Babysitting for neighbours.
Holiday time means doing favours for others or having them do the same for you. It's no different, whether you're living in a town or out in the sticks - someone is always going off for a break and needs something looked after.
Where we used to live, in a modern cul-de-sac, it was always the usual sort of request we would get: to collect a neighbour's post; park a car on their drive to foil the burglars; feed the goldfish.
Nowadays, the things we are asked to do are slightly different. Annie, our neighbour from up the track, turned up the other day saying that she needed 'a really big favour'. All she wanted, in fact, was for us to babysit some hens while she and Mike went away.
The three fluffy white Silkies turned up in their extremely sturdy ark, purpose-built to their owners' specifications, and have been no trouble at all. In fact, we've hardly seen them! They seem to spend 99% of every day sitting in the nest box, steadfastly trying to hatch their clutches of phantom eggs, and only venturing out into the wire-covered run when the need for food takes over.
That's the trouble with Silkies. They're notorious for going broody at the drop of a hat, which is great if you're keen on hatching out eggs from other birds, but they're not the best choice for a regular egg supply.
We've got a few broodies - two Black Rocks and an old bantam - but they will only sit on eggs the others have laid. We've never had any that wanted to sit on nothing, so Annie's trio have had me a bit puzzled.
Different poultry breeders suggest different 'cures' for broodiness. Some suggest putting the bird into a separate cage or hutch for a week or so and making the nesting area fairly uncomfortable - no nesting material, no perch - so the bird won't be encouraged to sit for long.
One of the more bizarre ideas I've come across - and not one that I'd recommend, I hasten to add - is dunking your hen in cold water, with the idea being it will reduce her temperature.
It probably would, but, as broody birds tend to pull out their breast feathers so they can get closer to their eggs, I'd be worried that the hen might catch a bit of a chill in the process.
I suppose if I'd thought of it, I could have put the Silkies to good use, brooding some of the chicks I've bought in. As well as the day-old turkey poults, I had some meat chicks of the same age delivered, and they're currently all doing well in their brooder cage, under a heat lamp.
The chicks are much bigger than I thought they would be, so I decided not to start them off in the same brooder as the poults, just in case they trample some accidentally.
Ever since we started eating organic chicken I've been thinking of rearing some of our own, so I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop.
Our shed is a busy, hot, cheeping place at the moment, and I've been spending quite a bit of time down there, checking on my charges.
Keeping them supplied with water is half the battle because, as well as them drinking a lot, much evaporates thanks to the infra-red lamps, which are keeping temperatures between 30C and 35C.
With those kind of temperatures, of course, the brooders can get quite smelly very quickly, so it's a question of cleaning out every other day at the moment; as they grow, I'll probably have to do it daily until they're fully- feathered and ready to move outdoors.
For now, they all seem healthy and quite content. And so they should be, being waited on hand and foot, living in a lovely warm place and having Radio 4 to listen to day and night. Not a bad life, eh?
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