The five point-of-lay hens we picked up almost a month ago have proved to be fascinating characters. It would seem they aren’t quite ready to rustle up any much-needed eggs for us and our nearest and dearest, but that’s often the way with birds you buy in at that age. And four of them roam the garden together while the fifth is a lone ranger. But it’s their lack of interest in perching that is rather more interesting at present. When we collected them, the farmer told us they were a new kind of hybrid, fresh on the farm.
We wonder if they have been specially formulated for the intensive poultry industry, ie enriched cages, which are an improvement on battery conditions, but still do not allow as much natural behaviour as free-range systems. Every evening, James would find all five of them bundled on top of each other in one nest box (they had three to choose from). This must have been mighty cosy, but it was also a little messy as chickens produce most of their droppings at night. It was as if they didn’t like the space available to them or that they simply didn’t know how to roost, so he would take them one by one to place on the perch alongside the rest of our flock, in the hope that they’d finally get the message. This week, growing tired of the nightly ritual, he struck on the perfect solution. He would finish our Henmobile, the shepherd’s hut-style coop we began constructing from a shed almost a year ago(!), which currently has no nest box for them to sleep in. The accommodation would also prove a suitable retirement home for our oldest brown bird, who has been bullied by the rest of the flock – she was chased into the nettles by some of the youngsters just last week (a reminder of how unpleasant these generally adorable creatures can be). She’s already taken to her new des-res, keeping James company while he gives the place the finishing touches (pictured below).
Little ladder made, perches installed and automatic pop-hole wired up, we introduced the livestock and crossed our fingers. Hurrah – the young hens are perching a treat, and the veteran is showing them the ropes and thoroughly enjoying her retirement. There’s just the nest box to make (by which time, we hope the girls have got the general idea: that it is for laying eggs in), and we need to create a lean-to shelter where the flock can keep out of the worst of winter weather. But the Henmobile is finally up and running. James has so enjoyed tinkering with it and practising his carpentry skills that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s inspired a whole new enterprise. An old adage about not counting chickens until they’ve hatched springs to mind, however. Happy henkeeping all.