Hens apart, there’s not a whole lot going on in the garden at the moment. I have covered up the raised beds with cardboard, leaves and seaweed to mulch and nourish the soil over winter. I have just left one bed uncovered. I am feeling optimistic so packed it with some onion sets to develop over winter.
It’s 18th December today. Here in Galway, that means it is very wet and windy. Production in the garden is down to a few last stragglers – a couple of sad onions but still eye-weepingly delicious compared to the shop ones, and a few unfortunate turnips that never grew bigger than a tomato but nevertheless are quite tasty.
HENS AND US
Still, there is some production in the garden and it’s all coming from the one place – the hen house. While everything else has slowed down the hens have kept going and so far there is no shortage of eggs for us.
As I sat and savored its fresh and delicate flavor and admired it’s beautiful rich, sunny colour, I thought about how underrated hens are. They are not appreciated enough so I decided it’s about time we had a National Love A Hen Day.
What’s not to celebrate about hens? Okay, they can be rapscallion little cluckers – they have managed to fly the coup, hop over two fences and go walkabout on next door’s lawn on several occasions but beyond that they have brought us nothing but food, joy and fun. Luckily for us our neighbours enjoy a box of fresh free range eggs handed over the fence now and again to show our appreciation for their kind tolerance of the tiny intruders.
The unruly flock have also managed to fly over our garden wall and go wandering down the lane, almost getting squished by a tractor. They did hit a low point when they dug up and ate the last of my spinach and gobbled the remaining raspberries, but eating that egg this morning made all those hen-antics drift away into the lovely land of the unremembered.
DIGGING AND JIGGING
After I had finished my egg I watched the hens walking around the garden, pecking and digging, dancing and jigging and I realized what a great service a hen can provide.
They dance around the garden, digging and preparing the soil and they provide manure – all at the same time, which is exactly what the garden needs.
At night they trail back towards the enclosure and climb up the steps to their hen-house as soon as it starts getting dark. Then they sit there patiently waiting for us to go and shut the door and keep the wind out. Believe me, this is a really nice thing to do – a bit like putting sleepy children to bed.
The other thing they provide which I hadn’t anticipated, is entertainment. They make us laugh with their antics. Apart from the dancing, and digging, they seem to have quite animated conversations with each other, as well as disagreements.
A HEN IN COVENTRY
Sometimes they even send one of the flock to Coventry for a while, ignoring it and pecking at it if it tries to join in. Still, they never seem to sleep on their disagreements.
There are four nesting boxes in the coup, still Malteser, Lady Gaga and Chuck Berry sleep in one box all squashed in together, while dark feathered Simona Cowell sleeps above them on the perch – like Simon himself looking down on the unfortunate hopefuls.
LADY GAGA NEEDS A SAT NAV
Lady Gaga is always getting lost. Sometimes she gets left behind the others in the flock and without them to follow around the garden she seems to get disorientated. It is funny to see her walking around the coup in ever-increasing circles, trying to find her way in. She often walks past the open gate in her confusion and I have to bring her back home myself.
Actually, Lady Gaga is getting quite broody and sometimes stays the whole day, crouched tightly in the nesting box sitting on her unfertilized eggs until darkness.
Maybe I should think about getting a rooster. I have been offered one or too by friends but I am not really sure about that idea. I can hear a neighbour’s rooster from nearly a mile away. Would the early morning crowing be too annoying? Do I want to be woken up at dawn? Would introducing a man to the flock spread happiness, or cause trouble among the hens?
Too many questions and no decisions, so I will leave the idea alone for a while. The hens are happy and I’m not sure if we want to breed them. We just want to have enough eggs to feed ourselves and to give as presents to friends.
WHAT GOES ON IN THE LONG GRASS STAYS IN THE LONG GRASS
Davy, the fish man who calls here each week selling beautiful fresh fish told me a lovely story about how if we got a rooster we would soon see a hen disappear into the long grass one day and reappear with a line of chicks trailing behind her.
Appealing though that image is, I think we will wait for the New Year to decide. For now, we are both really happy with the flock of hens we have.
Provided I can work out a way to keep them out of my vegetable areas by spring and keep them from pooing on my patio, the hens and us look set to be happy together for a long time yet.
So here’s to National Love A Hen Day!
P.S. If you don’t have hens and you enjoy eggs you can still celebrate National Love A Hen Day by letting the shops know you don’t approve of the cruelty of battery hens. Money talks so don’t forget the power in your purse – if we don’t buy it, they won’t do it!
For more about hens, ducks and all things fowl cluck here.