Don’t worry, I don’t mean that most traduced of all female body parts that under the weight of misogyny is still the world’s worst swear word. I’m referring to the c-word that is commitment. (But while we’re on the subject of female genitalia, I cannot help but be reminded of such by a chicken’s comb and wattles. They don’t mention that in the chicken books.)
Chickens demand commitment. They have a routine and I must fit around it rather than them fitting around me. I get up every morning at six to let them out. By this time they are stamping around in their coop and leap out like paratroopers the moment I open the pop hole. Then they must be shut in again at night to protect them from predators, but this is after they have chosen to go to bed, not because I want to watch a film or settle down with a book. I had forgotten about these routines. My children left home some time ago. It took years of adjustment to realise that I didn’t have to be in the house at certain times to do certain things. I had an almost permanent feeling of having forgotten something. I obviously did adjust though, because now it’s coming as quite a shock to be back on a timetable that’s not of my making.
I hadn’t realised how rebellious chickens can be either. I know Nick Park tried to warn us of this in ‘Chicken Run’, but I thought that was just an amusing story. For the first couple of weeks I let them out into the yard for an hour or two while I was out to watch over them, and then walked them back into the run no problem. But two nights ago the Bluebell Ranger (previously one of the flapper sisters but who has suddenly gained in confidence and is now known as Sylvia after the gloriously rebellious Sylvia Pankhurst) refused to return to the run. She wanted to carry on grubbing so ran circles round the chicken run, dodging the doors and hiding under shrubs. The next night they all refused to go in. I think I’m destined to provide the neighbours with hours of entertainment as I play a daily game of hide and seek with my hens.
But they’re so amusing and soothing to watch I will forgive them anything.
Of course there is a dark side to chicken keeping. I’m talking about the guilt. Their run seems way too small to contain these three rambunctious girls. I could let them out in the yard all the time, but that has to be balanced against the real difficulties we’re having chicken-proofing to avoid forays into the veg patch on one side and the very neat formal garden on the other. I don’t want to upset the neighbours. And rather selfishly I don’t want our garden ruined either. Part of the pleasure of chickens is sitting in an untidy but beautiful garden watching them pottering about or pottering about with them. This would be somewhat marred if they were left to rotavate the whole yard all day long. I think an hour or so a day is fine. Isn’t it? I must admit I have had my usual knee-jerk reaction of thinking I should pass them on to someone who will let them roam free all day, someone who is more capable, or just plain better. My chicken gurus though advise against just letting them roam free all the time unsupervised. They’ve experienced the devastation of a visiting fox. This is something I don’t wish to contemplate.
You may be wondering if I have a name for the third hen yet, the Black Rock. Yes I do. I’ve decided to call her Dr Sattler after the character in Jurassic Park. This is because she, like her botanist namesake, is always taking hold of plants just to see what they are. And also because she most reminds me of a velociraptor.