We have, occasionally, had hens grow so old that I don't think they'd have recognised an egg if you'd thrust it under their beaks. The original Wilhelmina was once such. But more often than not, they are creatures that lead short - and in my orchard, glorious - lives.
We have lost two hens in the last month or so.
The first one just disappeared. With no corpse to mourn over, I suspected M. Renard, but our red-pelted neighbour always leaves a telltale pool of dismal feathers, and they were not to be seen. Definitely a point on the plus side.
However, there was no Bambina.
I was rather sad about Bambina. She wasn't my darling in the way that Napoleon, or the little Empress or Mrs Smith, the Golden Princess were - but even so.
We searched high and low and then went back to the beginning and searched again, but I didn't lie awake at night agonising over her vanishment. It was a shame, though, because she was actually Napoleon's granddaughter, given to us by our friend Colin, who'd had some of our eggs to hatch way back when.
Before I'd had time to get used to losing one little bird, Mrs Scissorhands fell ill.
When hens get that hunchy, huddled look, you kind of know it isn't likely to end well. I have tried various remedies, but rarely with success.
Once, years ago, I asked our vet - visiting a sick ewe - if he'd take a look at a 'hunchy' hen. An expression of sheer panic flitted through his eyes and he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
'The average vet wouldn't know a great deal about poultry now,' he eventually managed. 'Generally...' He gave up at that point and ran one finger significantly across his throat.
I got the drift.
I did take the Little Empress to (a different) vet when she became so poorly, but even though the vet knew what was wrong, there was nothing she could do.
So alas, it came as no surprise when Mrs Scissorhands - she of the most unfeminine spurs - died a day or two later, despite me hand-feeding her and coaxing her to get better.
Two hens in a couple of weeks. Not good.
But then, about a fortnight later, on my way back from the market a text came blipping into my phone.
I pulled over. It was the In-Charge.
'Hen and 10 chicks in turf shed', it said. (He doesn't waste words, the In-Charge.)
Oh joy of joys! Over the moon and back again.
What a clever girl - I've no idea how many times we searched that shed, and I don't know if she even came out to eat or drink in all that time, let alone how she managed to incubate 10 eggs - she's only a little half-pint.
|Bambina is only a little half-pint|
|So what does that make these two?|
Napoleon would be very proud - his grandchildren! One or two of them might even be chips off the old block.
We'll have to see.
|Who does this remind me of?|
|A distinct top knot. Will it develop into a tricorne, I wonder?|
But ten baby chicks aren't the only new kids on the block.
Two little beehives arrived last week, courtesy of our friend, the Artist-Extraordinaire. His wife, the Shiatsu-Queen was telling me that he wanted to split his hives, and I rushed in.
'Please, please, please,' I said. 'If you think they'd settle here.'
'Settle?' She laughed. 'They'd be moving to bee-heaven.'
|The little bee hives arrive|
They are, I think he said, Irish black bees, and they are sharing the hen's paddock, where the morning sun will wake them up, warming up their hives; but the whole property (and beyond) is, of course, theirs to share with the bumble bees that live here.
We haven't spotted them around the garden yet, but they're probably still getting their bearings and rearing a new queen, or whatever it is they do in a new location, but I can't wait for them to come over the wall into the flower garden like the cavalry.
Maybe we'll even get back to the days of yore, long ago when the boys were about eight.
'Listen, mummy,' my curly-haired son said as we sat on the bench together. 'That's the sound of summer.'
Behind us, the fuchsia hedge sounded like a helicopter about to take off. It was, literally, humming with honey bees.
'That's the sound of happiness,' he added.
I couldn't have summed it up better myself. The sound of happiness. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
But that was long ago, and the hedge has been silent for far too long.
In a few weeks, my curly-haired son will be back from a long sojourn in the far-flung antipodes.
I hope he will be greeted by the sound of happiness.