“Chicken Diaries”



Early Days



The first poultry inhabitants here arrived in May 2011, when Derrick took on 3 ex-battery hens. He wanted to compliment his organic growing with fresh eggs whilst at the same time giving these hens a pleasant place to spend their retirement.


After initial settling in days it became clear that one of the hens was not well, was not laying or getting on with the other two. Unfortunately, she did not last long despite Derrick’s efforts to build up her strength through diet and gentle coaxing. The other two “ladies” as they were affectionately labelled however, over the year that followed, flourished. A daily supply provided by them, meant Derrick was kept in plenty of delicious free range “eggy” breakfasts. I was quick to request them on my regular visits too! Even the barmaid at Derrick’s local benefitted of a weekly gifted supply for her baking!


When the “ladies” were not busy laying eggs, they spent their time assisting with the up keep of the garden. They proved to be extremely good little rotovators! Churning up all the weeds and shoots with their scratting and gorging themselves on all the grubs. And of course there was all the wonderful manure they produced! Derrick was certainly grateful of their help and maximised the results by transferring them systematically across his raised beds.


All was well and by the time I moved here in April 2012 they were well and truly at home and settled in their surroundings.


But that was all about to change.............................





A knock on the door from a nearby neighbour one morning was, unbeknown to our “ladies” and indeed to us, was to change the cosy set up we were used to. They were enquiring as to whether we would be interested in taking on two hens that they had been given by a family member but were unable to care for them adequately. Derrick, never one to say no to an opportunity like that, and I went to have a look and decided we could offer them a new home as friends for our two current garden inhabitants. Derrick being swayed by the fact that one appeared to be of Welsummer breed. So, tucked under his arms they travelled the three doors down to our back garden. Now for the big introduction!


After a wing clip, they were put into the pen with the ladies. Cue lots of squawking, wing flapping and reared necks! Nobody was happy with this turn of events! But after a bit of research we discovered that this was usual behaviour in the “pecking order” and that it should settle down gradually. Or so we thought......


We noticed that the new chickens were “double teaming” our ladies with one cornering them and the other sitting on them! Rather amusing to watch at first as it reminded us of kids in the playground but after a while it was quite distressing. After a couple of days, we took the decision to separate the two pairs. We just weren’t sure how!


After his usual Thursday night visit to our local, and a discussion which uncovered a clause in allotment agreements that allows plot holders to keep chickens, our dilemma was solved.


The “bullies” were transferred from garden to allotment (they got on fine together). Here, Derrick used his same method of moving the pen around the raised beds. So rotovating and manuring now began on the allotment. And of course our egg supply increased. A good thing as I had started baking myself and needed them for my cakes!


Once again life ticked over for our hens. For the time being anyway.........


Evil Chicken!



After a few months of relative harmony, Derrick noticed that one of the adopted hens appeared to be turning on its companion. Monitoring them over the course of a couple of days confirmed this suspicion.  She was pecking at the Welsummer’s head and had drawn blood. It was downhill from there and sadly the Welsummer was never to recover. Lesson learnt, Hannibal, as we had nicknamed the other hen, was kept in solitary confinement from that day on. Derrcik decided to swap the pens around and bought Hannibal back to the garden and put our ladies on the allotment site. They were very happy with all the space and digging they could be doing while evil chicken brooded away by herself.


Eventually, it was clear we had a demon chicken in our midst as she was now eating her own eggs and was even eyeing up human prey as we walked past. Needless to say her days were numbered! Neither use nor ornament she was put out of her (and our!) misery.


And so......we were back to just our lovely ladies. They were to enjoy peace and quiet throughout the winter and well into the spring together.


Poorly hen



In the spring of 2013, one of our ladies started to show signs of ill health, just sitting all day not really wanting to do much of anything at all. We were very worried and were willing her to perk up and get stuck in with her pal in the new enclosure that Derrick had worked so hard to establish. They had a whole quarter of the allotment by this stage and were able to wander free range all day from breakfast until dusk when Derrick would “put them to bed”. Things had been good for the ladies for a while. However, it was clear that this poor love had reached the end. We hope her last couple of years had been enjoyable and relaxing after her days of hard work at the battery farm.


