If you work at Raystede, it’s likely that sooner or later you are going to be coming home with an animal or two. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be four and they would be of the feathered variety.
In June, shortly after my birthday, we welcomed three ex commercial hens and one cockerel to our back garden and our lives. I’d always like the idea of keeping chickens but did not anticipate quite how much I would fall in love with my little flock. Chickens, to the uninitiated, may appear nervous, stupid and even a little feral but once you have spent any real time with them it’s impossible not to be converted by their unique charm. They incredibly relaxing to be around and very companionable in their own way.
The girls; Clara, Desiree and Eva are all completely unique in character and personality with even their eggs being easy to identity as they look quite different depending on who laid them. Clara is the matriarch, making her stately progress around the garden and occasionally reminding the others of their place, Eva the independent spirit who is also the most prolific layer and Desiree is the princess with a penchant for dust bathing and leading the others into mischief.
I always wanted a cockerel. My husband was nervous at the prospect, concerned about the effect on our neighbours but I was insistent. Cockerels suffer a bad press of being aggressive and noisy and as most domestic settings can only accommodate one, suitable and willing homes are few and far between.
The sad truth is most are culled at birth or in their first year with huge pressure on centres like Raystede to take those that keepers cannot bear to slaughter but cannot keep. We discussed it with our happily very accommodating neighbours beforehand and so Duke, a splendid cuckoo Marans with magnificent chequered black and white feathers, joined the crew.
As with all rescue pets there is something very special about knowing you have given a second chance to an animal. Looking at them snoozing in a patch of Autumn sunshine or coming running over for a handful of corn feels like a small miracle every day. Adopting has meant Raystede has space for more hens to have a happy retirement and for more cockerels to have a future. They make me smile with their antics and curious, cheeky natures and I love the way they bustle out of the coop in the morning, ready to welcome the new day. It's impossible not to feel optimistic when you share your life with chickens!
My little flock have become extremely spoilt in their appetites, turning up their noses at budget cherry tomatoes (how they know the difference between that and Tesco’s finest, I am unclear, but they do) but it gives me such pleasure to see them so content. Duke especially will do a little dance of happiness when presented with purple seedless grapes.
A word of warning; chickens are highly addictive! I am currently engaged in a battle with my husband over adding another two girls to our flock (he claims he is worried about the wear and tear on the garden; I believe he fears eventually being entirely overrun by poultry). The garage is known as my ‘Mad Chicken Lady Headquarters’ as it is packed with feed bins, supplements and bedding. I have been reprimanded for ignoring the guests that had driven five hours to see us because I was too engrossed in the chicken encyclopedia we found in the pub we had gone to for dinner.
In short there is a danger of total obsession with no known cure. But if you are thinking about getting chickens and are prepared for the commitment which is part of sharing your life with any animal, I can’t recommend them enough.
Just remember, a garden without chickens is like a stage without actors!
Read more about the application process here. I promise you won't regret it! Adopt a Hen