...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)

by Nina Milton

It’s often said that characters in books resemble their authors. But in my case, I seem to be following in my heroine’s footsteps. Sabbie Dare has been keeping hens from the beginning of the Shaman Mystery Series. In the first book, In the Moors, we meet the hens in Chapter One, when something rather awful happens to some of them. Sabbie goes out early to collect the eggs…At the henhouse door I dropped my empty basket and cried out in raw distress. Slaughter lay at my feet. Saffron, the biggest of my hens, was gone, and Pettitgrain, my favourite, lay dead from a clean bite to the neck

Unlike Sabbie, we had never kept chickens. A small garden in the city suburbs just didn’t seem like the right place. But when we moved to the Welsh countryside, we went out and got ourselves four hens. Since then, we’ve been totally enamoured with the little lovelies, just like Sabbie Dare. In the second of the Shaman Mystery Series, Sabbie confesses… I definitely fell in love with hens. They’re feathered like queens and feel as soft as duvets when you pick them up. But I chose ex-battery hens, the sort without feathers and a lifetime of ‘stuff” that no analyst could attempt to heal… (Unraveled Visions by Nina Milton, Midnight Ink, release date September 2014)

We started out with four hens, but it wasn’t long before their numbers swelled. In the spring our Jersey Black, Ceredwin, went utterly broody. We tried explaining to her that her eggs weren’t going to hatch as she’d never as much as been sniffed at by a cockerel, but she wasn’t listening to us. She growled and pecked every time we tried to move her out of the nesting box. Then our friend Jane, who has got almost one hundred hens of various breeds, all free range, brought us a clutch of six eggs from her chickens, who are lucky enough (!) to be getting chicken-nooky from Jane's not inconsiderable number of cocks.

Ceredwin (of the golden cape) didn't seem to mind in the least that these were not her own eggs. She sat on them for more than 23 hours a day, coming off only when I made her, taking a quick drink of water, a peck at some corn, and a quick poo (she kept the nest spick and span at all times), before rushing back to her babies.

She loved making clucking noises at her eggs in practice for when the babies arrived, as if she thought the chicks inside could already hear her. Perhaps she knew they would hear her. She grew feathers on her feet, to aid the warmth and cosiness of the nest, but lost all her breast feathers, which helped line the nest, and created a 'hotspot' for the eggs. All we had to do was check she was okay - she did the rest by herself.

Twenty-one days later she was safely delivered of five strong (and noisy) chicks. I came out early in the morning to find two very wet and bedraggled little chicks under my hen. I'd lifted her in the usual way, but she ran back quickly without even drinking, knowing the other eggs were hatching still.
Our lack of experience showed with egg number six. I saw Ceredwin pecking hopefully at it, but left her to it; I should have actually helped her get the chick out of the egg. Five out of six is apparently a good ratio though, and although we couldn't possibly be as proud as Ceredwin is, we think they are the most gorgeous things in the world right now.

Ceredwin is a proud mum, fiercely over-protective of her brood. She was timid before her checks hatched – right at the bottom of the pecking order – but now she’ll face up to any of the bigger hens – fight them with beak and claw if needs be, and ready and willing to draw my blood, if I try to pet one of her darlings. I can practically hear her whispering to them, “beware of the Big Boots! Don’t go near the Big Boots!” But if we offer them mini mealworms, which chicks love, she will bring them out for a photoshoot. 

They were so cute when they were bundles of yellow and brown fluff, but now they have proper feathers; they’re growing up quickly. Very soon we will find out how many hens we have and how many of the brood are male. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. One cockerel will be quite enough, thank you. In the meantime, I have finally stolen a march on my own character; none of Sabbie’s hens have had a brood of chicks…not yet, at least…

Nina Milton lives in west Wales with her husband and their hens, but sets her Shaman Series, out from Midnight Ink, in the mystical county of Somerset in the UK. The First in the series, In the Moors is available now and the second book in the series, Unraveled Visions is due for release soon.I also write for children; Sweet’n’Sour, (HarperCollins) and Tough Luck, (Thornberry Publishing), and love writing short stories which regularly appear in British anthologies. Visit Nina’s page on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Nina-Milton/e/B00E748CT6   or join her on her vibrant blogsite,  http://www.kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com


  1. I will share this story with my daughter in law! She's waiting to have a yard that she can build a coop and have her own hens!! Interesting idea for a mystery. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a lovely story! I raised hens for a time, although they never hatched chicks--we didn't think we could handle a rooster. My daughter raises hens now and calls them her "ladies." Anyway, great post!