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Chicken Tales | Summer lovin’ in the chicken pen

Summer in the Seven Valleys, Pas de Calais where I live in France is wonderful. We have plenty of blue sky days, the air is warm and heavy with the scent of lush blossom and fresh cut grass, bees buzz and lazily flit from flower to flower. Occasionally we spot a lizard sunning itself or hear a snake hiss – they’re harmless. This might be the northernmost tip of France but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time here!

When it’s hot, my six cats lie on benches and tree branches seeking shade, my three dogs barely move. Crickets click their heels and bounce around the garden dementedly, birds coo in the trees and buzzards go slowly round in circles high up in the sky, coasting on the warm air updrafts. Occasionally a wild deer will pop its head over the hedge at the bottom of the garden then bolt when one of the dogs lifts an eyelid and barks. We’ve even been known to have a wild pig visit when it’s very hot – I think they’re after water.

In my garden though, the most action you’ll see is in the chicken pen. Whilst the ducks and the geese keep cool in the pond, the chickens seek comfort by creating craters. Ostensibly to make dirt baths they always seem to dig holes where I am most likely to stumble unsuspectingly into them. It occurs to me that chickens might have a bit of a sense of humour. It’s fascinating to watch them try to bury themselves in the dirt and then flick it over themselves. It’s a bit like watching an elephant bathe but instead of a trunk fanning water, their wings flap to throw dry dirt up.

Kendo Nagasaki, my colourful little rooster never seems to partake in the dirt fest, too busy preening and cooing, he is half the size of the girls and totally hen-pecked. In the heat of a summer day though, even my rather bossy chickens can’t get the energy up to peck or play up. This gives Kendo the chance to really frolic and show off.

Approaching the pen, it sometimes looks as though a strange tiny sand geyser is in operation as dried mud showers catch your eye. Bessy, Bluebell, Betty, Bambi, Belinda, Barbara, Bertha, Bettina, Boudica (she’s the really bossy one) and Beatie lie in dirt baths, fanning themselves (or try to oust another chicken out of an occupied dirt bath). Kendo struts up and down in front of them making “took took” noises. They watch him out of their beady little eyes and I could swear there is an element of lip, I mean beak, licking going on as they watch this fine and dandy figure of a chicken singing and dancing for them. He is the Fred Astaire, the Gene Kelly, no, he is the Robbie Williams of the pen and he is definitely entertaining them…

Find out more about my chickens in “My Good Life in France: in pursuit of rural bliss” by Janine Marsh, available from Amazon and good book shops everywhere…

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