Moving to the countryside Part 34: a good spring, a bad pheasant

It's been a glorious spring but not for my chickens

SHAFTESBURY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  Dew drops remain on a snowdrop growing in the grounds of Springhead Trust Open Garden in Fontmell Magna, on February 17, 2015 in Shaftesbury, England. The town of Shaftesbury is currently holding a snowdrop festival, which in a series of events marks the arrival of one the UK's most popular flowers which is seen by many as an indicator of the arrival of spring.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)


This has been a proper spring. Not the heatwave of March 2012 followed by the washout April, May and June. And not the cold blast of last year when we froze at Easter. This spring has been visible since the last weeks of January, surviving the floods of Feb and producing a really very lovely March and April.

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All the wildflowers have had their place in the sun, from fabulous snowdrops and daffs through blackthorn blossom, dandelions and now bluebells – with a magnificent supporting cast of lesser celandines, cherry blossom and greater stitchwort (I’ve never seen so much as this year).

And so the veg patch is not the pitiful sight it was this time last year – we have autumn-sown broad beans already producing the first tiny pods and glorious purple sprouting broccoli.

Due to the mild winter, spinach, chard and perpetual beet all survived for the first time and are throwing up new, delicious greenery.

Meanwhile, the spuds are in and already showing through the soil while winter sown cabbages are racing to produce decent heads before the inevitable squadrons of white butterflies descend. Meanwhile, the greenhouse is full of veg and flower seedlings – there just isn’t time to plant them all out!

On the livestock front, we doubled our chicken flock by introducing two speckledy hens  (below) to our two light (and very productive) Sussex girls.

But the residents were in no mood to accept new coop mates. Feathers flew and there was even blood as they mercilessly persecuted the younger birds.

Some friends told us to get a cockerel to sort them out while others reassured us that they would eventually establish a pecking order. In the meantime, a cock pheasant arrived on the scene and announced that the garden was his territory with pompous, guttural cries and extensive wing flapping displays. 

He even mated with our hens – to their consternation – ate a lot of their food and caused so much stress that one of the new hens simply fled in the deep thicket of laurels that blights the bottom of our meadow. The other three chicks no longer came when we called. How we cursed that pheasant. We chased him away but moments later he would be back. He knew he was onto a good thing.

We searched for hours but the missing bird had gone to ground – and alas, we had to leave her as we were expected at a family Easter party in Somerset. It was heart-breaking and we cursed the pheasant roundly. We asked a neighbour to shut the remaining three in at dusk and let us know if the missing girl returned.

That evening, having related the disaster to the wider family (who all shook their heads sadly and talked about foxes) we received a text. I looked at my phone – the first word was ‘sorry’. Three were banged up but one still at large.

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We opened another bottle of wine, raised our glasses and toasted absent hens.