It turns out that I last wrote about this stuff February last year – we’ve just had our first chicks hatch for the year, only three out of ten eggs, but who cares? There are three little puffballs of joy running around, just waiting to grow into savage, psycho chickens.
Sadly, with the new arrivals still trying to decide whether stepping out of the egg was a wise move, one of our older hens passed away. We called her the Last Legger, from a group of five white leghorns we bought way back in 2015.
One of the issues we contend with here is that our mongrel free-range hens are free to range in front of various predators, which is something we have to take into account when we decide to bring some new blood into the flock. With some of the breeds we’ve tried, the average hen is as dumb as a house brick and can completely fail to notice a fox strolling over. We needed to pick breeds that fitted the profile of our birds – something canny, something alert to danger, a breed of chicken with a reputation for getting out of the path of trouble.
Be careful what you wish for.
We bought five white leghorns from a breeder near Camborne, and introduced them to our flock. The Leggers settled in like oil and water, but then they had been raised indoors, probably with less human contact than our birds are used to, so both sky and new, multi-coloured hens were a surprise.
For the first few days, we quarantined them in a small space, which I thought was chicken proof. Really, that tiny gap right up the top near the roof – no chicken could get up there and go through…
The Leggers were a fine addition to our flock, and certainly as alert and flighty as we had been led to believe. Perhaps rather more than we expected. On at least one occasion we had to retrieve them from a few houses down the hill when something spooked them. We knew which way they went – our neighbour was working on his roof and was startled by the flock passing overhead.
We had an unfortunate incident with a passing dog which killed one and injured another which we thought wouldn’t make it, but actually recovered albeit with a bit of a hitch in her step, gaining the nickname Limpy. It’s possible that the hens didn’t see the dog as a threat as one of them used to wander up the hill and spend time with the neighbour’s boxer. We’ve no idea what a humongous dog and small hen gossip about, but it was a daily ritual. When he saw her, he’d woof to be let out and the two of them would sit together on the lawn. The other hen visited another neighbour with both dogs and chickens to steal feed, to the point of pecking on the window if nothing was out.
Limpy Legger passed away last year, leaving us with the Last Legger, who had been laying until very recently, although she has taken to sleeping in a nest box rather than on the perch. The day after the chicks hatched, we noticed that she was looking a bit droopy and did all the usual things – check her over for signs of trouble, feed a bit of glucose water. She seemed fine, just… droopy.
I found her dead in the nest box the following morning. So now we have no Leggers left. The half-Legger offspring, however, are still going strong and crazy.