Londoner Janine Marsh gave up a job in the city and she and her husband moved to rural France. Then they got their first animals …. some chickens

My French neighbour, Remy, was indignant. “They are NOT babies, they are chickens,” he said. Remy had come to inspect the eight point of lay hens and two ‘babies’ with which I had returned from the local street market.

“I’m going to call that scrawny baby one Eaglet,” I said.“Non, non, non,” came the emphatic response. “You cannot give her a name – she is your food.”

But, for an ex-Londoner settling in rural France after chucking in the city job and seeking a shot at the good life, that was not such an easy notion.

I’d never had an animal before, not a cat or dog, let alone a chicken, and here I was with 10 of them. The husband had built a palatial coop, we’d fenced off part of our garden for them and I’d bought several books about poultry management. Nothing, though, had given me any idea of the fun and joy that keeping chickens can bring.

I moved a garden bench close to the pen and sat watching them, mesmerised by the to-ing and fro-ing, cooing and clucking. After a week, eggs arrived; I was as proud as if I’d laid them myself. The ‘babies’ started to grow. Eaglet, in particular, seemed to respond to the TLC I was happy to dish out.

Remy warned me I must not get too close – how would I eat them otherwise? I already knew that wasn’t going to happen – I’d become an overnight chicken addict.

Eaglet made soft cooing noises when she saw me and followed me round the garden. She was gentle and affectionate – and she was huge. I started to believe that I had a real talent for poultry keeping and thought about entering her in a chicken beauty contest (they have them in France!).

One day, as I did the morning feed, I heard an almighty ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. I looked round for the intruder, and there was none. Eaglet came running up for her food then, looking confused; she threw back her head and crowed.

So this sister is actually mister! Despite this, Eaglet daily enters the nest box as if to lay an egg with the other girls. Although he towers over them and occasionally lets rip with a startled crow, no-one in the pen seems to mind him crashing the hen party.

Janine Marsh is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and editor of

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