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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Well, you can’t say I leap into things. At least five years after considering it for the first time, and over a year since I wrote a blog post saying I’d decided to do it, I’ve bought a hen house and two chickens: a Black Rock and a Bluebell.Chickens pecking at the grass

Having reluctantly discounted the classic Eglu  – not easily available in Ireland, too expensive, non-Irish, too much like an old iMac to look right in my overgrown, ivy-covered garden –  I drooled for two years over these cool creams and greens from Donegal  but in the end I had to cut my cloth to suit my measure and I have a plain square wooden coop that doesn’t look like a computer or a cottage. I assembled it myself from a flat pack supplied by FarmFowl in Laragh. I don’t know yet whether it will turn out to be a false economy – the ladder has already splintered and the nest box roof doesn’t seem to fit properly, though the house part seems sturdy and safe. But already – three days in – I want a bigger one and one that I can be 100 per cent sure is fox proof, if such a thing exists.

Because now that the chickens are here (driven home from Laragh in a cardboard box of wood shavings on my son’s knees) all I can think about is foxes. At night, every time I start awake I dash to the window, replaying bits of Fantastic Mr Fox in my mind. I hang out of it, trying to make out the henhouse in the dark. Nighttime transforms the squawk of every bird – probably the dreamy squawks of the chickens themselves – into the scream of a vixen. I lay awake from threeish to fourish last night googling fox deterrents on my iPhone. Foxes are intelligent and chickens are daft. It’s got to end in tears.

Our silver hen, Bluebell, escapes into the next door field on day two and we spend two hours of our precious Sunday evening combing the nettles and brambles. I remember the bit in Grimble where Grimble catches pigeons by putting his jacket over their heads, and I link it to the remembered fact from Danny the Champion of the World that pheasants will not move if their eyes are covered. It all starts to make sense.
“We must cover her eyes!”
Half an hour later we realise if we could get close enough to do this we’d be close enough to seize her. In desperation we make a hole in our own fence and act like sheepdogs to drive her through it.

Everyone who has chickens has to register with the Department of Agriculture as a flock keeper. Other than reading notices about not bringing unpasteurised cheese home from other countries, and dipping my feet before and after entering Airfield, this is probably my first ever contact with the Department of Agriculture. But I am now a flock keeper, of this tiny flock of two. The internet discussion groups reassure me that it’s not that the Department wants to overregulate – the registration is just so that they can write to me if bird flu arises again. Bird flu! More tears.

Battery chickens

I’m looking forward to the chickens stalking more confidently round the garden, to watching their combs redden, to their recognising my voice (will they?). I’m hoping to find my anxieties subsiding, and in a few weeks’ time, to find the chickens starting to lay in their wood-shavings-lined nest box.

It’s fifteen years or more since I last knowingly ate a battery chicken’s egg, and I hope I never do again. The chickens in this photo qualify as “free-range”. I can’t even bear to download a photograph of battery birds.
I’d love to hear that the early days of chicken keeping have gone well for others, it might settle my jumpy nerves – I’m not sure that rereading Fantastic Mr Fox is doing much for me. It can’t be good for a flock keeper to base care methods on children’s books featuring the wrong sorts of birds.

My chicken keeping reading list:

Henkeeping

Self-Sufficiency: Hen Keeping

21st Century Smallholder

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance

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Chickens in Bloom

I’ve been umming and aahing about having chickens since the turn of the century, I have four books and about thirty bookmarks but no actual birds.

I’d been considering the Eglu, partly because of the way it’s marketed to the sub- and urban chicken fancier and partly because of the fact that you can hose the lot down and even put some bits of it into the dishwasher. I’ve never been quite sure about the design, though, a brightly-coloured cross between the original iMac and some clever storage idea from Ikea, it would stand out like a flower in my dog-and-football-ravaged plot.
But amid lashing rain and garden envy at the Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, I found the marvellous Chic-Hens, who will supply an Irish-made wooden chicken ark or house which could solve my aesthetic and practical problems in what Newstalk newsreaders regularly call one fowl swoop. I worry that I am succumbing to an idiotic notion of a calmer, more gardeny me in a flowered apron and wellies, scooping eggs from the henhouse while the birds stalk jerkily around the (imagined) orchard. I worry that the dogs will give the chickens heart attacks, that they will keel over from unknown illnesses, that my vet will think I am playing farms, that I’ll never be able to go away for a weekend again, that bird flu will return bringing heartbreak through Herod-style enforced slaughter. Overthinking, moi?

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