Someone dumped a lot of bantams in the churchyard – about fifteen hens and a cock. To start with, people thought they might have escaped, but it was soon obvious that this wasn’t the case. After a few days, the Sage started to feed them, but we were diffident – no one knew whom they belonged to – however, he also started to construct a hen house. It was November and the nights were frosty and, one morning, a bantam was found dead. We were very upset.
There was nothing else for it, they had to be rescued. They weren’t that keen, however. Roosting in the trees and bushes, running wild during the day, they were not easy to catch. The Sage, Weeza and Al went out every evening at dusk for a week or more, noting where they roosted and catching a few every time. Ro was a little boy and I was getting him ready for bed at this time of the evening, so I wasn’t involved in the great bantam rescue.
During the day, we put out food and water for the remaining chickens and eventually they were all caught and put in a run. This was about twenty-five years ago and some of our chickens are descendants of those original girls. We have acquired a few extra over the years and the Sage always brings in a new cockerel from a different bloodline when necessary, so that they don’t get in-bred.
It has to be said, chickens are very destructive. They have ruined several areas of the garden over the years. R used to keep extending their run, so that they had more grass, but they ate it down to the root and only nettles and docks grew back. Years after they were moved from an area, the grass has never taken over again. Of course, it’s possible to manage them so that this doesn’t happen, but it means moving their run regularly and R was never that organised.
The bantams were very sweet-natured and exceptionally good mothers. A sitting hen would never abandon her eggs and looked after her chicks devotedly. The Sage would move her to a coop until the chicks were big enough to be reintroduced to the flock. My mother-in-law kept bantams and I remember that a mother, taken away in this manner, would be bullied for days once she was returned. Ours never did that, they were quite accommodating and accepted new members of the flock readily.
For several years, they were allowed to run freely in the garden. A crappy lawn and well-pecked flower beds were counteracted by the pleasure of having chickens run to greet you as you came out of the door. A few of them were bold enough to come indoors – no, we didn’t mind … yes, we spoil those chickens. But eventually, I tired of having a lawn I couldn’t use and, since I was very busy and didn’t want to grow many vegetables for a year or two, I suggested that we use the newly-walled kitchen garden for the chickens to live in, with the greenhouse as a hen house. It so happened that, not long after we enticed them inside, we had Ben come to live with us, so it was just as well. However, they would fly out and, this year, I wanted my kitchen garden back too. That’s why a new run was constructed, with a wire roof as well as fox-proof walls. Half of it is under a lean-to against a barn, so they have a dry area. It’s not as big as I’d like, though adequate enough, so I let them all out several times a week so that they can forage in the field and garden as they used to.
There were often more eggs than we needed, so Alex used to sell the surplus in his greengrocer’s shop. Since he sold that and moved on, we’ve had to give away the eggs we can’t eat. We do seem to eat a lot of eggs, all the same.