French Hens

JA­NINE MARSH tells of how she looks af­ter her chick­ens, ducks and geese in cold weather

Your Chickens - - Front Page -

With Ja­nine Marsh

It gets cold in the win­ter months here in the mid­dle-of-nowhere ru­ral France, where I live. Early spring can be hellishly chilly too. For me that means bring­ing more logs in for the wood fire to warm up my old farm­house, which doesn’t have cen­tral heat­ing.

For my chick­ens, ducks and geese, it means a bit of ex­tra care and at­ten­tion is needed. They’re al­ways ex­cited to see me, but on very cold days they are pos­i­tively de­lighted when I open the back door and they see I’m about to take care of them. A ca­coph­ony of clucks, quacks and honks fill the gar­den, prompt­ing the wild birds to stop peck­ing at the fat balls I put out for them and look around in won­der.

I do all the usual things like mak­ing sure there’s plenty of dry straw in the birds’ shed and fer­ry­ing buck­ets of fresh wa­ter from the house when their wa­ter bowls and ponds freeze. Some days when I re­ally feel sorry for them I’ll make some rice or por­ridge and give it to them slightly warm. I have about 60 birds in to­tal so cold weather ac­tu­ally means quite a lot of work for me, but they’re worth it. On some morn­ings, when I slide about on the ice and my fin­gers freeze, I tell them just how lucky they are to have me.

Neigh­bour’s ad­vice The other day my neigh­bour Ber­nadette, who has kept chick­ens for decades, told me that I also need to check the pens very care­fully to make sure each bird is safe and well since on very cold days it’s not un­usual for a bird to find its feet frozen to the ground.

“I’ve had to chisel a duck out of the icy mud many a time,” she as­sured me.

“Surely not,” I said, “that must be a joke?”

“Non,” she said firmly. “It hap­pens. You must check that none of your birds get stuck in the ice.”

Back home I told my hus­band Mark what Ber­nadette had said.

“Surely not,” he said, “that must be a joke.”

“That’s what I said,” I told him, but nei­ther of us were sure so we took some old pal­ettes down to the pens and placed them on the ground to give the birds some­where to keep off the mud when it freezes.

I’ve been check­ing, but de­spite the ex­treme cold – some­times go­ing below -10°C – I’ve not seen any in­di­ca­tion of Ber­nadette’s pre­dic­tion com­ing true. The birds, how­ever, love jump­ing on and off the pal­ettes and play­ing chicken king of the cas­tle on them.

ABOVE: Snow in the chicken pen

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