We have a problem with our chickens. The problem is that they aren’t laying any eggs, and haven’t been for quite some time. Actually, that’s not quite true – they are laying eggs, sometimes, but the eggs come out without shells on. Instant unpoached eggs. Yuck.
There might be all sorts of reasons for this. One of the most obvious (so obvious that we didn’t think of it at all, it having been suggested by a scientifically minded cousin) is calcium deficiency. Looking back, this seems likely. The grit we used to give the chickens used to have quite a lot of ground seashells in it – these days it looks more like gravel.
What’s a boy to do? Or a girl, for that matter?
If you want a job done, you do it yourself. It was time for some serious seashell gathering. Cromer beach, for all its charms, was out, because it has very few shells. Crabs are king – the most common (or least infrequent) mollusc is the slipper limpet (Crepidula), although you can find a few whelks (Buccinum), dog whelks (Nucella), winkles (Littorina) and very rare top shells (Calliostoma), chitons (Lepidochitona) and other stuff. But it would take a lot of hunting to get the volume of shells we needed.
Along the coast, though, we knew that Holkham Beach would provide rich pickings. And so, earlier today, off we went, pausing only at Picnic Fayre in Cley to get posh picnic grub.
Holkham beach is among the most spectacular beaches in Norfolk, if not Britain. The scale of it is staggering, and hard to appreciate in mere photographs. Here’s a view from our picnic perch atop the dunes, themselves quite some distance seaward of the beach car park.
Crox Minima is sitting beneath the hat (bottom left). The three tiny brown blobs you can see on the horizon are horses – Holkham’s enormous expanse of sand is a Mecca for riders.
This is the beach when you finally reach it.
Everywhere on this endless, endless expanse of sand are razor shells (Ensis) interspersed with oysters (Ostraea) and cockles (Cerastoderma). The razors, in particular, are found in enormous drifts, where you can scoop them up by the handful.
Where razors come to die. Mrs Crox and Canis croxorum on the horizon (right), for scale.
Having got a bagful of shells
we hoofed it back to the car park. We’d set off in fine weather. However, we were plagued by insistent scattered showers, which chased us up the beach…
… and settled in to a rather sharp and autumnal downpour. Once home, I set up my sophisticated, high-tech shell-grinding operation.
which aroused interest in the target audience.
Let’s hope they start laying eggs again! Honestly, the things we do for our livestock.