Back in early spring, when it was too cold to do any digging and I tired of chopping wood, my wife and I built a chicken house. I’d spotted the perfect design in the back garden of a house in Newport – which I’d spotted from the train. Having lost my camera, I took a grainy photo on my phone as the train slowed during its approach to the platform.
From that plans but neglected to include measurements. The dimensions would depend on the lengths of spare wood lying around. After screwing together a frame and a floor, (see above) we tacked on some lightweight tongue and groove panels to make the sides.
There was even a discarded roll of roofing felt in the shed, which we nailed to a frame constructed from old skirting boards – and suddenly we had a roof.
For nestboxes, we used a large wine crate, which we divided in two – and attached it to one side. (A big thanks to the engineering expertise provided by our friend Rod!)
Even better, there was a vat of wood stain in the shed. But when I turned my back, my wife and friends painted the coop white – using some very expensive branded paint. It did look terrific.
But then we got distracted by the veg bed and the thought of building a chicken run daunted me for some reason. We had several quite big arguments over whether the chickens should be completely free ranging or have some sort of run to contain them. I love the idea of free-to-wander-anywhere chickens but I was worried they’d stray to our veg beds and destroy precious crops – as well as massacring our very health population of slow worms.
In addition, I was afraid that the local foxes and buzzards would think all their Christmases had come at once.
In the end we compromised – a smallish run with the proviso that we’d let them free whenever we were at home. We had a few fence posts lying around and I made a few more from poles from our coppiced hazels – hacking sharp points using a billhook that, again, I found at the back of the shed (it truly is the Aladdin’s Cave of sheds and I’m still finding treasure in hidden corners a year after moving in). Of course, there was also a roll of chicken wire for the fencing.
We dug the wire in deep and left it floppy at the top (apparently foxes don’t like that) – and considered the job done as best as our limited ability and patience allowed!
I was keen to get some rescue hens but that involved a lot of waiting until the next batch were ready for rehousing. Finally, in August, my wife decided enough was enough and I received a text at work saying we were now the proud parents of two light Sussex hens. According to the breeder, they’re good for five or six years of eggs – laying some 250 a year.
My son had the honour of naming them. He called them both “Mummy” but his real mummy suggested “Mimi” for one, and the other he settle on “Pock Pock” because of the noise it made.
When I got home, I found the two hens looking a little nervous in the corner of the coop. We were advised to keep them shut in for 24 hours but the next day Pock Pock was out in the run and promptly flew up and over the fence (which is 2m high). I promptly fetched some scissors and clipped one of his wings – and did Mimi for good measure.
Alas, the hens bolted back inside the coop – and who could blame them.
Still, apart from the goldfish and the wormery, these are our first livestock – and delightful. Watching them scratch and peck around the little, steep meadow, bolting down beetles and craneflies and any leftover pasta and rice, I feel an immense calm descend. And I know that all the odd things they eat will contribute to eggs that I will remember eating.
Edit: Within a week, they’d laid an egg and now we get two a day – not enough to be self sufficient but lovely nonetheless. Now our talk turns to increasing the flock…