As I type, all is quiet on the south-western front in our garden, although I am bracing myself for an artillery round any second now. Because the moment has arrived when I let the new youngsters out of their rather ghastly, Belisha-orange builders-fenced pen, and into the garden to face their foes: when 2 plus 4 start to become 6.
To recap, the new arrivals in fact arrived six weeks ago, at the tender age of 12 weeks or so. They are Orpingtons, with a leaning towards chocolate, and one is growing well whilst her sister- the one who has been giving me all the trouble- looks much smaller. But what she lacks in stature she more than makes up for in wit and wile: meet Bertha.
It was Bertha who quickly learnt how to flap over the builders’ fencing and would appear nonchalantly on the human side of the garden, perched on the back of the garden seat or sitting contemplatively on the picnic bench. Bigger Bunty meanwhile stayed inside the pen and concentrated on eating.
Next Bertha decided that their privately-occupied Eglu was not quite exciting enough and aimed instead to roost in the small weeping crab apple tree in their enclosure. We see the tree, laden with rich red fruits, shaking, and then out of the top of the canopy appears a small thrush-like head: Bertha’s. Always one step behind, we mere humans added layers of plastic mesh netting to the edges of the run and the top of the tree, but Bertha simply views these as tests and proceeds to outwit us. So it’s official: Bertha can climb up, over or through anything.
Bunty can only look on in wonder, and casts her thoughts earthwards to the food tray -the most she can ascend is onto the roof of their Flyte So Fancy feed shelter. Thus whilst Bunty gets bigger and bigger, her chances of getting airborne get less and less, but the slender Kate-Moss-Bertha has unfortunately not yet outgrown her own weight when it comes to gravity.
We trimmed their wings upon arrival but after Bertha’s aerial adventures, we trimmed hers a bit more. To no avail. She can still do the “Bertha Bounce’; she has even been seen CLIMBING up the builders’ fencing as well as up the tree. It’s a sort of flap-fly-climb technique and it’s terrifying! Right from Day 1, she would bend her knees, crane her neck, and peer up at the fencetop. How can this be, I thought? Chickens can’t plan. They don’t know how to calculate things like thrust and trajectory. They don’t know trigonometry. They don’t have flightplans….do they?
Oh yes. Bertha has done all of those things, and with crampons too. She can escape from anything if she so chooses – that’s why I now call her Hendini. As such she may well remain her own worst enemy for the next few months, since pint-sized as she is, she may be sufficiently fearless and capable to boldly go where no hen has gone before, such as over the garden fence or into the pond. (Though we’ve had a paddler before – Nora, RIP, went pond-dipping twice after tadpoles before we added a small fence as a hen-deterrent, and Lily this spring glided into the fenced-off pond zone having launched herself from a flowerpot). So here we are, one aerial hen and one nice normal one, and a deliberate gap in the Belisha fence to lure them into the garden…
Strangely since the section of Belisha fencing came down this evening, nothing much has happened! Sumo (ex-battery hen, top chook -went in and did a bit of compulsory pecking and ate some of the youngsters’ food, and then somewhat embarrassingly couldn’t find her way back out and had to be rescued! (Well, she is elderly and her eyesight is not what it was.) I laid a trail of mealworms to help her back to the exit, but she still got “lost”!
Bertha, meantime, has made herself at home in the garden and already been into the huge new henhouse that arrived last weekend and that the bigger hens now reside in (more about this another time). Most importantly, she has found the seed tray inside it and helped herself. The big hens were skulking under bushes and did not intervene. Bunty then appeared and also found the new henhouse to her liking, kicking up the neatly-laid shavings. Having messed things up a bit, they went off to explore the flower beds.
My best wish tonight is that all 6 hens will go to bed together in the big new henhouse, as this is what I am aiming to achieve fairly soon. But realistically, Bunty and Bertha are likely to retire to their Eglu, which in Bertha’s case, may occur only after having been hauled out of the tree first. You’ve heard of the Star Gazing defect, in which a hen’s neck is twisted so it looks upwards? Well, Bertha likes to star gaze whilst up the little tree, nibbling languidly on crab apples that she can’ t possibly fit in her beak. More of a Star Grazer, really. …
She perches firmly on her chosen branch- one she has selected carefully and hauled herself up onto, as if picking her camp spot for the night. She settles herself down, fluffs up a bit, and hey presto, her tent is pitched…..
Regrettably for Bertha, at this point in her daily bedtime ritual, OH and I always pitch in too, evicting her from her treetop observatory. Bertha’s clenched toes are carefully uncurled before she is herself pitched earthwards (don’t worry, it’s not high up) and squawking in a high-pitched cluck, she lands in a feathery flump on the ground. The usual evening pitched battle is over yet again: score Humans 1, Bertha 0. But I can almost hear Bertha cursing me under her breath, “P*tch”!
It’s now nearly dusk and we are keeping a watchful eye. I don’t wish to commit hubris here, but all is going well. So far no-one has been savagely pecked or spooked into doing a clipped-wing flight over or up or into anything that should not be gone over or up or into. A strange hush has descended; the hens are watching each other tentatively and I am watching them too and wondering who will sleep where tonight… Eglu, Des Res or small treetop?
And is there going to be a sudden ambush as Bertha, possibly wearing night vision goggles, launches majestically out of her treetop to engage in a battle of Hencirclement, from which she will no doubt emerge victorious, having literally, gone over the top?