We've been to Church Farm at Ardeley several times over the past year, and enjoyed many happy hours there camping and wandering around the farm.
This weekend we found ourselves back there again as the Old Man was taking up his Christmas present and being a Butcher for the day. We planned to make the most of it and stay in one of their cabins - even we are not crazy enough to get the tent out in February!
This left Ruby and I with the whole day to entertain ourselves and after walking around the fields, enjoying tea and cake at the tearoom and stocking up on treats, Ruby was booked in to do the egg collecting activity in the afternoon.
Now, we'd done this before but I knew she'd love to do it again.
Visiting the farm is free, as is parking, and egg collecting sessions cost either £5.95 or from £7.50 if you want to keep and take home half a dozen eggs. The session lasts for around an hour, but we were incredibly lucky and because of the snow on the surrounding roads, it was a very quiet day. We were treated like VIPs on our own private tour and we both had such a wonderful time.
Since we were last there, a new member of staff has joined the team. 'Chicken Dave' was the absolute perfect host, totally hitting the mark with his knowledge, fun approach and non-patronising way with Ruby. He was a joy to talk to.
I was going to say what Chicken Dave doesn't know about chickens isn't worth knowing. Except, so passionate about the chook's welfare is he, he's constantly striving to learn more, observing them, studying their behaviour, moderating their coops and environment and doing all he can to make them the happiest chickens possible.
By 'thinking like a chicken' he can understand how to make them more comfortable. He could recite off all the requirements and measurements for optimum poultry welfare, but always wants to go one better.
These truly are happy eggs from happy chickens.
Besides chickens, there are also ducks and turkeys living side-by-side and one Guinea fowl. We were told the charming tale of how the turkeys were saved from Christmas, and Dave pointed out some of the different behaviours between the different birds.
The ducks like to dig holes in the ground to find water to drink, and use the drinking stations to swim in!
We went into the laying sheds and scooped up all the eggs laid - 163 in all that day. As I was gently fumbling around under one very obliging Rhode Island Red, she stood up and popped an egg out right there and then for me. It was steaming hot, such a special moment.
Ruby helped fill up the feeders, and Dave showed us how to fork over the ground to expose juicy bugs for them to forage.
We learned so much and it was brilliant chatting and exchanging tips from the time when we kept chooks in our garden. It made me realise how much I miss my girls.
After the collecting, it was time to take the haul back to the farm office where all the eggs are logged, cleaned, graded into size, stamped and boxed for sale in the farm shop.
Great bit of maths practice for Ruby - 30 times tables anyone?
Dave obviously saw how interested we were in the chickens and we were honoured when he asked if we'd like to meet him back after dusk and see the chickens go to sleep. Ruby busied herself writing them a bedtime poem, and we met him, armed with torches at 6pm.
As we crept into the enclosure we could see all the different sleeping habits of the birds. The turkeys standing guard outside the door of the hen house like big burly bouncers. The gaggle of white ducks parading the perimeter fence, ever alert for foxes. The re-homed chickens from a caged farm, huddled together in a tiny corner, still not aware that they have all the space in the world. The natural pecking order of the cock and the No. 1 girls who get the best perch. Some with their heads tucked under their wings. The other girls all puffed up and huddled together in a cosy bundle drifting off to sleep...all of them softly purring.
Sneaking into the coop at night was such a treat. It smelled warm and cosy, it was calm and peaceful compared to the racket they make during the day. Everyone had their own place and was comfy and settled for a good night's sleep.
I'm so glad we got to see this, because it really was a special sight.
After wishing them all sweet dreams, we quietly crept out, switched on the electric fence to keep them safe from Mr Fox, and headed back to our cosy cabin for hot chocolate and snuggles by the wood burner.
Special thanks to Chicken Dave for sharing his knowledge and passion for the chickens with us. It's great to know they're in such good hands.
Linking up with Country Kids and Animal Tales.