At last, the girls are free. Their release date was brought forward two weeks owing to a combination of factors, the biggest of which is that I bought a new coop and run for them and was then mortified at how small the new pen looked in comparison to their old one. Despite the description for the coop and run as “suitable for up to eight chickens” (not unless you want to keep them with precious little more space than battery hens) I couldn’t bear seeing them squashed together so decided it was time for them to mix with the rest of the flock.
The Cockerel was even more delighted than my hens by their new found freedom and appears to have acquired a new lease of life flirting and indeed, mating with the new members of his harem. I had been given dire warnings about how he could break the back of a weak ex battery hen, yet other than the loss of a few feathers mine don’t seem too phased by his ministrations. In fact the whole thing is over so fast I can hardly believe that the deed has in fact been done at all. He spies a hen he fancies, shimmies up to her quite literally shaking his tail feathers and arching his neck while the hen in question looks on disdainfully. With his little performance of impending virility over he jumps on to her back, grabs some neck feathers with his beak (to cling on I suppose) and thrusts a few times in the direction of my hens bottom. Meanwhile my poor hen has flattened herself against the grass and looks somewhat shocked and then relieved when the ordeal is over several seconds later. With a good shake she struts off in search of worms, which from the looks of it is a far more satisfying endeavour than the one she just endured.
The girls are, of course, absolutely loving their new space and I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from watching them scratching around in the dirt, taking dust baths, sun bathing (yes, hens do sunbathe and I will get a picture to prove it) and flapping and stretching their wings. I never realised that a chicken could have such engaging personalities. One in particular, Mrs Tufty, has become incredibly tame and follows me about waiting for treats or cuddles. Because it is so easy to pick her up she gets singled out for special treatment and accompanies me to my vegetable garden to help me do some digging. Well, really she just waits for me to dig then leaps in to peck up the worms and insects that get unearthed, but it feels like she is helping me.
I am still battling red mite, the lovely chicken coop I bought leaks in three places, Feathers has a cough and I can see vets bills looming, Two Tone looks like she might be developing ‘scaly leg’ (another common chicken disease but probably caught from the cockerel who looks like he has it) and the other hens keep laying in my coop so we don’t know whose eggs are whose. Despite all these problems, watching Mrs Tufty trip daintily through the tomato plants and runner beans with the sun dappled on her feathers makes all the work involved worth it, not to mention the incredibly delicious eggs we now get to eat every day.
Here is the latest clip we took of our girls out enjoying their new enclosure: