Quietly I watch, I never say a word, for I cannot talk; but I take it all in. The comings and goings and all the changes – I’ve seen them all. For I’m Chuckles, and incredibly I’m the longest-standing two-legged member of the family here, and although I cannot talk, I can tell you a great many stories. I can type though, of course – you may have noticed that!
Here’s a quick run-down of my story; three years ago I was one of the original four who began the family’s quest to keep hens, and we were four ginger girls, so popular that within a month another two girls and a boy were added to our numbers and, well, the rest is history.
Sadly, my three ginger friends have all now departed this world, but I’m a tough old bird;
I simply nod my head sagely and keep on going, even if I nearly joined them last year. All last summer I had a cough, and I after losing a few feathers on my chest, for no apparent reason, I looked a frightful mess. I could never get back to rights, no matter what horrid stuff the human creatures put down my throat and I even heard the odd discussion about putting me out of my misery – I can guess what that means. I’ve seen the big person who wears the hat go for a long walk with one of us who was injured before, and guess what, she never came back! Anyway, whenever I heard mutterings like that I’d stand up tall and do my best to smile and pretend everything was just dandy.
It didn’t help that the muttering continued for weeks but in the end everyone seemed to think I was happy and truly I was; I was just feeling a little off-colour. Eventually I took matters into my own hands and stopped laying eggs and concentrated on getting fully fit again. I spent all winter taking it easy, gaining strength and growing back all of my feathers and now with the warm spring weather I can honestly say I am back in tip top form. My health is restored, my feathers look perfect, my comb is bright red and stands proud, and I am back to laying my big pale brown double-yolk eggs three or four times a week. To be honest, I’ve lost a bunch of weight too and feel as if I could run from here to Rochefort, and back.
In the three years I’ve been here I’ve seen several new arrivals in the coop, and sadly a few departures too. Rosie is my oldest friend, she’s been here nearly as long as I have, and although she’s small and dark brown, I’ve noticed recently she’s started to grow a few grey feathers, a gentle dusting of age all over her body and especially around her face. I’m sure that under her plumage the wrinkles are starting to show, too, she’s definitely showing her age a little.
Of course I pride myself on my perfect colouring and complexion and think I’m looking much better. I’ve kept my vibrant ginger tones, and I’m meticulous about my beauty routine. I take my dust bath regularly and most seriously, I’m constantly preening and, even if I say so myself, I look good.
The household is a mix of big girls and small bantams, and although we have our ups and downs, in general we all rub along just fine. To name just a few, there’s Eglantine (she’s from Sussex, apparently – wherever that is. It might be north of La Rochelle, I think, my geography isn’t up to much!) and then there’s a very aristocratic grey hen called Ava, who keeps to herself much of the time.
Galaxy and Nebula are Marans and lay very dark brown eggs, it irks me a little that just because of the colour of the shell these eggs get as much attention and praise as mine. Really? think about it, I give them two for one, double yolks all the time and they smile and are happy. These two lay very dark eggs with shells like polished conkers and they have everyone making those ridiculous appreciative noises, never mind that the contents are just one single yolk the same as all the others!
The little women include a dowdy sandy coloured girl called Katya who’s currently ensconced on a hatch of eggs, Amy with an exceptionally flouncy white derrière,
Hermione who is just a year old and into dancing and screaming, and our little man Sirius. He’s such a bossy boots and tries the most awful tricks. I fear I have to teach him who’s really the boss now and again when he comes round with his little stepladder and tries taking me for a ride. Honestly, silly little man.
The exception to our good behaviour is when we get treats like apple cores and broccoli stems along the fence line, when our rules on civility may get confused and I often win out by being a heavy-weight. It’s not my fault, I can’t help it if I’m a big girl and the little ones get trampled underfoot. Most of the time I’m just trying to get out the way, honestly!
We’ve moved home since I first arrived. Our first house was quite small and cosy, just perfect for four, but as our numbers grew so it became rather crowded and we moved into much larger new premises built for us by none other than the man with the hat. The small house is now the maternity home, and it’s actually where Katya is right now, on her little clutch of eggs. It also does double duty as the quarantine pen when new arrivals come, and it has been used as a nursing home and hospice too.
Anyway, now spring is here most of the girls do nothing but talk about babies; quite frankly they’re obsessed, and spend days and weeks just sitting in a comfy spot, making a terrible noise if anyone comes close and hoping upon hope that they will have some chicks to cluck over. This even happens when they have no eggs under them – quite bizarre behaviour. I tried it once, to see what all the fuss was about, but after a couple of weeks, I got rather bored and decided it wasn’t the life for me. I do like watching the little ones though; every year we’ve had several hatched and after a few weeks in the nursery they’re normally big enough to join us. There are some rules and restrictions about entry sizes (something to do with the cats, I think), but the chicks are still small enough when they arrive that I can boss them about for a while. All in all, I’m quite happy for someone else to do all the nannying and feeding and teaching, I don’t think I’m cut out for that life.
