My name is Annis and I love chickens!
There I’ve said it. There will those amongst you reading this, thinking I’m a little strange, a pervert perhaps, or if you are one of an ever-growing group of poultry converts, you will understand and welcome into the fold of fanatical chicken owners. I adore my girls, they are the most entertaining garden ornaments I have ever had. It was my husband, who expressed the interest first in keeping our own hens. Fresh eggs from a known source, was the angle. I will confess to thinking more poo producers, to add to our collection. But in less than a week of having them, they had me snared in their feathery clutches.
We’ve kept hens for years now, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. They have destroyed my back garden though. They have systematically worked through the plants that I had, if its survived, its because they don’t like to eat it.
Although, even plants they don’t like the taste of they still take out, in their rampage of destruction. They behead my daffodils, just for the sheer hell of it. They wallow and lie on bunches of delicate snowdrops, so they lie crushed beneath a fluffy, bottom of hen, as she tries to absorb the rays from any Winter sunshine available.
Hens are canny creatures, they’d let my strawberries, blueberries and black currants grow unheeded. In my naivety, I assumed they mustn’t like them, I watched the fruit ripen, looking forward to the fruity bounty. Alas, so had my hens, as soon as it was ripe for picking, they got there before me. They are particularly funny jumping up and down, trying to eat the blueberries and black currants and for the novelty factor alone of bouncing hens, its worth sacrificing the fruit. Hen owning isn’t all about egg laying, scratching and sunbathing fowl. They bring with them the opportunity to meet red mites, lice, foxes and rats.
You’ll find yourself researching how to spot or treat a variety of hen ailments. We fitted aluminium sheets to the bottom of our hen house, as I was obsessed with foxes gnawing through to them, as they slept. Its also now on stilts, to raise it quite a way off the ground, to provide more shelter for them in bad weather. Its a sad and slippy slope, but knowledge about chicken maintenance is essential, if you are to keep your girls healthy. I have even researched on how to kill a chicken in an emergency. Fox attacks are a real danger for hen owners, they often leave the hens very badly injured, but still alive. I’m a vegetarian, I haven’t eaten meat since I was 12, the thoughts of killing any animal, is abhorrent to me. But I wouldn’t be a very responsible poultry owner, if I couldn’t end a hen’s suffering quickly, if need be. Luckily, I haven’t had to put the knowledge I acquired, into practise.
They have faced danger over the years. We had a particularly huge tom cat, with fox like ambitions, he cornered one of my girls and she died of a heart attack from the fright, poor thing. He wasn’t a local cat and came back for another go at them. Luckily my chicken friendly collie, is trained in the art of cat clearance, after a few weeks of persistence, he gave up. Our neighbours cats aren’t much of a problem. In fact, after a few run ins with ‘the girls’, they treat them with caution and no longer enter our garden. Its just a quick, furtive dash along the fence. Its been a learning experience for the local felines, that not all birds are easy prey. When a cat entered the garden, they started with a squawk alert, which sets off Watson the collie, who scrabbles at the back door to be out. Then you have Watson giving chase to the intruder, accompanied by a gaggle of hens. I once had to rescue a scared cat, trapped on our shed roof, Watson barking at it and half my hens surrounding the hut, squawking and wing flapping at it as well. Our own cat Sherlock, is frightened of certain hens. He refuses to go into the back garden, I can tell which hen he is watching, by his body language, as he gazes at them, through the safety of the window.
The hens could tell the difference between my 2 collies, who were nearly identical in looks, but not temperaments. Watson, who has been known to leap into duck ponds, for the opportunity to chase ducks and has great pleasure in chasing any bird, that dares to land in our garden, is totally unbothered by the hens. She isn’t too keen on their habit of running with her, when I throw a toy in the garden, but after the first one or two times, they realise its not corn or a treat and return to their job, as destroyers of the garden.
My other collie, who recently sadly died of cancer, she loved the hens, all the better for a nice rosemary butter coating perhaps. You could see chicken recipes flashing across her eyes, every time she looked at them. She always had to be on a lead, when out in the back garden, the hens were never fooled by her wagging tail and smiley look. They loved to strut around when she was in the front garden, whinging at them to come closer. Hen gazing could amuse her for hours.
