Mr HenHouse has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes since the real henhouse arrived here at The Old Vicarage. He's cleared an area of the meadow, trimmed away the tufty grass around the perimeter so he could install the electric fence, treated and built the henhouse, built a shelter and since cleared the entire bank so we have an uninterrupted view out over the meadow from the house. Reader, if you hadn't guessed already, he's a keeper.
I'v been reading away any book and magazine about chickens I could get my hands on. I like to throughly research whatever I am doing. Since breaking up for the school holidays, the Master has been asking every day "Are we getting the chickens today?" but we wanted to be absolutely ready so the answer was generally no until one day, there were no more reasons to say no and the answer finally turned to yes! In the end, we went to the outskirts of Bristol for our girls as our local breeder did not have any pullets available (young chickens) and I knew that Annie Hall had many of the breeds I was looking for.
We have a house for a dozen hens but had decided we would get maybe five or so, being the novice chicken keepers we are. Of course, when we saw all the lovely chickens at Annie's, it was hard not to extend our list! She assured us that it would be no harder looking after a few more and she also suggested we did not introduce any more chickens within a short space of time as this would stress our existing flock (which is something we had been thinking of doing) so in the end, home came eight hens. We chose six hybrid hens, these are the modern chicken. Hardy, easy to care for, vaccinated and with the added bonus of laying just about all year round. They are still available in a lovely array of colours, shapes and sizes. We have a Bluebell, a Rhode Rock, a CouCou Maran, a Silver Link and a Brown Speckledy. We affectionately have termed these girls the fatties and they are lovely big fluffy bundles, who charge around ruling the roost! We also have a hybrid White Leghorn who lays pure white eggs and is a funny little "upright" chicken.
Although we hadn't intended to, we also brought home two younger pure breed hens, being a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer because these girls, when they come into lay, will give us blue/green and dark brown eggs. Being younger, they are still at the prehistoric dinosaur look stage!
So, here we are, finally there are hens in the henhouse! Hello Henny Penny.
They seem very happy with their lot. They spend all day outside in their run and then put themselves to bed at night as dusk falls. We have an automatic device on the pophole so that it shuts at dusk and opens again at dawn, just in case we are ever not around to close the pop hole ourselves. The girls are very clever and after a few nights, started to put themselves to bed in their house as dusk fell. We have kept an eye on them and have had a few caught out by the automatic closing door so we've popped them in the back way but they soon learn! They love going to bed.
They are a delight to sit and watch, their antics endlessly amusing and they are very sociable. They come running as you approach the run and of course, they know when it is treat and corn o'clock. Their favourite treats are watermelon and corn on the cob. I think we can safely say they are very spoilt chooks.
We have a 50 metre electric fence in place as with so much space available to us, we wanted the girls to have as much room to roam as they could whilst staying safe. One can never be too careful with Mr Fox about. It is a complete joy to wake up of a morning and see the girls pecking about happily.
Their house came from Flyte So Fancy who, luckily for us, are based just over the border in Dorset. The little box at the base of the ladder is now filled with gravel to help keep their feet clean in wetter weather.
It's fair to say we have spent a fair amount of time outside with the girls whenever we can. Of an early morning, when we had nice weather earlier in the Summer, I would wake early and take my quilts down and sit hand sewing the binding whilst watching them peck about. We have also enjoyed the odd glass of something chilled out there of an evening and watched the sun set over the fields behind the girls' run.
I coud not fail to mention of course, that as well as being rather adorable pets, the girls are also very productive. When you buy chickens as pullets, they are usually around 16-20 weeks old. They come into lay usually at about 20-21 weeks old. We were lucky in that the five chubby hybrids we bought from Annie were already around this age and so we hopefully would not have to wait long for eggs. Well blow me if the first morning we came down to find there were two eggs in the nesting box. Oh my, it was so egg-citing. Sorry!
Since then, about a month ago, we have had eggs every day. From the second day, we always had three or four, then one day we had five and now we regularly have five or six. You really cannot beat the excitement of opening up the nesting boxes each day and looking for eggs. We are continually amazed by the egg laying. What a clever clever thing to do. The girls get very excited when they have laid and come to the pophole of their house and loudly begin to cluck to let you know just what they've achieved!
Our latest big thrill has been that our White Leghorn, Snowdrop, who is a few weeks younger than the others, has now come into lay. She gets very excited when she has laid an egg and makes a lot of noise for such a delicate girl. Her eggs are a beautiful pure white and are quite small at the moment but will get bigger with time. We have a huge variety of eggs and have had quite a few whoppers laid, many with double yolks, which is always super exciting. Our record so far is an egg weighing 79 grams with a double yolk inside.
As you may imagine, eggs now feature widely on the menu here in the HenHouse kitchen. From my own Scotch eggs...
...to crustless healthy mini quiches...
...to a lunchtime frittata whilst watching the girls from our newly installed picnic bench for that very purpose.
I whipped up my first cake with their eggs to take to a friend's knit club group at her home recently. There is something very satisfying about collecting your girls' eggs then using them in your own kitchen.
Getting the girls has been the most brilliant experience, we love every minute, they are great company and easy to look after and we also get delicious eggs. Winner!
If you've ever been thinking about giving it a go, we couldn't give chicken keeping a bigger thumbs up and we are very happy to pass on our experiences to date. Xxx