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What kind of hen won't even eat a chip?

By SPP Reporter

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"FAIR is fowl and fowl is fair", to slightly alter the spelling of the witches’ words in Macbeth.

Readers will recall my account of the sad demise (foul slaughter) of my hens a few months ago. Well the good news is that I have replaced them – and just as the quotation above is a paradox, so my five new fowl are paradoxical. So paradoxical, in fact, that I am not entirely sure that they realise that they are hens.

Indeed the only part of normal hen behaviour that is clear amongst the occupants of my (now pine-martin proof) hen run is the pecking order. The top hen, the fat one with a big red comb, is a real thug. She is a veritable Rosa Klebb when it comes to ruling the roost. She pecks, she lunges, she even dropkicks the other poor birds, one of which has had most of the feathers on her head pecked off (so I make a point of feeding her separately from the other four; she seems grateful and now eats out of my hand).

"Sure, but you can’t give them fish to eat!" said my younger daughter’s boyfriend Paddy (yes, he’s from County Donegal) as I put fish skins in the hens’ bucket.

"That’s like cross-what you call it – like what brought the mad cow disease – hens are vegetarian." My, how we laughed. The previous lot, the ones the pine martin got, were anything but vegetarian. After some thought, Paddy conceded that hens did eat worms.


Not the new hens. Planting roses in front of the hen run on Sunday, and throwing the odd worm over the chicken wire, the hens regarded the wriggling offering with the gravest suspicion. Heads were turned sideways and single baleful chicken eyes were brought to bear: but no.

With a fluff of the feathers and a cluck, the tasty treats were declined. It was left to a cheeky blackbird to enjoy the feast.

And then they will not sleep on their perches, but rather in the nesting boxes – which enrages me because they are supposed to be full of nice dry straw, not nightly increased mounds of poo. I have tried putting large flower pots in the nesting boxes as night falls, and removing them in the morning, so that the hens are physically blocked from sleeping there – but you know it is all rather a lot of trouble, and two nights out of three I forget to do it.

A poke of chips – a great sin, and one I indulge in when I know that my better half isn’t looking ("What’s that vinegar smell in the car?" "Can’t think: must be the battery…") – and by way of quickly destroying the remaining evidence (it was a tray, rather than a poke), before I went in for lunch, I took the remaining chips to the hens.

But, oh no thank you! Again the close one-eyed inspection – and then a return to aimlessly pecking at bits of dirt. Their predecessors would have wolfed them down in a jiffy. It is strange. And meantime the blackbirds are putting on weight.

"Well, you’ll just have to show them that worms are good to eat: that way they’ll learn" was the bright suggestion.

Yeah right. That would simply confirm the suspicion that I had gone off my head. Still, I did give them leftover noodles at the weekend.

So we are on our way.

After the rose planting I turned to moving raspberry canes. By now beginning to grow weary, I eventually stuck my spade in the ground one last time and lifted my head.

It was then that I saw a sight which always thrills me at this time of year.

Why do they do it? I don’t know – maybe it simply joie de vivre – but of a late winter’s afternoon, you can often see rooks, great numbers of them, whirling and wheeling round in the sky far above. They spiral to great heights – the highest you’ll ever see a crow, mere specks against the grey clouds – and all the time calling to each other. It is one of those things that mark the passing of the seasons in the country, and you know that it will come to a stop when nest building and repairing starts and the hatching and feeding of chicks becomes an imperative.

I noticed one hen cock an eye skywards and pondered the meaning of it all. Meanwhile a wren swooped in and stole a layers pellet. Talking of which, there must be something wrong with them. For my five fair fowl have yet to lay a single egg.

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