Friday, 1 June 2007

Hen stuff

Having said I'd write mostly about books, this is actually going to be about hens. In an effort to get it partly on topic, I could tell you about the hens in the Jill books, which are the most obvious hens I can think about in any pony book. Incidentally, Jill has an anti-hen rant in "Jill's Gymkhana" - a rant which never saw the light of day in the later Knight paperbacks. Maybe the publishers thought it was just too much. I will try and dig it out and quote it, but maybe not today.

Still: my hens. We have four, well, to be accurate 2 hens and 2 bantams. The hens are standard brown hybrids, called Mother Hen and Matilda, and the banties are Pekin cross (we think) and called Rose and Mary. We had them as a friend of mine who is emigrating to Canada needed to reclaim her garden, which the hens had destroyed. I must say, before having the hens, I had misty-eyed romantic dreams about having an eglu and the hens scratching around in the garden, with me drifting round scattering corn and collecting the eggs. If I had, for even an hour, let them loose in my garden, I would have turned into a ranting and gibbering wreck. Our hens march regardless through everything, and what they don't eat, they uproot. So, the hens were duly installed in the overgrown wreck that was once our sand school (a total lack of any horses now meaning there's not a lot of incentive to weed it. And we haven't. For years.)

I may not have been naive enough to put the hens, unfenced, into the garden, but I was naive enough to believe what I was told, which was that the hens would stay thereabouts in bounds. I suppose I ought to mention here that they weren't wing clipped either. It didn't take the girls long before they worked out that I had only managed to find enough wire to make half the sand school secure (one of the few times I have been grateful that we never, ever throw anything out, though I can't say I enjoyed clambering over heaps of unstable junk in a barn propped up with acros to find the chicken wire, which was of course right at the back). Them wandering into the field wasn't too bad, though of course it did increase the possibility of the girls meeting The Fox, but I managed to stay reasonably calm about these excursions. What did for them though, was escaping into the graveyard (which borders our field) and meeting the church ladies coming out of their Lent Course.

Fortunately some of the church ladies are used to hens, and shoved them into my front garden, apart from one of the banties, who flew back of her own accord. "I didn't know they could do that," said one of my neighbours, who was helping with the hen drive. "Not for long," I thought, "not for long." All the girls were duly wing clipped by a noble friend: we did them at 10.00pm after we'd been to the Church's "Desert Island Discs", as one does. All, that is, apart from Rose Bantam who had re-escaped, but this time ended up in another neighbour's garden. Fortunately I get on well with my neighbours, as I spent much of the next day in their garden trying to entice Rose back. I retired at last, defeated, to pack the day's orders and while I was away Rose managed to find her way back to the stable where I had shut the others until the vast amounts of chicken wire I'd ordered to secure the rest of the school turned up.

So, the hens were in hen purdah in the stable for a couple of days until I and my very long-suffering husband, on one of the coldest and most revolting days of the year (it was snowing, as well as blowing a gale) tacked up the new wire. We then had a couple of weeks of grace until the girls discovered that there were still a few vulnerabilities in our defences. Our neighbours became expert at putting the hens back, and I became used to handing out eggs as thank-yous, which is I suppose one advantage of hens. My daughter and I spent a lot of time crawling round the perimiter fences, rattling corn, to entice the hens so that we could see where they were getting out, and eventually we managed to block off all gaps, though I must say our once lovely field gate does not look its best with a variety of bits of marine ply blocking up the gaps. And did I mention the noble sacrifice of all my fruit cage netting? This blocks the gaps between the gate planks, as by this point we had run out of even the mammoth amount of chicken wire I had bought.

Still, for the last few months, the hens have stayed put, and I can't agree with Jill in thinking that the hens are soul-less creatures who only love food. They are undoubtedly very keen on food, but they have endearing characters too and I can waste hours simply watching them. (So, if you order a book from me and I happen to be a bit slow, you'll know who to blame!)

3 comments:

VanessaR said...

See - that's why I don't have hens, all that Heath-Robinson stuff with chicken wire and marine ply.

Now, a nice tasteful design-icon type Eglu in the garden - that I could do!

Jane said...

I quite fancied the idea of Eglu myself - it's the destruction of the garden I couldn't handle.

VanessaR said...

I don't think they destroy the garden with an Elu - they just stay in it all the time I think. Which doesn't exactly sound the kind free-range, organic thing I was hoping for.... maybe a rethink necessary.