I left the last blog eulogising about how eating local food can bring communities together through the kindness and sharing of produce by friends – so imagine my excitement when I came downstairs yesterday morning, opened my front door and found yet another plastic box. What goodies would be inside? What treats lay in store? My anticipatory grin only widened when I opened the lid to discover about 20 caterpillars! Treats for the ‘girls’, my newly arrived ex-battery hens. I’m not entirely sure what they made of their first breakfast out of their accustomed cages, but having eaten only chicken feed crumbs all their lives, it may have been a little shock. They reacted well though, considering, and returned the favour with four beautiful eggs, half of which were given to the caterpillar grower next door.
I always forget how long it takes ex-battery hens to settle down – and the viciousness as they try to establish the pecking order. It’s usually the smallest hen, who’s probably been bullied previously, who decides that the time has come for her to be on top and seeks revenge. Mavis is such a hen, and it is with great determination she guards the food, stopping the others from eating and grabbing them by the neck if they get too close. Already traumatised by their long journey from their old farm in Cornwall, new home, new food, and a ladder to climb up and down, several have retreated in shock and will need extra care. Until the pecking order is established I will have to put feed out in various places in the hope that Mavis can’t be everywhere at once.
Sadly the chickens aren’t eating local food – the advice from the British Hen Welfare Trust www.bhwt.org.uk is that ‘ex-bats’ are fed a specially formulated feed that has increased levels of protein, omega 3, calcium, vitamin E and other minerals and vitamins at least until they recover their fitness levels and gain weight. And to be honest, it can take the hens several months before they recognise and enjoy other foods anyway.
So what have I been eating? Since I last wrote I had local yogurt and honey for breakfast one day, and poached egg on toast the other day, and it was great to measure the food feet for the egg, rather than food miles. However, it would be wonderful to find a chicken feed that wasn’t soya based. My main food highlight over the last two days though was the arrival of spelt pasta, made by Luc in the Transition group, and eaten with a homemade roast tomato and basil sauce. A welcome change from bread and potatoes.
Other than that, with a couple of friends I picked 3 or 4 pounds of blackberries and a couple of pounds of sloes yesterday, all frozen until I have time to turn them into bramble jelly and sloe gin.