I bought this tea towel (Breeds of Chickens – right) at the Royal Show. I had just moved into a bungalow with a very big garden, with the intention of keeping some chickens. This was a longstanding ambition of mine. At the Royal Show, I spent a long time wandering around the tents where chickens were on display, waiting to be ‘judged’ and even longer around the displays of hen houses, equipment essential for keeping chickens like feeders. There was an opportunity to talk to people with a great deal of experience in keeping chickens, talking about the best breed of layers, the advantages of layers pellets over layers mash and generally tips on keeping happy hens. I looked at a lot of hen houses, all different; was it better to have the nest box at the back or side of the house? how high should the ladder be up to the nesting box? was it important to have a run that I could stand up in? was it useful to have the house on wheels? It was thoroughly enjoyable experience. I found a local hen house dealer, where I could go and have another look at his stock, and also where ‘point of lay’ hens were sold locally. I felt much better prepared to start keeping chickens. That day at the Royal Show has given me nearly 14 years of thoroughly enjoyable, chicken-keeping. And I was able to buy a tea towel to remind me of the advice I was given. The original wooden hen house is still going strong but I have also progressed to having a bright red Eglu. I have learnt that if you are attempting to keep about 6 to 8 hens that it is useful to be able to separate hens at times: if you need to expand your stock, if you have a poorly hen, if some hens have come to the end of their laying life and need to retire, if you have a bullying, or bullied, hen. I have moved the hen houses and runs around the garden. I now have patches of very fertile growing areas. Chicken droppings combined with other garden waste makes a very rich compost.
However, I don’t like coincidences. I was reading ‘A Taoist Guide to Practical Living’ by Lieh-tzu Liezi who said “When two things occur successively we call it cause and effect, if we believe one event made another happen. If we think one event is the response to another we call it a reaction. If we feel that two incidents are not related we call it a mere coincidence…..If we cannot find a reason for the two events occurring simultaneously, or in close proximity, we call it an accident……..Is everything connected so that events create resonances like ripples across a net? Or do things merely co-occur?”. Yesterday, this tea towel came to the top of the list for blogging about. Yesterday, I woke up to a bright, sunny but chilly morning, put on my wellies, went down to feed the chickens and to my horror, and devastation, there were feathers everywhere; no bloodshed just feathers. I only had one chicken left. I could see where the (presumably) fox had jumped the fence and eaten five chickens, piles of feathers in five different places. I was out the previous day but from the fact that one chicken was still alive and the amount of eggs laid, the ‘killer’ had come in during the day. There was one chicken, now allied Houdini, who was trotting around happily. It was an awful sight (and site). I don’t know how Houdini escaped the ‘killer’ except that she was probably laying. This is the first time I have seen any evidence of a fox, and certainly the first time any chickens have been killed. This is devastating. It’s not just the scene of destruction but the fact that these hens were in my care, they trusted me. I tried to catch my Houdini, managed to pick her up but because I was so upset, I dropped her again. I wanted to put her with my two ‘retired’ hens; chickens are sociable animals, they like to be with other hens and humans. I left her for the time-being, locked in the inner sanctum of her hen house and will try again today. Foxes always return to the scene of their crime and I don’t want it to have the last pickings.
It seems ironic to find an Emma Bridgewater tea towel with the first line “A garden without chickens………” on this day but it seems appropriate to include it.
I know a lot of people who have lost their chickens to foxes; it is the danger for having reasonably free range chickens. They have managed to restock and carry on, maybe even have another visit from a fox at a later date. My immediate reaction is that I can’t think about it. I just need to protect the three that I have left and see what happens in the future. As I use this tea towel, I will remember the joy that my chickens have given me already, the devastation of yesterday, the resilience of Houdini and plans for the future.
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