I arrived back from London last night tired and cross and with lots of work to do today. There is an email from my friend who is hatching the chicks: fifteen out now, would I like to come and look? So this afternoon I left my computer muttering to itself and went up to see.
A few weeks ago we had a beautiful drive through the spring green and the trees down the Welsh border to a farm near Chirk where we chose four breeds of chicken. We came back carefully nursing egg boxes on my knee with twenty six fertilised eggs for hatching. Fourteen went into the incubator in P's dining room and the rest went under a broody Buff Orpington and we held our breath.
Ten days ago they began to hatch, the eggs shaking gently and cheeping away like little toys. The ones in the incubator did better than the ones under the hen as the hen was inclined to get up and wander away, not the most attentive mother. One of P's Welsummers also became broody so she took some of the eggs from the Buff and now we have fifteen survivors. Some of the eggs from under the Buff Orpington had got too cold and didn't hatch at all and of the others some hatched but didn't survive beyond a day.
So we now have five Welsummers, five Fresians (little Dutch bantams), three Cream Legbars and one Rhode Island Red. The chicks are divided between the two mother hens in coops in P's orchard. The Welsummer is a great mother, scratching in the dust, gathering her chicks around her, clucking irritably at their great tabbycat, Sid, who is lying casually along the front of the henhouse roof looking down through the mesh. She has the Fresians, tiny little pale yellow bundles of fluff, two of the Welsummers which are brown and beautiful and the solitary Rhode Island Red, a fat little ginger ball on legs.
The Buff Orpington has the Cream Legbars and three of the Welsummers. She is a scattier creature all together, rushing off up the ramp first with the chicks squeaking behind her when P's black Labrador puppy comes lolloping across the grass to see what is going on. In her haste to retreat to the covered part of the house she leaves one of the chicks lost and cheeping under the ramp and P has to retrieve it for her.
We won't know for a few more weeks how many are hens and how many cocks so we may only end up with two or three. The chicks can leave their mother at about nine weeks old so there is plenty of time for Ian to finish building the coop and the run, an ambitious prototype, constantly being redesigned for my latest bit of reading. I have two chicken books by the bed and am immersed in chickcrumbs and red mite and protection from foxes. By the time we have bought feeders and water holders and grit and layers' pellets the eggs, if we get any, will be about £10 a time. Not the point, not the point at all.