It’s been a quiet year without any hens and the time’s almost come to restock my flock, this time at our new Peaks and Pods location. My last lot of laying ladies met with an untimely end when they became dinner for a fox, and worst of all it took my all-time favourite hen Ivy (so-called as she only had one eye). Ivy was a feisty character and stood up for herself against the hen bullies. We gave her a special low perch and nesting box, and she was happy in her own feathers, laying well for many a season. Ivy was one of ten hens – Black Rocks and Warrens. Whilst the Warrens could lay eggs for Britain, the Black Rocks were hardier and didn’t just keel over from giddy egg-laying.
This time the hens need to be enclosed in a run. We can’t have them nipping in and out of the camping pods, or sunbathing on the decking, and we definitely don’t want any foxes to get to them again. They need to be confined, but I don’t want them pacing the perimeter fence like prisoners about to stage The Great Escape – they needed stimulation, a perfect pad for poultry.
I’ve been dreaming of how to upcycle materials that we already have on the farm. I want to include different heights, levels, textures and areas to shelter or hide, and maybe even a swing. Pretty much Alton Towers for hens. Chicken aficionado Suzie Baldwin believes that it’s particularly important to provide your hens with some entertainment when as the nights get darker and they spend more time confined to the run.
“Old CDs hung up give them something different to look at,” says Suzie in her beautiful book ‘Chickens’. “A perch hung like a swing provides hours of amusement. Old logs for them to jump on and peck at are good too. You can fill clear balls with mealworms and make some holes in them, so that when the chickens peck and push them around, the mealworms drop out. This is much more fun than just throwing the mealworms on the floor.” Suzie even made a scarecrow for her hens to sit on and explore.
Tomorrow Kitty and I have a rare free Sunday. John will be milking, so we will have a good rummage around the farmyard and buildings. I know we have old tractor tyres, usually used to weigh down the silo sheet, but nobody will miss a few. They’ll provide a sturdy platform for hens to hop onto. Filled with sand or soil they’ll be perfect for bathing on a sunny day, and filled with bark they’ll be great for exploring and rooting up grubs. We might find some old clay pipes, logs and offcuts of wood that we can fashion into a swing.
My heavenly haven for hens is still in the planning stage (more essential things like drainage and landscaping are still going on), but soon we’ll have a chance to make our dreams real. John’s old CD collection may soon be put to better use!