Monday, 16 February 2009

The new birds

We have needed new chickens for a while, since the old ones actually died of old age, rather than being swiped by a member of the local fox population. So when we heard that a (relatively) local egg farm was clearing out a batch of layers, we said we'd have four.

At £1 each they were a total bargain, even more so when they turned out to be on a buy two get one free promotion. So we got a couple more than we bargained for. No problem.

Now these are "free range" birds which have spent the past 72 weeks laying "free range" eggs for Tesco. So what does "free range" actually mean? Well, according to Neris who collected the hens from the farm, it means these ladies lived in a barn and during the summer they had access to the outdoors. They didn't actually have to go out, of course, and judging by the behaviour of these six girls, they've never actually set foot out of doors to do any "free ranging".

After 72 weeks of laying eggs for Tesco to sell as "free range" they are made redundant because their production dips and the shells of the eggs they do lay become too soft. They then had a date with the slaughterman on February 23rd.

They are a rather sweet bunch, actually. They remind me of the hens in Nick Park's Chicken Run. They sit on the perch, eat from the feeder, lay a daily egg, discuss the weather and do their knitting.

There's very much a "them and us" situation between them and the incumbent trio of bantams, but they are dealing with the situation at the moment by completely ignoring each other. The bantams get up at the crack of dawn and head straight outside. The new hens, having no idea of what "outside" actually is, stay happily inside, chatting amongst themselves. Our only laying bantam pops in during the day, battles her way through the feathery underskirts of her new roomies and lays her pretty white egg before heading straight back outside again.

I did find one of the new girls outside yesterday. She was perched all a-flap on the door, swinging madly to and fro and looking horrified. I think, for now, she and her five colleagues are actually safest inside doing their own thing. Outdoors can wait.

*UPDATE: They're out! We removed the bullying bantams to a seperate abode and the new girls felt brave enough to go outside. As I write this they are having a lovely time, chortling, clucking and scratching in a most pleasantly happy way.


  1. It is grand to have such a fine teacher as yourself. I have always wondered a bit about whether free range really meant the same thing to all hens.

    Your new girls will no doubt have a fine time as they gradually build up curiousity and daring. Please do keep us up to date on their wandering and laying.


  2. These new girls sound darling PM. Well done you for rescuing some unwanted ones too. I am sure then will work out when is the right time to leave their nests. Do let us know how they get on.
    "Feathery Underskirts" love it!
    Oh how I would like to have chooks again. That happy mumbling & chuntering together in their house or hiding in the flower borders. Such a wonderful noise.

  3. Lovely, just lovely. My new girl was more of an indoor girl to begin with, but is holding her own with the big bullies now. I'm after a few more this year, was thinking a blue, and white and another to lay some colourful eggs, jewels among the workaday browns!

  4. We need some more too. I love the idea of the new ones as the girls from the chicken run (great film!). It is hard to imagine chickens not bothering going out, ours are practically beating on the chicken wire in the mornings!

  5. I love your description of them as the 'Chicken Run' hens, that was a favourite here. It does make you think though, what exactly free range means for supermarket hens, I'm sure yours will soon get to know about 'outside' and enjoy it as much as the others.

  6. hello Mags. I am fixing the hen pen today so that we can get more hens. See what you have started! Yours are just so sweet xx

  7. Oh how lovely! We have hens too,and get them just like you when they are beginning to fade out the eggs, but have years and years of clucking and laying to do. Glad they are outside... what fun they can have now! I just love their back views. Just like very old ladies out shopping.
    Visiting here from Exmoorjane... she's back!!

  8. We have a similar set up along the road from us. Your sort of free range is a whole new experience for them! I bet they'll soon be having dust-baths (assuming we WILL get sunshine this summer) and discovering the delights of worms : )

  9. Like Calico Kate, I would love to have some hens..... I even have pinups of my favourites!!! Silkies...favourite at the moment. What is stopping me.. well, I have been told by someone in the same position healthwise as myself, that because I have no immune system I shouldn't have feathery friends... there goes the mad parrot I had my eyes on then who swears like a trooper whenever the doorbell is pressed (belonging to a friend), a little canary to sing to me....
    Enjoy your hens, and I'll enjoy them through you and maybe that will suffice!

  10. Aw, Mags, aren't you a sweetie to save them? So delighted to hear that they are getting to used to the great outdoors!
    (Update - citroen seriously aka expensively ill and waiting for parts, at this rate we'll never get our coffee. Hope you are feeling better now.

  11. It is wonderful that you have rescued these hens Mags.

  12. Hello - I've just found your two blogs and have been making myself feel very hungry reading your other blog on cooking - yum! Felt I had to comment on your rescue girls though - it's wonderful you are giving them a new and happy life. Warm wishes to you from Suffolk V xx

  13. Nice to read you again Mags. Good for you for being a chicken rescuer - I'm a big convert to the world of hens! Sounds like a great half term, I might just have to come and find that beach ....


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