View from the Whitehouse

Maggy Whitehouse
Maggy Whitehouse

We’ve got chickens. It’s lovely to have fresh, free-range eggs and, up until now, the chooks haven’t been much trouble.

That is, as long as you don’t mind legging it to the paddock in dressing gown and wellies at 10pm because you forgot to shut them in … and you understand that chickens like dying.

They’re like sheep in that respect. Mike, our local farmer, asked us to keep an eye out for sheep on their backs when we moved here. Apparently, sheep have a habit of lying down, getting stuck and giving up the ghost. “Sheep love dyin’,” he said lugubriously. His sheep certainly like trying to throttle themselves with their heads through the squares in the wire fence.

Chickens are more versatile on the killing themselves front. If they can’t find a friendly fox they’ll decapitate themselves in strawberry netting, hang themselves upside down from the fencing in the paddock or start laying strange pink rubbery things called lashes which means that they’re planning an internal explosion.

We had ex-battery hens to start with. They are about 18 months old — about the age that chickens stop laying daily — and they come with a shocking lack of feathers and floppy combs. But the moment they get into a paddock, they remember their essential chicken-ness and start on worms, and bugs with relish, lay fairly regularly in their egg box and go to bed in their hutch.

You have to have three of them as a minimum because one of them is already planning to die — possibly she thinks she is already in heaven — but they’ll give you a couple of years of eggs while being friendly and, for some reason, attracting utterly ridiculous names.

When we got our first ex-bats we’d just been to Montana, USA, where Lewis and Clark, the great explorers had re-named three rivers Philosophy, Philanthropy and Wisdom after the virtues of Thomas Jefferson who had funded their expedition. As soon as they’d moved on, the locals happily returned to calling the rivers Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby. However, our first chickens duly became Philosophy, Philanthropy and Wisdom or Phil, Fan and Wiz for short.

This time, we got bantams.

Bantams are bonkers. Adorable but bonkers. They also attract weird names – ours are Darcie Silver, Meretisa Halliwell and Ruzica Hezeli (and make sure you get the spelling right or they complain like crazy) but much, much worse than that, they are escape artists.

Day one, they went to bed in their coop and the one who’s at point-of-lay laid a nice egg.

Day two they got up into the leylandii before dusk and I couldn’t get them down and Darcie escaped into the hedge and hid her egg there.
Day three, we wired off the leylandii and the bank so Darcie flew over the fence, laid in the field where a sheep trod on it and in at 4pm all three climbed eight foot into the hazel trees instead.

Day four we wired off the field and cut their wings. Darcie still vanished over the fence and all three ended up eight feet up in the hazel tree with clipped wings!

Right now, they’re grounded. Stuck in the coop for a week so they get used to it. I have been attempting to explain to them over the pathetic chuck-chucking that’s going on, that this is intended to be a symbiotic relationship; they get yummy food and protection from predators and gales and, in return, we get eggs.

‘No opportunities to die in there!’ I thought, foolishly.

Ever tried the Heimlich manoeuvre on a chicken with a mealworm stuck in its neck?