I guess the most important thing to say is that all the hens made it through the night. They are looking much brighter and are starting to scratch about inside their runs. We even had three eggs this morning but that is hardly surprising as that is all they have been good for up until now so . . . The plan now is to turn this:
Today we picked up 10 ex-battery hens from a cold and rainy yard near the village of Caharrack in Cornwall. Destined for slaughter these dishevelled looking birds are being given a second chance by the charity the British Hen Welfare Trust.
The Trust put out an appeal in the West Briton newspaper asking for people to come forward and offer homes to around 600 chickens who have never known a life outside of a cage. Having taken in some birds in similar circumstances a few years ago and remembering the state that they were in when they arrived made me want to record the process this time.
We arrived at the collection point at about 2pm this afternoon to collect our birds and found sheds full of half bald hens, some barely alive.
Grandpa Dale was a quiet, stern looking man who always wore a shirt, tie and waistcoat on the farm, even on the sunniest days. He was hard but never unkind and I adored him. I followed him about the farm like a puppy, getting under his feet. He always carried a roll of blackcurrant fruit pastels in his pocket and would stop now and then to pop one into my month with his rough shovel-like hands.
My Grandpa, Wilfred Dale (1903-1995), had been born into a large, hard-working farming family. Farming was his whole life and right up until just a year or two before he passed away, aged 92, he came up to the farm every day to “supervise” my father.
His greatest love however, other than my Grandmother, were his horses. As a young boy he would sometimes do deliveries on a horse and cart in the mornings on his way too school in Falmouth. He told me that when he arrived at school he would turn the horse around and give it a slap on the rear. The horse would make it’s own way home the 4 miles to the farm. He was a man of few words but ask him about his Shires and suddenly he became animated and engaged. It always struck me as amusing that this very tough, Victorian man named all his massive work horses after plants. There was Flower, Buttercup, Primrose, Marigold, Cactus . . .
Because of him I have always felt a connection to these giant animals and this summer I have taken the opportunity to go to a couple of our local shows to see them and of course all the other birds and beasties too.
I especially enjoyed the Stithians and Camborne shows as I know my Grandpa took his horses at those and many other shows back in the 1940s and 50s.
These wonderful animals have thankfully had a bit of a revival in recent years thanks to some passionate enthusiasts but after the World Wars and the Industrial Revolution they were in danger of vanishing from our countryside. The Shire was originally brought to this country some time on the Middle Ages to carry our rather weighty armoured Knights into battle. Their lovely calm nature but impressive strength made them perfect for farm work and pulling heavy loads – but tractors changed all that of course and the Shire fell out of favour.
Grandpa had to get rid of his horses in the 1960s, the demands of the mechanised farming world had become too great. Although he would never say why he also gave away all their brasses and leathers too, perhaps because he couldn’t bear to keep them. As a family we have nothing left of his horses apart from a few large rusty horseshoes and a couple of the silver cups that they won. But I do have the memory of that sparkle of joy in my grumpy old Grandpa’s eye when he spoke about them.
Every year I try and go to the Tregony Heavy Horse Show to see these beautiful beasts up close and in all their glory. Above are some of the pictures I have taken over the years. This year it is on August 14th and I am hoping for sunshine so I can go and sit on a hay bale and feel the thud from their hooves vibrate through my bones as they plod by! Grandpa would have approved!