Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Born free range

Listening to: Trampled Rose (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss)
Recovering from: shocking myself on the electric fence
At least: it works
Weather: mild and still - insects are out

The hens have been one of the big success stories of 2008 so far. They had a difficult start here, one dying on the two-mile drive from their previous home and another turning in its dinner pail a couple of weeks after being mugged by Spike.

At first they produced an occasional egg and then they stopped altogether. However, as if by magic, the turn of the year and the longer days have worked a massive change.

Eggs started to reappear. One or two a day at first, but now we are up to three or four - pretty damn good from four hens. At least we are spared the embarrassment of owning hens and having to buy eggs from the shop.

The hens have fattened up, their feathers look in good condition, they are making a lot of what I assume are happy clucking sounds. . . and they've developed an independent streak.

On a farm already including several animal 'characters' (barking mad dogs, hooligan pigs and a cat who calls his solicitor every time he's expected to catch a mouse) I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that the hens have decided, without consulting us or a celebrity chef, that they would go free range.

They discovered that just a little flapping would take them over the fence and since then they've been getting bolder and bolder.

They love the dung heap by the pig shed. The veg garden is interesting too. I found three of them trundling off down the drive this morning. "Oi," I shouted, followed by a lot of guilty clucking, looking at feet, attempts to nonchalantly check feathers before they were herded back around the back of the house.

At the moment it seems they are still laying their eggs in the same spot in the hen house, but I imagine that won't last now.

Is there such a thing as an egg detector?


Homo Escapeons said...

The Hens were out measuring the number of steps it takes to escape the Gulag Malchipeligo. They're distracting you by leaving a few eggs and lulling you into a false sense of security.

They have figured out the Primary barriers and soon they will be huge Celebrities huddled amongst the Puffins.

FirstNations said...

I live in the middle of some of the richest farmland in the world and the first fresh egg ive seen in months has been on this blog. BAH!

are chickens hard to keep? i've been wanting some for years, and i can own them here. can you just let them wander around and eat or do they need store feed too?

Anonymous said...

Wow, Malc, either you have small hands or those are very large eggs! I so enjoy your writing about life there on the edge.

mig bardsley said...

Almost you tempt me.
I quite like chickens.
The neighbours would probably look after them when we go away, in exchange for eggs.

No, no, who'd take them for walks and clean out their pens?
But they do have a lovely contented way of chuckling and crooning.

As for the free ranging, I assume you don't have foxes on the island?

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

Put some pot eggs in the nest boxes in the hen house. It's not foolproof (Greg found 10 eggs in the hedge today!!!) but it will help encourage them to lay where you want them to lay...

Daphne said...

This blog would be worth it just for the photo at the top. Sighhhhhhhhhhh. I've probably written that before. Probably when you put the last photo up. I'll probably write it again when you put the next one up. We city-dwellers are very forgetful.
(Oh, I do enjoy the writing too)

Malc said...


That explains a lot. This morning at 7.30 I opened the front door and there they were waiting to be let in.


If I can look after hens, anyone can. You just need somewhere secure for them to sleep and a reasonable amount of ground. We give them layer pellets - a £6 bag lasts about a month.


I do have small hands considering I'm a 6ft, 14-and-a-half stone lump. The eggs vary in size. One hen lays long, thin torpedoes, another small globes, while the other two are reasonably normal.


Go on, you know you want to. . . and you don't have to take them for walks! No, we have no foxes on Orkney, the rabbits are top of the food chain.


Good idea - I'll give it a try.


It's always nice to be appreciated - thanks.

Anonymous said...

egg detector eh? I expect you just have to stamp about and listen for the crunches....

They're organised, I tell you. They'll build a plane next...

fiwa said...

See? All the ladies wanted was a little respect. You start giving it to them, and they give you the eggs. Man, those look so good - I LOVE eggs. I hope you enjoyed a lovely scramble or omlete with them.

PS - I love the new header picture, that is gorgeous.

Ginni Dee said...

Longer days (and more respect, as Fiwa said) is all those little darlin's need! What lovely large eggs and how homesick I am for my chickens!

That hen is similar to a Barred Rock, do you know the breed? You should try some Araucana hens...they lay the most lovely turquoise, blue, green, and pinkish eggs....they'd show up better! I had a couple and the eggs looked like Easter eggs!

I love your chicken posts!!

dinahmow said...

Lookin' good! All hens will become lay-aways if you let them. Keep them shut in their hen yard till about mid-morning, by which time they should have laid. And for Pete's sake don't let them eat fresh egg shell.Bake the empty shells in a moderate oven, then grind them.Once you have an egg-eater it's time to sharpen that axe!Egg detector? Yep, just listen for the crunch!

Anonymous said...

They have ovulation tests. Use one of them? My friends have chickens. Theirs are like timid dogs. They do jump right on your lap. My favorites are Monkey and Buttercup. I also have a soft spot for the cock, Wolfie. He's a Polish Pecker.

lettuce said...

chickens are great! (also rather horrid, but great too) My mum and dad kept them at one stage. I always loved the bantams.

and then theres that "broken knicker-elastic run"... (pratchett)

theres a good pig story here

Rol Hirst said...

"Is there such a thing as an egg detector?"

No. You just have to follow them round a lot and work out where the sneaky beggers are going for a secret lay.

Malc said...


The cockerel arrives tomorrow. Wonder if he's called Rocky?


They were every bit as good as they looked. I had two scrambled on toast and the other went towards a quiche lorraine I've made for when Sal gets back tomorrow.


I have no idea what variety of hen they are, so any guidance is much appreciated.
I'm actually starting to like the hens which is a big step forward for me.


I'll follow that bit of advice. Mind you, they stayed in most of the day today as the weather was awful.
When they first started laying the shells were very thin, so we gave them ground, baked eggshell in their feed and it seemed to do the trick.


A cock called Wolfie? Blimey!
Our hens haven't got touchy-feely yet, although I did stroke one the other day.


Thanks for the link. Confirms a lot of what I'd suspected.
And a Pratchett quote is always welcome here.


I have a feeling that would develop into a game with me as the stooge - yet again!

elizabethm said...

I love my hens (somewhat to my surprise, thought they were going to be just stupid and clucky). Ours are free range when I am about which equates to about 4 days out of 7. They do lay outside the nesting box but only in two places amd make a bit of noise if doing so, so if you are about you know to have a look.