The book said that “coopies” was Devonshire baby-talk for chickens, but the author could not understand why.
“It’s Somerset as well,” I said aloud, “and the reason is obvious.” The comment was pointless, the writer had died in 1955.
“Coopies,” is simply a contraction of “coop hens,” although I’m not sure the “coop” prefix is necessary, what hens other than those which live in a coop do you find onna farm? Perhaps it was to distinguish hens of the chicken variety from hens of other bird species.
Like virtually every farmer’s wife in the country, my grandmother kept coop hens.
The coop from which they took their name was a large rectangular wooden structure with a felt roof. It was raised off the ground. Hens came and went via a narrow wooden walkway that led to a narrow sliding hatch. At one end of the coop, there was a door that allowed access to a person collecting the eggs which were laid in nesting boxes. One of the sternest duties at the end of the day was to ensure that the coop was very firmly closed. Lengths of wood were wedged against the door and the hatch to ensure that it was not possible for prowling foxes to get among the poultry. Anyone who is inclined to see foxes in an anthropomorphic way should see a poultry shed after a fox has got among the hens.
The eggs collected from my grandmother’s coop exceeded the needs of those who lived on the farm, the extra eggs were collected by a local shopkeeper who called once a week. The eggs were wiped clean and placed in cardboard trays that would hold two and a half dozen eggs. Had someone attempted to assess the hourly rate for which farmers’ wives worked when working with hens, it would probably have been very low. My grandmother would have had to spend time each evening gathering the hens back to the coop, some would try to roost elsewhere if left to their own devices, and the coop itself needed to be regularly cleaned.
The keeping of a dozen hens would no longer be deemed worthwhile in monetary terms. Hens kept now in people’s yards or gardens tend to be treated more like pets than farm livestock.
Yet if the keeping of hens was hardly justified in economic terms, much of farming life was uneconomic. There seemed to be a value found in work that was not measured in cash terms.