“Ex-batts”. Sounds a bit lifeless, doesn’t it? Like something unplugged and discarded. However, my girls have been anything but lifeless, adding a whole new dimension to the plot. It’s been almost six months since I got them, three pale and frightened-looking hens from a battery farming operation in south Lincolnshire.
They’ve changed from flighty fence-huggers to feisty, inquisitive and surprisingly friendly birds, each with their own personality. Itchy, who was always the roughest-looking of the three, with bald shoulders and a scruffy tail, has re-grown most of her feathers and pushed past Scratchy in the pecking order. While the other two are hogging the feeder, Scratchy will often come over for a stroke if she’s not too hungry – she’s fast becoming my favourite.
The once-lush vegetation in their enclosure has now been totally trashed (take note, potential chicken keepers, these birds will peck at anything), but I like to look at it as converting lush grass into tasty eggs and a full coat of feathers. Obviously the main reason most people keep chickens is to provide eggs. To be honest, watching the girls flourish and develop their own personalities has been almost as enjoyable as all the fry-ups, cakes, frittatas and so on. Their gentle clucking greetings as I arrive at the plot are an absolute joy.
‘The Strawberry Slam’is a game we enjoy together – during the summer, I’d pick any strawberries half eaten by slugs and poke them through the wire a bit above chicken head height. They love strawberries above almost anything else, and they’d all rush over, jumping and bouncing and pecking wildly until the strawberry was completely gone. Childish I know, but I’ve never said allotments should be just about hard work. To further my amusement, I’ve trained them that a particular whistle means feeding time, in the hope that if they ever escape I’ll be able to call them back like dogs!
Today I’ve been sealing cracks in the chicken hut against draughts and the dreaded red mite, a nasty little parasite which lives in nooks and crannies in the day and crawls out to vampirise the birds at night. By sealing the cracks you can deprive them of places to hide, and make the coop easier to clean.
As the sun sets I whistle and throw in a handful of corn, an evening snack which helps keep the birds warm at night. They hear the whistle and rush over, squawking excitedly. As they peck away, I put a squash and some apples from the shed into my bag and cycle off into the gathering dusk.