So.. our recent acquisition is a couple of chooks named Betty and Florence. We got them from Mac’s Farm (an organic egg farm based in East Sussex that works not only to provide free range, organic eggs to the public but also to educate on how eggs are farmed and also recognises the pitfulls of egg farming and works with the RSPCA, Fresh Start for Hens and other charities in order to rehome their 9,000 chickens every year when they are required by law to ‘get rid’ of their hens at only 78 weeks).
So, we went from being chickenless to chicken…full? in a matter of a few days. Mr P has resolutely said in the past that we don’t have enough space/money/time etc and as usual he is probably right, except that… we don’t need that much space as we can let them free range when we are home… they don’t cost that much money… we can find the time and… and… well they are purportedly soooooooo much fun … so surely there is always time for fun… isn’t there? (please tell me there is). So one morning during half term I somehow managed to accidentally find a chicken coop on Gumtree for 40 quid. Unfortunately that had already been sold but it kicked off the quest to find one and all with the blessings of Mr P. We managed to find one to collect the next day and on the Saturday we arranged to pick up the EO (Eldest One) at our usual meeting place (she spends time with her dad, Mr X, in London) and then collect the chickens from Mac’s Farm on the way home.
We arrive and it’s not exactly the nicest of British weather but still, Mrs Mac comes out all sunny smiles and directs us to a lovely large paddock where lots of chickens are merrily roaming and scratching about in the grass. The minute we have entered the area, they swarm around us, pecking at our wellies and clucking. The kids picked out the hens and we scooped them up and placed them in the carrier we had brought. As we exited we realised that we were missing a child and then saw that the MO was literally about to be carried off by a hundred lil chickens… And then we are home. Chickens gently warbling and giving clucks like little exclamation marks of surprise as we introduce them to their new, dismayingly smaller, home. We look on, excited and thrilled, as our new family members explore their surroundings.. their language almost fooling us into thinking we could understand the conversation “ooooh Betty, what have we got here?”, “well Florence, I don’t really know but its a lot fucking smaller than where we have just come from”…. I feel horror and then remind myself that it was this or the slaughter house. They might not realise it but at least they are alive.
It’s very late and the darkness has set as we try and ensure that all is secure and Mr Fox is not going to come and munch his way through our new additions. We settle them in and during the night, I wake, worrying that they are safe and not mounds of mangled feathers and bone, ripped apart in some feeding frenzy.
Our first egg. I feel so torn. These lovely creatures have done what they have been born and bred to do, albeit a lot more often than they would naturally. They go through this ‘egg song’ which really does sound like a cross between.. “woohooo I’ve laid an egg and fuck this is painful”.. and then we claim that egg and eat it. I feel a mixture of pride, sorrow and pain as I place it in the egg box. Yet, if we don’t eat it, what will become of it? Nothing, it will rot or be pecked and eaten by it’s very kind. And there’s the other thing. Chickens.. fluffy, sweet and amusng? Or descendents from dinosaurs (yes, really), omnivorous, predatory creatures that will dive bomb into a nest of baby mice as much as peck at a juicy grape. So… whilst I love ’em… I will be ensuring I don’t take any risks whilst in their vicinity. No drunken falls within the coop.
And a week on… they are free range… out for an hour or so for the first time. Qara our youngest black cat, overwhelmed with utter, unadulterated excitement… These real live playthings… just for her? Really? She runs at them and then darts away at the last minute to escape their beaks. Yet Betty and Florence aren’t that bothered by them seemingly. Bernard the French Metal Rooster is also very calm with the whole proceedings.. he gets placed by the MO, according to his perceived role..
So, a week on and how do we feel en famille, now? Curious as to the future with our hens.. slightly bemused by all the de-miting, de-lousing, de-worming that needs to take place… but I tell you that lovely warbling, clucking you hear? It’s beautiful and transports you to a world of skipping lambs and fluffy chicks…. and I love it.