29th July 2016
The most beautiful picture of motherhood and devotion in the natural world is the site of mother hen and her chicks.
This summer Deborah, my Silver Partridge Pekin Bantam, decided at turning one-year-old in April that it was time she sat on her first clutch of eggs. Deborah was one of the first chicks that I hatched in my incubator at the Emma Bridgewater factory, so I’m especially fond of her.
Her breed, the Pekin Bantam, are renowned for their friendly, docile characters and indeed making very good broody hens. They are a true Bantam, meaning that they only exist in one petite size of chicken. Originally they came from China and the first birds to arrive into Britain were said to have been part of the loot taken from the Emperors palace, where the birds puddled about upon the palace stairs. Their foot feathers mean they are a good breed of chicken for the garden – but they need to be kept out of mud, their profusion of fluffy feathers must be checked often for lice and their feet smeared with Vaseline seasonally so their scales do not become deformed.
Pekin Bantams have been bred into a huge number of colours. The most popular seem to be the lavender and buff, but all are beautiful in their own way. A trio of them pecking around the back door looks like a bunch of feathered, fluffy-bottomed cup and saucers!
I allowed Deborah to sit her own eggs. The chicks’ father is a booted cross gold cuckoo Pekin named Charlie, and some of the chicks may not be Deborah's at all as both the Wyandotte hens, Juliet and Victoria all share the same nesting box! After 21 days of tight sitting, 6 eggs hatched. Once the chicks had dried off and fluffed up underneath their mother’s feathers, it was time to gently move the young family from the main hen house to their own cosy and more protected nursery coop.
I commissioned my dad to make me an ark for the garden in the spring. When you’re hatching your own eggs, it's vital to have several coops to contain delicate, growing birds while they are young, because chickens of different ages can’t be mixed safely together. Young birds get pecked and bullied – sometimes quite shockingly by adults – due to the pecking order hierarchy that hens strictly live within.
At this time of year, it's really important to give your hens dry soil or sand to dust bath in, so that they can keep clean and cool. Ensure that the hen houses are kept free of the nocturnal, blood sucking red mite by dusting diatomaceous Earth under the perches and in the nesting boxes. Hens often moult at this time of year too, losing their feathers and growing a new set. Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy for hens, so mix into their layers pellets and corn, spoonfuls of cod liver oil and feed them, as a treat, dried cat biscuits. This extra protein will help keep their energy levels up and their combs nice and red.
Happy hen keeping and thanks for reading – Arthur
29th July 2016