Last year, I had to give up on my bantams being allowed to roam around the garden completely free range. I couldn’t take it any more, having had four clutches of chicks during the previous summer – when one turned up on 1st February with eleven more chicks, I was utterly dismayed. I’d been planning to do something about a big enclosed run for them by the spring, but this caught me out. I shut them in the hen house – which is sizeable and has an open run – while I thought about it. As I said at the time, Wince constructed a tunnel between their run and the bigger greenhouse, which is 40 feet by 14 feet and they’ve been free to go back and forth ever since, but not to go out in the garden. We covered missing panes with netting for ventilation and they were all right in the summer – they could always retreat to shade if they were hot but they didn’t seem to mind. I grew my vegetables in the other greenhouse, which was fine – all I didn’t have room for, which I would have liked, were cucumbers and I just grew some outdoor ridge ones instead.
As there is a very bad outbreak of avian flu on the Continent, this situation has been very lucky for me. Restrictions were brought in just before I was due to have my operation and it would have been quite a problem if I’d had outdoor chickens then. However, the netting hasn’t been ideal – partridges keep blundering into it and managed to get into the greenhouse several times last year and the cats enjoyed climbing it and occasionally Zain, the resourceful tabby, found his way in. So, the other day, LT and Wince added some thicker green mesh that I had – I think it would have been the shading from the poly tunnel we were given some years ago that never got put up – and the chickens are now very happy. There’s still good airflow but it’s a windbreak and they’re appreciably warmer. It’ll be more shady in the summer too. Today, I spread a new bale of straw in a couple of places for them and they were very pleased. I stood watching them, just for pleasure, for some time. Some were having dust baths in the earth, some were scratching in the straw, others were pecking at corn that had come to light when I raked over the ground as I cleared it. And there was that contented crooning sound that happy chickens make.
The only chicken that is less than happy is the one that had lost most of her feathers – I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned her, but we think that she must have quarrelled and come off worst. She lost all her back and tail feathers and some from her wings. They’re growing back all right but are just quills, they haven’t grown long enough to feather yet. She’s in a coop on her own in the greenhouse and it’s only the last couple of days that she’s been cheerful enough to come out and look around, mostly she’s been bedded down in the hay in the covered part. I’d been quite doubtful that she’d make it, but I think now that perhaps she will. I’ve named her Plucky, which is rather horrid of me but (in the original Latin derivation of the word – horridus means bristling) she’s quite horrid herself.
We have also, to change the subject, been making marmalade. Just one batch so far, but there will be more. We had some at breakfast this morning. The last batch I made, with frozen oranges back in the autumn, was stickier than it was meant to be as I’d overboiled it, just by a few minutes – not enough to affect the taste, only the texture – and I’ve been roundly teased about it ever since as LT manfully chewed his way through his breakfast toast, but this lot is much better. I ate it instead of the Marmite or Gentleman’s Relish that I usually have with toast, to make sure.