Before DEFRA decided that we needed to keep our hens in, they had free reign of the bottom of the garden. Barry put up a fence that’s about 4ft high, which actually posed no problem to them to fly over. While they’re billed as not very good at flying, they can flap enough to get a bit of height, especially if they can “hop” from one thing to another, say… from the ground to the compost heap, to the potting shed… and then right off it.
This photo was taken in November, a few feet from the back of the house. Ostensibly not the bottom of the garden. I have a series of increasingly frustrated messages to Barry, who happened to be away the day they repeatedly escaped and I had two small children to look after. Tiana was the worst offender – I think she escaped five times before I did anything other than just put her back over the fence, and Belle once. Aurora was not in any way bothered – they are still exactly like we thought they’d be when we first got them!
After the fifth return, I thought we had an accord and I went up the road to see a neighbour, only to receive a panicked text from the lovely girl next door who has a fear of birds, unable to leave her own house due to Tiana pretty much knocking on her front door. After retrieving the bird and muttering some choice words at the bloody thing, I managed to roll chicken wire over the gap between the house and the garage, and then the garage and the hedge, and tie it with parcel string – all I had! She could still get over to the church another way, but she seemed set on getting run over on the road, so blocking this exit worked. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to win. Against a chicken.
The lovely lady we bought them from told us not to clip their wings, at least to start off with, as flying is their only defence against predators, but after this one chicken took more looking after than my kids that day, it was time for a reckoning.
Clipping their wings doesn’t hurt – it’s basically like trimming your nails. We did much research (watched a YouTube video) and then went for it. You fan out one wing and then cut the tips off the primary feathers, about five or six centimetres. You only do one, and it creates an imbalance when they try to fly. It’s definitely a two-person job – one to hold the chicken and one to spread out the wing and cut. We just went out and did it – I think I would have got a bit squeamish if I’d have thought about it too much, and panicking is probably the worst thing you could do.
Here I am, holding on for dear life to Tiana. I was never going to do the cutting! A few days later, we had to do the others as she seemed to have nothing better to do than encourage Belle and Aurora to make the leap themselves. I hold her fully responsible.
Then, DEFRA came along (not physically) and it was all pointless anyway because they’ve had to be quite literally cooped up pretty much since early December – due for release at the end of April now, as we’re in a higher risk area. But we’ll know what we’re doing for next time!