I just can't bring myself to blog about politics at the mo, although it has been comsuming me, in a bad way, so much so that I cannot watch the news in case one of THEMcomes on. So before I start on my true, egg blog, here is a task for my 2 readers for next week. Bear with me. I have set myself the task of writing one outraged letter a week to my local MP, the Conservative Stephen Barclay, whose blondish, young-ish, Tory mug can be seen every week in our local rag, grinning as he watches the scythe of cuts ruin the Fens (further), pretending to care. It is my intention to gather as many of his asinine replies on House of Commons paper ("I share with you some concerns, but policy....all in this together.... a council matter.....central office....blah blah blah")as possible, and then with a final flourish, use them all to bed down the hens so they can shit all over him. Maybe he'd like to come to a photo shoot for that. So, pick an issue, any issue, and i'll do it in next weeks letter. Challenge!
So, with the politics/chicken poop link nicely done, I can get down to the egg lovin'.
It is now about 2 months since the 3 brown hens came into our garden (and dug most of it up). I am SO CONVERTED. I will never eat an egg that's not from a free range happy hen ever again. I get 3 , super huge, super tasty, super yellow yolked eggs per day. And they ask for so little in return. A scoop of pellets, a clean out once a week, and whatever scraps you have left over. Mine are in their nice run for the mornings, and out all afternoon. I do this because I'm out in the mornings with playgroup, and I fear for predators, but in the afternoons, they charge about the garden with the kids. They peck at the grass, eat all the weeds (goosegarass, dandelion, all gone!), eat all the pests (slug eggs, grubs, leatherjackets), try to get in to watch tv, and make themselves little dustbaths everywhere. They rummage through the gravel, chase flies, and play football with tomatoes. One is so placid she sits on the trampoline with son and allows herself to be carted around. They all nestle together under the Canna lillies and cluck. And then trot merrily back into the coop all by themselves when the dusk draws in. At which point I don the rubber gloves, pick up the poo, and say goodnight to them, knowing that in the morning, the kids will charge down to the coop with breakfast for the hens (leftover cereal is OBSESSING them), and come back with 3 warm eggs.
They are utterly charming. Everyone who has met them has gone, "Oh! Funny!" and then said "They're big, aren't they?" and that's the thing. When you buy eggs, or think of battery hens, you don't think of how big a hen actually is, or what a hen likes doing. You don't have a picture in your mind of how a hen lays. You don't know what a hen eats. The eggs from batteries are from hens who cannot run, or even stand up. They have yellow yolks because of colouring in pellets, not because of the greens and insects they've eaten. They're not sometimes ovoid rather than oval, or speckley or not, with SUPER STRONG shells, like mine are, because those chickens lead an unhappy, uniform existance, with no joy whatsoever. Find someone with hens, eat a fresh that day egg from a happy hen, and then watch the hen for a bit. Scratching about. Doing a happy triumphant cluck that that huge egg is finally out. Watch them queue to use the nesting box in the mornings (that cracks me up). Watch as one of them finds a juicy leatherjacker grub from underneath what was your bulb patch, and run off with it with others in pursuit. Realise that they are funny, bright creatures, and need a bit more than a box to live in, if they're to produce eggs for your box. Respect to the hen.
A few things i've discovered if you're thinking about hens in your garden.
- Cheap! After the initial cost of coop, woodshavings are cheap, a sack of pellets lasts ages, and if they free range, they don't eat that much anyway, as they're filling up on grubs and weeds.
- They don't wreck the garden that much. They eat weeds, pests. They WILL scratch up seedlings, and they WILL strip a bush of berries, so protect seedlings and any berries you want to eat. If it's muddy, you might want to keep them off the lawn. But they'll be great for clearing ground and veg patches before the Spring.
- They actually do make clucking noises when laying.
- Chicken poo picking up isn't as bad as nappies was.
- Don't panic about kids and chickens. A few simple rules: wash hands afterwards, don't chase, don't pick up if they don't want it will suffice. I researched hygiene, kids anc chickens online beforehand, and really, if you wash hands, and don't actually smear the poo over stuff you're fine. More danger of getting something from the dog poo on paths.
- Get some hens! And write cross letters to your MP!