It was a difficult decision to make, taking on a coop full of hens. Neither of us had cared for pets since we were children, both of us suffer from asthma, both of us work full time. On the plus side, we have a large field for them to scratch in, and I had had a lot of contact with birds in the past, even a Silkie cockerel that my Mum and Dad took in when the local school needed to find the chick a home during the school holidays.
I worked at the time with Richard, who had been keeping hens off and on all his life. He loaned me magazines on poultry, showed me pictures of his small flock, and extolled the virtues of having hens of your own at almost every conversation. Paul and I discussed it at length, and then, in late August 2007, we made up our minds, went to B & Q and bought plywood, and spent August Bank Holiday weekend making a 4ft by 3ft house and an enclosed run. After work, during the following week, I called in at our local agricultural merchants and bought feed, drinkers and feeders, and at work I arranged with Richard how and what we were going to buy. Richard said he would choose some good birds from a well-established local poultry breeder for us, and on the first Sunday in September he brought over three lovely point of lay Black Rocks. I immediately named them Hetty, Betty and Letty. Hetty was quite a well built chicken, with a good pink comb, and obviously already in lay as less than two hours after they arrived I found an egg in the nestbox. Letty was the smallest of the three with a beautiful ruff of golden feathers. Betty, well we were not sure Betty was actually female, so I thought if I called her Betty we could change it easily to Bertie should she start doodling. Betty had almost no comb, pale eyes and did not lay. Our little flock was complete. I discovered that evening, though, that they needed to be shown where they were to sleep, as despite having been in and out of the house all day they just stood around looking confused when dusk fell. I flickered a torch at the pophole until they finally got the message. I had to do this each night when I got home from work for several days, but this was not a problem since I spent my time – from 5pm when I got home until dusk – with the flock, sitting on a folding chair next to their pen, and passing them sunflower seeds and handfuls of fresh grass through the mesh. I watched them avidly; if I was not outside with them I watched them through the window. Their activities were endlessly fascinating. Within a couple of days they were eating seeds from my hand. An egg arrived every couple of days laid, we suspected, by Hetty. We discovered that they liked grapes with a passion, and Betty would climb over the others to get more than her fair share. By the end of their first week with us, I found a small speckled egg in the nestbox, quite unlike Hetty’s previous offerings. The next day a larger speckled egg arrived; we were now convinced that Letty had started laying.
At the end of their first week, we let them out into the field and watched as they got to know the land. I reported in my diary that Betty appeared to be the lowest in the pecking order. They branched out into our neighbour’s field and were not very co-operative when I tried to herd them back. After that I left them to roam. They seem to enjoy the field as there were lots of bugs in the short grass left over from the last flock of sheep.
After 15 days we were getting two eggs nearly every day; Letty was definitely the new layer, and she took her time each day to produce a good sized brown egg, and let everyone know after that she had finished! Our first omelette was fantastic!
In early November I went away for a week for a conference and while I was away Betty suddenly produced a tiny egg; hooray, Betty was a girl after all! Continue reading