Ex-pat Janine Marsh’s nomad chickens go walkabout

I seem to somehow have ended up with a gang of nomad chickens. Before now, they’ve all been happy to stay in the pens at the bottom of the garden. They’re large pens, everyone can move from one to the other as they wish, there’s shelter, four coops, games (yes really, the chickens love playing on swinging tyres, and jumping about on a palette assault course) and trees for climbing.

The wandering malarkey all started when Ken the naughty cockerel and Barbie the blonde chicken went in the pen. These two were orphaned chicks I found in the woods next to the recently mauled body of their mother. At first they lived in the house with me as their surrogate mum. Then they lived in their own coop in the garden because I was worried they couldn’t fend for themselves in a pen full of bossy birds.

Barbie is a beauty and has the sweetest nature. Each morning when I went out to do the rounds of feeding (I also have ducks and geese) she would preen, coo and come to me for cuddles. Ken on the other hand was not remotely grateful for the special treatment. He charged at me every time I stepped foot outside the door. I spent months getting him to calm down and behave. He’s fine with me now but attacks everyone else who enters the garden. I decided Ken and Barbie were big enough to join the rest of the crew in the pen.

I already have two cockerels, Gregory Peck, who has the most beautiful long black feathers and is enormous. When he jumps out of the tree he lands with a loud thud. Kendo Nagasaki is a bantam and a truly gorgeous looking boy with multicoloured feathers. Both are friendly and calm.

As soon as Ken entered the pen though, mayhem ensued. Despite his aggressive behaviour with humans, with Kendo and Gregory he’s a bit of a coward and runs away squawking when he sees them. He tried it on with all the girls, but they just brushed him off and fixed their beady eyes on him and then Kendo and Gregory would arrive to reinforce the message.

Ken is a smart chicken, though, and very agile. He has no problem climbing and flying so within days he was up over the high fence of the pen and back in the garden, Barbie close behind. A few weeks later I noticed a few more chickens were out of the pen in the mornings.

Now the entire flock of chickens, all 20 of them, have managed to find a way out of the pen – all except Kendo and Gregory. Ken has a whale of a time running up and down the outer perimeter of the fence crowing with success. Meanwhile the escapees have decimated my daffodils, munched on my marigolds and scoffed my salad seedlings.

The big scissors are out, wings will be clipped, chicken order will be restored!

Janine Marsh, author My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream

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