Thursday, June 15, 2017

Michelle Styles: Acquiring a hen as an editor

Gingernuts and copper black hens 
Getting new hens is always an exciting time.
I have kept hens since my youngest was 3 (he is now 22). It was supposed to be a short term thing as he had a big thing on a book about hens and I wanted to see if keeping hens would stop us from running out of eggs as often.
Copper black hen
 For a number of reasons (including being woken up at 3 am with crowing), we do not keep a cockerel. This means when we want to get more hens, I have to buy them in.  I get them as Point of Lay pullets rather than as eggs (hen eggs need to be continously turned unlike duck eggs which are turned twice a day) or chicks (at the moment we have kitten-cats who would undoubtedly love to play with chicks but I suspect the chicks would be less keen.) Hens in my experience are productive for 3 -5 years. Being a wimp, I tend to allow the old girls to die a natural death. Only 2 remained of our current lot and they both ceased egg production and I dislike supermarket eggs.
Columbines have feathered hats
Our usual supplier had gone out of business and so I needed to find someone else. As luck would have it, the UK largest supplier of poultry,Durham Hens is quite near us and had a wide range of available hens to choose from.  I was very impressed with the range and cleanliness of the operation. They had just won a major business award and it was easy to see why. They also offer poultry keeping classes, a hen holiday service (a bit like a kennel for hens) as well as poultry supplies.
My daughter and I chose 2 gingernut rangers, 2 copper blacks and 2 columbines. The hens settled very quickly and have very distinct personalities. This makes a change from the White leghorns which were just a flock of hens. They are the friendliest of the hens we have had.
Gingernut egg (lighter coloured) and Copper black (terracotta)
Yesterday I decided to write outside and one of the gingernuts decided that she in fact was an editor and was not particularly enamoured of my writing. Later one of the columbines decided to thieve a piece of cheese from the tapas plate my husband had put out for us to eat. This was a first as normally the hens are less bold.  
Hens are relatively straight forward to keep. Poultry layers pellets for food, water and mucking out the hen house every week. The manure goes on the compost heap and helps to fertilise the vegetables.
Gingernut inspecting my work!
 Our hens are completely free range but get locked up at night because we do have foxes about. They normally lay in the hen house but some do take to laying elsewhere and so I do check the known places…If you put an egg in a bowl of cold water, you can tell if it is fresh. Fresh ones sink. Rotten eggs float.  Proper free-range eggs taste that much better. There really is no comparison. If you can’t keep hens, do try to get them from a small local supplier, rather than from a supermarket.
We keep the vegetable patch fenced off but the hens do not really bother with the garden much…sometimes if we have been putting new plants in, the hens will scratch at the earth to get the worms and bugs. They like grass. And along with the ducks, they provide a bit of colour to the garden. And did I mention the eggs?

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances in a wide range of time periods. Her latest Viking Sold to the Viking Warrior was published in February 2017. To learn more about Michelle and her books visit


dstoutholcomb said...

My grandma always had chickens. My dad had chickens for a while, now he just has guinea hens. Has enough trouble with foxes, bobcats, and hawks. He does have an apiary.


Michelle Styles said...

Foxes are always a problem. We have lost a few over the years but mainly we are okay as we have dogs.
I do like keeping poultry -- just ducks and hens, no guinea fowl (or parrots -- my husband wanted one at one point and I refused)