Well, I think we should start with the three French hens who arrived at La Godefrere on Wednesday. We decided that we should go to the street market at St. Hilaire du Harcoet to see if we could buy some chickens. We have seen when visiting this market that there are several stalls selling live chickens. We have also noted that the stall holders return each week so we reckoned that it would OK to make the purchase here.

St.Hilaire is a fantastic and typically French street market. There are loads of stalls selling fruit and veg as well as lots of meat and of course lots of cheese. You can pretty much buy anything and there are stalls selling beds and mattresses. The sounds and smells, you could be nowhere else but France. So, we approached one of the stalls to look at what was on offer and we could see that there was a whole range of birds from egg laying chickens to chickens to raise for eating. There were ducks and guinea fowl as well as geese. There were young chicks and older birds all in cardboard boxes and making quite a racket.

Our plan was to have a look at each stall and choose what we thought would be would be the best birds. What we hadn’t factored in was the sales techniques of the stall holders. At the first stall a young lad asked us if what we were looking for and we said chickens for laying eggs and immediately he was indicating birds and asking how many we wanted to buy. Mrs.Parish played for time by saying we had to get some cash and would come back. At the next stall we met an older and wiser stall holder. With years of experience she pointed out the egg laying chickens asked what we wanted and proceeded to produce an empty cardboard box from nowhere and the birds were selected and in the box before we could say anything. Mrs. Parish attempted the same tactic but the woman simply put three chickens in a box and said she would keep them for us. So we had little choice but to get the money and return for the chickens.

Three French hens

We managed to safely get the three hens home despite their attempts to get through the air holes in the box. Once home we introduced them to the chicken house and left them to settle in. Getting them to come out into the run area was a little more difficult and Mrs.Parish had to encourage them out with a push. They seem to be particularly difficult trio and once out were reluctant to go back up the ladder. They also insist on knocking over their feeding trough. All the advice we have had and the books on chicken rearing suggests that it will take a few days before the chickens start laying. Just to show these are independent chickens the largest chicken duly produced an egg after a couple of hours with us and has now produced a second yesterday.

Our first egg

I have now been down to do a daily round of talking to the chickens and they seem to do a lot of clucking and cooing. They are quite good to talk to and we have struck up a good relationship already. This is good news as the herd of cattle in the next field have been moved to the next field over so I can’t have my little chats with them. The sheep are never very communicative as well as being ugly!

Yesterday and today we let the hens out to be proper free range chickens and they have spent a couple of days exploring the orchard and garden. The cats have been somewhat concerned. Firstly they are no longer the centre of attention and secondly they don’t quite know what to make of them. Minou has looked a little worried when they come near. Moggie has been tracking them around the garden but keeping a discrete distance as he moves when they have moved. He seems to think he should be doing something but is not sure what. Archie on the other hand has totally ignored them. He has seen it all before and has no interest in chickens, remaining aloof.

The hens have been quite adventurous and have been pecking around. We have put a gate in the orchard to keep them out of the lane, which leads up to the road. However today they got quite brave and came into the courtyard and were heading past the woodshed to another access to the lane. When we tried shooing them back they were expert at avoiding us and constantly doubling back. Eventually we persuaded (bribed – food is clearly an important part of their lives too) them back into the orchard and put up a barrier to keep them contained.

So, now I have been thinking about names for the hens. Our French neighbours think we are mad English for naming animals. They don’t even name their cats. But I think if I am going to have regular chats we should give them names. It is clear to me that these are assertive, quarrelsome and rebellious chickens. I am not sure why we couldn’t have chosen quiet docile and obedient birds but no, we get the bolshie ones. So I decide to call them Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia after the suffragette Pankhurst family. Mrs. Parish approved and said that now I had three more difficult women to deal with alongside her and my two daughters!! There is a definite pecking order being established and it would appear that I am at the bottom.

The hens seem to like Mrs. Parish as she is the gardener and as such provides nice garden borders to feed in and when she is in the garden she gives out nice juicy worms. The hens now immediately rush over when she has her gardening clothes and boots on and follow her round the garden. Mrs. Parish has now become the worm lady of La Godefrere.

The worm lady of La Godefrere

The four calling birds in the title refer to the birds we are hearing at the moment around us. There is still the Hoopoe who has started calling again as the weather has improved dramatically today. During the recent cold and rain we thought the Hoopoe had got fed up with the cold and gone back south. But we heard them first thing this morning as soon as it got light and they have been hoopoing most of the day. Hopefully they will be finding partners and settling down to nest and then they can quieten down. We have also heard the cuckoo from last Monday and have heard it again today.

We are also hearing owls at night as well of course as the dreaded miming starling that has buzzards and owls off to a tee and has been sat up on the roof of the gite going through its repertoire. I am still waiting for the sparrow hawk to get him!

We have yet to hear from the Turtle Dove although we had one in the trees around us last year. It may be that the poor weather has kept them away. We also have not yet seen any sign of the bats yet and again this is probably due to the cold weather. We have even had to keep lighting the wood fire in the evenings and have had regular deputations from the cats mentioning the cold weather clause in the contract. For the past week we have kept Minou in as she still has a bad leg which is thankfully on the mend. As you can imagine this has caused a fuss with the other two who sit at the window and peer in as if to make clear that they think it is not fair.

The final reference is to the blossom in the pear trees and this is looking very nice as the pear trees are now covered in blossom. Mind you with the cold weather we may not have so much fruit this year. This may be no bad thing as I have to pick up the fruit that falls to the ground and that is not good for the back.

Well at least the sun has come out today and we got to sit in the garden for the first time this year. So all is well with our world. The chickens have now been put back in their coop; the cats have been fed and have gone off for a sleep in the sun. We now have some peace and we have aperitifs and are looking forward to some steak from our beef reserve. All is definitely well!!

Bon appétit,