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A Coop d’Etat | Life with chickens

Chickens in a chicken pen with a pretty coop

The day came recently when I realised that this year, the year of Coronavirus, I would have time to do the garden and it’s probably going to be a very good idea to make my vegetable bed as efficient as possible. But I am a chicken mum and some of my chickens are as much a nomad as I am. I travel around France year round usually. They’ve been travelling around my garden for a year. During that time they have eaten all my vegetables, dug holes galore which I frequently fall into (it’s a miracle I haven’t broken an ankle), poo’d all over the terrace, the garden tables and chairs (here they are on Instagram), laid eggs on the table and in a cat food bowl (I’m not kidding – here’s Barbie the chicken laying an egg on the table right in front of us), fought the cats and the wild birds for their food. They slept in trees like wild birds or under the terrace in boxes and learned to peck at the windows in the early hours of the morning to get attention.

Something had to be done.

However, with the shops all shut there’s no chance of buying materials to build them a coop and a pen so we had to get creative.

When we first moved into this run down old farmhouse, there was a room we laughingly called the “outdoor kitchen.” Basically it was an open corridor consisting of the end wall of the house and a plastic roof connected to another wall (that’s my dad below, looking at it the first day we saw this old house). We cooked on an old barbecue for two years here while we were renovating and finally took the roof down and renovated that room too. It was a lot of roof, we stuck it behind a shed at the bottom of the garden and promptly forgot about it. It lay there for 10 years. Until we needed to build some wayward chickens a coop.

Man stands in a tumble down room with walls missing and holes in the roof

We dragged it out, cut it up and made them a shed from an old greenhouse frame that was due to go the rubbish dump. We repurposed an old wooden gazebo, enclosing it with some wire fence left over from a previous job and a couple of old broken gates and made a door from bits of old wood and some wire.

Then I tempted Gregory Peck Jr the boss cockerel and his ladies: Anne, Fran, Rachel, Marine, Gladys and Kim Kardashian into the pen. We gave them a broken dog cage to lay eggs in, it’s very comfy and filled with soft straw, and a small old coop to sleep in though they prefer to sleep on top. Job done.

Or so we thought.

The next morning, peck-peck-peck at the window. I opened the curtains and there was Gregory Peck Jr. and Anne grinning at me (I’m sure they were grinning) through the window.

Up I got, crack of dawn, the sun peeping over the top of the valley. I walked down to the new pen, the chickens followed me back. They had dug their way out at the back. The fence is now pinned down to the ground. But I can see them, their eyes checking every part of the fence for a way to get out and thwart me.

They are planning a coop d’etat I am sure of it.

Janine Marsh is the editor of The Good Life France website and magazine and author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the  Rural Dream and My Four Seasons: A Year of the Good Life (out April 16 2020)

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