I got hens at the urging of my sister, a long-standing Black Rock devotee. They’d be useful for lovely eggs for breakfast I thought, and took up her offer of a delivery of 8 in the first few months of our arrival at my first B&B. We had had hens as children, but then they barely registered in my world. They were just a curse – we both shared the grass, and they made all our lawn games hazardous. Handstands, chase, throwing yourself down in the grass; all suddenly became more perilous. In our absorbed children’s games, chickens were just an annoying distraction.
But now my handstand days are gone I have discovered a whole world of joy. Life is slower now and it is so appealing to stand and watch them when tasks send me out into the garden. From the first days when they started exploring their world, edging each other nervously down the chicken ramp, necks stretched out to see what was around, all unwilling to step off into the unknown, there’s always something to observe, some new discovery for them. Now they know the garden well. And, if I’m honest, the neighbour’s. In the morning when the fence is opened they RUN out, off to check the food opportunities by the kitchen door, and then to do some lawn pootling before a dust bath in my flower beds. They’re transfixing, once you’ve got the bug. It’s true that if you haven’t spent much time with them, there is a look you give others when they start talking about the joy of hens. Polite, but incredulous. The kind of look you’d give someone when they started speaking about their love of tarantulas. ‘You WHAT?’
But one of the unexpected pleasures of a hen is her love of human company. They drift over when anyone heads outside. Partly in the hope of food – always an eye to the main chance – but when food is not forthcoming they’ll stick around, foraging, preening, sleeping. They’re not bothered, as long as they can stay close.
In a world where the most common animal sound we hear as humans is alarm calls – ALL life is scared of us – it is ridiculously pleasing to have your company sought out. We dig the garden together, prune, tidy, water, cut flowers.
On a sunny day one autumn I lay for a nap on the bank after hanging out the washing, and woke 30 minutes later to find every chicken asleep or dozing next to me. Laundry takes on a whole new dimension when you have a hen alongside you.
There was a time, after a fox attack, when I went henless. Life got SO much easier. Not getting up early every day to let the birds out. Not rushing back on a summer evening to lock them up. No scrubbing of hen houses, or crawling through undergrowth to find eggs, no anxious research to identify the malady of a crestfallen bird. It was so very, very dreary.
I realise this new found love of birds has put me firmly into the mad old woman category. People look askance, children hurry by. But reassuringly I now realise not that they are in the know and I have slipped off the range of normal, but that they just haven’t learned yet.