Hens are funny things. They provide hours of entertainment just by being hens. My little brood of ladies consist of the ‘princesses’ – an ancient collection of ‘Welsummers’, that are very prim and correct and do not mix too well with the ‘ex-bats’. These so-called ex bat girls are the real renegades. They have survived a tortuous existence as factory farmed hens living in tiny battery cages (no, these haven’t been banned, they have been made bigger, but then have been packed with more hens), and thanks to the British Hen Welfare Society, have been rescued to be re-homed.
I admire their plucky little spirits and thus, they are all named after the valiant suffragettes. Sadly, their lives are short. They are bred to lay eggs then die. However, one or two hang on in there and make it to a ripe old hen age. Because of this short life span, I regularly have to restock. Alan plays hell and tries to insist I buy ‘normal’ hens that lay normal eggs and do normal hen things. As usual, I nod and agree, then go and do exactly what it was I had originally planned to do. I love my ex-bat suffragette ladies with their pioneering spirits.
At each rehoming, I vow to bring home the healthiest of the bunch – every time one dies, I mourn their little lives and it hurts. Every time I arrive at the rehoming centre, I head straight for the most pitiful and broken little beings and take all of these motley crew home. Invariably one is always lame – which in hen terms means it walks like John Cleese. This hen earns the honour of being called Cicely Hamilton. The scruffiest and most moth-eaten is Emily Davison, as I assume the original Emily Davison looked a little worse for wear after going under the King’s horse. There is always a Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton, an Emmeline Pankhurst, Annie Henney (Kenney, for those in the know) and so on. I confess to making up the name of Fanny Goodwill for one of my hens – there really should have been a suffragette with this name. I had to smile to myself when she ended up at the vets one day; I sat and waited for the pained expression upon the surgeon’s face when they hollowed out ‘Fanny Goodwill’ across the packed waiting room. The vets see quite a few of my hens. These little girls come home with a long list of ailments that I know the vets will sort – well apart from the hen that swelled up, and upon being turned upside down to assess, promptly died; or the one with the badly broken leg that couldn’t be saved. The vet kindly asked if I wanted to take her little body home. I declined, but rather regretted it when the vet bill came back and there was a charge for her incineration – Alan muttered something about the cost of roast chicken and I’m sure there was something in his outburst that sounded like ‘plucking bells’… Perhaps it was the £130 charge for the wing amputation in another of the broken ladies that he was referring to.
However, these ladies live out the rest of their days in unadulterated hen luxury as is befitting for their circumstances. At one point I created a hen playground for them, as an enrichment programme to keep them entertained. Unfortunately it entertained the local rat population more, which then turned into a battle of wits of trying to out manoeuvre the rats. They, quite naturally, won. It was time to re-home them. I decided to dig them out – expecting to find half a dozen or so. As I dug, the ground seemed to move, then it opened up in fifty different places as fat rats, thin rats, big rats and small all evacuated their premises and headed out to the four winds. It was like something off ‘splat-a-rat’ except that I didn’t splat a thing, just watched in morbid fascination as they ran over my wellies and headed for freedom. I dismantled their home and apart from an odd hardened gnarly old timer that helps himself to the odd egg now and then, they haven’t returned.
Hens love nothing more than to scrat around in the soil looking for wiggly things and discussing it at great length with their fellow compatriots. If the ground happens to be disturbed for any reason, they are there, like mini dinosaurs, scratting and chatting and generally getting under one’s feet. So, it came to the time to lay the electricity cables down for the glamping site. A relatively straight forward job for Alan and his digger – except that the pipe needed to go from our old ‘cow-house’ as it is so eloquently called, down through the hen run, out through the horses’ field, into the top field and then into the area that is the glamping site. This distance necessitated a massive electric cable – as thick as my wrist, as well as two other cables that have something to do with the internet, it also required a massive trench. The hens were in hen heaven. Alan was in hen hell. He was under strict instructions to not run over any hen or turkey that was on any suicide mission. Hens dive bombed the trench, back-filled it with scratting, squawked manically, ran headless in front of the digger, feathers were ruffled, worms were consumed and finally, the trench was dug. Not one hen lost its life. Mission accomplished. Then it rained. I’m trying hard not to mention the bit about my beautiful green hen run now resembling the Somme, claggy clay clinging like Golem onto my boots. Hens skidding and doing hand break turns on their wings as they run for their breakfast. It’ll dry, the grass will grow, I will again be able to sunbathe with my feathered friends in their green and pleasant home, and the natural order of summer will resume. Hopefully.