Jo Barlow has a confession to make. Her chickens have taken over her life

There are times when I realise the extent to which my ex-bats have taken over my life; it would seem that every aspect is centred around my girls.

Take, for example, my recent trip ‘abroad’. My husband and I never go away together as we cannot find someone who we trust to care for our hens’ individual and very special needs. So we take it in shifts to go to visit family in distant (from Cornwall) Kent. We could never afford a ‘proper’ holiday anyway – all of our money goes on vets bills!

It was my turn to head across the Tamar. I was initially going to London for an awards ceremony the chicken course was shortlisted for. Then I was staying with a friend, the lovely Liz, who I met through our mutual love of ex-bats – in fact she was the first person to travel hundreds of miles to visit Effie, ex-bat extraordinaire. On reaching my parents in Kent, I would be staying in a B&B I had chosen specifically because they had their own hens.

Pretty damning evidence so far!

Then there was the list of instructions I left for my husband. Two sides of typed A4 (small font) listing hourly requirements of the girls. Food, water and security aside the list contained such vital missives as:

* Do a quick knicker-check first thing and bathe Greta every other day as she gets a bit mucky.

* Effie likes to come in to share your breakfast. She will bang on the patio door to remind you.

* They have their treats at 1pm. Precisely.

* If it is wet, windy, sunny or cold, let Effie and Lemony into the utility room. They like to watch the washing machine go round.

* Don’t forget Lupin’s pineapple for her crop.

* Watch out for Lavender, she likes to help you and invariably trips you up.

* Iona likes to be cuddled and sung to just before bed. Two rounds of ‘Rock-a-bye Iona’ normally suffice.

* Hettie likes to see the banties to bed before she heads off herself, so let her help you.

* Make a ridge in Effie’s bedding each evening so she can rest her neck more comfortably.

At the bottom of this epic list, after a brief sentence saying ‘Feed cats twice a day’ was a hand-scrawled afterthought: “Not much food for you, you may need to go shopping.”

It’s a good job Gary loves the girls as much as I do!

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