The remaining hen was officially given the name “lady” and was Derrick’s faithful friend from that day on. She would never be far from his side when he was pottering in the enclosure with her. She would coo and cluck away quietly to him as he worked. Pecking at his boots and getting under his feet in a race to keep up with him. Such a heart warming sight. One thing we had learnt is that chickens really do have individual characters and personalities. This one had a very loving and loyal nature. Derrick, Myself and Megan were all very fond of her.





Over time Derrick’s thoughts turned to further expansion and adding to our chicken empire! Deciding Lady needed company and also a desire to add to our egg supply, he sourced some ex battery hens from a place called “Fresh Start” and he obtained five new additions. Whilst we awaited the pick-up date, Derrick spruced up the old chicken house along with Lady’s help of course! Giving it a lick of paint and ensuring it was safe and secure. It looked very posh. Lucky new chickens!


Collection day came and we were very pleased with the condition of our new friends. They were in much better shape than our original ladies were. We couldn’t quite believe they were at the end of their battery life but we were not about to argue! So it was off home to do the introductions.


Well, it is safe to say that Lady was not best pleased to see these “intruders” and boy did she let us and them, know about it! Squawking and flapping ensued and continued for a couple of days while she made her displeasure clear and of course to show these newbies who was boss! No harm came to any of them though I hasten to add. She was all mouth and no trousers as it were. But Derrick got the cold shoulder for a few days! Hee hee!


One of our newbies was limping and not looking in the best of states after a day, so Derrick isolated her as it was rather lively in the enclosure with everyone trying to establish their place. He wanted to give her the best chance possible to gather her strength and re-join her fellow hens. We were not optimistic however, but this tough cookie would go on to prove us so wrong!


As our newbies settled in and the poorly chicken was tended to, we were rewarded with a healthy supply of fresh eggs and an entertaining sight while we worked and enjoyed the Summer sunshine.


The Enemy



The peace and happiness was shattered the following Monday afternoon, one week and two days after we bought our newbies home. As I returned from work, Derrick met me at our front gate to tell me the awful news that we had suffered a fox attack and that we had lost hens. Four dead, one injured. My first thought was for our faithful “Lady”. He told me she had been taken. There was no sight of her.


So we had lost five. That left us with one severely traumatised hen and of course our poorly patient who was saved by her lame leg and the fact that she was in a separate pen to convalesce.


I was devastated by this and the thought of what they must have gone through and Derrick went round in circles going over the why’s and wherefore’s of what had happened. Megan’s first question was the same as mine, what had happened to Lady. She was sad and incredibly cross with the “bad” fox. That hen had certainly made an impression and is still fondly remembered today.





After the initial shock, thoughts turned to rebuilding and a sense of determination that this would never happen again. Derrick was adamant a fox would never again affect us this way, despite having thought we were already protected.


He set about changing the pens about and “fox proofing” the enclosure. We researched all means of repellents and decided to use them all. Better safe than sorry. From men’s wee to human hair, obtained from our hairdresser (who were only too willing to help protect our flock!). We had it all.


Poorly chicken was doing well and recovering at a steady pace. Unfortunately, the traumatised hen did not make it. She sat in stunned silence for days not eating or drinking an eventually it was clear she was not going to recover, poor thing.


Finally, poorly chicken showed her steel and was released into the enclosure and flourished over the coming days with the place all to herself. Feathers growing back and no sign of a limp, she was one happy hen. She established herself as Derrick’s new assistant, and we now affectionately call her “Mrs” as she reminds me of a little old lady with a blue rinse! Hee Hee!


Derrick put us down for three new hens from the next batch from “Fresh Start” and although these were in quite a poor state compared to the last batch, we were quietly confident that they would prosper in our little chicken kingdom!


We were right and recently added another four batteries from “Fresh Start”, who were of the same quality as the first batch from there, bringing our current battery stock to eight. They have “free range” all day and are locked away overnight safe from the dangers of foxes and other potential predators. They spend their day’s scratting and gorging on the juicy worms they and Derrick bring up from the soil with their digging. They are also very nosey and love to be involved with everything that is going on. Making their little cooing and clucking noises. It amuses me because they always sound so worried! We have a very healthy supply of eggs from which we benefit and so do friends and family.