Chicken Talk

Did I mention that we’d taken on two more hens? We went from three to five.

I might not. A neighbour came around one afternoon and offered them to us. I suppose we should have suspected something, but… well, we already had three so what difference would two more make?

And so arrived these two, beautiful pure-breed Welsummer hens.

I mean, we keep vanilla rescue hens now, but some of these pure breeds are absolutely beautiful creatures to look at. Just look at those speckles! If you think in terms of money, one of these girls in her laying prime is worth GBP50! A “regular” pure-breed will set you back makbe £10-15, and common brown hens next to nothing.

Now, our girls are regular-sized hens but these two Welsummers were enormous. Twice the size.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, except they were unfriendly with it. Not just to us, but to the existing chooks.

They’ll settle in, we thought. But that was about two months ago, and they just seemed to settle into their bullying ways.

Two effects they had on “our” hens were that they stopped using the coop for sleeping – we found them in various bushes around the garden – Mrs Bump would sometimes place them into the coop (they are incredibly docile at night) but my disability made me useless.

They stopped using the coop to lay, too. They layed fewer eggs, and selected various points around the garden, again. So not only did the increase in birds mean that the overall yield went down, but each day we would have to hunt the garden for eggs. The Welsummers were not good layers, by the way, only about three eggs between them in all the time they were here.

So, you’ll have guessed… they went to a new home last week. They appeared to be going to somebody who’d let them live rather than stuffing them into a pot, but you never know. By the time they went, we were definitely leaning toward ambivalent.

The immediate effect was that our girls started sleeping in the coop again, a relief since our nights are becoming increasingly longer here.

They’re still laying al fresco, but hopefully that will come back. There has got to be a point where dry straw is preferable to a cold, wet bush, I’d think.

You wouldn’t have thought it, just with chickens, but it was interesting how these Welsummers just completely upset the dynamic.

Unfinished Business

My fearless hunter,
Cloaked in black,
The darkness is his friend,
His stealth approach,
His lightning pounce,
A creature meets its end.

At last fatigued,
He creeps indoor,
He lays down by my side,
He sweetly hums,
His well-earned rest,
And, now and then, a sigh.

The morning grey,
I leave him be,
But potter round the house,
Met in the lounge,
That awful smell,
A decomposing mouse.

He does this! The little B****!

I’m talking about my cat, Reuben, of course. He loves catching mice. Many mornings, we get up and there is some present left for us in the hallway, which we need to dispose of before anything else. If we’re lucky, it’s whole. If we’re unlucky, it’s autumn or winter, it’s dark, and we discover the victim when we stand on it.

But every now and again, he brings a rodent in. Though invariably injured, it’s not quite dead. And, as Reuben loses interest, it manages to scurry away to “safety”.

Invariably, under some furniture.

Where, also invariably, it dies from a combination of injuries and starvation.

And then starts to decompose.

And then starts to smell.

Anybody who ever had a cat live with them, you know what I mean. Anybody else, it is awful, it makes you wretch, and is unmistakeable.


So, guess what I’ve just been doing?

Yes, Mrs Bump is away for the weekend, is not yet home, so I have just been pulling out furniture – one-handed! – to try to discover the last resting place of the mouse I have been smelling all weekend.

I found two mice corpses.

But, do you know the worst thing? Neither of the two smelled particularly disgusting when I sniffed them (although my sense of smell is atrocious), so I’ve a feeling that there might be a third rodent that I will need to go hunting for later! That area of the lounge still smells disgusting, but I guess even if I did get rid of the source, it would take some time for the smell to dissipate. So, I might well be repeating this post tomorrow.

Marguerite

Still loving sitting outside with them. The other two are settling in. Marguerite will sometimes jump on me when the fancy takes her, today I had my phone with me.

Adopted

The strangest thing happened yesterday afternoon. We’d just got home from that delicious waffle, and we got a knock.

“Do you want a pair of chickens?”

