Writing With Chickens
Meet British Novellist Della Galton and Her Flock of Beautiful Hens
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Novelist Della Galton lives in Dorset, England, with her partner, Gordon, a flock of chickens, and three dogs. She enjoys baking carrot cake with her hens’ eggs, and routinely forgets to include the carrots, usually finding them on the kitchen worktop an hour later.
“I always fancied having chickens,” says Della. “My partner Gordon had one Silkie Bantam, so when I moved into his house for the first lockdown in March 2020, we decided to get four free-range organic hens to keep her company. They came from a farm and I expected them to be beautiful, but they were scruffy little things, like ex-caged hens. Fortunately, they’re lovely characters, and they supplied us with eggs from the start. They’re Black Rock hens, called Geraldine, Priscilla, Willow, and Sheila.
“Gordon has a huge garden, the size of a field, and the hens have a big green space of their own. We also adopted three young ‘point of lay’ birds, supposedly at the age where they start laying eggs, but none of them have actually laid an egg yet! They came from a lady with a smallholding, who let us choose which hens we wanted — then she went off to catch them! We got a Rhode Island Red called Martha, a Speckledy feathered hen called Speckledy Sam, and another Black Rock called Black Velvet. The Silkie Bantam is called Gerty. She is very pretty but doesn’t lay eggs very often. She just bosses the others around.”
I wondered whether there were any cozy interspecies relationships going on between the hens and the dogs. “My dog was bought up with chickens,” says Della. “But Gordon’s two terriers would like to kill them, so we keep the dogs and the chickens apart.
“We have three chicken coops and a large enclosed area for the chickens to run around with lots of space. They like exploring the hillock and the compost heap. I lock them up at night, but I have three that refuse to go into the coop. They roost very high up in a tree. It’s quite sweet.”
The chicken rebellion began with Martha, who decided she didn’t like the coop after spending a single night in there. “Martha is really independent,” explains Della. “She went to sleep in a tree and wouldn’t come down. They’re big evergreen trees and we didn’t know where she was disappearing to, then we spotted her through the branches. Two other hens followed her — Speckledy Sam and Black Velvet. When the leaves got thinner in winter, they started going higher. Speckledy Sam claims the penthouse suite at the top!
“The ex-organics all go into the same coop at night. Gerty the Bantam goes into one on her own and seems to prefer it that way. We call her Old Grandma Gerty — she pecks the others, and she’s half the size!”
The chickens have funny personalities. “They love to jump up!” says Della. “When I go to collect eggs, they all run to the fence, and Geraldine and Priscilla jump up and peck the jar of treats. They’ve got plenty of food, but are particularly fond of treats!
“Fortunately, we’ve never had fox trouble, but we do sometimes let the terriers in at night when the hens are safely locked up. I think the terriers might deter foxes. Gordon, my partner, lost a hen to a bird of prey once. Another hen flew over the fence and a dog bit her. I wiped the wound with disinfectant and thought she was okay. But she got an infection and I didn’t realize she needed antibiotics. By the time I realized it, it was too late and she passed away. We’ve now made it impossible for the hens to get over the fence like that.”
Della’s always enjoyed working with animals. “I helped at Pals Animal Sanctuary, fundraising for their dogs,” she says, “and as a child, I spent all my spare time at the stables, where I cleaned out the chickens. I had 28 guinea pigs as a child. I was supposed to have two, but it got out of hand. I loved them all. We’ve recently thought about getting alpacas, but they’re quite a big commitment.”
More than a year after lockdown began in the UK, how’s keeping chickens been? “I love having chickens!” she says. “I go out to see them and it’s so peaceful. They cluck, gather round, have treats, and my routine of looking after them helps give me a break from work. I sit on a crate and they take food out of my hands. It’s good to tame them, so you can catch them if you need to. They’re all happy to be touched except for Martha, who jumps in the air and squawks if I try to touch her.
“Keeping chickens gives me time away from my desk and helps me get a different perspective. I get repetitive strain injuries very easily, so need to take breaks. To visit the chickens, I have to walk across the garden – I do the cleaning of their coop and it’s time well spent away from work. It’s so peaceful and can help to stimulate the brain cells — it helps me get unstuck. The dogs come and help – sitting on the other side of the fence to watch what’s going on. The change of scenery can really help move the creative process on.
“I love having the chickens around. I never thought I’d enjoy it as much. A chicken laid an egg right in front of me one time and it was like watching a miracle! I think I disturbed her, and she came running out of her coop and then laid an egg!”
Animals in Della’s Stories
A lot of animals are featured in Della’s romantic comedy books. “I have chickens in my People’s Friend magazine series that’s running at the moment,” she says. “It’s called Paw and Order about a house sitting ex-policeman who house sits smallholdings on a regular basis. There’s an episode where he looks after some rare breed chickens and the owner’s terrier, who is determined to catch one.
“There’s a three-legged dog in all my romcoms, and I’ve put chickens in my next one. Whatever I’m working on reflects my life. I’ve just finished book three, and the chickens have a starring role in the first chapter of my next novel (still in progress).
“My latest romcom, Moonlight Over Studland Bay is about a girl who does animal boarding on the beach. It features dogs, horses, goats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. She takes anything. Her passion is to make it full-time.”
Check out Della Galton’s books here: www.amazon.com/Della-Galton/e/B001K7P4XK
Originally published in the October/November 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.