Chicken moving joys

Last year’s potato patch, all 50 square metres, is all cleared ready for some serious scratching

So yesterday I finally cleared all of February’s hawthorn hedge trimmings from the potato patch, and pulled out this spring’s encroaching nettles. I thought I’d leave the newly sprouting potatoes, emerging from the wanton tubers I’d missed during the past year’s harvest, for the chickens to scratch around. But then I wondered, hmmm, potatoes are a member of the deadly nightshade family, aren’t they, and the little green fruits that follow their blossoms are full of poison. Sure enough, Google warns us not to let domestic chickens scratch about in such a left-over patch, as the leaves and stems contain solanine, a cumulative neurotoxin that could wipe out our flock. So all the new plants and their tubers had to go too. It felt awkward to eliminate these new potatoes, when I’d worked so hard to set up the new patch where some 176 new plants are sprouting well. But potato rotation should also put paid to blight.

Later in the evening I closed the doors on the chicken houses, so that the residents could be transferred conveniently inside over to their new digs[!]. And won’t they be delighted this morning to emerge into the very scratchable soil, an accumulation of years and years of no-dig strategy and top-dressed compost. I left a few grassy bits for some greens to supplement their diet. Our chickens are not exactly free-range, as they’re still under bio-security netting which has the added advantage of preventing food theft by the jackdaws and pheasants. But in their new patch, each chicken will have about 6 square metres of space. Not that the broody hens will want that. They only want a peaceful nest in which to keep their clutch of eggs warm.

With the sun on my back, I cleared the last of the sprouts, and listened to some enchanting bird song. I looked up and there, directly above me in the hedgerow, a sparrow was singing his heart out. He really had a lovely song! For such a drab little bird, the notes were crystal clear and delightful. I was so glad I was in such a position to see and hear.

So today I intend to get on with the chicken moving, arranging the netting and setting up the feeding stations in appropriate places. Before I open the hen house doors, I have to black out the barrier between the two cockerels or else they’ll bash themselves into the fence in their umbrage. They might hear each other’s crow, but if they don’t see a competitor, they’re not agitated. And then, my work complete, I intend to stop and watch, look and listen, in the afternoon sunshine.

Rural bliss, in other words, after the annual moving day.

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