I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really understand where eggs came from, apart from chickens’ rear ends obviously. It wasn’t until my hens arrived, that I fully understood they could have eggs without having a cockerel around. So I began with three chickens, all named after dead female relatives. This was my first mistake.
I often do that. I imagine having an animal and give it a name before it’s arrived. I’d thought (and still do) that the inevitably old-fashioned names of female relatives also make great chicken names, in this case Doris, Marjorie and Joyce. After putting together their hen house, we made an enclosure close to the house for them to run about in, with the idea that they could roam freely once we’d trained the dog to leave them alone. On day one, Aunty Joyce was triumphantly dropped on our front door mat by our neighbour’s dog, as a ‘gift’. She was only small, just a few months old, so had clearly squeezed through a gap in the fence. We were down to two.
About a week later, after ‘training’ the dog, we let Doris and Marjorie ( my grandmothers) out and about while we sat on the terrace eating lunch. My dog is a terrier, so it’s basically his instinct to kill anything that moves, and even more so if it moves quickly. So, the day Marjorie decided to run after Doris, was her demise. It was really horrible, and now our dog had the taste of chicken blood. So after a punishment, he had to stay in the house when the chickens were outside. I’d initially imagined they would stay in the chicken run, but their need for grass and insects meant they really had to be roaming around.
Chickens in sync
Chickens and Cockerel
Doris then became quite depressed and very broody, refusing to budge from the chicken coop. We asked our neighbour if we could have a couple of fertilised eggs to sit on, et voila, some weeks later, two little chicks arrived. It was quite miraculous, watching their first few days, always worried the tiny little things would be squashed by Doris, a great big Orpington hen, or found in the water container. One disappeared, and the other, who we still call Lil’Chick, survives to this day.
After thinking we’d got the whole chicken thing sorted, we allowed the chickens, now Doris and Lil’Chick to wander freely around. We forgot about Mister Foxy though, as the chickens were so close to the house we thought we were safe, but there’s a reason for that expression ‘cunning as a fox’ – it turns out they are watching your movements, or in this case watching my husband watching the rugby. I arrived home to hear the news Doris was missing. I was frantic. There was no sign of feathers anywhere, so my overly optimistic self decided that perhaps she was sitting in a tree somewhere, perhaps being scared by something. So the next few days were spent wandering around shouting ‘Doris’ up into the trees, to no avail. Then the stark realisation came she had been killed, when we found black feathers next to some brambles on the adjoining land. We were now left with just Lil’Chick, who was a few months old, and definitely needed a ‘Mum’, or perhaps two Mums in that very modern way. So then Winnie and Nellie arrived (my great great aunts). Lil’Chick quickly attached to them, but our dog decided that his training only applied to chickens ‘he knew’ and so these new creatures were fresh game. Nellie only survived a week, and we had to re-educate the dog out of his serial killer lapses.
As usual, animals wanting to come in
I discussed my dilemma in my French language class, and we talked about various solutions, one of which is to tie a dead chicken around your dog’s neck and let him drag it around for three days. No thanks. The other alternative is to get a cockerel, and my friend and classmate just happened to have a spare one going. He would protect the chickens, and ward off any predators. He forgot to mention that he would wake me up at 5am every morning and attack me. Apart from the inconvenience of visits to the doctor because of a damaged knee ligament, and very little sleep, Bertie (Rooster) has actually calmed the chickens down. And by that I mean subjugation by regular rapings – not very romantic – but Winnie and Lil’Chick seem to like it.
So here we are, with a sort of balanced eco system going on. No doubt Winnie and Lil’Chick will get broody soon, and we will have more chicks to contend with, but this time with a little bit more knowledge about how it all works.
I’ve already thought of new names for a couple of donkeys who haven’t arrived yet – Flotsum and Jetsum. My husband’s eyes are rolling. Watch this space.