Martin is just one hen keeper who is fervently hoping for some drier weather.
As I write, it’s stopped raining, a novel and welcome respite from most of the last few weeks.
By the time you read these words the weather may have moved on from floods and gales, but right now the garden is a sodden mess, and the birds are making it worse.
The lawn in particular is suffering. Near the hen house a large muddy bald patch has appeared where there used to be grass. It’s sloppy, slippery and miserable for the hens, who move gingerly over and through the sodden earth to firmer, grassier bits of the garden, where their scratching about and foraging isn’t doing it any good.
The ducks aren’t helping either. We have a yellow plastic child’s pond for Chuck, the chicken-reared Indian Runner who still lives with her adoptive hen family, and the ground round this has been totally trashed.
When given the chance, the rest of the ducks always make for this, and having taken a drink from it, like to forage about in the lawn, or more specifically the mud bath where the lawn used to be. They do a sort of filtering thing with their beaks, churning up the ground as they go. One of them, a white, waddling Campbell duck called Soup, can’t get enough mud, so her front and face become utterly filthy.
When she and the other ducks tire of this and go on a quacking rampage elsewhere, the chickens sometimes move in and continue the destruction. My wife and I look at the depressing mulch that results and groan, suspecting that it won’t recover on its own; so we’ll have to shell out for turf, grass seed, etc.
Yesterday it was so windy and rain-lashed that I kept the birds in their aviaries, which at least offer some protection, but this squashes everyone together, and that probably isn’t very healthy long term.
Things can’t be all bad though, because two of the birds have started laying. Intriguingly, they’re the flock’s oldest and youngest members, Slasher, the eight-year-old Araucana, and Myrtle the Welsummer, who arrived in the autumn, so we’re getting blue/green and very dark brown eggs. We’re also getting white eggs from Hilda, an assertive crossbreed with a floppy comb, whose temporarily billeted with us thanks to her owner’s garden flooding.
Hilda is one of a pair of birds owned by some friends. She came with Elsie, whose backside she pecked repeatedly until their owners, fearing serious injury, split them up. Until a few days ago the pair would eyeball each other from neigbouring runs, with Elsie roosting in a plastic cat box. After one prolonged deluge their people came out to discover the cat box floating in a small lake, and Elsie sitting on top of it. Hilda’s run is on higher ground, so she was just damp. However, with the rest of the garden waterlogged and the pair unable to live with each other, we offered to look after one of them.
Hilda was selected because no longer being at the top of the pecking order would be no bad thing for her to experience. This means that she’s now ensconced in a run next to Sarkozy and Carla, and the subject of a great deal of not entirely fraternal scrutiny, although both Sarkozy and Svenson have made their enthusiasm for the new arrival abundantly clear.
Interestingly, it’s Chuck and Priscilla who’ve been making the running in the unfriendliness stakes. Presumably not being at the bottom of the pecking order has a certain novelty value for both, but we’re all hoping that, weather permitting, they won’t have long to get used to the idea.