When we first planned to have chickens G built this ornate (yes, that is lime plaster, yes, those are shingles, yes, the lead was beaten) residence for them, inspired by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall french style elevated coops. They are fox proof and the chickadees can put themselves safely to bed without human help (we’ve removed the ladder if that’s what your wondering)
We try not to take it personally that they refused to live there, preferring the comparatively feeble shelter of the laurel tree, bouncing around in hale, gale and snow. Actually we love it. Love their freedom to roost where and with whom they want. Sometimes all together on a branch, sometimes alone. Sometimes only five feet off the ground, sometimes eight. I love opening the back door at night and the light from the house is cast into the bushes and we see them, asleep, heads under wings, or blearily blinking at being disturbed.
The upside for this 24/7 free range lifestyle is that they enjoy great health. The downside is they are in charge of where they lay their eggs. They aren’t completely resigned to us taking them, so about once a month they will stop laying in their present spot and go off and find a new one. For example under our neighbour’s water butt, or under an abandoned car. G is left tracking them, virtually crawling on his belly SAS style to glimpse a peak of their latest nest. Every now and then we’ll go without eggs for three weeks and then find a pyramid of about 30 hidden in the woods.
If one of them is determinedly broody, we get some fertilised eggs.(I mean if she doesn’t leave her nest for more than a drink and a nibble, returns even if removed several times and stays on all night)
These little chicken families are touching to watch.The chicks follow the hen everywhere, when approached they anxiously squeeze under her, their stalky legs straining. The hen demonstrates her scrape and peck method to them, breaking up bits that are too chunky for their tiny chick beaks.
Usually when the chicks are quite big, almost gangly, with reasonable wings, the mother stops nesting with them on the ground and goes back to roosting in the trees. The chicks run around underneath chirping as she looks down at them. Normally it takes a couple of false starts (she gives in and comes down and joins them) before the whole family is up in the branches. This time one of our Marans, a black and white mottled hen, returned to the trees when her chick was only a couple of weeks old and quite tiny. The chick ran around for ages and then battled onto a branch about four feet off the ground. It sidled up to another hen, a Rhode Island hybrid, and tried to wiggle under her wing. After a few minutes fussing the R.I.H. shuffled off to another branch. Eventually, mother relented and came down. Two nights later we were stunned to see the Maran mother about eight feet off the ground and peeping out from underneath her the baby! I don’t know how it got up or how it gets down.