It’s raining and the hens are looking glum. Their favourite spot close to the back door has become a muddy mess, and only the ever-hungry Light Sussex, Araminta, is still loitering there, waiting for the door to open and delicious Hen Treats to be deposited her way- a handful of mealworms, maybe, or some tomato and cucumber remnants. The other hens are nowhere to be seen, which is surprising, given the petite size of our garden. Yet there are often times when I can’t see any hen anywhere at all, hidden as they are under the many shrubs and trees in their patch.
I’ve no doubt at all that hens like to get under cover. I have observed over my seven years of hen-keeping that they are not fans of big open spaces and I often wonder why free range farms offer their hens just that – large expanses of grass and sky. No wonder many free range hens opt to stay inside, in the “safety” of their shed. Even in my small garden, this fear of open spaces is clearly demonstrated, when one hen will peer out from the shrubbery and sprint (in that gangly chicken way) as quickly as she can, across the patio or the sandy patch where they like to scratch, to the safety of the shrubs beyond.
Mind you, that caution is not without good reason, since our garden is occasionally visited by birds of prey, some of which have been terrifyingly big, and have scared even me! At these times the hens go deathly quiet, then quickly take cover and remain standing motionless for ages. They are terrified of the airborne predator, but fortunately for them, these aggressors are usually hunting the smaller wild birds that also frequent the garden.
My hens are without doubt most at ease when tucked discreetly under a dense bush, or when “hanging out” by our back door – perfect because not only does it offer the safety of the bushes, but also the protection of their Top Chook – me!
But what a pity this rain drives them further under the shrubbery- I am already missing those four alert little faces, beaks cocked, waiting for me to spoil them. Or rather, those three faces, since the water-resistant Araminta will still be waiting for me, whatever the weather, as her tummy clock is permanently set to “lunchtime”.