A couple of days ago I headed up to Suffolk to collect two new Buff Orpington hens to add to the brood (and to replace our sadly fox-eaten hen). They were bought from ‘Henhouse’ (www.hen-house.co.uk), a great family-run supplier of free-reared chickens. The place itself was amazing to visit, with breeds of all kinds mixed together, free to roam the extensive grounds of the property. While there, I couldn’t resist bringing back a friend for my now come-of-age and lonely Thuringian cockerel. It’s been tricky trying to incorporate him into the henhouse along with the other two, as they’d peck him relentlessly, and so particularly because of him being so small. As his mum was the chicken lost to the fox he’s had a bit of a sad and lonesome life so far.
So I found a suitable friend for him in the form of a ‘Silver-Laced Wyandotte’, a similarly coloured but smaller breed, and put all six of the chickens in together. Naturally he fell in love immediately, and hopefully this new found masculinity will put him on the road to top of the pecking order. Once he’s learned how to assert himself over the four enormous Orpingtons..
Although a job somewhat overdue, the short stretch of sunshine a few weeks ago meant that I was able to finally collect up last year’s hay and store it away. Removing the outer exposed layer, I was really pleased to see how well aired the contents of the stack had been, enabling the cut to dry out and soften in the mound. It’s amazing actually, considering just how wet the preceding months had been. I believe there is more of a traditional art to stacking hay in this way that, through strategic rather than haphazard layering, further enables it to dry out without soaking in rain water. I’m happy enough with this year’s lot for now though.
I was fortunate to have the kind assistance of Lucy Scott of Lost in London Magazine (a must for all country-at-heart Londoners: www.lostinlondonmagazine.com) for the afternoon. And so together we filtered the best of the grass into the smaller shed, where it will remain over the coming Autumn and Winter, gradually being put to use as chicken coop bedding.
Once the stack was empty I thought it was only fair to let the hens come down to have a scratch around the remaining base for any last hangers-on, before finally mowing it clean. However, the ground won’t remain bare for long; the cycle begins all over again this month as the meadows are cut once more and are stacked to dry out for next year’s hay.
I’ve now moved our broody into the tortoise pen so that she is more comfortable and away from the other two. The tortoises are temporarily bunking in with me in the shed.
My bantam-breeding friend Alex has sent me some fertile mixed bantam eggs in the post and I’ve now placed them under the hen, removing all but two of the original infertile eggs, just in case it confuses her. Frustratingly she doesn’t seem to want to feed or drink herself so I’m taking her off the nest once a day for 10-15 minutes to have a drink, feed and a quick scratch around.
I’m still uncertain whether it will be possible to raise bantams under an orpington, but time will tell. 18 days to go..
One of our three Orpingtons is sitting. She has been doing so for long stretches of the day and yesterday was the first day she didn’t leave the nest box at all. A friend of mine is posting me some fertile eggs from his collection of bantams in Carmarthenshire, Wales; I hope she remains on the nest long enough for them to arrive.
Meanwhile the other two are having to make do with eachother’s company.
As is typical for most gardeners, March is much less of an ease into Spring as it is a fraught rush through the last of the Winter bulk jobs. There are wonderful signs all around however, that indicate the season of rebirth and intense colour has begun, and we’re midway through the age old procession of common bulb blooms; from crocuses all the way to alliums. I’ve watched the snowdrops and aconites fade, giving way to anemones, daffodils and Iris’. The tulips are now waving with full heads in the wind and soon there’ll be fritillaries in the woodland glade. Further steps in the succession of Spring bulbs will bring muscari, cammasias and bluebells, and this reliable story told annually through the specific make up of these flowers is unlike any other I can think of in the calendar.
But returning to the tasks at hand, and with an improvised deadline of Easter Sunday, I have still yet to finish the pond and the car park beds. These are both areas of the garden I have not spent a great deal of time working in, and I am determined to have them up to scratch and looking their best by the holiday. The race continues..
With the shed finally cleared, cleaned and woodstove-installed, I have reached the settled feeling I’ve been after from the start. It took some time to establish the best channel and collect the appropriate piping, and after a day’s grind under an encouraging clear sky, I now have a fire with which to heat, cook and ‘contemplate’. Wasted little time in putting it to use too.
To celebrate, I thought it fitting to spread the air of belonging to my tireless comrades in residence and construct a perch under the log store for the chickens. Man needs a fire, chicken needs a perch.