Hens with benefits
Keeping hens these days is becoming a popular pastime, according to the Hen Welfare trust, they are the most popular pet at the moment. Hen ownership is divided between the those who have and those who have not. Hens in a coop providing eggs is how most non owners perceive ownership to be, but those who know find it the most amusing and hilarious pastime.
My intention with this little missive is to explain how much hen ownership can provide humour and of course a daily benefit.
Ten years ago, we had no idea about hens, but one day we looked out an on our front lawn was two huge Sussex white hens. They belonged to the house two doors down and after a couple of days of visits, they discovered the wild bird feeders and the rest became history. If we didn’t throw out the seed for the wild birds by 8am, they would tap furiously on the front door. This was disconcerting as we initially thought we had rats!
One night in the winter I went out to shut the gate and they were huddled down against our conservatory sleeping in the most atrocious weather. How they got around the back of the house still isn’t apparent even after all this time.
I delivered them back to the surprise of the owner, one under each arm and placed them in their custom-built bijou residence they shared with a rather smart little duck. One day they didn’t come round and after a few days we asked about them. Sadly, a dog had broken in and killed them.
After missing them we decided to join the fast-growing hen ownership club.
Was it a bad move?
Having a few hens can be very rewarding and good for those with high blood pressure but boy, do they make you pay! They draw you in with a false sense of security, for three weeks they are the cutest creatures, they make cute churdling noises and look up at you with love in their eyes. When they have won you over then they start to have some serious sport and show you who is really the boss.
They have few demands to start with, fresh water every day and a constant supply of feed pellets. The man at the ‘hen shop’ said they don’t need anything else, but on reflection I was unsure of the knowing glint in his eye.
Sure enough, out they come in the morning, eat pellets and drink water. This was good for a couple of weeks then they started to churdle and mutter. At 0630 surrounded by neighbours who at best go to work and worst stay in bed under the guise of being retired, was too much. A quick googlywoogly suggested that dried ‘hen treats’ in small quantities would bring peace and harmony to the flock of pterodactyls’ descendants.
The smile of recognition as we pulled into the drive of the ‘hen shop’ on the face of hen man was welcoming and as we emerged from the car, he was holding a bag of ‘hen treats’ with that knowing look on his face, suggesting that “they have started then”!
The cost of a small bag was a prelude to the full price of the Crown Jewels in rupees, it seems that hen ownership comes with strings. The application of a handful on ‘hen treats’ was just what the doctor ordered. Absolute silence, happy pecking hens, heads down, tails up, we settled in for a spot of gardening.
The girls came with clipped wings to avoid them going vertical at the most inopportune moment, so the management decided it would be cute to let them out to let them forage naturally. I wasn’t so sure but in true underdog style I eventually thought it would be a good idea.
I am sitting drinking my tea with a hard-earned bourbon biscuit, listening to the birds in the garden when suddenly there was a white flash. There she was sitting on my lap, eating my biscuit ripped from my grip. The others were clambering up my legs trying to join in. This is no fun with shorts when you realise just how sharp the claws are, its comparable to having a hen version of ‘Eddie the Eagle’ ski jumping down your legs.
I jumped up tea everywhere but, in my shock, I did see the biscuits being caught mid-air and snatched up reminiscent of a cricketer attempting a slip catch. After this I didn’t think it was safe to have hens roaming loose and wear shorts. This was repeated some while later. My MIL, a cute little old dear came to visit and we were enjoying a pleasant afternoon tea when she asked if the hens could come out. Remembering (how could I forget; I had been kept awake from nightmares ever since the last event!) what happened last time I was somewhat nervous, but the management said it would be fine if they came out for a little while.
I opened the gate and when the first hen reached the door it threw its head back and started running like a demented swan trying to get airborne from an ice-covered lake. Its mates followed suit and before long, I decided the time was right to go and check the amount of firewood stored in the garage.
Before I got to the back gate the MIL was squawking like a vulture on pethidine, the first bird had landed on her lap and grabbed the butterfly cake she was stuffing into her mouth, the other descended on the table, grabbed a cake each and leapt onto the lawn.
Hens are very greedy around food, even if they have one each, they want two or three. Watching them run around the lawn with ever diminishing cakes in their beaks was something to see, today they had excelled themselves. Not only was the hen crew in deep trouble I was also in the spotlight as I actually unbolted the gate, thus unleashing the torrent of feathery avians.
It was weeks before the MIL visited again, this time she stayed whilst we popped over the water to Jersey for a few days. I left strict instructions the gate was to stay firmly shut. This did the trick and in exchange for a few ‘hen treats’, they gave her the rewards of their labours, a smart brown egg each.
When we arrived home, they began bragging how much better a hen herder the MIL was, it transpired she cooked them toast in the mornings and disposed of the excess sprouts in the evenings. This was the precursor to a downward spiral, after she had gone home, they started a cockerel sounding competition. The sound of bedroom windows slamming around the close was echoing across the still autumn air. This I thought was the start of trouble!
Getting their claws under the table?
