Rising from the ashes like a Phoenix

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Promise I’ll move on to odd-shaped veg or how to strip down and rebuild an old Fergie tractor next week. This week it’s chickens again.

I make no apologies for this as I have to draw your attention to a serious malfunction in the egg supply chain (air raid siren sound effect here) and this is bad news for my (tax free, remember?) farm gate sales.

The problem? A hen is laying away. It may sound fairly innocuous, but laying away is possibly the worst crime a chicken could commit. Other than running to the nearest wood with open wings squawking: ‘Come and get me, Mr Fox’.

Laying away is where a hen decides that those fantastic nest boxes you have lovingly fashioned out of old wine boxes, carefully placed in darkened corners of the coop, and thoughtfully lined with finest hay/straw, sourced (this is beginning to sound like those M&S adverts) as the result of a long quest to discover a rare purveyor of that Holy Grail of small-scale smallholding – the small, square bale.

If we wannabes had to buy and store those big, round, cling-wrapped bales – the monoliths of modern farming – most of us wouldn’t have any room for the actual livestock. The chooks/two pigs/token alpaca/three sheep would have plenty of bedding – but no actual bed to sleep in.

And hens laying away are dangerous! Like a hen run Pied Piper, she will lead others to abandon the daily drudge of the trek to the nest box to lay an egg. They will try to out-do each other by finding exciting new (and almost impossible to find) places to lay. The first thing you notice is suddenly there are far fewer eggs and, by the time you find them, they could have been there ages, waaaaay to long to sell/eat them. Bad, bad chicken.

Anarchy is spreading through the run like a sickness bug in a primary school. No hen is safe. This week alone I have watched as a chook of previously good character jumped into a cockerel’s run, popped indoors, laid in a random corner, popped out, pecked some of his corn and had a bit of how’s-yer-faither before fluttering back.

Another had jumped into the incinerator Gamford, the faithful retainer (my dad, actually, chief gardener, DIY-er and chook wrangler) made from a 40-gallon drum. Luckily, it had gone out a while before, but it must have been the warm ash that attracted her. A few hours earlier, he had been burning some brash and it was blazing merrily. Roast chicken with a boiled egg on the side, anyone?