“Watch out for Doris” warned the friendly chap showing us around the chicken smallholding at Suzie Baldwin’s Happy Healthy Hens in Hampshire. Alarmed, I pulled out oldest son (who had his hand outstretched to pet the turkey bustling around after us) away. “Why, will she peck him?” I asked. ” Oh no” He replied in a surprised sort of way. “But she’s a bit of a tripping hazard, she likes to sneak up behind you”. Doris, the geriatric turkey was just one of the fantastic characters we met that day. You might be surprised to learn, given how upset I was when a fox killed all six of our chickens a week or so ago, that we went home with a whole new little flock. We found that we missed the cheerful and inane burbling and feathery antics of our hens and as we’d finished their new, hopefully fox-proof enclosure, we gave into temptation and bought seven new hens. The yard isn’t actually called “Suzie’s boutique birds” but it might as well be. A more glamorous chicken yard is hard to imagine. Apple blossoms wave gently in the breeze with burbling fowl strutting about underneath them. Wander in and you’re greeted by four adorable lambs that are being hand reared, followed quickly by Doris (said ancient turkey) who bumbles up to say hello and flutter her tail at you.
Indian runner ducks sprint about under the beautiful apple blossoms and geese give you the glad eye as you wander over to the immaculate pens to look at glossy, perky chickens of all varieties that must surely have been polished just that morning. We went there intending to get a few hens to replace our layers and staggered out feeling slightly dazed at the fact that we were now the proud new owners of seven lovely hens (one Wyandotte, one blue Orpington, two Orpington crosses, one Leghorn, one Sussex and yet another Orpington, this last one stripy and, we hope, already broody!).Suzie is an absolute fountain of avian knowledge and was extremely patient with us. It was nice to feel that we could ask whatever questions we wanted, without being hurried along or dismissed. We’re planning on returning next week for some bantams (I have my eye on one with a particularly endearing, if ludicrous, headdress).
The stripy Orpington will hopefully revert to her broody ways once she’s settled down from the move – she’s currently camping out in the shade with the rest of the chickens, all of whom have clearly decided it’s simply too hot to get cross with each other. They seem to be enjoying their new grass paddock and our brilliant gardeners have built us what I’m going to insist upon calling our “hen hatch”, a wonderful pulley operated door that will allow them to wander freely in and out of our paddocks. They’re currently enjoying their new luxury chicken enclosure and we look forward to starting to get some eggs. We actually have a couple of extra hen houses and runs turning up this week ready to house our meat hens once they’ve been hatched!