Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Life with chickens

So, I jumped in at the deep end, and learnt on the job. Maude and Mabel settled in quickly, happily pottering around the garden and scoffing all my favourite tender plants. And decimating the greenhouse. The kids were fascinated for about five minutes, and then their attention was caught by something else. The ever tolerant husband grudgingly admitted that they were sweet, and weren't turning the garden into a farmyard. I had well and truly caught the bug, and talked the other half into aquiring another hen.

During my chicken research, I had come across silkies. Silkies are an unusual looking chicken, with fluffy feathers and black skin. They are also supposed to be gentle and good around children. I tracked down a farmer who said I could have one of his young hens for a fiver. Bargain!

Except she wasn't. She was evil. My eldest son named this chicken psychopath Alice, a lovely sweet name wholey inappropriate to the honking, screeching mentalist that was penned up in the back garden. Alice hated people, showing her displeasure with open beaked hisses and vicious pecking if you came within range. Alice also hated chickens, repeatedly trying to duff up the other two until they perched awkwardly on top of the drinker, refusing to come down while the crazed Alice circled underneath with that Jack Nicholson from 'The Shining' gleam in her eye. After a mere 48 hours, we decided Alice had to go. Using tea towels and a bucket, we managed to secure her in a box and the hubby took her back to the farm. I suspect she is continuing her reign of tyranny on some other poor hens as I type.

A few weeks after the Alice episode, I somehow managed to talk hubby into getting two more pekins. I did this sneakily, by telling the kids that they could have a hen of their own. I tracked down a wonderful breeder, and 6 weeks after Mabel and Maude arrived, we had a 6 week old red hen called Belinda, and a 6 week old blue hen named Doris.

Introducing chickens to an existing flock is a tricky business. There is always a fair amount of chasing, pecking and bokking. I took it very slowly, initially just letting them all see each other while in seperate pens. After a few weeks, they free ranged/ chased each other around the garden. Five weeks after Belinda and Doris's arrival, they were all in the same coop and the pecking order was established. To my knowledge, no hens were injured during this process, and it worked well for us.

So, now I had my little flock. They waddled happily around the garden, scoffing everything in site and leaving surprisingly large deposits all over the decking. They also started to make proper chicken noises, other than the chick 'meep' sounds they'd arrived with. Surprisingly loud chicken noises. Oh dear. They favour a bok-bok-bok-BOKKKKKK!! kind of call rather than gentle clucking. Basically, everyone now knew that we had hens.

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