I had resolved to keep this blog more or less confined to plants. But everyone seems to be writing about hens, so I’ll do the same. I don’t keep hens; I keep bantams, and have done, off and on, for about fifteen years. The ‘off’ periods have been when I was sickened by fox predation – I once lost twelve of my flock in broad daylight. The ‘on’ periods are when I reckon my defences are OK (until a gate blows open or an especially cunning fox pays a visit).
Bantams are much better for gardeners than hens, and just as lovable. Here’s why:
- They make less mess, and when they scratch among your plants it does a lot less harm
- They fit much better into small gardens
- You can have twelve egg omlettes
- They have never been bred for commercial use, so they go broody properly, rear their chicks properly, and don’t churn out eggs to order.
- For the same reason, their eggs are firm, highly-coloured, and delicious. You can show off in the way you might with quails’ eggs.
Plus: The chicks are extremely small and very fluffy I’m not a bantam fancier, so I keep a whole lot of different breeds together, and if I get strange hybrids I don’t mind in the least. We had a silky cock called Moira (don’t ask) much the same colour as Irn Bru (Scotland’s 2nd favourite drink), whose lurid orange shade reappeared for several generations.
I bid for my bantams at the Lanark market poultry sales – an experience in themselves. When the daughters were small, I blatantly blagged a day off school for them. Learning to bid for livestock at auction is a far more useful experience than most of what passes for education.
Anyway, here are some of the current flock:This is Mr Rochester II (Mr Rochester I was, alas, slain). He’s a black Belgian d’Anvers and very proud of himself – hence the name. He has three wives, all called Jane, because I can’t tell them apart.
Next we have the Poles:This is the Duchess. She gets her name from the aristocratic superiority of her bearing and her hairstyle, but most of all from her look of haughty outrage when she is picked upHer companion is called Frizzle. Frizzles are birds bred with turned out feathers – a very peculiar idea. Combined with the ridiculous Polish headgear, the result is very bizarre (not helped by the fact that poor Frizzle is moulting and is bald on top too: It looks as though his Dad was a SebrightFinally we have Mr & Mrs Piggy and the dinosaur twinsYou can only see a bit of Mr Piggy – who is a Barred Wyandotte, but both of the dinosaur twins, (plus the Duchess and one of the Janes) who are Anconca-Silky crosses, and who lay pastel blue eggs:I like to let the bantams wander round the garden – but this does make them vulnerable. I’m happier when they are behind their 8 foot fencing – especially in early spring when there are fox cubs needing to be fed. Foxes are cunning and ruthless predators. Thirteen of them were shot within a five mile radius last year, but there are plenty more. Sometimes they kill wantonly – and leave headless corpses scattered everywhere. Sometimes they take their prey without leaving so much as a stray feather. I hate them, but I have to admire them too.
Update June 2013: More about my bantams in this post
and in this one