Digglum Bestiaruim ~ The Digglers' Crest

The Digglers

The Digglers' Hens ~ Sooty

The Beginning

Sooty, a bantam black leghorn was born in 1988 at the school I was currently employed. Olwen Brown, a colleague and friend was running an environmental centre for the authority and it was based at a local High School. Olwen, had her own farm and an assortment of poultry. She was also in possession of an incubator which she lent to various schools within the authority and supplied the schools with fertile eggs. The children were fascinated at watching the hatching. The chicks she took back to her farm. The children in my class were treated to a hatching and were disappointed when Olwen took the incubator to another school.

The Incubator

This led to a discussion on purchasing our own incubator. I asked the children to research the cost by phoning various farming merchants. The cost proved too expensive and I nearly lost my job when I approached the Head to see whether we could purchase one through requisition! The next best thing was to construct our own. Following instructions from an incubator diagram, we were ready for lift off!! However, that turned into deep disappointment when the eggs we put in became hard- boiled, as we could not control the temperature!

The children suffered another disappointment, when I contacted Olwen, to see if we could borrow the incubator again. She said her farm was being over run by newly hatched chicks, so the incubator was staying put for the foreseeable future. The children reminded me that I had a smallholding - 5 acres and the chicks could go there. We discussed the possibility, however, I reminded the children that when you take on the responsibility of looking after animals you need to consider their welfare and that included secure housing. The children were eager to suggest that I could purchase a hen house. I got a group to establish the cost of a hen house by phoning farming merchants. The out come was to purchase a suitable hen house was too expensive for a poorly paid teacher, therefore to consider another hatching was totally out of the question. The children's spirits were undaunted and the suggestion was to make our own. I had a vision of small hammers and nails and small pieces of wood! That too was a none starter. Not to be thwarted, the following day a boy breezed into school with a large grin on his face. His father worked at Senior Service - a cigarette factory and announced that the tobacco arrived in wooden packing cases and the wood was tong and groove and could supply as much wood needed to construct a hen house. My heart sank and my vision turned to large hammers and large nails! There was an excited buzz erupting round the classroom. We sat down to think things through. The first thing that was needed was construction plans. That they thought was easy and they sat down to draw hen houses that include chickens already on site.

Plans To Construct A Henshouse

No, no, no! I exclaimed, measurements needed to be included. An air of depression permutated as they realised it was beyond their capabilities. I looked at their sad faces and decided to intervene. How would it be if we contacted the local College of Further Education sited just down the road? They agreed with teacher that this was an excellent idea and I asked two of the children to phone the woodwork department.

They raced back into the room with the good news that they would be delighted to construct a sectional henhouse. After school, I took a group of children down to the college proudly clutching their drawings. After a few days I was contacted and shown the plans, the children were eager to see and the boy's father was asked if he could deliver the correct amount of timber. During the ensuing weeks I took groups of children after school down to the college to see the growing construction of the hen house.

Hen House ContructionHen House Contruction Hen House Contruction Hen House Contruction Hen House Finished

The local press got to hear of the project and we were featured in the local newspaper. Read the newspaper clipping. At last the day dawned when the hen house was finally finished. The question now was how we get it up to my smallholding? The sections were far too big to take in a car. This was another problem the children had to solve. It didn't take too long before another boy proudly announced that his father was a milkman and he had a float. The following day he said that his father would provide the necessary transport. The next hurdle was now to erect the hen house. I was amazed at how many fathers offered. The day arrived when the sections of the hen house arrived at the school on the milk float and a convoy of cars with volunteer fathers set off for my smallholding. It was a sight to behold. My colleagues were convinced I had finally lost the plot. It wasn't too long before the hen house stood proudly on my five acres! Now we could contact Olwen, now we had a place to put the newly hatched chicks. It was all systems go for another hatching, resulting in the birth of Sooty.

