The poor rescue chickens were just getting into the swing of free ranging when flockdown happened. My four were released from intensive egg farming on 4 July via The British Hen Welfare Trust. Their old life wasn’t much fun, judging from the nick of them when they arrived, scrawny and practically oven ready. I want to mark their freedom anniversary with a shindig, but in the meantime I’m watching over their compound like a hawk to ensure that feathers do not fly. So far the ladies have made a break for it only a couple of times, legging it out the hen run gate when my back was turned only to be ushered back to the cooler like Steve McQueen and Archibald Ives in The Great Escape. Self-appointed Sergeant Gertie is in charge. She has the hat for it (her red comb flops rakishly over one eye, and looks a little like a regimental beret) which I think gives her a natural air of authority.
Gertie’s Gulag, as the hen house is now known, runs along the lines of a Kim Jong-un dictatorship. There have been a few skirmishes, poor Nancy's fulsome comb got another bit of a pecking so she was forced to have another overnight stay in the washroom. She was none too impressed by the housekeeping standards, based on the noisy clucking and the clawful of shavings which were swiftly ejected from her wicker basket bed.
As top hen, Gertie is keen to inspect all rations first and makes a frantic lunge towards anything that might be a tasty morseI in the mornings. The rations in the compound are not too shabby with a sultana-laced porridge followed by copious amounts of layers mash throughout the day. Privates Nancy and Clem bring up the rear, keeping out of trouble mainly by staying very still when the other dominant hens are close by. The best bit is the plucky blighters are still doing their best to pop out the occasional egg for us, but that is just probably a tactic to keep themselves warm.
Despite the plummeting temperatures at night the hen house itself is toasty, due to the combined body heat of four feathered friends. Sadly the girls have not mastered the art of roosting on a perch, rather they nestle down in a deep bed of wood shavings, leaving warm impressions in their bedding.
At dusk Gertie guards the entrance to the hen house door like an over enthusiastic bouncer. The only slight issue being, that hens you see aren't good at getting back home when the daylight drops. One minute you are happily scratching about for last snack before bed and then you are suddenly marooned unable to move anywhere because you can’t see in the dark. I've found Gertie looking a bit foolish stranded in the gloaming a couple of times, but she seems totally unruffled as she is unceremoniously scooped up and deposited back into the henhouse with a ‘Good night Gertie, see you in the morning’ from me.