Wednesday, 31 October 2007

6. Ex Batts?

I found out about the brilliant Battery Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT), who find new homes for "spent" battery hens. They have rehomed over 19000 hens this year alone.

I considered starting by adopting ex batts but, as I don't yet have any practical experience with chickens, I decided that I'd start with bought hens and then move on to ex batts later. After all, a hen will lay for around 2 years of their approximately 5 year life, so I'd be wanting more hens later.

Ex batts sometimes last a month, sometimes several years. I think it's very rewarding to see them change from the sorry little things who've never seen daylight, to "proper" hens.

I talked to DH about this, and he was keen that we didn't start with ex batts, but would be "happy" (well, you know what I mean) to have ex batts later.

I still wonder whether I should just start with the battery girls...but I have my heart set on a Buff Sussex.

5. See, I'm not the only one

September/October 2007

Time was moving on, and I realised that it was really too late to get chickens this year.

The lead time on a Cube was six weeks, which would mean that I'd be getting chickens in November. Not a great time of year if I wanted to tame them. I reluctantly decided that I would wait until March next year before getting the chickens.

I had decided that one of the three birds would be a Buff Sussex, but I couldn't make up my mind about the other two breeds.

Very soon after me deciding to go ahead regardless of my DH's disinterest, we were out with some of our friends one evening. I mentioned that I was getting chickens in March, and K was very interested. "Don't tell G" she said "He wants chickens". She also asked me if I was thinking about getting ex batts, and I explained why not (yet) (I'll explain in a later blog). My DH was surprised to hear that one of his best friends wanted chooks and thought that chooks in the garden was fine. As the Cube and run could be relocated, they offered to chicken sit if we went on holiday.

A few days later I confided in my one of my best friends that I would be getting chickens, and she was really excited. She immediately offered to look after them when we were away, as she had fond memories of having chickens when she was a young child.

I relayed this to DH, who didn't react at all to the information.

And some time later still my other best friend and her husband came to dinner. Again, I mentioned that we were getting chickens. Straightaway she asked if we were getting an Eglu, and said that she fancied having a pink one. She also started asking me about the breeds I was getting.

I asked her if she would come with me to Wernlas, as I wanted to see the chickens again now that I knew more about the breeds, and I particularly wanted to take a look at the Transylvanian Naked Neck, a breed whose odd looks and appeal had been growing on me. She was very happy to oblige.

So. Three groups of people that DH liked and respected had spontaneously reacted with enthusiasm. His attitide thawed slightly, but the biggest evidence of this was yet to come.

4. What's in a name?

So I started off thinking they'd be called Esme, Gytha, Magrat (and Agnes), from Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

All my pets (cats, horses, etc) have had people names rather than pet names, and I don't think the chooks will be different.

I started thinking of "old fashioned" ladies names, and favoured 'Rose', 'Ruby' and 'Daisy' (from "Upstairs Downstairs")

I came up with lots of pairs...
  • 'Geraldine' and 'Alice' ("Vicar of Dibley")
  • 'Jennifer' and 'Clarissa' ("Two Fat Ladies")
  • 'Hilda' and 'Evadne' ("Hinge and Bracket")
  • 'Delia' and 'Nigella' (as in Smith and Lawson)

I then noticed that the majority of hens on the Omlet forum had traditional names like these, some had these particular names, so I started to think about other options.... but found that the pairs were already well used. Besides, I needed three names.

I racked my brains to think of trios...
  • 'Jan', 'Marcia', 'Sindy' (The Broody - Brady - Bunch)
  • 'Inara', 'Kaylee', 'Zoe' ("Firefly"/"Serenity")
  • 'Yolanda', 'Saffron', 'Bridget' (YoSafBridge from "Firefly")
  • 'George', 'Zippy', 'Bungle' ("Rainbow")
  • 'Mary', 'Mungo', 'Midge' ("Mary, Mungo and Midge")
and my personal, still-in-the-running, favourite...
  • 'Tim', 'Graeme' and ''Bill' ("The Goodies")

I liked some of the great names on the Forum "Tikka Massala", "Nugget" etc., but I'd like to be original.

Problem with grouping names is what happens when one of them dies? The remaining name often doesn't sound so amusing on its own.

I'll have to wait until I've picked the three chooks I think, and then see what fits.

3. When did it get to FOUR?!

August 2oo7

So, we were out to lunch with our son, his wife, and their baby daughter. For the first time, I was telling someone that we were definitely getting hens.

The usual questions ensued. Do you need a cockerel? (No). What about rats? What about foxes? Will you eat them? How many are you going to get? What sort?

