When we first came here we had chickens; the feral remains of a flock that I fear have been living on the farm almost as long as those wild dogs have in Pompeii, Italy, whose ancestors once graced the villas of some long forgotten Roman.
Well the flock we inherited roosted in the trees and bushes around the farm with a tight knit group residing underneath the Wisteria on what was once a very nice wrought iron arch, the DIY welding, baler twine and chicken wire giving it now a slightly lopsided with defiantly bucolic air. It was the perfect roost being south facing and against a wall; warm in winter, a haven for flies and other winged bugs, and close enough to the bay window to alert the humans residing within that chickens need food – now!
There were many havens for chickens dotted about the garden – another favourite haunt was through a bramble infested bux and in among sharp-leaved witches broom and a completely dishevelled black bamboo – talk about jungle!
Most of the chickens slept in the trees leaping up to their perches along a series of well-worn paths over dilapidated sheds and lean-tos. They would hunker on to the branches and cling grim facedly despite all the efforts of the wind to dislodge them. It is rather nerve wracking to watch a flock of chickens being tossed willy-nilly in to the air during a storm. And it is extremely difficult to make you insurance broker behave and pull himself together when you try to explain that you car has suffered chicken damage during the gale.
I think we inherited about two-dozen chickens and they were semi friendly; however, relations did not get off to a good start owing to the fact that our city-raised Jack Russells decided to hone their inherent hunting skills on them. Suffice to say the flock was decimated.
We tried every trick we knew to stop the dogs from chasing and occasionally killing the chickens but it was not until we fenced off the back garden that we finally succeeded. In the intervening years the game of chicken took on a whole new meaning for us, and the flock.
The chickens themselves were a motley crew with an amazing picture book cockerel in charge. So handsome was he, I named him Brad Pitt - his son, Pitt the Younger, was the feisty bantam who killed off Big Boy the Aracna/Legbar cross.
The hens were compact little creatures in a variety of browns and russets with neat bright yellow legs. I could hardly tell one form the other.
During the winter we started to feed them and as got colder we became ever popular. It was our favourite party trick to call the hens to feed and then watch as they would appear from every corner and crevice high and low and either run or fly straight for us; low flying chickens unable to gauge landing became quite a hazard and I always felt whenever we did this that the Dambusters' theme would be appropriate accompaniment.