This morning, the Egton Bridge (though we meet at Lealholm) Writer’s Group enjoyed my bit about hens:
Secrets of a Casual Poultry Breeder.
Part1. Not all hens are daft.
My first birds were a quartet of pedigree Marans; forty years ago they were expensive at £5 each. They laid deep brown eggs, as dark as Kipling’s Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din.
The cock was a bit of a bruiser though. He would fly at me with barbed talons. He had delusions above his station and considered himself licensed to attack all who came near, so much so that the kids refused to feed the hens. I cured him by chasing him around the field with a multi-stemmed branch of birch, thrashing him all the while. After that he kept my species at a respectful distance.
Maran hens might be much admired, but they grow boring. They just wander about, looking myopic, and crooning notes in middle C in a pathetic low voice.
To add interest to the tiny flock of four, I bought a trio of bantams, diminutive Black Houdans with feathered feet and tufted heads. I had to clip the long feet feathers – they might look handsome on the bench at Pateley Show, but they could hardly stagger back to the hen hut after they’d wandered around in our Nidderdale clarts.
Then, I could not resist a trio of powder blue Araucanas; they had Dickensian side whiskers and would lay blue-green eggs. They originate on the Pacific coast of South America, and take their name from the untamed Araucana Indians (traditional enemies of the Incas). The other blue egg layer is the Andalusian. Question: Is the Andalusian descended from the Araucana, or vice versa? Did the blue hen travel with the Conquistadores? And, if so, in which direction?
Next came three brown and exhausted battery hens (saved from execution at 50 pence each). The poor creatures, pale-faced and cowering, had to be taught how to perch. They took days to learn to face down the other hens, and dodge the attentions of the Maran cockerel; days to discover that the sunny, grassy world outside was safe to investigate and that they need not be afraid of worms.
After a while I gave up trying to keep the breeds pure; I simply allowed them to get on with whatever promiscuous arrangements they had in mind. The flock grew in size and became highly coloured and gloriously variable; some of the cockerels were most handsome creatures, akin to Old English Game or the wild Asiatic Jungle Fowl.
My favourite was a huge white male, a White Rock, just like Chanticleer who does the opening crow on Pathe News. At dusk one evening I was worried that some new chicks I’d introduced to the flock were not bedded down for the night. They were not to be seen. But there was Chanticleer, on his perch, proud chest puffed out, with the heads of tiny chicks peeping from beneath each wing.