‘In my left-leaning youth, they would attend meetings, but my comrades voted to remove them. That was when I realised my time there was up – the chickens were very concerned about the Albanian question!’
At Wyken Hall in Suffolk, peacocks flaunt and guinea fowl call, but the chickens inspire true affection. ‘They’re so mischievous, adorable,’ says Carla Carlisle. ‘They’re so relaxed, I can scoop them up.’
Lady Carlisle has four elderly dark Brahmas, an American breed, recently joined by four Burford Browns. The former are named Sister, Sister Sugar, Blanche and Edna ‘after my Mississippi aunts’; the latter, with their lustrous black feathers and golden ruffs, are The Supremes. With their feathered feet, good-natured Brahmas are better for the garden: ‘Marital harmony should dictate I stick with Brahmas!’
It was the rich brown colour of Burford Brown eggs that urged their addition to the flock. ‘There’s something about eggs that have deep-yellow yolks and brown shells.’ These hens are truly free: ‘Most “free-range” hens don’t roam, they’re nervous. Mine go all over the farm and their eggs are delicious.’
Lady Carlisle hopes for a Burford Brown male – ‘cockerels are the most gallant members of the animal kingdom – they step back and let the hens eat’ – and loves to watch ‘mother hens teaching their chicks how to scratch. A chick sleeping under its mother gives you hope for the future’.
At night, she calls them to roost in the accent of her childhood in the American South. ‘It was my job to gather eggs for my grandmother. I was small, so I could crawl in through the hutch door – dark and slightly scary, especially when I reached out and touched a snake.’ Even now, collecting eggs is ‘one of the last pieces of guaranteed magic left’.
There’s no fear of the chickens themselves ending up on the table. ‘When they stop laying, they live their lives out here. As they get older, they spend more time on their own. They don’t want idle conversation.’
Indeed, they love to listen: ‘In my left-leaning youth, they would attend meetings, but my comrades voted to remove them. That was when I realised my time there was up – the chickens were very concerned about the Albanian question!’ Now, they gather around her rocking chair. ‘They’ll stay as long as I talk.’
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