View from the Whitehouse – Chickens

Maggy Whitehouse
Maggy Whitehouse

I may have a few talents but I’m definitely not a chicken whisperer. Last year, I purchased three bantams at point of lay.

I thought that, being smaller, they’d be less destructive than the Marans we’d had before. Pardon me while I laugh bitterly at the wreck that once was the rockery…

What I really hadn’t counted on was a) the lightness and b) the flat-out awkwardness of these mini-chickens as they conspired to get through, round, under and over the fence of the paddock to lay their eggs everywhere except in their hay-filled nesting box.

They lay surreptitiously in the garden, in the sheep field, in the hedge and on the common land opposite our house. We’ve tried trimming their wings but they just walk through the fence. Or bounce.

Bantams also prefer to roost in trees and I’m embarrassed to say that many’s the time when I’ve gone out half an hour late in the evening to tempt them home with supper and I’ve had to knock them out of the bushes with a broom handle in order to chase them into the safety of the coop overnight.

We spend hours searching for eggs once a week while they glare at us resentfully and plan their new hiding place and, given that it’s been winter, the hoard is still quite edible. New recipes for omelettes always welcome!

In the middle of February, one of the bantams turned broody. We don’t have a cockerel so she was on a hiding to nothing. You might also have thought she would have laid a couple of eggs actually in the box before deciding to try and hatch the hay instead, but no.

She sat, hunched, in the empty nesting box day in, day out, having to be lifted out in order to be encouraged to eat and drink while radiating her despondency. Because I’m a softie, I picked up a couple of chicken eggs from the batch on sale outside the farm down the road and put them underneath her to give her something to do while she got over it.

I’d like to point out that the eggs were stone cold when I got them and had been in the sale box for several hours at least. They could easily have been more than a day old.

But, of course, three weeks to the day, when I went to let the chickens out of the coop, I heard the sound of cheeping. Foster-mother bantam had successfully hatched both eggs.

I moved all three into the barn at speed to keep them safe from predators like our cat. Max is an outside hunter who deals with vermin. He learnt swiftly not to mess with the Marans and, fortunately, respects the bantams but, already, he spends hours sitting on the window ledge of the barn licking his lips.

I saw the babies’ father today and he’s enormous – twice as big as the Marans and six times the size of our bantams. So I have to confess that I’m rather evilly looking forward to the day that I leave the barn door open and Max oozes in, licking his lips in anticipation — and two giant chickens jump on his head.