It strikes me that, lately, I have been dwelling too much on the sad side of keeping chickens – death and disease – and not celebrating the joyous side, so today’s post will be relentlessly happy!
The current flock stands at eleven hens and three cockerels. These are our happy girls and boys. The hens are named Betty, Hetty, Polly, Katie, Isabella, Rosie, Tamsin, Primrose, Tulip, Amber & Goldilocks, and the boys are Angel, Charlie & Freddie.
Betty and Hetty
Betty and Hetty came to us (together with Letty who sadly died young) in September 2007. They are Black Rocks and were bought Point-of-Lay from Storrs Poultry, near Penistone, so this spring they celebrated their 6th birthday. Betty was by far the youngest of the three; she did not start laying for two months, whilst her sisters started almost immediately we had them. She might have been the youngest but she quickly established herself as top chicken, and stayed that way until the first cockerel arrived. She is very vocal, making a continuous meep-meep noise as she goes about her business, always on the lookout for treats. She has had her beak put out of joint by the advent of Angel the cockerel, but still manages to rule over the younger hens. Betty has always had a distinctive colouring – green-black shiny feathers all over except for a bib of beautiful glistening chestnut. Betty still lays us an egg or two each week; her eggs are also distinctive, being smaller and paler than any of the other hens’.
Hetty, on the other hand, was always a gentle and accommodating hen, ready for a cuddle whenever we wanted, never getting into mischief, and always always hungry! She is a little plumper than Betty, with the same beautiful beetle-like black colouring but her whole chest is covered in two-tone black-and-gold feathers. She lays larger medium-brown eggs once or twice a week.
Polly also came from Storrs Poultry, in July 2008, along with her sister Molly and Dolly the Warren. She is a Bluebelle hybrid, and has the most beautiful two-tone grey feathers. She is still very active for a five-and-a-half year old hen, lays us two or three large (if rather thin-shelled at times) eggs every week, and hoovers up sunflower seeds like you would not believe! She used to be the guardian/alarm member of the flock, and she still has a powerful pair of lungs, especially when disturbed in the nest-box, but most days she takes it easy, with a little light breakfast, followed by a dust bath and then hours and hours sitting in the sunshine (if we get any, that is!), or preening her feathers in the shelter of the hawthorn trees.
Katie was given to us, along with her sisters Camilla and Florence, when our neighbours moved away and could not take their hens with them. She is a Warren hybrid, and like all Warrens she is friendly and cuddlesome. She suffered from severe featherloss on her neck for a long time and I began to wonder if she was part Transylvanian Naked-Neck, but they have grown back very well since her last moult during the winter. I was told that she was hatched at Easter 2010, making her three years old this year.
The two Croad Langshans that we hatched in May 2011, and still have, are Angel the white cockerel, and Isabella the black hen. We also bought from Bev Nelson, the Croad breeder, two POL black hens who are of a similar age. We named them Tamsin and Rosie. Frankly, it is very difficult to tell the three ladies apart, although Tamsin is broader in the beam than the other two; facially they are identical.
Angel is truly a gentle giant. He is a very big lad (about 2ft tall), but so calm that we can just bend down and pick him up, no chasing him around the pen for ten minutes first. In fact he seems to welcome the attention, and will wait at the gate at
bedtime for one of us to escort him to bed and give him a cuddle along the way! He is very good at finding food for his ladies, and calls them over to any tasty treat he discovers, rarely eating anything himself. Last spring he had an altercation with some chicken wire and damaged his left eye, so badly that it had to be removed. Our vet, Jeremy, did a magnificent job, and he now has a vacant socket neatly covered with skin. He does bumble about a bit, and has a tendency to wander into door frames, but he is such a sweetie I wouldn’t do without him.
Cream Legbars, as a breed, are very pretty birds. They hold their tails proudly, they are active and inquisitive, but they are a little flighty. Certainly the first four we hatched – Luke, Amy, Blossom & Baby – were highly resistant to being picked up and cuddled! Just before I sold them to our neighbour, I set six of the Legbar eggs in the incubator, and five hatched. They were the cutest little chicks, running about, darting in and out of shelter, flying up onto my shoulder with no hesitation whatsoever – a habit that lasted until they were quite big and living outside!
I named the three hen chicks Tulip, Hyacinth and Primrose, but resisted for a long time naming the boys because I knew we could not keep them and I didn’t want to get attached, but attached I got. So the boys became Charlie and Freddie.
Charlie is the smaller of the two, and looks very much like his dad, Luke, with a bright saddle of chestnut feathers and an erect tail. He is a very friendly lad, he does a sweet little dance for me every morning when I open his house, and if I put out a finger towards him he gives me a very gentle nip with his beak – like a kiss good morning!
Freddie is quite a bit bigger than Charlie, and his colouring is much closer to the breed standard, with a pale saddle, and very little chestnut on him at all. He is not quite so friendly as Charlie, but is by no means aggressive towards us. Towards other cockerels, however, is another matter.
The two boys lived amicably together in a fenced off run inside the main compound, and for eight months they got on just fine. Then one day just before Christmas, I heard a commotion and when I went to investigate, found them both silently facing each other off, crouched low to the ground and each covered in blood from the wounds to their combs. Their sisters were standing watching them and looking bemused. It was easy enough to part them and put them in separate houses while we cleaned them up and devised something less temporary. But they could not be kept together again, and nor could either of them live with Angel, whose mild manner and sweet disposition disappears when one or other of the Legbar boys is nearby. And so began several months of playing musical cockerels, moving them about, ensuring only one at a time is out of his run, keeping bloodshed to a minimum.
I have tried to find a good home for Freddie, but no one seems to want a Cream Legbar cockerel. I am hoping that, if we give Charlie more room and some ladies of his own, then he will calm down and at least be able to co-exist with Angel. Because I really want to keep Charlie. Quite apart from loving him, my original idea had been to breed Cream Legbars, and I can’t do that if I don’t keep my own cockerel!
Of the three hens we hatched, only Tulip and Primrose survive. They are as different as chalk and cheese! Tulip has an extravagant mopped crest that at times obscures her eyes, she is feisty when defending the henhouse in the evening when I am shutting the popholes, but at other times she likes a cuddle, and is quite calm and collected. Primrose, on the other hand, has only a small crest and a floppy comb, and she is a bag of nerves, even among the other hens. There is no chance at all of cuddling Primrose! It is pretty obvious she is Baby’s daughter – same comb, same neck-feather colouring.
Amber & Goldilocks
Amber & Goldilocks are the two remaining Fenton Rose hens that we bought last summer (the third, Honeybun, died two weeks after we brought them home, of an unknown condition). This is a very new hybrid, developed by the man who bred the Fenton Blue, and purchased at POL from Jenna at The Chicken Garden near Stafford. They were developed to lay blue and blue/green eggs of a size to be commercial,
but as a new hybrid only 80% of the hens are guaranteed to be green-egg layers. We have one green egg layer and one pale brown (Honeybun, before she died, laid us a couple of dark olive eggs). The green eggs are indeed of a good size, larger than the Legbar blue eggs, and pretty much every day of the week.
The hens themselves are beautiful; they have small crests, slightly floppy combs and nice erect tails, and their feathers are a pale apricot cream colour – the photographs really do not do justice to them. They are as nervous as Legbar hens are, indeed the breeder told us there is a bit of Cream Legbar in them so it is not surprising that they should be jumpy.
So that is it, the Flock. And here is a nice picture to close, of all the hens, plus Angel, enjoying a treat of sunflower seeds.