The four chickens – Henbley, Hattie, Chicktoria and The Black Chicken – live in luxury in an artisan split-level henhouse, with two large nesting boxes and a pair of perches that are ergonomically designed to provide the perfect night’s rest for the discerning chicken. I have painted their dwelling a tasteful shade of pistachio green, partly to weather-proof it, but mainly for the aesthetic.
I clean this house daily, filling it with sweet-scented dust-extracted wood shavings, and I deep cleanse it about once a week, disinfecting it and spraying it with anti-mite products and DE powder. (DE or ‘Diatomaceous Earth’ is a natural mineral powder that dries out any critters that have dodged the other anti-mite precautions – gotta keep ahead of the horrid chicken-chomping mites!). To do this I have to crawl around inside on my hands and knees, often emerging thoroughly dusted myself, looking like Miss Haversham, or perhaps my own ghost.
In addition to their lovely home, the chickens’ real estate extends to a level enclosure of about 12 square metres (that’s over 125 square feet), plus a slightly smaller piece of my once respectable lawn. An estate agent would describe it as ‘an extensive, well-maintained, mature garden with considerable appeal’. There are places to scratch in the dirt, plenty of space to dig holes and a few interesting logs and stumps to perch on. There is also a large flowering currant bush, which supplies shade, and a huge rosemary plant. The chickens don’t eat the rosemary for fear of becoming ‘self-seasoning’.
Are the chickens satisfied with their lot? They are not.
From morning til night they are hell bent on escape. And they’ve become really good at it. Their Great Escapes have included:
Flying over the extra height of bamboo and string I have added to the top of the existing chicken fencing in an attempt to thwart them (it doesn’t). I can hear the Dambusters film theme in my head when I see them do this.
Sneaking under the fencing where it has become a bit loose.
Leaning through the fencing as far as they possibly can into the flowerbed to eat my sedum spectabile down to a stalk.
Materialising outside of the enclosure by means of paranormal powers, when there is absolutely no way out (The Black Chicken only). How does she do it? How?!
When they get out, they use their big dinosaur-style feet to claw holes in the flowerbed or vegetable patch while looking for bugs. They tear small plants out by their roots, and peck the leaves off others. They ate all my strawberries.
But just when I’m contemplating reversing a dietary decision I made nearly 30 years ago, and casseroling the lot of them, they do something funny like perform one of their ridiculous dust baths, or make their lovely warbling purring sound of happiness, and I think ‘ah well – it’s only a garden…’. And they secure their future by laying beautiful eggs for me. Clever girls.