You would have thought that having a few chickens was a simple affair in keeping with the quiet rustic life that we have adopted in France. That would be fine if we had quiet rustic French chickens. It seems we have chickens with attitude. I know we named them after suffragettes so we only have ourselves to blame. These are clearly French chickens who have the typical French attitude to authority and rules.

We want our chickens to have an enjoyable life in return for the eggs they helpfully lay so we let them have the run of the garden and orchard. However this involves creating barriers to stop them wandering off. So we now have the gate to the courtyard closed during the day. This at least has the advantage of making visitors slow down as they open the gates and reduces the chance of running over a cat. Our cats saunter around and are drawn towards moving vehicles in the expectation that the vehicle contains food and therefore as soon as the car door opens they want to be strategically placed to jump in. So the main gate is probably a good thing.

We have three other places around the orchard and garden where there is access to the big hay field or the lane that runs past the sheep paddock. The chickens within days of being out were taking the idea of free range too literally. So we put up fences with small gates made from various things we had lying around the place. Bits of wire fence and an old fence were brought into use and adapted. The final gap was right at the bottom of the orchard and we assumed the chickens would not use this gap as it only led out to the hay field. The hens saw their chance and were out very quickly.

We decided that this was not a good plan as the hay is now quite long and just the sort of cover that a wily old fox might use to sneak up on a poor unsuspecting chicken. So as we had no bits of fence left I utilised the full extent of the La Godefrere saw mill and carpentry workshop to make my very own artisan gate. My school woodwork teacher would be somewhat amazed to find that his attempts to teach me were not entirely wasted. It actually looks like a gate, has hinges and a catch. It even opens and shuts without creaking or getting jammed in the grass. It is a proper gate and I am quite proud of it!

The artisan gate constructed at the in house carpentry workshop

So now the chickens are contained and while they roam freely around the garden/orchard they are relatively safe. They have quickly established that feathers have precedence over the combustion engine and I have to give way when out cutting the grass as the hens just wander across in front of me. They have endearingly developed the habit of pecking my toes when I am sat in the garden. The sneak up and all of a sudden there is this pecking at the toes. It can be quite unnerving.

But they produce eggs, or at least two of them did. The problem is deciding which two. We drew the line at watching them in the hen house as it seemed a bit voyeuristic to be peeping in the windows when they are in the nesting area to see who is laying an egg. However by a process of elimination we worked out that Emmeline and Sylvia were laying. Christabel was not although in the last few days she has been laying very small eggs.

One thing we did not factor in was the problems of shutting them in at nights. Mrs. Parish shuts them up in the early evening by bribing with treats. Even then Christabel always has to be last in. The problem comes when the hens go to bed and we have to shut up the sleeping area to keep them safe. The hens wait until it gets dark before going to bed and it is now fast approaching Mrs. Parish’s bedtime before the hens are ready to go to bed. It is a bit like having teenage children all over again.

We are pretty sure that the Little Owl is nesting in the gite roof right at the apex of the roof. It is regularly sitting on the wooden struts just on the edges to the roof as well as on the TV aerial. In the evenings as it gets towards dusk the owl is flying out and back to catch food. Little owls eat insects mostly and do so by landing and running along the ground. In order to try and see a bit more what goes on I decided to set up my time lapse camera that my daughter Jo bought me a couple of Christmases ago. So I had to find it and remember how it worked and then set it up in the garden so it was focussed on the apex of the roof and the roosting points of the owl. This was done and 24 hours later I brought the camera in to down load the pictures. The time lapse camera takes pictures at given intervals and I had set it to work at 1 minute intervals so we could record the comings and goings of the owl. 

The little owl under the gite roof (with conventional camera!)

However, I had forgotten to delete the pictures already on the camera and so only had about 5 pictures of the roof and no sign of an owl. So I re-read the instructions and set up the camera once more. 24 hours later another attempt at downloading pictures failed completely as this time the batteries had run out. So we are now on attempt number three and I will report back next week on whether I have been successful. I may have to resort to building a hide and taking the pictures myself!

It is that time of year when the field mice population reaches its peak and accordingly it is a good time for Moggie the hunter, who has been sat for ages next to holes in the ground and every now and again he brings back a mouse. Like most cats he brings them back alive and then plays with them before eating them. The problem is that quite often he loses them and then has to spend the next half an hour trying to find them again. He is a good hunter but not so bright and runs around looking very confused until usually by luck he finds it again. Sometimes Archie or Minou turn up and steal his prize. Minou does not like getting her feet wet or dirty and so does not do much hunting unless things appear before her. Archie generally can’t be bothered but if a bird or mouse comes near him he will pounce with lightning speed and agility.

Unfortunately Moggie also goes after birds. Surprisingly with three cats there is not a big loss in birds and we place bird feeders in places where normally it is difficult for the cats. The problem comes with nesting birds and their young who can be vulnerable. We have two stupid blackbirds nesting in our courtyard hedge with three cats patrolling around them. We tried to scare off the birds but they went ahead. This afternoon there has been chaos here with Moggie discovering the fledglings and catching them. The blackbirds are making a huge fuss and lots of noise. I have been trying to catch young blackbird before Moggie gets to them, with not much success as once I have caught a bird there is nowhere safe to put it. I put one back up into the hedge but it promptly jumped back out. To cap it all I went back indoors and Moggie followed me in as it was tea time! He promptly threw up the contents of his hunting all over the door mat.

So a not so quiet Sunday in idyllic rural France but an experience of the brutality of nature. Given emphasis by a sparrow hawk dashing across the garden in a seek and destroy mission. It missed this time.  At the same time life is starting again and we have noticed that several of the cows in the field next to us are with calf. Eric the very large bull is looking very pleased with himself as he has obviously spent a very busy spring doing his duty! So soon we will the patter of tiny hooves once again. The sheep and lambs are back in the paddock after a trip away to be sheared. They look a lot better but sadly they are still ugly sheep. I went to see the ants yesterday and they are working like crazy to build up their nest and the ant experience is coming to life once again. Oh and by the way France is on strike but I have run out of space and will let you know about that next week.

Eric the very chuffed bull!

After all this life and death chaos and drama I am in desperate need of a drink!

Bon courage,