Four paint tins and a roll of garden fleece

Four paint tins and a roll of garden fleece


That was the equipment needed to take the photograph above. Obviously, that wasn’t everything – we also used some long sticks, a small bag of concrete, clamps and lights from a hardware store, a cheap remnant of black fleece and a stapler. Oh… and an ex-battery hen called Coral.

I‘m not a fan of artificial lighting, but I needed to do some photoshoots with our ferrets for charity posters. Having found the instructions for a cheap DIY studio on the internet, I also wanted to photograph one of our recently rescued chickens. Coral was duly fished out of the nesting box one cold December night and brought in to our tiny dining room. Minus the usual furniture, we had Purdy cat installed in her favourite bed in one corner and litter trays along one wall. We dragged my Mum’s old sewing machine into the only free space and taped the fleece in place. The sticks had been set into the old paint tins to act as stands and we clamped two lights at the top. The other two stands acted as diffusers for the lights and had frames of bamboo cane with garden fleece stapled over the front. Voila!

Coral was gently placed in front of the lights (where she probably thought she had gone to sleep and woken up in Florida!) She was a perfect model and it only took a few shots to get what I needed. The image was processed with a small amount of the Fractalius filter painted in selectively. This was actually awarded an Honorable Mention at the International Photography Awards last year. Sadly it was posthumous for poor Coral as she succumbed to a tumour almost exactly a year ago. Her best friend Beryl was put to sleep a few days ago with the same problem. Sadly battery hens are not designed for themselves, but rather to produce as many eggs as economically as possible. We have taken on many over the years and they have all made the most wonderful pets. They are naturally inquisitive and love nothing more than to follow you around and keep you company.

The song of the Battery Hen by Edwin Brock

We can’t grumble about accommodation: we have a new concrete floor that’s always dry, four walls that are painted white, and a sheet-iron roof the rain drums on. A fan blows warm air beneath our feet to disperse the smell of chicken shit and, on dull days fluorescent lighting sees us.

You can tell me: if you come by the north door. I am in the twelfth pen on the left-hand side of the third row from the floor; and in that pen I am usually the middle one of three. But even without directions, you’d discover me. I have the same orange-red comb, yellow beak and auburn feathers, but as the door opens and you hear above the electric fan a kind of one word wail. I am the one who sounds loudest in my head.

Listen. Outside this house there’s an orchard with small moss-green apple trees; beyond that, two fields of cabbages; then on the far side of the road, a broiler house. Listen, one cockerel crows out of there, as tall and proud as the first hour of the sun. Sometimes I stop cackling with the others to listen, and wonder if he hears me.

The next time you come here, look for me. Notice the way I sound inside my head. God made us all differently, and blessed us with this expensive home.

This is a photograph of Coral, Beryl and their friend Madge a few days after being rescued. They were almost “oven-ready” and this was the start of one of the coldest winters on record. I spent my non-working day making them little coats with fleece left over from the ferret photo shoot.

The Girls

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