The Hen Pen

In case any of you are interested, this is the coop, complete with its new occupants:

Naming

It’s unlikely that when I go out to them today, I will recognise them by sight. Mostly, now, a hen is a hen is a hen.

However I sat quietly in the coop yesterday, to be honest I had forgotten just how absolutely blissful that is. No phone, no noise, no outside world, just watching them starting to forage, something that they will never have done before but which is normal chicken behaviour. I saw three very different personalities:

  • One of them is an adventurer. We erected a barrier to keep them close to the coop for the first few days, and she not only circumvented this but came across the garden and found the house. When I shooed her out, her instinct was to peck at me rather than to retreat. (A chicken’s peck delivers a short, sharp, shock but does not otherwise cause damage.) So, she is feisty, which I like. She has fight in her. Her downside is that she is also feisty with the other girls. You know the term “pecking order”? This is where it comes from. They are establishing a hierarchy and this one definitely sees herself as top hen. In our place, where there is ample space for all of them, it doesn’t matter, but when they are used commercially, these birds are kept eighty to a cage, so it becomes a problem. Even though the UK introduced legislation to outlaw battery farming (but only in 2012) this lack of space means that the birds can become unnaturally aggressive toward each other. They’ll relax, given time.
  • One of them is a thinker. Chickens will often move their heads in a very jerky motion, but she sat for ages, absolutely still. I like someone who thinks about the world.
  • The last is the tamest. She thinks nothing about coming close enough that we can easily pick her up. Mostly, chickens will allow you to pick them up, but all the same, they’d rather you didn’t. I like that she doesn’t fear us, because there is no need for her to fear us.

My worst fault is that I overthink things. Do you think I might be doing that here? 🤣

Adoption

My life was lived in floodlights
Obscuring night and day.
It’s done because it prompts me,
To maximise my lay.

That food that you gave me,
Is quite odd, I found,
The food that I’m used to,
Is powdery ground.

I’m slightly more combative,
But what would you expect,
If I don’t show some aggression,
I’ll simply be henpecked,

I’d like to forage insects,
I’d like a bath of dust,
I’d like to stretch my wings a bit,
And not feel quite so trussed.

Before my stroke, Mrs Bump and I used to keep chickens. The first generation were pure-breed, because keeping them from a young age was easier, until we got the hang of them. But it felt the same as buying pedigree dogs or cats – that there are plenty of non-pedigree animals needing a home, so why sustain an industry which is fundamentally about slavery? Selling living creatures for a profit?

From that experience, we learned the joy of keeping chickens. For something the size of a bird, they really have their characters. And, we learned the deliciousness of fresh eggs. As in, fresh! A few hours old. Typically, the eggs you’ll pick up in a supermarket can be anything up to a month old.

After the first time, we felt we knew chickens well enough, so the next generation were retired commercial hens. These are the type of hens who would be responsible for those supermarket eggs.

They are “retired” when their yield drops below a certain level. In practical terms, “retired” means killed. However, in the UK there is a growing “market”, if you like, of people who will adopt these birds instead, to let them see out their days in a natural environment, to live the last part of their lives actually as chickens. Although their egg yield has dropped, it’s not noticeable in a domestic setting.

The “adoption” is, I guess, win-win-win. For one, it saves farmers the cost of slaughtering the birds, and for another, people who take on rescue hens will also be prepared to offer a donation, to keep the charity going. Lastly, those people experience the joy of keeping chickens – it’s the same as having any household pet (except if you let them in the house they’ll poo on the carpet 🤣)

So yesterday, Mrs Bump and I adopted our second generation of rescue birds. The birds came to us for free, although there was a donation to the charity. These birds look pretty well (the first generation looked like they were at death’s door. Can you imagine a bird running around with hardly any feathers?) and indeed, we had our first egg just this morning. Far sooner than we expected. Mrs Bump will enjoy that for her breakfast.

It goes without saying that they are entirely free-range here. We took just three birds, they live in a 10-bird coop which is opened in the morning, the chickens roam the garden all day, then we lock them in at night, for their protection – we have foxes and badgers around here. It’s about as natural as they can get.

If anybody is interested in finding out more, in the UK the charity is the British Hen Welfare Trust.

My Number One

This is a short clip of Reuben, again. Despite the mic on my phone being very good at cancelling distant noises, you can nevetheless hear his very loud purr if you listen closely.

The Gift

It Was… This Big

Okay, I’m going to start with a spoiler alert – don’t read this if you’re in the middle of eating!

This is what Reuben brought in last night. It’s a bit difficult to get a sense of scale from the photo, but that was probably an 8″ body, plus maybe the same again for the tail! Yes, Reuben presented us with a fully-grown, adult rat! Fortunately, it was very, very dead!

He came in through the cat flap, and he’s carrying this thing by the scruff of the neck, like it was a kitten. I mean. they’re normally so small that you can’t really tell how he’s carrying them, but this one… very much by the scruff of the neck!

So what do you do? Tell him off? Actually it’s great if he starts decimating the local rat population, but… just make sure they’re absolutely dead before bringing them anywhere near us!

Then we have the slight problem of how to get rid of the body. Better not try flushing it…

My Favourite Girl

It is inevitable that these photosets come in pairs. But at least Lola was awake!

My Favourite Boy

He was waiting in the kitchen at 6:30 AM for his breakfast. After that, he crashed out on the bed.

It is now 11:30 AM. About a half-hour ago, he got up, had a look to see if there was any food in the kitchen (there isn’t, yet), then pawed at the door to go out. As usual, he sits in the doorway so I have to force him either in or out, before I can close the door again.

Ten min utes ago, he decided it was all too much and decided just to crash on the rug in the lounge. Jeez, and I thought had a hard life!

This is the same cat who kills and maims rodents for fun.