So we’ve had The LittleStuff Four for over a month now – and we’ve accidentally settled into a chicken-keeping routine.
Every morning I’m up first, and I potter down to the coop while the kettle is on the boil and let them out for the day. Blue always accompanies me, and presses her nose to the wire at eye level to the top of the ladder to watch them as they come out (always in the same order, though occasionally Oprah at the back gets a little impatient with Jabba the Cluck who likes to pause and assess the morning from the top of the ladder; a judicious shoulder barge has her straight down amidst much flappery and squawkery…).
Blue bustles and fusses over them as I change the water and top up the feed bowl for them – but the eggs aren’t laid until late morning; one of the children pops down and collects them before lunch.
Come the afternoon and they start to get restless, I hear them noisily pacing and chuntering if the office window is open; it’s the husband’s fault. He’s shamelessly bought their affections with the Afternoon Treat. Mid-afternoon he takes the previous days kitchen scraps and leftovers (often lovingly prepared and saved and boiled up by me, I might add) and adds the dish to the run. As he steps out of the back door, the girls line up and begin an excited hooting chirp of welcome form the bottom of the garden. By the time the coop’s top door is open, Henghis Khan is ready and waiting and if he doesn’t make a fast manoeuvre she’ll be perched up on the bottom door and eating from the bowl in his hand. Some days we hang a cabbage for them – as much for our own entertainment as theirs.
As night falls they head in for some sleep – in the same order they came out in the morning. We watched them last week, and were most amused to see Henghis was most disgruntled that the others had gone to bed before her. She stood at the bottom of the ladder and made disapproving noises – the other three sheepishly re-appeared and reluctantly stepped back down the ladder. At which point Henghis clucked approvingly and headed into bed – the others definitely rolled their eyes at each other before they followed back up to bed again!
So – how are we finding chicken keeping? Honestly – it’s been… surprising. I know, I know.
How surprising can they be, right?
Here’s what I did not expect:
- BIG feet.
I mean seriously. These girls have huge feet. How have I never noticed this before?
- A LOT of poo.
Ye gods, these girls can poo. I thought the dog was a poo machine, but she’s a novice compared to the Chicken Poo Factory.
- The water bowl.
First I was surprised by just how much water they drink. Then I was surprised at how often they perch on, paddle around in and generally muck up their water bowl. Filthy creatures – it really needs cleaning and changing twice a day to keep it clean.
- So entertaining
You wander past, they chirrup and scrawch at you, you pause, and before you know it you’ve been there 20 minutes, dug them up a dandelion or scratched up a worm just for the fun of watching them run away from each other with it. They’re unbelievably absorbing – they’re just so damn good at being busy. Sitting in my office with the window open, the gentle backdrop of their occasional chuntering & clucking is soothing and lovely – I shall miss it when the cold weather properly sets in and stops me having the window open. Also – they’re a fabulous alarm system when anyone comes to call!
They’re just chickens. But each of them is a character – we all know Henghis is always up front, but Jabba the Cluck is the clever one. Miss Egsa croons and sings all day long, and Oprah’s shy, patient and shares nicely.
- Cabbage Jumps
Those girls will seriously jump for a cabbage. They have some mean jumping skills for the green stuff. And they pick. it. clean. We’re talking shredded and vanished. Gone.
- Perpetual Fresh Eggs.
I have a whole new post to write about fresh eggs, but the thing that keeps surprising me is the constant supply. I mean, I know I go and collect four daily, but the way my egg bowl just refills itself is like a little bit of magic in my kitchen.
- The world of chicken keepers
There’s a whole community of people out there that I now belong to. Chicken keeping forums are ACE! They’re everywhere – it’s like a secret underworld I never knew existed. Full of advice, tips and knowledge. And funny chicken stories. You’re never alone, and someone always knows the answer – they were the ones who told me about the fabulous Vicks VapoRub tip on poor old henpecked Oprah). Also #BackyardChickens on Instagram. Whole. World. Of. Chickens. I’ll just leave that with you.
- Chickens don’t like the dark.
Before it gets too dark they head to bed – and they don’t come out until the sun’s up. The girls really don’t like the dark, and will scold you if you open up the coop at night.
- Chickens are MEAN Girls.
To me they’ve always gentle farmyard background fillers. Soft and harmless, scratching and strutting through their days. But of course; they have beaks, and they’re not afraid to use them. We couldn’t believe the damage they did to poor Oprah, and apparently we really do not want to see what happens if a frog or a mouse gets into the coop. They’re sweet, and friendly and gentle and lovely… but sometimes you see the way they are with a worm or tasy treat and you realise how they’ve survived in the wild for millennia…
The Chicken Run is in conjunction with Omlet, who provided the Eglu Go UP coop for us. It’s a completely brilliant coop, perfect for backyard and suburban garden hens which holds up to four birds. We have it set up with the one metre extension run. Next week we’ll take you on a video tour of the coop, and show you all about the housekeeping.