Our chickens in our original brood used to free range widely around a couple of paddocks. When we got our new hens after the poor first lot got snaffled by a bloodthirsty fox (henceforth known as Land Pike), we decided to take the opportunity to give them an upgrade in accommodation. Enter a new hen enclosure sheltered by a barn and boundary of mature trees, two new hen houses and the introduction of a Hen Hatch (Patent pending) in our fencing. That’s right, the Hen Hatch.
What is this wondrous contraption, I hear you ask? Well, for those of you that have been made newly mistrustful because your chickens have been eaten by a fox, it’s a small liftable flap in the chicken house enclosure fence (which is buried a good foot under the ground). It allows us to let the hens range freely into the adjacent paddocks without having to walk over the grass to get to a gate every day. This is fantastic because last winter we would literally sink ankle deep into mud next to the hen enclosure where the wet ground had been churned up by our passage. The new chicken enclosure has solid ground throughout everywhere that we need to walk (to open and close the hen house doors and egg hatched for example). We assumed, given that our last batch of hens were real escape artists and delighted on leading us a merry dance around the farmyard a couple of times a week, that the lifting of the Hen Hatch would prompt the chickens to head straight out and explore. But not for nothing is “bird brain” an insult. They completely ignored it for nearly a week, after which Crow the black hen finally hopped outside, only to become startled at the size of the world and run around the outside of the enclosure in a total flappy panic until she found her way back in.
We began to worry that we had agoraphobic chickens. We began to get desperate and did things like drop Hansel-and-gretel-esque paths of corn from the hen houses to the gate (they ate the corn up to the hatch and then stopped. Last weekend, in a fit of pique (and to the utter delight of our oldest child), we finally resorted to chasing a few out and they got the idea. They now spend their days outside wandering about the hillside in one of our paddocks, happily scratching up the bugs and other tasty morsels. Their enclosure is suddenly so much cleaner, with no hen poo in evidence and the grass which had previously been looking seriously patchy is starting to grow back. So there you have it; all hail the Hen Hatch!