Some neighbours had heard that we kept chickens and wanted to offload some of theirs. Now, we have three chickens in a ten-bird coop, so we said “no problem”.

It turns out they are pure-bred, full-size chickens, the neighbours keep mostly bantams, and these birds were bullying the bantams. That’s not a problem for us, because our chickens are all full-size birds.

Until we met these two. Even though our chickens are regular chickens, these two are about twice their size!

First impressions: our three are incredibly tame, but these two keep themselves to themselves. Today is their first full day here and the two sets of birds will generally be found at opposite ends of the garden. But that’s not a problem, until there is contention over something like food. Then, the bullying behaviour starts and these new girls will peck our girls out of the way. But, early days. I said the same about our three when they first arrived, too.

So, now we have five!

Content

Settling In

The last few days I posted about our new neighbours. All good so far, I’m pleased to report. There’s a lot they don’t know, but we’re getting there. They don’t recognise regular pelletted chicken food, so we are having to dissolve it in water, otherwise they will starve.

Our other chickens have all wished to be out of the coop in the morning. First thing, soon as we open it, they are queuing to get outside. These aren’t, yet.

In a similar vein, a chicken’s natural behaviour is to roost at night. In practise, this means that they will find their own ways into the coop when they are ready, and all we need to do is to shut the door for the night. 2/3 do this, but the third, we have to put into the coop manually.

Still, teething problems, we’ll get there.

One of the other tasks was replacing all the little things that have either disappeared, or perished, from our last batch of chickens. We needed a new skelter. Do you know what that is? I didn’t, until we kept chickens! And all those years, I knew exactly what a helter-skelter was!

One of the other things we needed to replace was a sun-screen for the coop. The old one had simply rotted. It’s just a regular piece of material, to shield the birds from the sun, when they are in the “run” part of the coop. Because we have a specific brand of coop, we went back to them to get a specific sun-screen, with the correct dimensions to cover the coop..

Now, we think of keeping chickens as a very “back to nature” thing. Instead of going to the nasty old supermarket, where we don’t know where anything comes from, we opt to go straight back to source. We start with just pellets, we rear the chickens ourselves, and we enjoy lovely, fresh eggs as a result. Just look at all those steps in the chain we circumvented. That’s a nice eco-friendly step, surely?

Here’s what I found.

Yesterday, the new sun screen arrived. It came in plastic packaging. I got the bag out of the packaging, which went into the trash.

I got inside the packet. There was the sun screen. It was wrapped in a plastic sleeve, which went into the trash.

I got my hands on the sun screen, which was made of … something synthetic. Came from a fossil, anyhow. Maybe they feel that the material is more durable than something natural? That our old one had disintegrated shows that these things have a finite lifetime, whatever they are made of.

At each corner of the sunscreen, there was a hole. Deliberate, to thread lengths of elastic through, which secure the screen to the coop.

In the main packet, also, were four of these pieces of elastic, They, too, were in their own plastic bag, which was discarded.

I’m not sure about the bits of elastic. They certainly felt synthetic. They certainly had little plastic grappling hooks at the end, to fix to the coop. But presumably, you need elastic just to provide the tension? String, and a knot, are simply not up to scratch? And, you need plastic hooks because there is no natural material available? Because no wood is durable enough? Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt here?

But the whole thing makes me wonder. At the end of this, there are a bunch of people who are trying to do the right thing. And I’m wondering whether the manufacturer, too, is trying to do the right thing. Do they seriously think “we need to use all this plastic to maintain the quality of our products”, or is the CEO, right now, sitting at their desk thinking “let’s shaft these gullible fuckers for every penny we can”, before they drive their gas-guzzling tank home this evening for a pleasant weekend?

Oh, lastly, two of the chickens now have names. The feisty one was immediately Boudica. There is another one, who stands absolutely still and looks very pensive. She is called Marguerite. Marguerite Porete was a medieval French thinker and writer, she wrote a theological work and, for her troubles, was burned at the stake for heresy.

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.