If you were to ask what would be the thing I’d most enjoy doing on a winter’s day’, the answer I most definitely would not give is ‘looking after chickens’. Keeping hens is relatively straightforward. They’re simple creatures with basic needs. Give them some room to scratch around, clean bedding fresh food and water and a dry, safe place to sleep, and they’re in chicken heaven.
In the summer it’s a doddle. The looking-after jobs fit easily into the day, and you do feel rather smug as you meander down the garden to collect the eggs. However, in winter it’s a thankless task. It’s dreary, sludgy and cold, and due to the shorter daylight hours, the hens don’t lay. Winter also brings other challenges. There’s less food about in the hedgerows, so there’s more chance of mice and rats rocking up for any leftover chicken food. I’ve had a constant supply of yummy blue rodent treats on offer for any gatecrashers.
Mr Fox is also not known for turning down free chicken dinners, as we found to our dismay a good few years ago – our birds were found scattered across three gardens – so regular security checks of the run are in order to make sure nothing has tried to tunnel under.
During a recent cold snap I popped off down the garden to play ‘hunt the egg’ and noticed Winnie seemed to have morphed into a Ninja overnight as she was doing weird karate kicks. “How clever, I thought”. On closer inspection, it became apparent that the Ninja impressions were simply her way of telling me, “Oi, Mush! The water has frozen… we’re all parched!”. Mildred and Maud seemed to be strutting around in the background saying “Yeah, whatever she said”. The water dish was frozen solid – not even my handy ice bashing block of wood was a match for it. I turned the bowl over and gave it a swift whack to release the ice. The bowl was brittle, my hand went straight through, and the next ten minutes was spent rummaging around in the kitchen for replacement containers. Marvellous!
After that was sorted, I checked for eggs. We’ve not had any to speak of since October, and after Aggie died we got the odd one or two a week. As Aggie was a bossy little madam, I think she may have been putting the others off, or was on the chicken equivalent of the egg-only Atkin’s Diet. Anyway, I lifted the hatch and was greeted with the vision of not one, but THREE eggs.
This is an egg-citing time indeed, as it means all the girls have finally pulled their finger out and got on with the job in hand. Most importantly though, it’s a sign that the days are getting longer, and spring is most definitely around the corner. Heading back up the garden with my clutch of eggs, I restrained myself from doing a jaunty little heel kick.
This featured in The Hinckley Times on March 1 2012
Thanks to Terry Stynes Photography for the chicken picture 🙂