My parents kept chickens and ducks when we were kids. I specifically remember having two Japanese Bantams; a hen and cockerel. I was enchanted by the hen’s dinky eggs and by the cockerel’s crow always sounding like his voice was about to break. I remember sometimes having to feed them before school and of course collecting the eggs but there’s lots I don’t remember…
For around 2 years now I have talked, planned, debated, fretted and made excuses for not getting chickens.
The conversations (usually with myself or some unwilling listener rolling their eyes thinking here we go again) went something like this: “I should get chickens. No, I WANT to get chickens. We had them growing up. I’m a grown up now and I think T should experience the same. But the dogs. The dogs would eat the chickens. It’s the wrong time of year. I have no money. I WANT chickens! The horses broke the chicken run and the hen house…”. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
So, naturally when a friend posted on Facebook that someone had abandoned a Bantam hen and a cockerel at her house, all of these reasons I have deliberated over for the past two years went out of my head and I offered to take the chickens…
For a couple of days, these two, who Tabby has named Datsy and Molly, lived in the rabbit hutch (the rabbit stayed indoors!). Luckily they were only small so it wasn’t such a big deal. On the second morning I woke up to a couple of cock-a-doodle-dos (which, I’m sure, in time will turn into a couple of cock-a-doodle-don’t-you-dare-it’s-far-too-early!).
As luck would have it, there was a poultry fair on that weekend at The Secret Garden Centre and you all know I love that place so I decided to bite the bullet and go full steam ahead and get two more hens.
The next few days were spent looking at potential sheds and wooden coal bunkers to modify into a Chicken Emporium but considering the lack of time, tools and decent sized car to collect the materials I decided to take the lazy (and probably just as costly) option and order a hen house and run from In The Market.
Friday night was spent
building watching someone else (I imported him over from London, he also does wardrobes!) build the house and run and sometime Saturday afternoon the hens were relocated to their new house.
At The Secret Garden Centre, there was tough decisions to be made. Which cake to have! Do I buy plants too? Should I buy that clock? Which hens to buy! Bluebells, English Corals, bantams, hybrids…Naturally I was drawn to the fancy looking expensive ones (can’t tell a Primark handbag from a Louis Vuitton handbag but could pick out the expensive hens with my eyes closed!) and after having a lovely chat with the chicken man, we decided on 3 hens; 2 hybrids (300 eggs a year and a great temperament, good with kids) and 1 English Coral (also a good layer, good temperament but €5 more expensive than the others! She’s my hen of course!).
The next part might sound a tad ridiculous but the chicken man advised us to get some talc and rub it into all of the chicken’s backs. This, apparently, neutralises their scent and can reduce the risk of them fighting. So, once dusk came, we were indeed catching hens and poofing talcum powder on them. Lets just say it was an experience for everyone, including the chickens.
Over a week later and they have had settled right in.
For the moment we have designated just under half of the vegetable patch to the chicken house and run for rotation. However, we have encountered two perimeter breaches from two over excited dogs. Lester managed to find a section of the vegetable patch fence that wasn’t quite level with the ground and pushed it up and squeezed under. I have now blocked up that section using extra chicken wire and a fencing post laid flat on the ground and a rather large rock. In time, I will come up with a more permanent solution to make it considerably more difficult for the dogs to push the vegetable fence up. Luckily I caught them in the act but they had dug a decent size hole trying to get into the chicken run!
This weekend we will have had them 2 weeks so I’m eagerly checking the house every morning for eggs and we are back to more decisions; poached eggs, boiled eggs, fried eggs or scrambled?
Like with keeping any animal, it does mean there is work. Chickens sure do poop a lot and in their house so that must be cleaned regularly. I’m hoping once they are fully free range they won’t be in their house as much as they are at this stage. They need feeding and watering, their wings will need to be clipped, they’ll need treatments and they need handling. This is the stuff my parents did for us as kids and now this is what I am doing for T. I just had no idea how much my parents did, and it wasn’t just chickens we had; sheep, pigs, goats, ponies, vegetable patch, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, mice and a budgie! Not to mention the various injured wildlife that graced their doorstep on occasion including a fox and a jackdaw!
Week 3 has arrived and the chickens are fully free range now. We started the week by leaving them roam the vegetable patch as official slug patrol. For the last couple of days they have been allowed in the big field and have been acquainted with the bunny who has a hutch out in the field as well as the front garden. The field is now dedicated to the hens and bunny as the dogs are too interesting in chasing/eating them. In turn, this means no more being lazy and leaving the dogs out the back, it means 4 miles of walking every day. The first three days of this broke my body but as my parent’s neighbours would say “It’s a healthy pain” and today I can move my feet without shooting pains making me tear up.
Not only has week three of chicken keeping brought a more active and healthier life style, it has brought us the first egg. And the second!
Squawky Molly has surprised us with two beautiful tiny eggs for us this weekend. The other girls need to step up their game! This egg was brought in whilst it was still warm and promptly boiled for Tabby who had already eaten about 15 bowls of cereal but was insistent on eating the egg so unfortunately didn’t finish it.
All in all, I just adore having these chickens and I wish I hadn’t waited for so long to get them. It’s so very therapeutic, just sitting out listening to them bawk bawk and scratch the ground. I have no doubt I will be adding more to the brood in time but for now it’s just Wanda, Datsy, Blonda, Molly and Layla.