Alex James: There's no need to bone up on chickens

Rural Notebook

the book was called Living With Chickens: Everything You Need To Know About Keeping Chickens. It caught my eye as I was nosing through Country Houses Of The Cotswolds: From The Archives of 'Country Life' – a fat, satin tome, all gilded and illuminated; most interesting, but so expensive I imagine the only people who will buy it are the ones whose castles, manors, rectories, granges and prebendal houses are actually in it.

No farms in there. Farms still don't quite have the cachet of a big, showy home like the ones in the book, but that's what I like about the farm. It's not about show. It's about "do": much more interesting in real life than in a picture, rather than the other way round.

I was looking at a Jacobean manor that had apparently been hewn from a single piece of oak and wondering whether to buy it, just hypothetically, when I saw this chicken book. Well, I like chickens. You know that. Everybody likes chickens, really. They're just nice to have around, apart from the eggs, and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could be keeping better chickens.

It's always possible to do things a bit better. I think that's the real joy of adulthood, getting better at things. I was about to reach for the book to start boning up when I realised it really doesn't take a whole book to explain everything you need to know about keeping chickens.

Nobody seems to understand bees. Bees are tricky. You need to go to college if you want bees, but everything you need to know about chickens can be written quite clearly in three sentences. Feed them chicken food. Let them run around. Lock them up at night.

Even if you get it wrong somehow, they'll probably be having a much better time than most other chickens in the world. I didn't buy the book but funnily enough now I wish I had. What on earth can be in it?

How to spot a broody bird

pheasants are laying now, too. Delicious eggs. I got home and there was a big tray of them, a gift from a breeder. "All fertilised," the note said, "so they'll hatch if you've got a broody chicken." I called him and asked how I could tell if a chicken is broody. "Yes, you can tell," he said. "She gets all broody. You can't miss it."

The homely mallard

There is a pair of mallards on the pond. I think mallards are my favourite thing at the moment, even better than cows. There is nothing more comfortable, more at home, than a duck on a pond. It seems to rub off if you spend time with them. I'm not completely sure but I think the female may be broody.

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