Sunday, 27 April 2008

Murder most fowl!

Theres been a murder!

But before I tell you about that let me tell you about the joys of keeping chickens.

We have kept a few hens for years, they don't take up much room, eat garden scraps and layers pellets and provided they are happy are very low maintenance. Devil Hen, closest to you in the picture is eight years old and very occasionally lays blue eggs. That's how they should be, egg laying. Ours eat gold, sleep in velvet lined boxes and are from time to time a blasted nuisance.

Let me explain.

When, flush with the success of owning a few birds, you buy a book of the how to keep chickens genre, you hope to find pearls of wisdom that you can use to rear your birds into fantastic egg producers. You might, as we did, start reading and realise that you have inadvertently broken every rule of chicken husbandry which makes you feel like packing up before you start.

Rule number one, it seems, is never buy an odd looking bird from the market as it closes just because you feel sorry for it. We seem to have confused never with always. Both of us have banned each other from attending a poultry market as we inevitably come back with a box containing a scrawny looking bird whilst offering our spouse lame excuses such as "It looked at me funny" or "It was lonely".

So our initial flock was full of poultry experts rejects who ate their weight in corn for little or no return.

Undaunted we bought 12 Black Rock point of lay hens. Point of lay seems to be a code poultry sellers use for "Unsure at what point they will ever lay". Now we had done our homework, Black Rocks lay 300 eggs a year each. with 12 we would have about 3600 eggs a year. If we sold them at a pound a dozen we would only need to sell 3.5 million eggs to pay off the mortgage!

In a classic variation of don't count your chickens before they've hatched, don't count your eggs until they've been laid. These lazy dozen either don't know they are supposed to be supreme layers or they are hiding their eggs and selling them on the quiet. The original 12 never came on to lay properly and got very fat on the corn supplied every morning by their hopeful owner. In fact a large white table bird bought from a back of the van in a lay by one rainy day, another thing the chicken book tells you not to do, only buy from a reputable seller it says, apparently they don't hang round lay bys plying their poultry, lays more eggs than all of them. One was even caught eating the white birds offering! It was quickly dispatched and served for Sunday roast, delicious.
A cull was immanent. Too much like hard work though, all that plucking and drawing. Luckily a visit to Gwynne's resulted in the loan of the ultimate piece of kit as far as plucking is concerned, a very old Burco Boiler, used at own risk. Since the Black Rocks saw the boiler they have suddenly started producing the much needed eggs. Six eggs a day from the dirty dozen, which six I have yet to discover but its far better than last year so for the moment they are safe. I cant risk eating the wrong six.

The book also warns against having too many bantams, small hens, as they reproduce like rabbits. Often a bantam disappears only to reappear with a dozen or so little bantam chicks. One time last year we had over forty chicks wandering around. Threatened at being over run by the fowl vermin lots were given away. Lots were coq au vin and the fox had a fair number.

Sooner or later the chicken book predicts you will want to specialise in one sort of poultry, fancy birds as it were.



Never will I ever look at a live chicken and think anything other than that would be great with gravy or wonder how many keebabs I could make out of it. I am happy with my cross bred rejects and lazy Black Rocks. The only bird I fancy is the one I married.

So quite why I came back from an agricultural show having spent a fortune with a box containing three Winnecott's, a cock now named Walter, a hen called Winnie, very original I thought and a bantam Winnecott called Winnie Small. Well we run out of names so some repetition is allowed. Winnecotts are beautiful birds, brilliant white feathers edged jet black. Tracey and I were often found watching the antics of these three, commenting on what beautiful birds they were. Show quality the bantam we decided.


If you have read this blog before you may have read the one where Faith was chewing her new toy which we found to be Winnie. Suitably chastised Faith went to her bed while Winnie recovered in a nesting box. She made a full recovery. Phew!

But worse was to come.

A few nights ago we were inspecting the work of the stable sprites who had magically appeared to do more work on the new stable block. Something was wrong. Rocky looked guilty as I looked across to the front door of the cottage. He did the canine equivalent of "Its not me its her" pointing at Faith as she shot out of the doorway with something in her mouth. I headed her off at the pass and found her muzzle covered in feathers. White ones. Edged black.

This time Winnie was hurt, seriously hurt by the front door. We put her in the nesting box but she died a few minutes later.

Faith had murdered our Winnie!

Still we had Winnie Small and she was the best of the two so perhaps we could hatch some of her eggs, get ourselves a small flock of the pretty birds, sell some perhaps.

The following day we came back from work and found Winnie Small dead on the floor, obviously death by dog but ours were safely locked away in the kennel. Perhaps it was a ramblers dog. We shall never know.

With no Winnecott hens left we stuck every egg we had in the incubator in the hope that some of them might be Winniecott offspring. I shall tell you the arcane secrets of egg hatching in another posting.

The bodies were disposed of. I tested the Burco Boiler and it worked great, plucked each both in ten minutes.

They tasted great.

Waste not want not!

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