Liz Aitken wonders why she always seems to be outwitted by her hens

Apparently, a chicken has a brain the size of your little fingernail – or a pea, hence the expression pea-brain. I have undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. How is it, then, that my hens, Bessie and Maud, manage to outwit me at every turn?

They have really small heads, but those beady eyes are always watching and learning. When I acquired my girls last summer, I bought a nice Eglu for them which I set up on the lawn. Lovely, fresh, green grass in the run and a snug indoor roosting and laying area.

Although I know this met all their requirements, after a few days I decided to let them out in the garden for an hour or two, while I sat and watched them. From that day forward they have ruled the roost in our household and the three cats and I are way down the pecking order (with me at the bottom). Since then, they only go in at night and have spent the last nine months re-landscaping my back garden.

Early on, Maud chased one of the mogs, Reilly, round the garden and, when he escaped through the cat flap, she sat and pecked her beak at the flap. Within a few days she had worked out how to open it and was through it. She was in the kitchen and eating the cat food before I could stop her. Now, every time they hear the back door being opened they appear and, if I am not fleet-footed, are in.

Bessie has a taste for blueberries and stripped the two bushes bare. She learned, quickly, that the green ones didn’t taste nice and spat them out and, after that, only went for the shiny dark ones. To reach the top of the bush, she hopped up on to the back of a garden chair and took a flying leap at the bush.

And I have learned never, ever, to leave a glass of beer unattended on the table on the terrace. The pair of them have got their greedy beaks in it in a flash and are necking it down like an Aussie at a cricket match.

Yes, they eat slugs and snails, but they trash all the vegetables as well. They don’t eat them; they just kick them up and chuck soil all over them with their scratching. They scratch all day long, shaking their bustles as they go, blithely uninterested in the utter mayhem they are causing. When they have made a nice, smooth, shallow crater, they stop for a dust bath, coating themselves all over until they look like they have emerged from a coal mine. No worries, though, because then they hop up into the bird bath and paddle about until they have nice clean feet.

Although they squabble over tasty morsels they are usually found together, the Thelma and Louise of Hertfordshire, egging each other on into some dastardly mischief. They have both escaped. I don’t know how many times because I suspect they have done it before when I was out and let themselves back in before I know about it. Like that Little Britain sketch when Matt Lucas gets out of the wheelchair and dives off the high board and is back in the chair before his carer notices.

There is not a blade of grass left on the lawn. It is a sea of mud and, although I am about to reseed it, I strongly suspect that this spring will be a battle of avian and human will as to what survives. They are wily, squawking, garden-trashers, but incredibly entertaining and I wouldn’t be without my ginger ninjas for anything.

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