Hens do not enjoy paddling

Mother Nature is asserting her power, reminding us that we are not in control. Last night’s storms brought down trees and an elderly gentleman lost his life attempting to deal with one just up the road from where I live. Homes and farmland are flooded, roads closed, transport networks disrupted. To the west we have the Somerset Levels Floods, to the east the swollen River Thames keeps rising. Trains can no longer run into Cornwall since a section of railway line was damaged by high tides.

The rush to blame others is gathering pace. The government, the previous government, economic cutbacks, irresponsible planners, short term environmental decisions limiting river maintenance, climate scientists, climate change deniers, people in general are all being blamed. Until the rain stops, and this is not forecast to happen in the short term, little can be done to prevent further hardship and heartache for those affected.

I live on a hill so have escaped the worst effects of the weather. On the soggy walks that I have taken over the past few weeks I have seen the flooded fields, swollen rivers and closed roads. Trees have come down in the woodland beside my house but, as yet, we have not suffered direct damage. My heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky.

To date, the greatest challenge that I have faced has been how to keep my hens healthy and happy. The ground is completely saturated so each heavy downpour temporarily floods their run. The shed where I keep their feed has become damp and waterlogged as the constant rain has warped the wood and permeated the gaps. Come spring it will have to be replaced.

For now though I do what I can. I have moved all my hens into the bigger run which offers a little more protection from the elements. The larger coop is raised off the ground so suffers less from water ingress and general damp. Having all the hens together helps to keep them warm overnight. I am grateful that our coops are plastic so, unlike our mouldy shed, have not been damaged by the incessant rain.

During the day there is little more that I can do. If the rain holds off then I can allow my girls to free range. They scratch around in the gravelled areas and dustbathe under bushes. The rest of the garden is a puddled mudbath, including about half of their run. I have put up perches to allow them to escape the ground but they must come down to feed and drink. I am grateful that hens do not suffer trench foot.

I am giving them lots of treats. Corn to help keep them warm, leafy greens from the kitchen to supplement their pellets as there are no plants for them to forage for in the desolate garden. Egg production is down but this is a small price to pay if I can keep them happy until the better weather arrives.

When I see the pictures of the Somerset farmers moving their livestock to higher ground, appealing for feed as theirs is underwater, I realise that I do not have problems. My hens will neither starve nor drown. They may not enjoy paddling but they do have some dry ground to rest on.

The news is full of politicians and so called experts eager to espouse the lessons to be learned. When we have got through this crisis I hope that they listen to those who know, those who have lived and worked the land and understand how to manage these conditions long term.

My fear is that too many will see the cries for action as an opportunity to gain funding for pet projects, as a chance to make a quick buck. My worry is that there will be too many seeing this as a financial opportunity rather than a wake up call that the way we are developing and managing the natural resources on which we rely leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable.

Those who are suffering need help, but this has happened before and will happen again. We need to look at how we can all live with nature, how we can mitigate the damage of these naturally occurring events.

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