From The Egg Came The Chick Sooty

Olwen agreed to lend us the incubator knowing a good home could be provided for the chicks. She needed also to provide us with a brooder as the newly hatch chicks needed to be placed in the warmth of a brooder. Olwen supplied us with a clutch of eggs. She kept an assortment of pedigree birds. The children waited in eager anticipation for the birth. What a surprise they got when amongst the other normal fluffy yellow chicks a fluffy black one emerged! Olwen kept bantam black leghorns and an egg from this variety was included in our clutch. Word soon got round school that Miss Pearson was hatching black birds! I had a terrible time convincing the children that this chick would grow like the others to be a hen providing it was female which it was. The incubator was given back to Olwen and the newly hatched chicks settled down to school life for six weeks before being taken to their new home. What a time the chicks had! What a time the children had!

From The Egg Came The Chick SootyFrom The Egg Came The Chick Sooty

The Little Chicks Sing Song

The children were eager to name their new 'off spring', and Sooty was the name chosen for the black chick. Sooty was smaller than the other chicks as she was a bantam and the others were from larger hens. The brooder was a large piece of equipment. I also had a piano in my room so some of the furniture had to removed temporarily. The brooder had a flat, strong top and since I am quite a large lady it was ideal to double up as a piano stool. The children shrieked with delight when at the end of the day we had a singsong and the little chicks joined in, chirping away as loudly as they could! The children were very good at handling the chicks and they were very possessive and proud when children from other classes came to view the new additions. Many of my colleagues asked if they could join up at the end of the day for a singsong just to watch the antics of the chicks! Sooty became their firm favourite.

Sooty Living At The Smallholding Like One Of The Cats

Unfortunately, time flies and the day came when the chicks were to be taken to their new home. By this time they had certainly grown and for health reasons their life as school fledglings had come to an end. There was sadness all round as the children said goodbye as myself and a chosen few embarked on the last stage of our project taking them to the smallholding. I promised however, that each week on a Thursday after school, I would take a group up to my smallholding to view our chicks. Needless to say I did not have any discipline problems! Many of the parents offered to provide transport so consequently more of the children could come. So each Thursday a convoy of cars set off for the smallholding.

The Children Come To Visit The Hens The Hens In The Hen House The Hen House

Sooty The HenEach week I brought Sooty much to the delight of the children to spend a day in the class. Her favourite perch was my shoulder and I was often seen walking round school with this black hen!! She hadn't forgot the songs and would perch on the piano and join in with the singing. The problem, however with Sooty was that she didn't think she was a bird and found it difficult integrating with the other hens! On my smallholding, I have a number of cats and Sooty thought it was her right to live in the same area as them. At first the cats were confused but she became accepted and perched either in the kitchen or in the feed room in the same area as the cat. She took a shine to Lucy a ginger cat and was often seen running after poor Lucy trying to peck her tail! She did not do this with any other cat. Quite often in the morning I would find her asleep next to one of the cats! I must add that I do not live on the smallholding, as it would be very unhygienic to have a hen in ones kitchen! However the cats didn't mind. Just as well as Sooty would not live in the hen house!

When Sooty Had Sweep

Sooty The HenOne day Sooty was missing and I was frantic with worry. What would I tell the children? Had a fox eaten her? My other hens lived in a secure environment. Their hen house was surrounded by chicken wire and they could wander within the confines with safety. I eventually found her under the hen house. She must have flown over the wire. No amount of coaxing would persuade her to come out. She was there for days. At last, I saw her move and when I did I could see that she was sitting on two eggs. The children were delighted that Sooty was going to be a mum. However, she was not a good mum. When the two eggs finally hatched, she kicked one of the chicks out of the nest and it consequently died. I could not get under the hen house so I was unable to save it. The other chick turned out to be a cock and was christened Sweep by the children. At last Sooty brought her Sweep out from under the hen house and he was destined to a life in the hen house - Sooty's choice and she returned to her life with the cats!

Sooty To The Rescue

On one occasion, the stable yard was covered by a swarm of flying ants. A local farmer must have disturbed a nest. I was at a loss as to what to do. Sooty, to the rescue! Teatime had come early!

Sooty's End

Sooty lived to be eight years old, which is a good age for a bantam. She spent her time between the smallholding and school delighting many children and enriching their lives. The children at my school became very knowledgeable in poultry keeping and I often wonder how many became poultry farmers. Not many I think, as like me they would keep them as pets!

Sooty The Hen

Sooty was buried with full military honours. I was just as heartbroken as the children and we all agreed it had been a privilege to share our lives with her. Good on you, Sooty!