How do you make a chicken go to bed?
I know that isn’t the joke. But if you’d been down our back garden this week, you’d have wet yourself laughing. (I did. It happens when you hit 50).
Just a week in, we are novices at hen-keeping and our five girls clearly know this. They are treating us rather like primary school kids treat supply teachers.
Anything we want them to do, they do the opposite. Chaos ensues every time we let them out - or, to be more exact, every time we want them to go back in - because we are still without a proper, fenced up chicken run. (Bloke is still making it. Don’t ask; I did, several times, and nearly got hit with the lump hammer).
The hens amble about as a pack, contentedly plucking at weeds, happy with their lot, until we affect the low, arms spread-eagled crouch as per the diagram of a chicken catcher in the book that is now our bible.
Their beady eyes shoot us a withering look of pity, then they scatter to the four winds and head for the most impenetrable corners of the garden. And there they stay, come what may.
If dusk is falling, you start to panic about skulking, salivating foxes just biding their time and have to take drastic action, ie encourage your husband to sally forth into the undergrowth. Though do warn him to take off his nice Merino wool cardie from House of Fraser first.
Bloke’s now has more snags than Sybil Fawlty’s (moose’s head - remember?) thanks to our most beautiful chicken, Sophia La-hen.
She was playing hardest to get at the back of a huge thorn bush and Bloke had decided he’d had enough of coaxing. “Sophia, if you don’t come here now, you’ll be dead meat by morning,” he hollered as he stomped into the undergrowth. No wonder he didn’t get a girlfriend until he was 22.
Talking to them by name is a bonding thing, though it has caused some hilarity. The other day, just as we were rounding them up again, my mobile rang. It wasn’t for me; it was for him. “Put down Marilyn Monroe and come and talk to your uncle,” I shouted. The man on the other end of the phone declared it one of the most memorable lines of his life.
When Bloke eventually finishes the chicken run, there’s a new hen hut coming flat-pack from eBay (I insisted; the old one was too small and has holes in it and the book says a fox can get his entire body through a four-inch gap).
I’d have loved a dinky little hand-painted gypsy caravan coop from Flyte So Fancy, but then I saw the price: £2,750 for the basic model. I could get them a Fiat Punto!
And anyway, do they deserve it? No. They’ve stopped laying.
So far we are down by the cost of five chickens, 12 metres of steel wire, two dozen fence posts and the new coop, and all we’ve had in return is three little eggs.
We had them poached on Good Friday and very nice though they were, I estimate the cost of breakfast was £123.50 a head.
Even Heston Blumenthal wouldn’t charge that.