A couple of days after I decided this would be the last season for the yurt camp, I went down to feed the chickens. (Philippe’s been sharing this very easy job with me this year, as he’s experimenting with growing veggies in the nearby poly tunnel. I haven’t been starving them.)

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement in the orchard until I was at the gate and saw the first body. There’s been an attack in there before, when we lost three chickens to a pine marten. This time, every chicken had been killed. I found the hole over by the old rabbit hutch, where a very determined fox or dog had made its way through two layers of chicken wire (one layer of which may have been damaged by a strimmer a while ago) and run riot.

The goose was fine, though a bit shaken by being in there on her own – and having survived the attack.

This kind of thing does happen in smallholding – despite fencing that cost over €400 and that took weeks or more to complete (it was 2 metres high, dug into the ground 12 inches and at a right angle outwards for another 12 inches, in a trench back-filled with clay-heavy mud). That’s a lot of investment that needs paying back in eggs. Add the feed (at about €10) a week, for far too many eggs (I eat about six a week and they were producing up to eight a day), and the cost of the hens (although a few were given to us and others were born here), the accommodation and whatever, and you will see that buying organic, free-range eggs from your farmer’s market is not such a big deal.

What this means for guests is that écovallée eggs are off the menu in 2016. The goose has now gone to another home, where she will be in the company of other geese, and écovallée is (non wild) animal free for the first time since 2007. What this will also mean for guests is no more 5.00 am wake-up call from the cockerels. I was a bit worried that two of them would be a bit much for some people.

The chickens have noticed a few changes since we moved onto the land full time. They enjoy even fresher cuisine.

Free range even more freely.

With access to ball sports.

Spend time with the dog.

Sleep in a newer, bigger, nearly finishter chicken house.

Just up from the chicken nursery.

Where five fluffy chicks (and hopefully more to follow) are now going cheep.

Her Outdoors has been bugging me for a while to build a new chicken house. A chicken house that will have enough room to accommodate the Light Sussex cock and two more layers she was given for her birthday, months ago. A chicken house that will allow the current pallet chicken house to become a pallet guinea fowl house. A chicken house we can actually stand up in.

Finally, I came up with a design…

And started putting it together…

Then we had to order a chicken-shed-load of wood, which won’t be ready until June.


At last.

Chickens came first.

Any questions?

After fixing a few last-minute snags (reducing the air conditioning, draft-proofing the floor, adding locks and cutting more roof out of sheet-metal scraps – mastered the rivet gun by the way), the chicken house was ready for its final journey from the workshop to the orchard/chicken run:

I thought I’d fitted the house with skis:

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

But when I looked at the book again last night, I saw that they are skids.

That extra “d”.

Think it stands for dunarftakealotofeffort.


You can only do your best.

Busy though. Daniel the Builder came round first thing with papers to sign and send to the Tribunal, to keep the permission ball rolling. He has a meeting with Planning next Thursday and it begins to feel like he’s very much the Right Man for the Job.

Clare spent all day working on costumes for the parade (more on this later), while I worked just as hard on the chicken house, although it’s hard to tell from this picture:

Or this one:

Some things – hinges, flooring, grills etc – take a bit of time. It doesn’t help matters when, just as you think the day’s over and you only have to feed the pigs before you can start enjoying a Good Evening, you find them here:

Where they’re not supposed to be.

I thought I’d be able to finish the chicken house today. But I only got this far:

I’m particularly pleased with the door (called a “Pop Hole” by Chicken People” but I don’t know why).

I only had half a working day today.

So I only built half a chicken house.

Suppose I should only write half a bl

Last night, a friend of ours phoned up (let’s call her “Sarah” – everyone else does) and said our three Marans will be arriving this week.

And the chicken coop flew to the top of the To Do List.

Out came The Book (“Poultry House Construction” by Michael Roberts) and onto paper went a design for a ten-hen house modified for our site and height – two metres long and a generous 190mm of standing room.

Today I took the design to my nemesis. Just think Intimidating Video Store Guy and change the scene to the wood cutting section of a B&Q-alike corrugated warehouse.

Me: (SHOWING PLAN) Can I have this in 12mm external ply?

He: No. We only have 10mm external ply.

Me: Oh. Can I have it in 10mm ply, then?

He: No. The maximum is 200mm by 153mm, not 190mm.

Me: Oh. If I change that, that and that to 153mm, can I have it?

He: No. I don’t have enough.

After an equally failed attempt at another B&Q-alike (where I was told I couldn’t have it because it was too expensive – gotta love the French attitude to capitalism), I returned empty trailered for lunch.

That’s when we decided to make a temporary chicken house out of pallets.

That’s when I remembered that the lumber yard I got some wood from recently also makes pallets.

That’s where I went to buy five pallets worth of wood that hadn’t even been nailed together (thereby saving myself the time and effort of smashing them apart again) which is now sitting in the workshop waiting for…

So I stapled the barbed wire round the bottom of the veggie-bed fence (and learned that turning the electric fence off while working nearby might be a good idea).

Then the pig ark roof blew off. (I said the weather had gone a bit English.) Which meant I had to go and buy a rivet gun and some Very Long Screws. It wasn’t much fun – I’ve never used a rivet gun before and it didn’t have any instructions.

Then the local tree place phoned up to say our ten Blue Spruce had arrived and could we come and pick them up as soon as possible (it’s a long-term project that should pay for Christmases in about five years). Clare’s up there right now in the drizzle, digging holes for them.

Then the local garden place phoned up and said the polytunnel’s arrived. Which means we need to get hold of a friend with a digger to level that corner of a field that will be forever under plastic.

Then a friend phoned up and said the new mayor’s been elected – not the candidate half the people we know know, but a woman about whom no one knows anything. Which means we have to put the MASSIVE DOSSIER together NOW, have it translated into French by a friend of a friend, and go and have a Very Important Meeting with her.

But yesterday, I did finally put the stock fencing round the veggie bed above the barbed wire. Very nearly. After 100 yards (metres), I ran out of wire just two metres (yards) short of the final gate post. Which means I still have to finish that before I start building the chicken house.