Jo Barlow: a special place for an ex-bat hen

Milly - vulnerable

Milly - vulnerable - Credit: Archant

Milly the ex-bat has created her own little sanctuary

Milly's secret nest

Milly's secret nest - Credit: Archant

You would think, would you not, that a beautiful, bespoke, recycled plastic coop, with knicker-deep bedding, would be enough for some girls. Crowdfunded and paid for by the love and kindness of many wonderful souls who support the girls of Effie’s Garden, our coop is truly a thing of wonder. But for Milly … it just doesn’t cut the mustard when it is time to lay her egg.

Milly, if you remember, is the little hen who found her voice some time after rescue and now sings me daily egg songs celebrating The Great Event. However, over 18 months free, she is still bottom hen of our little mixed flock and, as anyone with banties will tell you, they are forever broody during the summer. As we have four – two rescued frizzles and two of the original three chicks who looked after Effie in her dotage – the coop always seems to be full. Consequently, poor Milly always seems to be chased out.

So where can a girl go to enjoy her special moment in peace? Why, a special place of course!

I first became aware of a possible alternative laying place when the number of daily egg songs didn’t equal the number of daily eggs. As there is only one egg a day being laid, this didn’t involve anything too complicated on the maths front!

Outwit

After unsuccessfully searching for the spot, and keen to prove a human can occasionally outwit a hen, I cunningly watched Milly early the next morning to see where she was heading. It turns out her Special Place is tucked up under a droopy shrub by the side of the little wildlife pond. After she emerged, triumphant again, I investigated further and found the missing eggs, all nestled down in a well-trampled spot; a very heartwarming and tender sight.

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So now, after checking the nestboxes each day, I also go to the Special Place, where, without fail, there will be a perfect Milly egg waiting for me.

Eggs aside, my investigations were actually fortuitous as, one evening, the head count revealed one less girl than normal … cue a panicked search for the errant Milly. As I called her, I could hear her reply to me and her gentle bwarks led me to the Special Place, the shrub wobbling incriminatingly. There she was, very pleased with herself, all tucked up, fancying a night under the stars. I think not Milly! After a sneaky cuddle and a stern talking to on the dangers of Mr Fox, she was tucked up with her sisters and safely locked away for the night.

The nature of those humans who rescue ex-bats often seems to reveal a fondness for the vulnerable, a wish to nurture and protect the most fragile. And, of all my girls, as bottom hen, Milly is that most vulnerable and fragile girl. Consequently, she is my special girl, so it seems only fitting that she has her own Special Place.