Up until the other day our flock (that at its peak reached a grand total of fifteen chickens a few years ago) had diminished to an all time low of only three old girls living out their retirement here at the Villas.
To continue hen keeping?
Briefly we discussed whether to continue hen keeping once the remaining chooks had gone to roost at that great big hen house in the sky. After all, like any livestock, they are a bit of a tie if you want to go away for a few days. But as animals go, they are pretty low maintenance and day to day care consists mainly of keeping an eye on their water supply and dishing out their feed. Other than that, to a large extent, they look after themselves and with a bit of luck a neighbour, on a promise of collecting the egg booty for their own consumption, will jump at the opportunity and gladly help out. After all, the thrill of checking a nest and finding an egg never goes away – it’s s a joyous moment.
But egg production had all but expired chez nous and we were sorely missing those large deep yellow yolks that only home grown hens provide. So we needed some spring chickens (!) full of the joys of spring and about to embark on their egg laying careers.
Anyway, there happens to be a farm in the next village with a sign up advertising livestock including guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, turkeys …and hens. So the other day I set off, crate in the boot of the car and money in my pocket, to check them out.
On arrival, Paul the farmer took me to a spacious barn housing about a hundred chickens – pure breeds and hybrids, all handsome and all in lovely condition. I had decided I wanted four in total and went ahead and selected a Bluebell, a Speckledy, a Black Rock and a Light Sussex – each very different from the other so we would have no trouble telling them apart.
I already had names lined up for them: Hazel, Taggy, Marjorie and Pauline – four of my mum’s college friends who she is still regularly in touch with, even though they are all in their eighties now and live hundreds of miles apart.
A bit of a battle…
I was fully aware that I was likely to have a bit of a battle on my hands when it came to integrating new birds with old, as chickens are territorial by nature. The farmer suggested I introduce them straight away and all in one go rather than gradually, but to keep an eye on them for the first day or two whilst they sort out their new pecking order.
First few days
At sundown on their first day I went out with a torch to see where they had bedded down …and found them in a pile – quite literally – between the fence and the compost bin! So I opened the hen house door in preparation and carried them in one by one, gently placing them on a perch, not letting go until they had got their balance and were gripping securely. In true chicken style, as if in a trance, they barely fluttered a wing or batted an eyelid throughout the whole manoeuvre.
And three days down the line, yes there have been some brief squabbles and the newcomers are tending to keep themselves to themselves somewhat but all things considered the old girls, after having ruled the roost for several years, are being more accommodating than I expected – which is a big relief.
Now I must get back into the habit of checking the nesting boxes for eggs on a daily basis which, of course helps make hen keeping such a rewarding hobby.