So, the hens once again dominate life here at La Godefrere. I had associated the hens escaping with the film the Great Escape and found myself whistling the tune as I went in search of the chickens. A friend, Jacqui, has told me that the hen escapades remind her of the film, Mission Impossible (and of course those of us who can remember the original TV series which ran from 1966 to 1973!!). Anyway that also has a distinctive theme tune, which naturally is now in my head each time I see the hens. Thanks Jacqui!

Mind you, it may be that Mission Impossible is somehow more appropriate and despite the ring of steel there have been two more break outs in the past week. Ever more fiendish and complicated, just like an episode of Mission Impossible. The first break out happened last Monday and we suspect that the hens targeted a bank at the bottom of the orchard where there is no fence. We had concluded that the bank was too steep and therefore the hens would not try to get out. We had not reckoned with this team of experts and they had worked out how to abseil down the bank before setting off down into the big field. 

It seemed that this was an aberration as for the next four days there were no further incidents. The hens however were biding their time and had spotted a weak point in the ring of steel. They waited until I was here on my own. (Mrs. Parish having gone back to England to visit her mother). I was out working on the tractor taking storm damaged branches down to our bonfire site. When I turned the tractor into the lane there were the three hens sauntering up the lane. I discovered that the storm had blown the fence at an angle in one place which enabled the hens to jump over.

Emmeline on look out while the other two......

.....the other two hop over the bank, towards the fence

We decided that we should get expert advice on how to keep in wild animals. We reckoned that a zoo would be the best place. Or in our case there is an animal rescue centre called Le refuge de l’arche near Chateau Gontier, which is in the south of Mayenne. We went there while our daughter Amy and partner Charlotte were staying with us. This refuge was set up to rescue wild animals and they take animals that have been inappropriately kept in people homes as well as ex circus animals. It is a great place and they have a collection of birds that have been damaged as well as a load of monkeys, a troop of baboons and lions, tigers and a bear.

So we thought that this would be an ideal place to look at the fencing and caging of thee animals to get some ideas. It seemed to me that surrounding the hens with lions and tigers might deter them from escaping. The baboons had a whole island in a lake but this seemed a bit over ambitious for just three hens.

Maybe one tiger (at refuge) could replace three cats?

One thing that was a bit disconcerting at the refuge was what I thought were information points around the grounds. On closer inspection we found that there was a button at the top and underneath text, which advised that if you encountered a wild animal outside of its cage then you should press the button. In typical French fashion it did not explain what would happen if you pressed the button. Presumably keepers and other staff would come running from all directions to assist. Alternatively it might result in Gallic shrugging of shoulders and making a downward adjustment in visitor numbers for the day. Fortunately the animals all seemed content in their enclosures and were making no obvious signs of trying to escape. Of course they did not have bolshie hens.

Mrs Parish, Amy and Charlotte assessing the fencing at the refuge

The hens needless to say have worked out that I am home alone and that gives them licence to take advantage. Getting the hens up in the morning is straight forward although I might get run over in the rush to get out of the hen house. In the evening the hens can be bribed to go back into their run and once it starts to get dark they take themselves off to bed. During the day it is necessary to mount regular guard patrols to see where the hens are and to try to keep one step ahead in case of any possible break outs. Usually the hens are all together and they have two strategies to make my life difficult. Either they are all hiding under a bush or behind a tree or a bank. This means I have to go round the whole garden until I can find them.

The second and more cunning strategy is for two of the hens to be clearly visible but for the third to be hiding. Or even worse with one hen acting as lookout while the others case the fence for weak points. When I need to go out I have to put the hens into their run. To stop escapes while there is no one around and to keep them safe from predators. I go through the same routine as at night and bribe them with treats. This is an ideal opportunity to be difficult and the hens go in all different directions, none of which is towards the hen run. Trying to round up three hens that are all going in different directions on your own is impossible. At one point I had help from Moggie who clearly has sheep dog aspirations and came up behind the chickens to drive them my way. However Moggie does not understand “come by” or other sheep dog calls so chaos was achieved and after about 20 minutes involving a lot of swearing I managed to get them into the run.

The cats have actually been quite laid back and cooperative. I think they feel sorry for me and as long as I feed them on time and allow them their contracted in the house time they have been well behaved. It is now the end of the holiday season and we had our last guests in the gite. The cast main summer job is to entertain the guests and they roll over at the right time, look appropriately cute and allow themselves to be stroked. They are not entirely altruistic and mainly lulling them into a position where they can steal food from them. But they have done a good job and of course now they want an end of season bonus. I have said we can include this in the cat contract renewal. I reminded them that there is still a mouse stealing my wild bird food and they should up their hunting patrols.

Talking of hunting the French hunting season starts today in Mayenne and of course this is the opportunity for the French to shoot anything that moves including other hunters and occasionally innocent passers by. Last year a hitch hiker was shot in the South of France and there are around 200 hunting accidents each year. If we go out for a walk or a bike ride we always wear bright clothing!! From early this morning I could hear the sound of gunshot. I have of course warned the hens that now is not a good time to be escaping. Wildfowl is a prime target for hunters and if they can mistake hitch-hikers for game then a chicken has no chance!

The cats have arrived for their tea so I had better keep in with them. Then it will be time for a late afternoon hen patrol. I have been on my own for a couple of days and already am talking to myself. This morning I had the interesting experience of talking g to myself about the efficacy of a drying wind when you have a load of washing to put out. This has now of course been added to my ironing pile!

I may of course propose to myself that we deserve an early aperitif. And mostly I agree with me!
Bon courage, Graham