One thing I know for sure: James Oliver never set out to become a farmer.
He may be an animal lover by nature. And he is blessed (or cursed) with a natural inclination to make anyone or any thing within his personal range as comfortable as possible.
He also finds it very difficult to say ‘No’ when his wife is pressing and persistent, which she may have been about acquiring backyard chickens. What could be more logical, after all, than an ongoing supply of fresh eggs for a B & B?
But he NEVER set out to become a farmer. Which makes it all the more entertaining to watch him every day, as he attempts to keep 5 extra females (Rhode Island Red hens, to be exact) satisfied with their lot in life.
The thing is, it’s he who has set the boundary impossibly high, through his own determined catering to these layabout ladies. They seem to be the first thing on his mind every morning: got to let the chickens out. So out he goes. He stops at the first station he’s created, in an effort at efficiency. The lid comes off the Rubbermaid, and on go the rubber boots. Up he treks to the gate, the one and only time this day when he will go through it unimpeded by the 5 cluckers. It closes behind him, and instinctively, he threads the latch shut against invading puppy dogs. Over to the hen house, he enters, and pulls carefully on the levered rope, which in turn pulls up the vertical trap door. And out march the 5 girls, lock step and in their pecking order.
His sigh at this point is an audible one. I fancy I can hear it from the kitchen. In he comes, muttering epithets under his breath: ‘damn chickens….stupid chickens….’ It’s hard to believe he really means it, however, because with his next breath, he wonders aloud at what I might have to include in what he calls their ‘first breakfast’. He knows that I will be preparing multitudes of fruit at this point, fashioning it into fruit cups or yogurt and fruit parfaits for our guests. What I’ve come to understand is that there had definitely better be leftovers for the little dears. Because they’ll expect it. In addition to the various other high protein grainy selections, available throughout the day, they will, in fact, expect it twice daily.
Oh, the lengths to which he’ll go. It isn’t just the food itself, it’s also about the delivery systems. I never thought of James as overly neat, but he’s truly struggled to grasp the low standard which hens will accept while eating their food. For example, if they have to stand in it while they eat it, that’s OK. And if nature calls, again while they’re eating, well, whatever. Just keep chowing down. He watched this for awhile (now you know something about the origin of ‘Stupid chickens…’) but finally, he couldn’t stand it. System after system had to be created so that the hens didn’t just ‘live’ in everything they tried to eat.
Buckets were purchased, appropriately sized drill bits rented, and holes that were just big enough to comfortably allow a head and neck to enter, but not get caught leaving, were made at just the right height. The buckets were filled then, with different types of grains, and water, and then hung from the ceiling of the hen house common area. Success! No more standing or pooping in their basic foods.
The fruits and veg that came twice daily posed a different problem. James had tried placing them on pieces of plywood, or the rubber lids of boxes. To no avail; those girls would crush together as they fought for the best position to explore and see what goodies had been brought this time. The standing and the pooping were rampant, not to mention the flies that began to infest the areas of the ground where they were fed. This called for guerilla tactics. I could see the wheels turning slowly in his head, as he imagined solutions to this one.
Then one day, he had it! Very ingenious. A length of wide PVC pipe was cut to a 3 foot length. But this time, instead of holes, nearly the entire upper surface of the pipe was removed, leaving a good sized opening that ran practically its length. Next, a pair of crossed one by fours, secured fairly close to the ground, became de facto legs for what really looked like a manger.
And, in fact, it was,. Now, when James arrives with the morning fruit salad, or the evening salad bar selection, it goes neatly into the trough, and the ladies peck away at it. No standing, no pooping. Genius.
Not a farmer, exactly, but there is little doubt that the ‘ladies’ know they have James on a short leash. Still, when was the last time you got anything in return from a pet, or a child, for that matter, besides love, of course? Reliable as the breeze off the bay, those 5 girls fork over at least one egg per day apiece. Sometimes more! Not a bad little arrangement, really.