When we moved to France I hankered after keeping chickens for eggs. After a couple of years which were spent prioritising work on the house to make it warm, dry and habitable, my other half finally gave in and built a beautiful chicken coop suitable for 10 chickens. We bought some books from Amazon, did a little research on the net, checked that my neighbour Remy (who is my garden and animal mentor) would help us and decided to go for it. On a sunny May morning we went to the market and bought 8 chickens which were ready to lay and two younger ones to bring on. We penned off an area so that they wouldn’t be able to get to the vegetables I’d so carefully nurtured.
It wasn’t love at first sight, they weren’t that good looking but they were very funny and it didn’t take long before I began to be able to tell them apart by personality as much as looks. There are three brown ones and three black ones, to be honest I haven’t a clue what breed they are but they lay wonderful eggs! There are two white chickens which are sold in France for eating rather than laying but they lay beautiful white eggs so they had a reprieve and they are now too old to make good eating so they’re safe!
The two younger chickens were around 3 months old. They were both a bit manky looking but the black one of the two we called Eaglet as she was particularly scrawny and ugly and looked just like a baby eagle. The farmer we bought them from at Hesdin market assured us that at three months old she would be easy to keep and would start laying eggs at around 6 months old as would the other little chicken which we call Grey One.
Eaglet quickly established herself as a bossy and greedy little girl. The other chickens didn’t seem to take to her at all and for a while we kept her and Grey One whom they also didn’t seem to like much -though not as strongly as Eaglet – in a smaller pen. We let them out for a set amount of time every day to mingle until all the hen pecking stopped and they seemed to be getting along well enough to leave them to it.
The chickens are really friendly on the whole, they seem to like being stroked when they’re in the right mood and sit down on the floor near me when I’m in the garden working but Eaglet has never been like that, she’s always been a bit moody and stand offish.
At about 7 months old I started to notice how big she’d got, we congratulated ourselves on how well we’d looked after the chickens though we didn’t have much of a clue and learned everything from books. All of them had grown a fair bit but Eaglet had turned into the supermodel of chickens, she towered over the rest of them and had beautiful long blonde hair. She was getting on much better with the other girls too, taking her turn to go into the nest box every day to lay eggs, coming out and proudly crowing at the top of the stairs and pottering around contentedly.
And then… late September, I was in the garden pegging out the washing or weeding or some such absent minded activity and I heard a cock crow nearby. Everyone keeps chickens where I live and they often wander in and out of our garden until the cats chase them off so I didn’t take much notice. When it happened again, right behind me I turned and caught Eaglet full throttle cock-a-doodle-dooing. I couldn’t believe my eyes – a chicken crowing, was that possible? No. It wasn’t. Remy informs me that Eaglet is in fact a boy. When I looked it up on the internet I found that sometimes it’s very difficult to sex a chicken and even experts get it wrong from time to time but when they’re older the little spurs on the back of a chicken’s leg means its a male.
Well, Eaglet still seems to be confused about his role and tries to be a chicken like the rest of them but we’re hoping he does the right thing at some point and we’ll have some little chicks, I’ll let you know!