The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Caretaker report

17 June 2017

The Clearing

Workshop 9 - Keeping Chickens

Instead, we build a pen around the coop, to keep the chickens in for a few weeks, so they remember where they’re supposed to be roosting; add a roof; and a ladder so that the birds can get up to the hatch. Brandon goes round to Compton Verney in his mobility scooter to get some shredded paper to line the coop.

At lunchtime, Jac turns up with the chickens. After lunch, we squat in the shade as she gives us the basics of chicken-care, holding her favourite bird.

Here are the greatest hits:

- Chickens are descended from jungle birds. They’re extremely social, very curious, and (as we’d discover in the following months) very greedy.

- They need a bit of soft ground for them to peck through, churn up and use as dust baths.

- You don’t have to spend loads of money on a coop – you can build your own. Just make sure it’s off the ground, out of the reach of rats and predators, and has a pole running across on which they’ll line up to sleep at night. Line the coop with leaves, straw or shredded paper from the office recycling. This can go in the compost after.

- You’ll also need a separate-ish space for them to lay, inside the coop, as they like their privacy: a darker bit, or a box in the corner seems to work well here.

- They’ll need food and water, obviously. Don’t just feed them whatever scraps you have – if it’s too sugary and fatty, they’ll just get the same 21st century diseases as us. Raw veg is best.

- Look out for red mites and bumblefoot. The latter is gross, as we can attest.

- Clean out the coop once a week. Brush down the joins and get in the corners, as that’s where the lice/mites live. No-one said this was going to be glamorous.

- Pick them up from the sides, holding their wings down, and grasping them underneath. Be confident when you pick them up, and they won’t panic. Hold them on your stomach with your hand beneath their tummy, and between their legs.

- Finally, eggs. If your chickens are healthy, happy and getting enough food, they should start laying relatively quickly. Then you’ll be rewarded every morning with a clutch of still warm eggs, to scramble, poach, boil or fry, ready to set you up for a day’s building/sewing/harvesting/mining.

Finally, the pen is finished, and the ladder is built. The chickens are released into the pen, and despite the fears of all involved, seemed to get on okay. Over the next few days, they are given names by Holly, that week’s caretaker. Their names are: Jeremy (survived against all odds), Germaine (very chatty), Beyonce (has a blue ring), Uma (illusive and stealth like), and Boudica (laid an egg in the run, and conquered the tree).

Staying their a few weeks later, and hearing them chatter and buck-buck in the mornings, feeding them, talking to them, I think to myself: why do I live in a city?