We have always kept chickens here. The first two were a very scatty pair of bantams called Natty and Noodle (children are sometimes unfathomable in their naming) given to us by the architect who helped us build this house. We then added to this flock by begging various chickens off friends. All of them had names beginning with H – Helen, Harriet, Hannah, Hazel, Hecuba (bit of a Greek history moment), Heather, Hilary, Henrietta…I probably don’t need to go on, you get the point.
Full of confidence we then had a period when we got into rare breeds and hatching our own chicks. It is great fun but quite a lot of kerfuffle. Hens need to be broody, eggs need to be introduced at just the right moment, chicks need to be nurtured and hens protected from predators. The worst thing is spending all that effort and worry on a batch of chicks only to discover that 80% of the little fluffy beggars are cockerels. Breeding cockerels brings up a whole load of different problems. If you have more than one cockerel they will fight – cockerels are pretty vicious birds which is why cock fighting was popular for centuries. The obvious solution is to eat them but ours were always a bit stringy and tough – not really worth all the effort of killing and plucking. Fortunately we found a neighbour who was less fussy and happily took all available cockerels.
We have calmed down since then and rely on a good selection of hybrid hens who not only lay well but are a very friendly bunch. The pure breeds were always a bit skittish and highly strung: the slightest surprise would send them all running in different directions squawking. These hybrid hens may lack the finer decorative qualities but they all come up a say hello, enjoy being picked up and are pretty much unflappable.
I always urge anybody who has the space to keep hens not only because they are charming and amusing – we have one who I am sure was Dorothy Parker in a previous life. She is sharp and witty – although I admit that those qualities are a little difficult to pin down when you are talking about hens. However, there are a couple of horticultural provisos I must mention: hens are really bad gardeners and should not be allowed into borders except in the depths of winter. They scratch about, peck things and have absolutely no respect for delicate plant combinations. Keep them in a run somewhere
There are, of course, bad moments: most particularly the two occasions when the fox got in overnight and killed all of them in one go or the moment when they caught a rather unsavoury mite. But, happily, things like that pale into insignificance compared to the unalloyed joy inherent in the deep rich yellow and pure virginal white of a perfectly poached newly laid egg. Ideally on a bit of home made bread. Keep hens, be happy.