unwell back in the autumn is one such hunting ground – it combines warmth and darkness, two qualities much favoured by laying hens – and the bales that are stacked under the lean-to on the back of our brick barn.  Labradors Megan (pictured above, observed by Beau the Bengal, top left) and Amy and German Shepherd Darcy love nothing better than a freshly laid egg, which they eat shell and all. In order to outwit these scrumpers and reclaim the supply for ourselves and our families, we’ve taken to keeping the flock in the confines of its run until early afternoon when there is a decent yield in the nestboxes to satisfy human demand. Then the hens are free to peck and scratch on the plot for the rest of the day to their heart’s desire. Naturally, our foraging canine companions are disappointed and can’t quite work out why there are no longer any of these convenient snacks scattered about the Smallholdings for their delectation. Meanwhile, once again we’re collecting enough eggs to feed us, plus our relatives and friends each week. 

Happy henkeeping all.