I tried (unsuccessfully) to add to my chicken population just before lockdown, so I was incredibly excited to receive an email from my local poultry supplier to tell me she had new stock arriving. There were no pure breeds but if I was happy with hybrid hens, I could have three. My excitement knew no bounds and I disappeared into Chicken Woods to organise their accommodation.
Two years ago Richard bought me turkeys for Christmas – Duchess and Queenie. Duchess met an unexpected and sudden end but Queenie – the most sullen, lazy and unlovable creature – lived on in splendour in her huge, custom-built shed together with a large fox-proof run (although she hasn’t set foot out of her bedroom for about a year).
As she didn’t use the outdoor facilities, and our new additions would be egg producers, it seemed fair to downsize Queenie’s living quarters. However, she’s no featherweight and as she refuses to walk anywhere it would be a two-man job to move her. So, a week before the new chickens’ arrival, I enlisted the aid of my dear husband.
However, the evening before turkey removal was planned, I discovered the smallest of my hens had been so violently attacked by the others she had only one tail feather left poking out of her very pink rear end and her head was completely bald. She looked more like a tailless albino crow than a chicken. She had to be isolated quickly before it was too late, and there was only one prepared destination – Queenie’s new house.
I imagined after such brutality the little white chicken would give herself up easily to salvation. But no. After 15 minutes of chasing her around the run I finally cornered the beast, swooped down and scooped her up, only for her to squawk at me as if she had spied a rotisserie. Never mind, she was soon safe in her temporary home. However, with a new delivery of hens imminent, she would need
to move again so I could shuffle the turkey.
Next morning Richard was called to a conference call and as I’d arranged to collect my ladies that afternoon I’d have to sort the accommodation of my foul fowl on my own.
I dragged an old duck house and chicken run from the back of the woods and with a hammer and nails, chicken wire, lots of disinfectant, and one resulting blue fingernail, made a new home for my henpecked fowl. I captured the hen who, after a bit of squirming and a lot of screeching, was deposited in her new house. Now… the turkey.
I opened the door to her run with a sigh. “Well Queenie, the mountain didn’t come to Mohammed…”, and the henhouse wasn’t coming to Queenie either.
I parked a hay-lined wheelbarrow next to her house, then gently wrapped a hay net around her to stop her flapping (a whack from one of those wings is painful), slipped my hands under her ample bosom, and in a squatting position – much like a weightlifter – hauled her into the wheelbarrow. She wasn’t keen and managed to flap free of the net in seconds but, with my hand firmly on her back, she accepted it was a long way down for one of limited energy, no flying experience and no sign of a parachute.
But how could I push the barrow and hold her in it? Too late, I was committed and the only way was forward. Slowly, with one hand on the handle and the other on Queenie, we inched our way towards her new home. She stretched her neck and peered haughtily as she passed the other pens. Perhaps she imagined she was riding in state, comfortable in her royal equipage with her Mindy maid.
But her fall from grace was sudden. The unwilling bird ended her wobbly wheelbarrow ride with a short slide through the door of her new home. She was affronted to find herself legs akimbo in a deep pile of shavings, and took a moment to gather her composure.
I collected my chickens from the breeder that afternoon and carefully released them into their new outdoor space. There were two blacks and a red. But to my dismay all three rushed into the house and refused to come out.
I’ve spent the past week sitting with them for half an hour a day to encourage outdoor exercise. What is it about that house that causes its inhabitants to become agoraphobic? Has someone told them
As for Queenie, her life has improved beyond belief. Her new palace is on static wheels so from her elevated position, she sits at her open door and looks down her nose at her subjects. Happy? I should say. For the first time this year she laid an egg.
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