Chickens and the cycle of life (not for the squeamish)
I feel it is time for a chicken update.
We had friends staying last Friday night and in the morning my friend and I went to let the chickens out. It was cold but bright and still, the sky blue against the bare branches of the apple trees. As we went into the kitchen garden I thought I could see the two older chickens, who have a separate chicken house, out in their run. Odd, I thought, and odder still that they should be lying down. Everything said not right. The bodies of the hens lay in the run, decapitated. Rob opened the door and reached in. The breast meat had been taken from each.
Rob is a countryman. "Stoat," he said. "Stoat or weasel."
"But how did they get in?"
They must have squeezed their way under the floor of the house. All around the outside of the run was protected with a chicken wire skirt but we had not thought that anything could gain entrance through the tiny space under the house itself. We picked them up and took them to the bonfire where they were ceremonially despatched later in the day with the prunings from the gooseberry and redcurrant bushes. Sad to lose them and sad that their end was such a brutal one.
So that is the last of the four chickens which my friend incubated for me to start out chicken keeping life nearly two years ago. One was killed by a dog earlier this year protecting her new chicks, the cockerel, the glamourous Ormerod, was chased out by the same dog right up out into the lane and never recovered, and now the last two gone to nourish a stoat in this cold hard winter.
But the four chickens we kept from the great hatching in early June are going strong (ten eggs, seven hatched, three given to a friend and four installed in a converted and accidentally stoat-proof garden shed). And just this week they have begun to lay. I was entirely happy with the idea that they might not lay until February or March when the days begin to lengthen so I was delighted to find a single pale brown egg lying on the woodshavings in the hen house. The next day there was another and then for two or three days I found nothing. Ian wondered whether they were choosing to lay outside. A cockerel will keep watch for a laying hen so when I found one of our cockerels hanging around the front path for ten minutes or so I wondered if a hen was somewhere hidden away. I went out a few minutes later for some logs and he was gone but a rummage about revealed six eggs under the jasmine, probably three days worth of laying from both hens. It is such a joy to have our own eggs again. The deep orange yellow yolk and fresh taste are a revelation all over again after three months or so of buying even free range in the shops.
And so the wheel turns, I suppose. I shall buy some more chickens to supplement the flock if only I can find time between work and the house and the potting up of numbers of bare rooted plants bought for the garden and the growing demands of Christmas. Cards bought or sent? None. Cake made? Yes. Puddings? Yes. Presents made or bought? Just one or two for the easy people. Tomorrow afternoon I will engage it with it. Promise.