There’s been a few other changes since I first came here. For example, in the beginning we used to roam around the entire garden, and one of my favourite spots was right up by the front of the house in the sunshine. I could smell the wisteria in the spring and we would all sit under the first roses of the year, happily posing for photos.
Life was good, but that all changed when the humans’ roly-poly dog got a new friend. The chubby fellow was fine with us, and we were quite polite to each other, but the girl dog was a totally different kettle of fish (I think I’m getting my metaphors mixed up here, sorry) and things began to change rather rapidly. They called her Evie, and she was an annoying little puppy who decided that all of the chickens were fair game for a great deal of chasing. I escaped the worst of it, but she did rather terrorise us, and eventually the game became rather too serious. There was a LOT of noise from the humans after this, and within a week a fence was put in place and our original acre and a half of grounds in which we used to roam was reduced quite extensively. However, to be fair, we still have a vast amount of ground to strut about in and we’re safe as houses since the little white bundle of trouble is kept on the far side from us.
That’s the only thing I miss, I catch a glimpse of the house and those purple flowers through the trees, and it does make me a touch nostalgic and then I’ll spot the small bundle of white trouble that caused the changes, she’ll be bounding around the garden after some ball or other and I’ll give her the evil eye!
As far as chicken homes go it’s a vast estate we can call our own, really. We have beautiful stone-work on two sides of us,
we can study the ancient walls should we decide to be academic
and the family even moved our favourite stone bird-bath down into our new realm.
We have shade from some magnificent trees, plenty of places for our all important dust baths, little clearings of sunshine, a huge compost heap to root around in, a long hedgerow stuffed full of goodies to peck at, and a enormous old hollow lime tree for roosting and laying when we feel like a change. In fact we have everything we could ever need, even a swing – though to be fair, only Hermione has been brave enough to use it. Youngsters – no fear, eh? After my initial reservations it’s actually perfect and I can highly recommend it if you fancy a weekend with us.
We’re also in prime position to sit and watch, and to be frank that’s what I like to do – which is good, as there is a lot of time for sitting and watching. In the winter things tend to be fairly quiet, even wet, and doors remain closed; normally we don’t see anyone that often, to be frank. This winter however, everyone took on the major job of cutting back the hazel and cob hedge on our northern boundary and so we did have far more human company than normal. I wasn’t sure quite what they were doing to start with and we all stayed well clear, but when we realised they were exposing virgin ground for pecking and scratching we might have ended up getting in the way a little. Of course, now it’s spring, everyone is very happy; the hedge is sprouting new growth and everyone talks about the enormous amount of light that now streams through to the border on the far side.
At this time of year the small humans are always coming and going too; there are giggles and squeals of laughter, and often someone will come and perch on our single swing under our lime tree – it’s all very social. The doors to the house are open once again and it’s ‘clicky’ season one more. This when the humans, especially the two biggest ones, have these black things they point everywhere that go ‘click’ all the time. The man human does a lot of his ‘clicky’ stuff in strange places like the compost bin, under the leaf litter, round the big lime tree where the bark is huge and all those yummy spiders live, in our shed (where the yummy spiders live too, high up), and so on. The female human likes to ‘clicky’ more at the flowers and us. Especially when it’s sunny. The small humans also have a ‘clicky’ season, though they seem more content to ‘clicky’ each other and giggle a lot and they always tap on screens after they’ve clicked, I simply add all of this to the long list of bizarre human behaviour.
The trees are in full leaf, oh they look fantastic once more. The horse chestnut is in it’s prime, I could stare at those flowers for hours and the grass is so green, in the summer it turns quite brown from lack of water but at the moment, it’s lush and soft underfoot. And so many insects. Mmmm, but all so high up. I wish I could fly. If only I had real wings, like a stork.
The bluebells line the wall.
The wild ginger provides incredible ground cover, with lots of yummy things crawling around underneath
and the cow parsley is multiplying in this natural garden.
There are worms and bugs and insects to munch on. No one uses any pesticides around here so we know we can chomp away healthily without any fear. We have a motto, us girls, “if it moves, it’s edible!” and it seems to work so far, though there are some things we’ve learnt are not so nice, like the red spotted bugs under the lime trees.
There also appears to be plenty of things going on in the vegetable garden. It’s been a hive of activity this past week with some heavy construction work and a lot of swearing – I must admit I have spent plenty of time scratching in the leaves nearby, quietly watching through the fence, wondering just what they are doing. At first I thought maybe they were building another house or barn or even extending our housing once more, but then I overheard a conversation about tomatoes and cucumbers and natural borders. Obviously it is still to be the potager (oh, how we used to love pecking around in it….mmmm, can you say aphids?) but I gather each bed is to be edged by a low stone wall. I am still watching and I’ll reserve judgement until it is finished, but so far it’s looking pretty good and I think I might be quite excited at the new view. There’s been plenty of clicking with the black things as they progress, so no doubt the female human will tell you all about it when it’s finished! In the meantime I think I’ve done enough story telling for a while, it’s been good to chat and hopefully I’ll be back with more at some stage.