Thursday, 13 November 2008

Eggs-tra, Eggs-tra, read all about it

The Dog Walker family has three new members, so take a bow Sybil, Pam and Fanny . . .

We've been talking about getting a few hens for some time and it has taken the best part of a year for them to arrive. To be honest, we didn't want to jump into something we might regret later, so we took our time to decide whether our garden was big enough, where they'd live, how many, what type etc.

We finally plumped for an 'eglu', a plastic coop with a run attached. I think a lot of chicken-keepers are a bit snooty about them, but for us it's ideal. It's relatively easy to keep clean, quite mobile (so we can move it around the garden) and it's secure.

Having saved up enough pennies, I ordered the eglu last week. I was a bit miffed that they wouldn't supply any hens with it - they have a rule that they won't deliver beyond a two-hour drive from their base near Oxford. I reckoned we lived within two hours, but they wouldn't have it.

I traced a couple of local dealers on the web, but decided I'd get everything set up before getting the hens. The eglu and run went together really easily, so I set off to a pet/animal supplies place just outside of Cambridge to get some food etc, planning to go out the next day for hens.

I was chatting to the chap about which food was best etc when he suggested I visit the adjacent farm, where the farmer bred chickens . . . and I left with the trio pictured above.

It was interesting to see how the farmer handled the birds, having read in all the books about carefully picking them up and supporting them with an arm under their bodies etc. This chap (a younger-looking version of the farmer in Chicken Run), stepped into a shed containing about 25 slightly nervous birds and swept up a couple, suspending them in one hand with their legs between his fingers. Then it was into a second shed for the third hen, gathered up with equally little fuss. I have to say, the chickens didn't really object - they just hung there, resigned to their fate.

I had a quick look at the hens - he showed me their nice clean bottoms - but as a beginner, I had to trust his judgement. A bargain at £12.50 each (well, slightly more 'cos he only had £2 change for £40).

So, to the names.

We'd discussed this quite a bit round the dinner table and decided that I'd get to name one, Mrs DW would name one and the girls would have to agree a name for the third. The DW boys will have to wait until one of the current incumbents needs to be replaced!

I quickly decided on Fanny (as in Craddock). One of our dinnertime suggestions was to name them Fanny, Delia and Nigella and the Fanny stuck (as it were).

Mrs DW chose Sybil, simply because it's a nice, bossy henny name.

The girls had real trouble choosing. They were desperate to call it Ian (an inspired name for a hen) but I had to veto the idea - naming a hen after your next-door-neighbour (a hen-pecked one at that) would be fraught . . . so Pam it was.

And here they are:


Fanny is a Blubelle, a hybrid (posh name for a mongrel). She's a bit shy and is the prettiest of the three.


Pam is a Bovans Goldline (another mongrel), which I think has some Rhode Island Red in the mix. Supposedly a very good layer, though time will tell.


Sybil is another Bovans Goldline - slightly darker and smaller than Pam. As with all happenings in the DW household, things are not that straightforward and I'm afraid I have to report that Sybil is slightly disabled, a fact that which has particularly endeared her to Mrs DW, who is drawn to lame ducks (pardon the mixed metaphor) like a magnet.

Sybil has a slightly crossed beak, which you can see in the picture below.

I think this makes her a bit of a pariah in the chicken world. Various websites say she should be culled immediately ( included), but I figure that it's not that bad and if she's eating and drinking okay, then what's the problem? Also, she was a very clever girl yesterday and laid our very first egg - though she did produce it after out little chat in which I pointed out that even disabled hens had to earn their keep . . . or else.

I think the three of them must have then had a conference, because Fanny gave us egg number two.

And Pam laid a third today. I can't show you a picture of all three because the two above were gobbled up at teatime yesterday. And very nice they were, too

So, far so good. The three of them seem to have settled in okay. They are all a bit shy at the moment, but I think they'll be happier when the dogs get fed up with them and ignore them.

In a week or two, we'll try to clip their wings, then they can wander round the garden when one of us is home.

All we have to do is get used to the enormous amount of very smelly poo they produce (and which I, as usual, get to shovel)!