They are such characters, any attempts at gardening is always accompanied by my little helpers getting in the way, to eat the bugs and worms. I love to watch them sunbathe, any hint of sunlight and they will prostrate themselves, wings akimbo, to soak up the rays. Hens are creatures of routine, mine like to be out around the same time each morning and will kick up a fuss, if I don’t let them out then. This sets off the collie alarm, so Watson then starts barking, until I get up to see to them. They won’t come out, if I open up the door earlier than they deem morning, indignant mutterings will come from them on their perches.
Mine are fair weather creatures, so rainy, windy and generally miserable weather, they want to head to bed, to roost early. Snickers will actually come and peck at the back door, until I come and feed them their bedtime corn, if she deems I am late. She’s my oldest hen, the last of my original flock, she’s never laid an egg for years now, but in her heyday, she was one of the best layers. She was a wicked, bossy hen, who always picked on the others, but has mellowed so much in old age, that she would defend the new comers from bullying. She sleeps more now and during the afternoon, when she has a long nap, there is always one of the others stays beside her, while she sleeps. She used to fly up to the window sills to follow me around the house, starring in the window and tapping, when she wanted attention.
We used to clip their wings feathers when we first got them, as we live in an urban setting and I didn’t want them flying over the fence, into any of our neighbours gardens, bringing destruction and chicken poo, in their wake. Since the incident with the cat and then a family member’s dog chasing them, I haven’t clipped their wings, so that they could fly up into the trees and high areas, to escape. We have 6ft fences, all around our garden and I’ve seen them fly higher than that, my hens in flight do tend to resemble a football with wings, as they aren’t the most elegant of birds, but luckily, they’ve never chosen to fly out of the garden.
They have only gone walk about once and that was after gale force winds, had damaged part of the fence. We hadn’t realised, and as we arrived back home, we were greeted by a worried neighbour, who said they were happily pottering round her garden, but she was worried in case they got onto the main road. I was very apologetic, worried about what they might have got up to and how to recapture them. Not a problem, once I went into our garden and called “girls” they started popping back through the broken part of the fence, thankfully leaving no mess behind them.
I’m jokingly referred to as the God of hens in our house. I’m the only one in the family, who’s voice they respond to. This isn’t because I am some sort of hen whisperer, but because I feed them. Hens love to eat, I think they would eat until they exploded, if they got the chance. As well as the usual corn and hen pellets available to them, hens enjoy a variety of fruit and vegetables. I gave mine some grapes the other day, without halving them first. It was like watching grape tiddlywinks, with hens. Mine love sardines and rice, any type of pasta, although spaghetti has added comedy value, as they play hen relays with a piece, trying to snatch it out of each other’s beaks. Mine also enjoy, on cold, wet days, a porridge made with water and dried fruit and seeds added. It makes a tasty treat, for bedraggled hens.
They aren’t spoilt and they do adore extra treats. If I come home and start talking in the house, the hens can obviously hear my voice and become excited, lots of hen chatter under the nearest window. I was once telling Francoise- Xavier off for something and was quite cross with him, in the background all you could hear was clucking and squawking. When we looked out of the window, there was a semi circle of expectant hens, all looking up at us.
It’s mostly me and my husband, who do the day to day hen work, the offspring do love the fact we have hens, but don’t want to help deal, with the poo related reality. Last year when I was recovering from surgery, hardly able to walk comfortably, my husband was taking care of the girls. Unfortunately to keep them healthy, you do have to do things they don’t enjoy.
I’m obviously forgiven easily, treats outway the indignity of having lotion rubbed into scaly legs etc. My husband had been trying to administer medicine, to a particularly feisty hen, she literally flew up in the air and appeared to fly over next door’s garage. This was early in the morning, he rattled the corn container, searched around frantically and then went and woke the offspring, to form a hen search party. They were worried that she could now be wandering near roads, but checking the streets, couldn’t find her. He very apologetically woke me up, I was 8 days post major surgery, in pain, but concerned for my hen. I shuffled into the garden, called her once and out she popped from where she had obviously been hiding, watching them all frantically searching for her.
These were little planters, that I had filled with soil and plants grew from them. Plants of the flowering variety, carefully researched to ascertain that the hens wouldn’t like to eat them, so therefore safe. They dug all the plants out, no matter how many times I refilled and used it as a dust bath. They would queue up each day, to take turns.
This was meant to be a short post on the joys of owning hens, I have rambled on for ages, because I just can’t help myself, I adore the feathery fiends so much.