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.

Proof.


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.


Still.


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).