My first year of chicken keeping – by Dom Bailey

Eggstracts from a country diary Retired at 72 – not bad but I don’t know whether I could have stood another week in that cage. It’s nice to be able to stretch my wings, feel the earth between my toes and the breeze on my skin. “A few less feathers and that one would look oven ready..” I don’t know what they mean! Still, a week after leaving the factory and I’m feeling a lot better. The house is great – only five of us in here, but you can turn around, there’s food and water all day and a few darker rooms for snuggling up at night. There are a couple of beams above our heads, but you’d have to be some sort of bionic bird to jump up there. Outside, down the ramp it is quite bright during the day but it’s great scratching around – there are all sorts of bugs and shoots. And it’s great to see the sky. It is, however, still a cage, which gives me flashbacks to the factory now and then, but the feeders say they’ll let us roam a bit further later. I thought my egg amnesia was back. Laid one in the morning, went out for a few hours, came back in at it was gone. In the factory, I knew they were taking them and I’ve got a suspicion these humans are taking them here too. I might start calling them the Stealers. All the girls say the same.

Dom Bailey’s chickens

Burnham Five You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your cell mates. Back in the factory there were hundreds of us all in our cages. Most kept themselves to themselves (it’s hard to do little else in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper) but there was always one who’d give the others a peck when possible. I wonder what’s happened to that lot now? Now that the five of us have been here a few weeks, things are starting to settle down – a pecking order has been established. So here’s a little introduction. (T-shirts and stickers with Free the Burnham Five logos soon to be available…). Me – Maizey (“as in maize” I heard the Strawhead say. Genius…) Buzzy – bit of a bully more like. Think she had a too few many chemicals in the factory and because she’s a bit smaller likes to push her weight around. BB – a “larger” bird who prefers the dustbowl feed to the green stuff. Scruffy – also known as poo bum. Can get a bit frantic. Ziggy – who arrived with the vulture-in-reverse look – feathered head and bald neck. Although, she does make me look good!

Outside run Woken by puffing outside the house this morning. “Not there, over here.” “Mind my… OW!” But then it started to sound a bit more hopeful. “Shall we let them out for a bit?” (Go on, go on, go on, go on!) “OK – but you have to stay up here and watch them.” The door slid back and there it was… Or, there is wasn’t. No wire to the left, no wire to the right. Just openness. We all bundled out into the sunshine. They really are letting us out. Let’s go! We all had a good scratch around – who needs that dust in the feeder when there are greens and flowers and little, wriggly meaty things poking their heads out of the ground? Then the straw-headed one started flapping around like a, well, a mother hen. “Not my herbs, not my herbs!” Someone had gone too far – some areas are obviously off limits. Still, they have also hung half a lettuce on a piece of string in the run… I know! And, if I am not mistaken, feathers I didn’t know I had are starting to sprout on my wings. Give it a few months and I could have a full set. Now I wonder if chickens can fly?…

Flights of fancy It’s been a few months now, but updates a plenty. The first flights can be reported – or you could call it “falling gracefully” from the wall near the run. This is all of course due to our improved plumage. The Stealers say it is getting harder to tell us apart – that is just rude. But it is nicer to feel the wind beneath my wings, rather than whistling through them.

Christmas nerves This time of year always makes me feel nervous. I don’t know why – the cold night air, the crisp mornings, the sharpening of steel. Scraps and oats from the Stealers have been increasing as the days grow shorter and colder – all welcome, but I must have put on a few ounces. Does my bum look big in this? Does it? I suppose it depends if you are a breast or a thigh man… But you can’t help getting suspicious. I remember hearing girls at the factory boasting about reaching their “optimum weight” then not being seen again. It might be the time of year, and the need for a bit of extra comfort, but I’ve started to let our Stealers stroke my feathers – I’m not saying I’m all Stealer-friendly all of a sudden – like BB, letting them pick me up like some sort of doll. No sir, a hen needs some dignity, but the odd scratch down the middle of the back is quite nice. At night we huddle up in the nest box, beak by jowl. But midwinter passed, a few minutes of extra daylight a day are creeping back in the mornings and we’re still here. The Hippy stumbled up here, jumped on a fork to expose some wrigglies and wished us “Happy Christmas! You’ve survived another!” – although from the cooking smells from the neighbourhood I’m not sure how many of the wider sisterhood were as fortunate. Let’s hope they had lived happy lives first.Posted

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