It was some time ago, at the height of the predicted epidemic that was to become known as Bird Flu, that I became the anxious custodian of a flock of chickens. My local pub had long hosted several groups of poultry, which were allowed to range free over the adjoining garden and car park, totally at one with Mother Nature. Adept at avoiding all makes of rural vehicles from Range Rovers to tractors, they dominated the territory by day and roosted in the Yew trees at night. From the vantage point of one of the patio tables, originally destined for the pub’s customers, many of the hens would terrify dogs and steal salted crisps from startled drinkers alike. The cockerels were utterly defiant in all matters of social grace and no child’s al fresco burger and chips were safe from avian terrorist attacks.

So with bird flu sweeping around the globe, well trickling as it turned out, and lurid forecasts of human dead lying where they fell in the streets, the pub chickens were sentenced faster than a protestant at The Spanish Inquisition. As the board of directors met later in the week to determine the appropriate method of dispatch, my apprehensive voice let out the only alternative solution I could muster on the day, “I’ll take them home” I murmured.

A number of crystal clear signals should have silenced this rash outburst from the word go. Firstly, I had never kept a chicken in my life. I knew nothing of their emotional needs or practical requirements and I was unaware of what they ate or where they needed to live, sorry roost. Secondly, I along with the rest of the pub, had not the foggiest idea as to how to catch them, and thirdly, I had not discussed it with my wife. I will leave you to decide which of the above was looking the most life threatening at this stage – mine not the chickens that is. After the use of two landing nets, a sack used in the manner of a Roman gladiatorial throwing web and several kilos of finest plump corn, the begrudging birds were sitting like a hanging jury in the back of my car. As dusk fell, they were released into our paddock-like garden where most of them promptly scattered into low hanging apple trees and disappeared from view. I didn’t know about clipping wings either.

Our feral chickens re-appeared some days later at the sight of some stale bread and a rattling tin of seed corn. My conversation reached levels of justification almost unheard of in our house. How they animated the garden I noted, what a joy to become totally rural I added and goodness me, how those free range eggs were going to taste at breakfast time in the weeks to follow. On all three selected topics I could not have been more inaccurate. They animated the heads off most newly planted flowers, they offered ruralism only at their personally selected meal times. And nobody found a single egg in four weeks of habitation. Slowly though, they appeared to settle and new chicks would arrive at various points in their breeding cycle, increasing the cockerel count by 50% and depleting the costly food supply for which there was no tangible return. What finally did for the ever anarchic band of marauding cocks, was the petition drawn up by our otherwise friendly neighbours seeking a decent night’s sleep after more than a fortnight of competitive crowing that had emanated from our garden. Who says they only crow at dawn? Our flock went through the night like an illegal rave.

So their fate was inevitably sealed, and the promise of fresh omelettes, soufflés and meringues gave way to some neck-wringing tuition from a local smallholder and a rather fulsome coq-au-vin by the end of the week.

But the seed had been sown. By now we were the proud owners of a re-furbished coup and a galvanised dustbin full of chicken feed. The only thing we now lacked were suitable tenants, several of the former leaseholders having been traditionally washed down with a fine bottle of Burgundy the previous weekend. Not letting our investment or the accompanying experience go to waste, we took in some otherwise prodigious layers who had passed their industrial peak at a nearby farm. I nervously clipped their wings and installed them in their well-appointed abode, fragrant with the bouquet of organic creosote. Within days we were living adjacent to six bonny chickens with pleasant dispositions and a ready smile. We made them comfortable, fed them well and they rewarded us with a daily tally of eggs well beyond our culinary needs. So many eggs taught me how to poach properly, with a vortex in the middle of boiling water infused cider vinegar. Create some of the best omelettes aux fine herbs outside of Provence and flavoured only with garden herbs and pepper, and celebrate the newly discovered wonders of baked eggs with cream and Amontillado sherry.

A trip to the multiples for a pack of anaemic eggs has now become a distant memory. How can anyone crack an egg at breakfast without mining that mineral flavoured, liquid yolk of nuclear orange that now greets our day like their cheerful, smiling creators in the garden beyond? Perhaps they keep smiling as they had heard that there is no such dish in France as hen au vin.