Monday, 24 April 2017

Meanwhile, back on the ranch...

Hello again!
4 months since my most recent post, so I suspect I'm chatting to myself now. I either had no words, had too many, or just couldn't quite decide how to be sufficiently articulate to put my thoughts down in a coherent - and not too tedious - way.

It's been an eventful few months since I last blogged. We've had some truly marvellous moments as well as some unexpected and more challenging times. I might tell you about it later, if you like.  However, today I'm all about the livestock.

Bight, Aire, Wharfe, Rita and Starling on a bug hunt
It's been 12 years since my first Eglu, with Margot and Dolores as our new hens.  I've had around 50 hens over the years as we upgraded to a big Eglu Cube, suffered predation by foxes and Alsatians, illness, escapees getting stuck in other gardens and other poultry related mishaps, or just old age. Some had individual names for (Sarah, Ruby, Doris, Ronnie, Truffle, Starling), but mostly we named by theme:

  • Chicken Supremes (Mary, Flo and Diana)
  • Beatles Girls (Rita, Prudence, Eleanor, Lucy, Penny)
  • SF/Fantasy TV characters (Buffy, Capricorn 6, Rose, Xena, Chloe)
  • Doctor Who Companions (Sarah Jane, Donna, Martha, Ace)
  • Shipping Forecast Regions (Viking, the Utsire sisters North and South, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, G Bight, Humber, Wight, Biscay, Finisterre, Fitzroy*, Lundy, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Faeroes)
  •  Rivers (Aire, Wharfe, Nile and Amazon)
  • Austen women (Elinor, Marianne, Emma)

My current hen count stands at 8, of whom the most important is Rita. She's a big heavy bird from a mixed use strain (meaning reared for both egg production and meat) and she's 10 years old. That's VERY old for a hen.  She's still a handsome beastie, with her dark grey head fading into a pipe smoke grey on her body. She's a post-menopausal lady who nevertheless is everyone's favourite.  Rita has earnt her retirement and can leave all that egg-laying malarkey to the younger lasses.
Rita's the big grey, second on the left

A word on the eggs - obviously they are delicious and there's something lovely about knowing the name of the hen who laid your brunch. Before I kept hens I didn't know that laying is light-dependent, so from late November to late January everyone downs tools for a bit.  Also, hens lay far more eggs when they are young, but the eggs get larger and larger as they get older.  A young pullet might lay a 45g egg, while a 3 year old will lay a 75g extra large. In addition, like humans being more prone to having twins when they are in their 40s, older hens are more likely to lay double yolkers. You can usually spot a ridge where the egg hasn't narrowed as usual but had to widen again for the second yolk.

Double yolkers can get pretty big
There are certainly disadvantages to keeping hens. They will eat anything they can get in their mouths, and aren't respecters of borders. If they can escape into the neighbour's garden to pinch food from the bird table, they will.  Likewise they'll make short work of my vegetable garden if they can. I've had a polytunnel of seedlings decimated when 2 hens noticed the door was open a crack.
Helpfully emptying the veg bed of greenery

Caprica 6 had a nifty trick of flying to the 6 foot fence, walking along it to the end of the chicken run and hopping down into the raspberry patch to gorge herself.
They also trash any area they are in. Even with 22 square metres to play in, my birds don't leave grass there for long.
A prolonged wet season means the run gets very smelly as the chicken poo and mud form an odiferous mire, but a cold snap or some dry weather sorts that out.

The best part of hen keeping is the liveliness they bring to a garden. They cluck and coo, take fright at a gust of wind or charge down a blackbird who wants to pinch their grain.

Hens can become incredibly tame, and they do have distinct personalities. Dolores was over-confident; when I sat at the table in the garden she'd hop onto my lap in the hopes of pinching some of my lunch. Mary, called Biffer usually, was a "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" bird, smacking down all the feathered visitors to the backyard. Dogger was aptly named because she'd follow me around like a puppy. Rose was Miss B's hen when she was a toddler. Rose was the most patient bird I've ever seen - she'd let B pick her up and cuddle her, carry her around the garden, even put necklaces on her (which I quickly removed so she wouldn't peck them). Hebrides was an escape artist but couldn't get back in the run, so would come and knock on the door when she wanted to go back in. She taught Dogger that trick, who taught it to our cat.
Knock knock

Having hens hasn't lost its attraction at all. If anything, it was a gateway drug - from 2 hens to 3, to a big run with 8, then a larger free range area and up to 12.

Now I've entered a new level of crazy - quail. More about that in a day or so.

*Geeky footnote: Finisterre isn't a shipping region anymore but it is a lovely word. It was too easily confused with a Spanish shipping region called Finisterra, so it was renamed Fitzroy. I liked both, so I had hens called Fin and Fitz)


  1. Never knew you had a hen called Emma - hope she was especially handsome and that the foxes didn't get her!

    1. She's one of the new girls - a white hen just coming into lay

  2. I may manage an entry if American politicians is ever a criteria, even if she does spell her name the male way, which means I know always have to spell it for people. I think Roosevelt would make a great hen's name. Donald is more a duck I would say. �� Hilary x

    1. No way.
      Influential women maybe a theme some day, but I'm steering clear of politics until the political climate makes me feel less like running away.