So I explained the thought process I had been through, and said that I had seen the perfect Agnes Nitt, a lovely big black fluffy hen breed called a Cochin, who perfectly fitted Terry Pratchett's description of Agnes. But I couldn't jump straight to the fourth witch,Agnes Nitt, so the other three would be called Esme (Weatherwax), Gytha (Ogg), and Magrat.

DH said "When did you suddenly decide to get 4? I thought it was two!" I thought he was teasing, so I explained again about Agnes, and how I couldn't jump straight to her. Besides, Cochins don't lay particularly well. I could see by his reaction that he was seriously unhappy.

I immediately apologised, and said that I genuinely thought he knew what my plans were. We changed the subject, and didn't talk about it until we were on our way home. Even then, it was clear he still wasn't happy about getting hens.

I was very upset, and I seriously thought about giving up the idea as I just couldn't face this all the time. But I really, really wanted to keep hens, and I knew by this time that it was a much more common hobby than I had previously realised.

After a few days of really thinking it through, I decided that I really didn't care whether DH supported me in this or not. It didn't need to affect him particularly, I didn't try to stop him and his various hobbies and habits, and I believed that once the hens arrived, he would change his mind. And if he didn't, well, he didn't.

I spent weeks researching various breeds, looking for types that laid reasonably well, were not likely to go broody, and were reliably friendly. I went through numerous books and websites. I pored over the Omlet forum to find out more about any problems I was likely to encounter, I made a list of what I needed to buy. I also went through lots of permutations of possible names as I had decided I couldn't go with my original plan of the Discworld Witches.

Then one day, my DH asked me where I was planning to put the Cube.

I said that I needed somewhere with an area we could fence off to let them free range, as obviously we didn't want them to destroy the garden. I asked what he thought, and he suggested the perfect place.

Progress? Maybe. But the turning point was yet to come.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

2. I didn't know you were serious!

Rewind to May 2007.

Having been retired for a year, at that point, I was ready to get serious about getting chooks. I did a little bit of research, and decided to visit The Wernlas Collection in Ludlow, to see lots of breeds in one place and to talk to the experts. This coincided with a visit to my inlaws, so DH was okay about it. (

When we were pulling up to the place I "reassured" my DH that I wasn't planning to buy any hens that day, I just wanted to have a look and find out whether what I pictured when I thought about keeping hens was realistic. Far from being reassured, my husband was taken aback. He hadn't realised that I meant it when I said I wanted to keep chickens.

So we sat in the car, and I told him what I pictured (two or three hens, pecking around the garden). It turned out that when he thought of chicken keeping, he pictured a kind of shed, with lots of chickens in. He was adamant that it wasn't possible to keep chickens in a garden.

Anyway, we had a look round at the chooks, and I had my heart set on Silkies. Seeing all those breeds reinforced for me that I wanted Silkies, and I eagerly chatted to the expert lady. She immediately explained that Silkies don't make good first time hens. They have a tendency to go broody, and they aren't reliable layers. She told me which breeds might be suitable, and I wrote it down. I asked lots of questions, realised that I couldn't have them pecking round the garden unless we were actually in the garden (foxes), and so on. DH asked questions too. Despite this, he was still not a happy bunny.

I then started to explore chicken houses, and came across the Eglu and the Cube. I arranged to go and see a lady in Oxford who had both, as I felt confident that seeing chooks in a garden and talking to someone who kept a few chooks would put DH's mind at rest.

The visit was great. We talked about it afterwards, and agreed that a Cube would be the better option. He seemed to have come around to the idea.

I then started to do lots of research, looking at breeds, characteristics, studying the posts on the Omlet forum to see what the day to day reality of keeping chickens was going to be like. DH didn't show any interest in what I was discovering, so I just kept it to myself. I went through lots of learning, had picked the names for my chooks, and had decided on four breeds. The names matched the breeds perfectly.

What I didn't realise is that as I was going through this learning process and making my "decisions", my DH's lack of interest meant he was not coming on the journey with me. It came out rather unfortunately when we were out at lunch with our darliing son and his wife.


Friday, 26 October 2007

1. We've ordered a Cube!

For many years now I've said that I'd like to get a few chickens when I retire. Well, I retired last April (2006), and we're now really close. The journey to this point has it turned out my husband thought I was joking all these years, and wasn't happy when he realised I was serious. I'll write more about that another time.

Anyway. Long story short. Yesterday we went along to Omlet in Banbury, and ordered an orange Cube. It'll be here early November, and I'm really excited. The chooks won't be arriving until March, as I really want them to be tamed, and so I need to be out in the garden with them.

We're in the final stages of designing the walk in run that my Dh is going to build for me.

More later.