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.