We have a missing chicken situation tonight. When I went out to put the turkeys and hens to bed, I couldn’t find Limpy anywhere. Limpy is a Labelle chicken, and must be about three years old now. We bought her and five of her siblings for the freezer, but she was trodden on by a llama when she was quite young. She couldn’t walk at all for about a month, so every morning we carried her out to the garden and every evening we carried her back to a comfy nesting box in the hen stable. She became very tame because of that, and we grew fond of her, so she became a pet and escaped ending up as Dagg food.

She doesn’t wander far since, as you might have guessed, she’s got a bad limp. I’ve checked all her usual daytime haunts so the chances are that she’s settled down somewhere for the night. I was a bit late to see to them this evening and the weather’s bad, which often makes the chickens go to roost earlier than normal. It’s very gloomy in the barn so she might have been there somewhere and I just couldn’t see her. I hope she turns up tomorrow.

Our broody bantam had a whole stable to nest in

Chickens are very much in the news at the moment in France. Back in 1999, European legislation was put in place to ban battery hen farming by 2012. Why it should take 12 years to get round to supplying hens with slightly larger cages escapes me. With a bit of effort I’m sure farmers could have managed it within a year or so, and they certainly should have, morally. Politics obviously had a lot to do with it. Anyway, now chickens must have larger cages so that they have room to preen themselves and turn round. Until the present that hasn’t always been possible. It’s horrific, and is why I gave up buying battery eggs many years ago, long before we got chickens of our own.

There are in fact two types of hen accommodation that are allowed under the new legislation: 1. Enriched cages which give the chicken 750 square centimetres, and 2. non-cage systems with nests (1 per 7 chickens) and no more than 9 chickens per square metre. In addition, both types of housing must provide perches (15cm per hen), litter for them to peck and scratch at and access at all times to a feeding trough (12 cm per hen). These still aren’t overly generous allowances for them.

Here's Madge, a Limousin chicken

It seems so sad to me that battery chickens have been treated so abominably up to now – and still are. There is a high level of non-compliance. 1st January this year was the deadline, and European health minister John Dalli has said there’s going to be zero tolerance for farms that have flouted the law. Legal action will be taken within the next few days to stop hen farmers not meeting regulations from selling eggs to shops and supermarkets. This could mean a shortfall of 51 million eggs for Europe in the short term. Not here though. We always have fresh eggs to spare and there are still a load in the freezer.

Chickens are troopers. They’re stoic and adaptable and will put up with anything, and that’s why they’ve been so abused in the past. If they’d only stopped laying eggs in their rotten battery conditions then something would have been about it a long while ago. As it is, chickens just keep going. They’re born survivors. Long after humans have died out, there’ll still be chickens on the planet – mark my words!