New Hens on the Block

Back to life in Essex and – as I told you the other week – we sadly lost Molly, one of our hens, after a fox broke into our supposedly ‘fox proof’ egglu. Since then, we have been busy reinforcing the run and searching for new feathery recruits to keep our remaining hen, Lexi, company.

DJ decided that, as we’ve had hybrid hens for the past five years and have never managed to see them much past their third birthdays, (they are the James Deans of the poultry world – bred to live fast, produce a lot of eggs and die young) we should try our luck with pure breeds. While the pure breeds don’t produce anything like as many eggs as the hybrids, they tend to live longer (foxes willing). But what we have also discovered so far is that some pure breeds are also a heck of a lot bigger!

Our hunt for two new girls has seen us scouring Essex and Suffolk. After looking online and in local outlets for pure breeds that would produce a reasonable amount of eggs, not be flighty and be friendly, we decided to go for an Orpington and a Sussex. Luckily enough, although pure breed point-of-lay hens are a bit scarcer this time of year, we didn’t have to travel too far in the end.

We had considered a Welsummer but one breeder warned that they can be flighty. Lexi and Molly were both flighty, so we were keen to get new hens that would like hugs as well as lay eggs. They are pets with benefits first and foremost. We picked up a lovely buff utility Orpington from a great place in Hullbridge where the guy had been breeding them for 30 years. I wanted to get two but DJ was concerned that they were so big that two of them, plus Lexi, might not fit in the egglu henhouse at night!

After settling the Orpington in, who we have christened Marmalade – aka the Honey Monster (the resemblance is uncanny) – we trekked to the Suffolk border to pick up a beautiful speckled Sussex from a farm in Constable country. When we got her home we realised she was just as big as the Orpington but bossier. She immediately started pecking Marmalade who, after putting up a brief fight by jumping over the Sussex’s head (bless her) squeezed into a gap between the feeder and the water container to get away.

Lexi went very quiet too, which made us wonder if the Sussex would end up ruling the roost. But when I (foolishly) let all three out together the next day, Lexi was clearly top dog. A brief fight broke out between Lexi and the Sussex before the Sussex submitted to Lexi’s rule. Then both took it in turns to chase the Orpington around the garden. Oh dear.

Fortunately DJ had the idea of dividing up the bigger run with bamboo canes, allowing the girls to be together but have their own space. The effect is slightly reminiscent of a POW camp but seems to work. When we let them out into the garden over the weekend, the bullying was much reduced and Lexi and the Sussex – who we have named Morgana/Marmite – actually dust bathed near each other. Steady on, girls! Could peace break out soon? No eggs as yet, though, and Connie who left a message on the blog warns that, as an Orpington, Marmalade could be 40 weeks old before she lays her first egg. Oops. But who needs cable TV when you’ve got chickens to watch through your kitchen window? Magic.

Do you keep chickens? Which breeds do you like keeping and why? Leave a message and let me know.

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4 Responses to New Hens on the Block

  1. Joanne says:

    I have a mixed flock of 3 ex-Batt\’s who are now in their 2nd year with me, 4 Marans (2 adults and 2 POL that I raised last year from chicks), 4 Barnvelders from here ( http://greenmeadowpoultry.co.uk/ ), 2 Cambars from here ( http://www.poultrykeepersalmanac.co.uk/breeding/breeding.cgi ), 3 Cream Legbar\’s and a Welsummer POL (again from chicks I raised last year) I love the range of egg colours this provides me – Blue/Blue Green from the Legbars, Terracotta to mid-brown from the ex-Batts Barnvelders and Welsummers, Deep Chocolate Brown from the Marans and a gorgeous pale pink/cream from the Cambars Of them all its the ex-Batt\’s and the Barnvelders that amuse me the most – the Barnies are really naughty all four jumping over the fence and wandering up to the back door every morning if I don\’t get up early enough to feed them before they get up – These were part of the first batch of chicks I raised last year alongside the 2 Marans and have been hand-reared so are very tame and friendly as are the ex-batt\’s who constantly amaze me – they are 3 years old and are still regularly producing eggs I would like to add some Silver Wyandotte\’s to the flock but I\’ve already really got too many birds for a urban back garden so that will have to wait until my numbers have gone down

  2. piper says:

    Ah – they sound lovely Joanne! The Barnvelders sound very cool. Wyandottes are beautiful, aren\’t they?

  3. Syl says:

    What a lovely pair of ladies Piper! I am toying with the idea of keeping a few "pets with benefits" hens but quite frankly chicken care frightens the crap out of me! I\’m well versed in feline and canine care (I have both) but chickens? I feel so out of my depth with them. I have a neighbour whose yard abuts mine at the end and she keep chickens, ducks, geese, goats and sheep! I\’m afraid my cats feasted on some very young chicks last summer (first year she had some and they ran free on the property) but… well… cats are cats and at least they did eat them. I felt bad but what could I do when they\’re out in the open with no protection? The adult chickens and geese chase the neighbourhood\’s cats around (mine included) and pecked at them mercilessly!

  4. Piper says:

    Ah, thank you! You\’re very kind. Don\’t feel out of your depth, Syl. Foxes aside, they\’re v. easy to look after – no different from a cat. You just have to keep them fed & watered, pick up the eggs, clean them out and worm & de-flea them as you would with a cat. The only difficulty really, besides reestablishing the pecking order if one dies, is finding somebody to look after them when you go on holiday as you can\’t really take them to a cattery/hennery equivalent. But you could probably sort something out with your neighbour. We don\’t tend to have difficulty in getting a neighbour to take care of ours, luckily, as they are all so kind and love the eggs. Good books to look at to find out more are Hens in the Garden, Eggs in the Kitchen by Charlotte Popescu and Choosing & Keeping Chickens by Chris Graham. I imagine dogs are a lot more difficult. Would love one but can\’t run to it at the moment.

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