Well, we did it. We were going to wait until this weekend but the sight of an empty chicken hutch was just too much to take and so on Saturday we toddled off here, to Cambridge Poultry, to pick up two brand new house mates. And I am delighted to be able to introduce you to Marx and Eggels, the most revolutionary chicks this side of North Korea.
At the moment they are about sixteen weeks old and aren’t due to start laying for another month, or so, but in the mean time they should provide much amusement as they scratch around, eat bugs, crap all over the garden and gradually become accustomed to their new surroundings. Once they start to lay, we should see about 300 eggs a year from both of them giving us a bounty of fresh eggs for breakfast as well as a plentiful supply left over for baking and giving away.
Although we were trying to remain impartial, we quickly ended up ‘adopting’ one each. My girlfriend was keen for a traditional brown hen (ours is a Blacktail), whereas I plumped for something a little more unusual (a Nera). Once we got them home and into their new run, my dark-feathered Nera soon established herself as the more confident and cocky (excuse the pun) of the two and was quickly given the moniker Marx as de facto leader of this rebellious pairing.
They are wonderful to watch. So reptilian, like miniature, feathered dinosaurs with sharp beaks, keen eyes and Triassic looking claws. They miss little and any noises will have them craning their necks, heads darting to try and find the source of the sound. They seemed intrigued by a passing plane, only to be distracted by a large caterpillar that had foolishly (with a little help from me) wandered into their run. A happy, and sunny afternoon, passed quickly as we watched them do their thing.
Once dusk sets in, they should instinctively find refuge in their hutch but this being their first night, they were not keen to venture into their Eglu. It looked as if more drastic action might be called for and so the run was opened and we waited for them to emerge, poised to grab them as soon as they came close enough.
Eggels was happy to be picked up and hoisted into her new house, via the ‘egg hatch’. It was warm and cosy with a generous covering of straw. Marx, on the other hand, was both less keen and a lot faster than her passive collaborateur and made a break as soon as she saw an opening. Between my flailing arms.
The plot next to our house is an overgrown thicket of about an acre where brambles cross the pathways like mutated barbed wire and nettles grow in frightening abundance. Don’t let her go next door, said my girlfriend. Whatever happens don’t let her go next door.
But as Tsar Nicholas II found to his cost, once the spirit of revolution has been aroused, there is little that can be done to suppress it and within a few moments, Marx had disappeared into the wilderness. Armed only with a pair of flip flops and a dying torch, I didn’t fancy my chances of finding her. Not that I said that to my increasingly panicky partner. I tried various calls: ‘Karl? Karl? Harpo? Groucho?’ hoping that she might respond to one but to no avail. She was as silent as the rapidly encroaching night.
I grew gradually more worried. There were certain to be foxes around. We’d had Marx less than six hours, surely we couldn’t lose her this quickly? Fairground goldfish survive longer than that. As I scanned the dying beam of the torch through the thick growth I thought I saw her red comb but it turned out to be no more than a cluster of unripe blackberries. A small movement close to my feet was just a small creature, most likely a mouse, running through the dead leaves. ‘Chico? Chico?’
Then my girlfriend spotted her in the field. The wily chick had cleverly made a break for freedom via the undergrowth and as soon as she was clear headed for the open expanse behind the house. After chase of comic proportions, that I would have seen had I not been trapped on a bramble, she was caught, passed over the fence and wrestled into her hutch, the door shut firmly behind her. Panic over.
‘Running off in an apparent bid for freedom? Foraging absentmindedly in the overgrown forests with no thought for those left behind? Free range in the broadest sense of the word? She is so your chicken.’ Said my girlfriend.
I smiled with pride at this assertion.