Friday, 25 November 2016

Introducing my family - part 4

The Chickens aka The Lady Detectives, or The Blob Blobs

Preparing for chickens

MrPB and I have wanted to have hens since we first watched the 1998 Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall tv series Escape to River Cottage. We didn't have the right kind of garden way back then, but we began investigating.

Our honeymoon destination in May 2001 was chosen specifically because the Dorset cottage had it's own trio of hens which you could collect eggs from everyday. They were a bit sad looking, one had a very pecked, bald bottom, and the run, although large, was just mud and nettles. Oh my, they were so much fun to talk to and watch.

We bought a couple of books via Amazon; Keeping a Few Hens in Your Garden and Keeping a Few Ducks in Your Garden, both written by the doyenne of poultry Francine Raymond. The latter book put the idea of ducks out of our minds entirely! If you're thinking about them then do read this book, it's a wake up call! The former had us entranced though. The book itself was printed on incredibly tactile paper, reminiscent of a school exercise book, with a pen and ink illustration glued to the front. Inside, the words and drawings washed over me, cementing my resolve, and making the whole scheme seem totally achievable. Her loving descriptions of her own flock of Buff Orpingtons captivated me. She painted them as one of the most sedate, tolerant, gentle and enormous breeds available, likening them to 'the family Labrador'. I began investigating potential breeders in the back of Practical Poultry magazine

Time rolled on, and in 2007 we finally found our plot of land to self-build on; this was our opportunity at long last!

We enrolled on a Chicken Keeping course, actually run by Francine Raymond (I was star-struck) at the beautiful Assington Mill in Suffolk. Francine was so informative, no question was too silly, and she had an amazing life-size sculpture of an Orpington hen that someone had made her from chicken wire. Wow...that was a big sculpture!

I worked in sales at Forsham Cottage Arks, the wooden poultry housing specialists (before they were bought out by Omlet), and gained lots more practical experience with chickens, and started to devise how MrPB and I could keep a trio of hens safely in our new garden...which was still building site at this point!

We made contact with a well known Orpington breeder Priscilla Middleton, who lived about 40 minutes drive from us. We spoke a few times on the phone, then deciding that 2015 was THE year, we arranged to visit Priscilla in the Spring, once I was fully recovered from my hysterectomy operation in January.

Her yard is a chicken lovers heaven! Her flocks of bantams and normal size chickens wander around freely looking very idyllic, but her large fowl breeding birds are kept in pens out in a field.

A gorgeously fluffy, chocolate coloured Orpington hen was pecking around, and I drew MrPB's attention to her "That's an Orpington" I pointed out, and a look of relief appeared on MrPB 's face, she wasn't nearly as big as I'd been telling him... "Yes, she's a bantam Orpington...that one over there is a large fowl Orpington" His face fell, she was at least three times bigger than the pretty bantam! Teehee!

Finally in August we went back to Priscilla's, armed with a huge cardboard box. She had gathered together seven or eight pullets raised from different clutches that had hatched at approximately the same time.

I had already chosen names (*sorry*). I was hoping to get a Buff Orpington, a chocolate one and a Lemon Cuckoo one (I wanted to call her Miss Lemon after Hercule Poirot's secretary). Sadly Priscilla didn't have a Lemon Cuckoo available. D'oh!

Instead we chose a beautiful Buff, a stunning Silver-Laced and a sweet Lavender.

Buff Orpington Silver-laced Orpington Lavender Orpington POL chickens
Clockwise from left to right: Silver-laced, Buff, Lavender
Photos by Pumpkin Becki

Introductions to the hens - Felicity

Felicity Lemon is stunning, her plumage has so many different textures, and in the sun she sparkles like spun gold. As she moves around she makes soft 'blob blob blob' noises, hence why one of the flock's collective names is the "Blob Blobs". She is probably the oldest of the three (by a matter of days), and came into lay on 30th November 2015.

Buff Orpington hen POL chicken 22 weeks
Miss Felicity Lemon our Buff Orpington, approx 22 weeks old
Photos by Pumpkin Becki

Her eggs are enormous and torpedo-like, and the yolk is so yellow it looks unreal.

first hen egg 10 pence piece
Felicity's first egg next to a 10p piece for scale
Photos by Pumpkin Becki

Introductions to the hens - Hetty

Hetty Wainthrop has the sweetest nature of the three, and her unusual dark eyes are very gentle. She's the trickiest to catch but enjoys a cuddle the most, settling down on your lap instead of standing. The breeder was experimenting with colours and also trying to introduce a 'Frizzle' characteristic to her 2015 offspring. I think Frizzles look daft personally, and as Hetty has grown and moulted she has developed a small patch of silly neck feathers that are Frizzle-esque, growing all twiddly and in the wrong directions. She has also developed random blobs of colour on some feathers, which means she is a Lavender-Splash rather than a pure Lavender. Probably also as a direct result of all this "breeding", her outer toes point sideways. This means they don't wear down own their own, so we have to help her by clipping them regularly.

Hetty takes everything in life slowly, she is always the last out of the coop in the morning and she was the last to come into lay, putting it off until Easter this year. Funnily though, although she wasn't ready yet, once the other two began laying, Hetty would always join them in the nest box, like a midwife offering encouragement. Her eggs are smaller and slightly more rounded than Felicity's. 

Orpington hens Lavender Silver-laced POL point of lay chickens 22 weeks
Mrs Hetty Wainthrop our Lavender Orpington with deep dark eyes, approx 22 weeks old
Photos by Pumpkin Becki

Introductions to the hens - Jane

Jane Marple, has a sharp, beady look about her. She's the noisiest...actually the sound she makes is like an angry goose, it's rather alarming! She is top of the pecking order and likes the others to know it, though they are so relaxed as a flock that there is never any actual harm done.

She is described as a Silver-Laced, and this refers to the pretty, dark outline around each and every feather. Only her 'fluff' is a plain brown/black. In fact when you look closely at Jane's lacing, you notice that it is not plain, but iridescent, like beetle wings or petrol.

Jane began laying in mid December 2015. Her eggs are small and viciously round! How she lays them I have no idea!!

Being a "breed" rather than hybrids, the ladies spend a lot of time "off-lay", but the eggs are just a welcome bonus really.

Orpington hens chickens lavender garden
Miss Jane Marple (Silver-laced Orpington) and Miss Lemon (Buff) enjoy the delights of the garden, especially lavender
Photos by Pumpkin Becki

Chickens, was it worth the wait?

So, having waited seventeen years to get our ladies, was the wait worth it?

Absolutely!

They are everything I hoped they would be and more.

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