(This post is dedicated to the FB group Funky Chicken PT Fan Club with grateful thanks for all the help with chicken rearing from their members)
This is a shaggy chicken story, if there is such a thing, so if chickens are only something you eat in batter with chips, move on, gentle reader.
I have tried very hard to remain unsentimental about my chickens, really I have, but actually I think I’d better admit I’m completely besotted with them. One half of my garden is devoted to them and in that part I can only grow things they can’t eat, that’s how much I love them.
The flock has a sort of natural ebb and flow about it and I like that. It’s also changing as my knowledge of chicken keeping develops. I have learned a lot over the past four years, both from the chickens and from other people who are more experienced and have helped me on the way.
Although I do see my chickens as a very useful source of eggs, and potentially meat (well ,you have to do something with the cockerels) I also see them as a resource for the garden. My young fruit trees are doing very well and are fairly bug free thanks to their efforts as the chickens eat anything that moves and they are also well manured by their droppings. They cheerful ly scratch through the compost heap, turning things over and their night bedding, a mixture of wood shavings and poo is an excellent addition to the compost heap.
But my chicken flock is imbalanced at the moment. Right now, I have the three naked neck hens, a trio of trouble if ever there was one, and Mrs Chicken and Miss Henny sitting on eggs. To make it more confusing, Mrs Chicken is sitting on 9 of Miss Henny’s eggs, as I want more bantams and Miss Henny will be sitting on eggs from a friend’s flock (she is sitting on one rather dirty egg at the moment as I’m waiting for the eggs) Chickens aren’t terribly fussy about whose eggs they sit on, so there is a certain amount of social engineering a chicken keeper can do.
My two cockerels are left with three hens. I have a big white cockerel called Phoenix, and ayou couldn’t imagine a more gentlemanly bird (if you can call a bird that!) He watches benevolently over his three hens and the hens on the eggs, clucks lovingly when he finds a tasty tidbit for them and makes cooing noises to them when they dustbathe together, scratching the soil about them in a heap of ecstatic rolling in the dust.
But he has his problems, in the guise of the bantam cockerel Junior or Bonarparte, as we’ve come to call him (I’ll get to that in a minute). Junior is the Cockerel Formerly Known as “Miss Penny”. He came with Miss Henny and escaped into the wilderness, as you may remember from an earlier blog post. Now Junior sees Miss Henny as his wife, and indeed she accepts her role, although secretly she prefers Phoenix and sometimes even sits down for his ever so gentle advances, which is just as well, since he’s three times bigger than her. But Junior also sees all the other hens as his potential wives and creeps up on them for a bit of “how’s your father” at every opportunity. When he succeeds in getting hold of their combs, which is how cockerels stay on a hen’s back (bit graphic, I know, but you’re all grownups) the hen squawks loudly in protest and Phoenix rushes up and boots him up the rear to Junior’s great upset. As Junior never gives up on his endless quest to steal Phoenix’s wives, he has come to be known, reasonably affectionately, as Bonaparte, or Bonar for obvious reasons.
Junior needs more wives, which is why Mrs Chicken is sitting on 9 of Miss Henny’s eggs. Although I can’t breed from them as that would be incestuous. Not that hens care about that, and there isn’t a law against it, but it isn’t a great idea in the long run as it will replicate weaknesses in the flock. That’s why I’m asking a friend to give me some unrelated fertile eggs to put under Miss Henny, who is going to be renamed Godzilla the Hen, because that’s what she turned into since she’s become broody.
I have always heard that broody hens can be vicious, but Mrs Chicken isn’t. She complains a bit when I get her out to let her feed and dust bathe, but she’s never pecked me once. In fact she coos at me in what I like to think is an affectionate greeting.
The little bantam, so prissy and shy with her feathery feet, and usually very sweet, has turned into something out of a Hitchcock movie. As you approach the nest she looks at you with a very reptilian eye. Her icy stare seems to say “Go on, make my day” and then if you do actually approach her further the feathers on the back of her neck go up so she looks like a sort of puff adder . The she emits a blood curdling squawk. And God forbid the gardening glove gets anywhere near! It’s pecked to death. I’ve learnt my lesson. I approach with the barbecue mitt and a dustpan for a shield.
The baby chicks are due tomorrow. I’ve been very good, I haven’t checked the eggs every minute or disturbed the hen at all. But I have to confess to listening outside the broody box for pips and cheeps, none so far, but I’m quietly confident this time, watch this space.
On a sad note, my chief hen, Lady Henrietta had to be kindly euthanised this week (that’s a nice way of putting it, I’m afraid) She was my last hybrid hen of the four I originally had. The poor things die of egg peritonitis mostly because their ovaries are overworked producing eggs. Factory hybrids are bred to be egg laying machines and it means they don’t live long. She managed four years, pretty good going and had a lovely life. But she was a clever, sharp hen who rose from being the bottom of the pack (actually she wasn’t bottom, she just couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about being left out of things and stayed aloof) to being the top hen , almost by default. I will miss her.
Such is birth, life and death in my garden. The other day someone said “Your house is something like a cross between a villa and a farm” I take that as a compliment, I think!
PS. STOP PRESS: Mrs Chicken finally did it! She hatched three chicks and they are all doing well. I’m a Chicken Granny. Weyyy Heyyy!