Saturday, 3 March 2018

Keeping Hens

Today on Facebook I was reminded by a childhood friend about my first memory of keeping Chickens.  Her father a hard working doctor just loved chickens and at one time had a pen of them in their garden.  Of course I was quite young then.  During the periods the family were away, I remember being on chicken duty, and having to see to water and grain each day.

I do remember clearly the incident  when a very large and strong cockerel went for a scab on my knee, and blood spurted out.  However this did not put me off and the next day, I went in with a bandaged knee, and one of our gardeners armed with a yard brush to steer Rico away.  There were other hens too but the image of Rico a large and beautifully feathered cockerel remained with me.

When my son was young I was looking for 'pet ideas' and settled on hens.   I realise that the urge to keep hens was for myself and started way back when I used to look after Uncle George's chickens.
I used to have an allotment in South Marston, and it is from there I became friends with a local farming family.  I learnt to look after hens etc...however, in the end I bought lovely Maran Eggs from Corinne each week, and we ended up with a dog instead!  If you know about Marans then you will know that they lay the darkest of darkest brown eggs...think chocolate!

Many years later, when I was looking for an interest when I was very busy working, it was suggested that I join The Cotswold Pheasant and Rare Breed Club.  I ended up choosing to keep a few Bantam Hens. 

I loved sitting in the garden early in the morning watching the hens, and would often have my morning cuppa very early before setting off for work.  The hens even recognised the sound of my car, even though there was a similar car further down the close.  David would shout out to me: "For goodness sake go and say hello to the hens, they are waiting by the back door for you".

The keeping of hens period was  back before the times I started this blog...and looking back over the old pictures,  found one shrub that I have to find room for in the new garden:  Rosa Canary Bird:  Such a pretty Spring Show....

We planned for the hens, and traveled around looking for arks, none have all the features we wanted, Mr S designed and built the hens a 'bespoke' dwelling.  It had two floors, with perches and nest box accessible from the outside, and easy to clean.  During the day when we were not at home the hens were kept in their house as we backed onto woods where Mr Renard could have sulked.  Yes that is one thing I learnt from the club, not to use the f word...but Mr Renard!

My first hens were a trio of Buff Rocks, and I named the Cockerel Rico after the one who pecked my knee.  Rico is short for cockorico..which is what french speaking Cockerels call instead of Cockadodledoo!  One of the hens was called Amber.  Mr S was worried about what the neighbours would say, and Rico had to go back to the breeders after the first weekend.  I wrote a letter of apology to all the neighbours with an explanation that Rico was being returned.  Despite their saying they liked the crowing, Mr S insisted he went was still Spring and he did not think their tempers would last long once the days drew out.  Bantams despite their small size pack a mighty loud crow.

In exhange for Rico and quite an large additional sum I acquired an extra two black Australop hens.  Now this breed is meant not to go broody...but Jet, so maned on account of her more pointy tail, must have been the exception.  The other was named Ebony.  

One season I bought a mixed assortment of fertilized eggs for Jet to sit on.  Mr S built a seperate box, and true to her previous broody nature Jet made an excellent mother hen.

She was really patient waiting for remaining eggs to hatch...but I think they were barren.

Always corralling her chicks within hours she introduced them to different areas of the garden

One of their favourite patches was where the golden marjoram grew.

Even as the grew they had their own separate dust bath area

They loved roosting high up.  As it drew towards midsummer it became a game of hunt the hens before shutting them up each night.  For a few nights we gave up totally...but found them again the next morning very early at their feeders.  We did find out where they roosted...up on the stretchers of our large garden umbrella which we left open to offer shade to the junior's nest box.

The rest of the hens are in ecstasy here in their own dust bath area.

Neighbours and friends children loved to be amongst the very small hens, and we were on the afternoon walk paths of many locals who used to peer through the fence.  This was a little before the big back garden hen keeping revival and the development of plastic eglus, and many children had never seen hens and chicks.

Here are the hens coming to sit on my have to have them tame and used to being handled to show them.  Its a very good way to check them out.

All good things come to an end.  We did find a very home for them all, including the house, all the feed, oyster shells, feeders etc.  Its been great reminiscing with Mr S about this period in our lives. 


  1. Lovely post Noelle, you have reminded me of my hens, we reared chicks as well,good fun.

    Have you thought about having a bee hive in your new garden, bees are a lovely addition to any garden.

    1. It's a great way to observe animal behaviour...after taking the cockerel away one of the girls took on the role and started crowing...but not as well of course. I have toyed several times with the thought of keeping bees, even bought books and guides, maybe my son could be persuaded in a year or too. We do support local bees and use a couple of pounds of local honey a month.

  2. I am very nostalgic about keeping hens from the days of growing up next door to my grandparents, we both kept lots of poultry. I do love to hear the sound of chickens in the garden.
    Perhaps when I can no longer maintain the garden I will turn it over to hens and wildlife.

    1. There is not quite as soothing as the sound of happy hens...thanks for reminding me of that Brian.

    2. Oh those eggs are such beautiful colours Noelle. Our next door neighbour when we were children kept hens and I still remember the great sense of excitement when any of them escaped into our garden. Now it's nice to hear other plot holder's chickens clucking away in the background when I'm at the allotment.