The Googlywoogly man suggested that home hens may like raw broccoli and sweetheart cabbage. We tried this and as usual one hen grabbed the lot and charged about the run at some speed. It only gave up its provender when another hen threw the feed tower into its path, causing it to trip and send feed and green stuff skywards.
Feathers and clucking filled the air. Clearly these birds had had Welsh lessons from the MIL and they were practising their skills at some volume. The only way to get silence was a handful of ‘hen treats’, now though they had learned to play their hen keepers, once they had eaten the first ones they demanded more and more.
After half a pot they were waddling about reminiscent of the over fed hens in the film Chicken run. Another plan was needed before the cost of ‘hen treats’ escalated to the point of bankruptcy. The answer presented itself a few days later, I was watering the garden and accidently sprayed the hen run. They scattered and silence fell on the whole group. A few more squirts and they disappeared indoors like rabbits in front of a greyhound!
Finally, an answer to the noise, water seems to conquer all, if they are being unruly or swear, a good dose of the hosepipe does the trick. It gets to the point of reaching down to turn the tap on, and they are gone!
In the winter months we decided to give them more shelter from the elements, a wire covered frame with roof felt did the trick. That was great until they demanded a swing and a rope ladder. Sometimes they just want more, you concede and be nice to them and they expect more. Last summer they were allowed out to roam and despite my concerns proceeded to eat all the strawberries, the three apples on the trees, all the hydrangeas and finally every leaf of mint from three pots. They will always have you over.
When the bird flu epidemic was at its peak all household birds had to be netted in, so the wild birds could not mix with them. The plastic net draped from the fixings on the fence, across the roof and shelter, finally fixing on the wire fence against the lawn. This looked a bit scruffy but it became a different game when it snowed. When the hens came out, they took one look at the snow and demanded skis and goggles. We used lolly sticks and zip ties as bindings, they then proceeded to use their roof as a blue hen ski run. The game didn’t last long as they couldn’t keep their woolly hats on.
To watch them drinking hot chocolate from a communal bowl was hilarious, chocolate all over their feathers brown snow, what a mess! We flatly refused to give them glühwein, the sight of drunk hens was not happening in our garden. Their swearing and ribald behaviour was unnecessary.
Humans vs Hens
The intellect of hens does give me cause for concern, they appear thick as pheasants one moment and cunning and clever the next. I am a firm believer that if you have ‘just a hen’ and don’t name them they are more user friendly. As soon as they have a name, they become intelligent beings with the sole purpose in life to have you over.
Part of the naming process means the owners take on special names, this was instigated by the feathery beasties. I have become ‘hen daddy’ whilst the management has been christened ‘hen mummy’. Quite frankly, this is so embarrassing, our neighbours look over the gardens shaking their heads in disbelief when the monsters are yelling ‘mummy hen, mummy hen we need chopped up broccoli now and be quick about it! I do object to being called baldy by a hen with attitude, their vocabulary of swear words has multiplied sevenfold, this has made me wonder until I caught the Labrador the other day holding up cue cards trying to get them to pronounce the word ‘BUM’ phonetically!
When the last three arrived, they were duly named Bluebell, Primrose and Dahlia in honour of what their predecessors had eaten the previous year. Bluebell kept growing and eventually became known as ‘big bird’. She was enormous, not far off the size of a goose with the attitude and hen’s teeth to match. She was the ringleader of all the antics and subsequent trouble.
An example of the disharmony was after a ‘hen meeting’ it was decided that big bird would jump up on the gate and yell for attention, whilst the others hid around the back of the hen house laughing behind their wings. After copious hen treats had been administered, peace and quiet descended on the run and we went indoors to get the supper ready.
Five minutes later I turned around and sitting behind me on the hall carpet was a disgruntled Labrador, a confused ginger cat and Dahlia all in a semi-circle! After feeding the four legged creatures I collected the lone ranger and placed her back into her run. She obviously didn’t ask permission to escape as she was chased around the run collecting a peck on every move. I assumed that would be the end of her escape tendencies but I was wrong.
Two hours later I looked down the garden to see her finishing off the 95% ripe strawberries. So much for afternoon tea, after much chasing she was caught and the right wing was duly trimmed and the unruly hen was returned to the run. After another good pecking (not bright I feel!) harmony returned.
A further visit to hen man for feed produced another wry knowing smile. ‘Have you named them yet?’. Without thinking I said yes, before I could get the words out, he said ’ahh your daddy hen now then’ and walked off laughing. I feel there is more to hen ownership than you get told on the googlewoogly thingy! I feel a bit cheated; he could have explained the nuances of hen ownership upon our first encounter and we would have taken steps to mitigate the risk. Now it is too late we are doomed.
Would I get hens again? Yes, at a blink of the eye, they are hilarious and their ability to win over humans is second to none, they are ‘cheap to run’ and when behaved, make the most marvellous pets who provide a smart brown egg most days!
My advice to anyone considering ownership would be to not give them names, you save yourself so much trouble and embarrassment. Always remove the eggs on the day they are laid otherwise they try and charge you a fiver each. Apparently, they are saving up for new beak stick and claw polish?