Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved chickens. I wasn’t raised with them, but one childhood holiday spent in nothing more than a potting shed in The Cotswolds, sparked my affection.
It wasn’t until my fortieth birthday that I made the decision to purchase two hens.
I undertook extensive research over a six month period, ensuring we chose the right breed for us. Ex battery hens would have been ideal, had it not been for the large number of Buzzards that use our garden as a viewing point. A neighbour had several bantams taken by buzzards, yet not one by a fox.
We whittled our choices down to large breed fowl, given the above facts. We also needed a hardy breed, one of a non-broody nature, a non-flier and hens that were friendly and would integrate well with cats and dogs. The Welsummer became our chicken choice.
The beautiful Dutch Welsummer sports a golden neck plumage with brown speckled feathers. This breed has only been in existence for just under 100 years and although rare in the UK, they’re very popular in the USA, probably because the Kellogs iconic rooster was a Welsummer. It’s eyes are a reddish colour and actually look as though they’re startled most of the time!
I searched Norfolk and the neighbouring counties and failed to find a large fowl Welsummer breeder, though there were banties available. It wasn’t until I paid a visit to stock up on wild bird seed at a local country store that the owner told me about a ‘back yard breeder’ in the next village. I toddled off with his number and lo and behold, he had two point of lay girls available.
The girls in question didn’t quite make the quality to show. Aside from Gerties’ foot scales deformity after suffering scaley leg mite at just 3 months old, I was told that the two girls didn’t quite make it in terms of ‘personality’ either. This soon became apparent when the guy went to put them in the cat carrier I’d taken along to transport them home in. Oh my goodness – wings flapping, squaking, pecking and generally exhibiting aggressive behaviour. What had I let myself in for?
Now Gertie not only had the foot issue, but just three weeks after I brought her home, she had an impacted crop. I had the arduous task of locating a poultry vet, even in Norfolk these are thin on the ground. Being new to hen keeping I took her to the vet and once again was quite shocked with relation to my ‘initiation’ in to hen keeping; the veterinary operation was £22 per minute and the bill with the aftercare medication cost me £298!
People remarked how stupid I was to pay this ‘just for a chicken’ and we received numerous volunteers for neck wringing, however, I took on a life and it was up to me to preserve this life. I believe everything deserves a chance to live. It wasn’t as if we were flush in the financial department at that time because my husband was out of work at that time and we had no other option than to live off savings, but we paid the vet and brought her home.
Seven years on and Gertie has enjoyed every single day on planet earth. She and her sister Daisy will be eight years old this autumn and last year each laid eggs from February to August as they have done every year. The above video highlights myself administering a moisturizing balm I make especially for Gertie’s legs.
Whilst on Dartmoor two years ago I feel in love with some hens in a garden near our holiday cottage. The breed: Australorp. Colour: Black. Now, once again my quest to acquire two of these handsome creatures spanned a total of nine counties. Australorps, or ‘Aussies’ as they are affectionately known are even more rare that Welsummers! It transpired that a breeder in South Devon was the only one I could find. How on earth did I get the birds to Norfolk?! Luck was on my side because a fellow chicken keeper spoke to a friend, who also lives in Norfolk, and he was going to a national show where the Aussie breeder was also attending – phew! Transport was arranged and funds transferred and I collected the birds undercover of darkness on 16th December 2017, my Christmas gift to myself and what a gift, I was delighted.
These hens are most majestic on their plumage as it displays a green tint that’s reflected brightly when the sun reflected on their feathers. Slightly larger than the Welsummer, the Australorp is again a hardy bird, tolerant of all weather, a self-forager, non-broody, non-flying hen. They’re also great layers.
Lady Jane and Aunt Agatha have been a total pleasure to own. Being somewhat territorial, Gertie didn’t take too lightly to them sharing her coop so we’d not bargained (or budgeted!) on spending £300 on another coop! In total, we have £750 worth of coop. We like Green Frog coops as they’re recycled plastic and there’s nowhere for creepy crawlies to lurk.
At this time of year we remove all old litter from each coop and steam clean them. We then deep litter fill each coop to keep them warm and toasty throughout the dropping temperatures of January and February. If you watch the video below, you’ll discover or technique and what we use.
As well as making sure they’re cosy and snug overnight, hens usually moult in winter. They do need supplements to help them remain healthy through the moulting period and we give them a twice weekly protein, vitamin and mineral rich meal between four of them:
Happy Chooks Recipe:
2 hard boiled eggs mashed with shells / 2 tablespoons of milled flax seeds / 1 tablespoon of nettle powder or dried nettle / a handful of cooked frozen peas / 2 tablespoons of peanuts chopped finely in a blender / 2 tablespoons of calendula macerated oil – I make this myself being a herbalist.