Moor hens or less?
For years we have kept hens here at Kingham Lodge. Initially Chris hoped free range chickens would mean they would join us in the garden as a, slightly unsavoury, goose used to many years ago. (‘Lucy’ as the goose was known was horrid but devoted so she padded around as a highly effective security deterrent if not friendly addition to children’s picnics. Late in her life we discovered she was in fact a he, which explained much of the gander temperament.) However, we quickly discovered that free range chickens and immaculate gardens don’t go together and so their range was restricted to the working area of the garden. Not a problem for the hens where the compost heaps turned up hordes of delicious nibbles constantly.
Not only did they lay fabulous eggs for us, but they brought hours of pleasure to the family and other visiting small children who watched them scratch around in the compost heaps and try and break into the fruit cage. Feeding the chickens. letting them out and collecting the eggs was a happy morning ritual for very young grandchildren.
Just up the road is Daylesford where the famously happy free range chickens can be seen gambling about their enclosures in the fields. It transpires that they recently electrified their perimeter fence which obviously proved a highly effective deterrent to the fox and so a new cafe needed to be found.
Our other ‘hens’ are the moorhens on the ponds. Every year these shy birds mate and produce about 5 or 7 tiny chicks. With huge joy we see a little procession of them following their parents between the ponds in the garden or dashing over the lily pads of the quarry pond. Lesser spotted due to the shy nature of the birds a combination of dogs and / or children racing up the garden means they are very hard to spot but all the more fun when a glimpse is caught if everyone can remember to keep quiet long enough not to scare them away.
Tragically there are predators around in the wild woods of the Cotswolds and so all too soon the number of moorhens decreases. It is not that the parents are bad at their job, but the chicks are preyed upon by a large grass snake who we sometimes see by the pond. The other predator of course is the fox.
Sadly the fox has done for our other hens a couple of times this year and at the moment we are taking a break from keeping them until we can build a completely secure house and run for them. Oddly enough it has not been during the day that the wiley fox has pounced. He has waited until our dear ‘chooks’ are in their coup before breaking in by digging under the door, or getting in and out again somehow through the roof. If anyone has not understood David Attenborough’s message that nature is fierce then come and visit us to take a walk on the wild side of the Kingham Lodge gardens!