The Chickens Over The Hedge

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I got my chickens at about five months old if I remember correctly. I do remember they were called ‘point of lay’ – so whatever age that is, that’s when I got them.

They laid fairly regularly and better in the summer months, so we put the eggs we didn’t use in a bucket of Isinglass, which is the trade name for sodium silicate.

It coats the egg and prevents air getting in and they can be stored that way for several months, or in other words, through those leaner winter months.

After a couple of years the chickens stopped laying so regularly and I had to think of what to do with them.

I visited a man in the next village who had a large piece of scrub land, and he put all his older chickens there and let them live out their lives. He fed them vegetable scraps but for the most part they fended for themselves. Some of his chickens were ten years old.

His solution was a good one but I didn’t have a piece of spare ground I could put my chickens. But I did have a solution.

About ten miles from where I lived, deep in the Norfolk countryside there was a small zoo that specialized in animals that were native, or once were native, to the English countryside.

The zoo was well laid out with space for the animals – with one exception, which was the wolves that paced restlessly in figures of eight around their compound – but that’s another story.

And there were lots of chickens scrabbling in the dirt and wandering around freely all over the zoo, so I figured that a few extra would not be noticed. I could have asked the zoo staff, but I was young and I didn’t want to be rejected because I didn’t have a plan B.

So I drove out to the zoo with the chickens in the back of my van and when I got there I parked down a narrow lane and lofted the chickens one by one over the high hedge that bordered the zoo.

Chickens don’t mind being lofted into the air because they are very good at fluttering and they let themselves down easy.

And it was funny to see them go up into the air and then start flapping their wings as they ran out of upward thrust, and disappear on the other side of the hedge.

Once they were all lofted over the hedge I drove around to the car park, paid the very small entrance fee and went in to see how my chickens were getting on.

I had visions of them scrabbing about in the dirt and wandering loosely mixed in with the other chickens. I had my eyes ready to spot them. And then I saw them. They were hard up against the hedge looking like the soon to be victims of the St Valentine’s Day massacre waiting to be gunned down.

Far from blending in, they stood out like a sore thumb with wide-eyed, surprised looks in their faces. No one could fail to see they were foreign, intruder chickens – wonderfully red-brown Rhode Island Red, plump intruder chickens.

Except that no one looked at them or cared that they were there.  No one except their paranoid ex-owner half looking at them, trying not to draw attention to them. I probably looked as wide-eyed as they did.

The Cockerel That Knew

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This is the true story of how a bantam cockerel learned to rule the roost after fleeing for its life.

I’ve written before about the chickens I used to keep, and about how they got red spider mite and how I cured them.

After I treated them with the medication, a neighbour said I should get a cockerel to stop the pecking starting again. So I went to the market and bought a cockerel and brought it home and lofted it over the wire fence into the chicken yard.

Except that I had bought a bantam cockerel (a white one) and my chickens were Rhode Islands and they were twice the size of the cockerel. So when the cockerel landed in the chicken year, it took one look at the chickens and they looked at it and then they just launched at it.

The cockerel took one look at them and dived under the ark, terrified.

A small digression for those who don’t know what an ark is. it’s a wooden shed on wheels that can be dragged around to fresh grass. At one end is the door for the owner to get in and out to clear it out.

At the other end is a box running the width of the ark with a lift-up lid. That is where the chickens lay their eggs. Inside the ark is a branch running crosswise, and the chickens roost on that at night.

Now in fact my ark was static and I had staked a high wire fence around it so that the chickens had a permanent patch of land to grub about in.

And the iron wheels had settled a bit and there was just a small space between the bottom of the ark and the ground. And out of this space the cockerel poked its head this way and that.

This went on for a while, with the chickens darting in when they thought they could get a shot at the cockerel, and I was getting a little agitated myself, because the chickens had a pretty mean look in their eyes.

Then the cockerel saw its chance and it darted from under the ark and scrambled vertically into the air and landed on the ridge of the pitched roof of the ark. The chickens were never able to do that – they were too plump, or maybe they weren’t adventurous enough. Whatever it was, the cockerel had a respite but only a temporary one, as it couldn’t stay up there forever.

And sure enough it flew with a mighty fluttering leap, right over the fence where it landed and then ran to the bottom of the garden, down into the little ditch that bordered the garden, through the straggly hedge and up the other side.

On it ran, across the field and down the ditch far away and up the other side and into the next field, and soon it was lost in the distance.

Late afternoon turned to evening and I went inside with a rueful feeling of having been pretty stupid not to have foreseen that a cockerel half the size of the chickens might have had a hard time of it.

The next morning I went out to the chicken run and there was the cockerel strutting around, and he had all the chickens treating him like the prince he was.

And I have thought and wondered sometimes what went on in his mind that evening.

I imagine him roosting in a hedge somewhere out in the fields, panting and bedraggled.

How did he know that he was supposed to be back with the chickens?

Did he sit there saying “I am not going to be defeated by a bunch of chickens – I won’t be able to live with myself if I turn tail and run now.”

And when he reappeared by the fence and leaped into the air and over the fence and in among the chickens, did they try to mob him or did they stand stunned and in awe at his audacity and bravery?

These are things I will never know.

This is a true story.