Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Dawning Of A New Year....

Well, here we are. The hundredth post. As I look back through my ramblings, I realise just how much has happened in my chicken keeping adventure this year. I have suffered my first losses, handled introductions, dealt with illnesses beyond count, got to grips with broody hens and coaxed the flock through it's first major moult. All in all, it's been an intense learning experience.

Mini is hanging in there, and has rejoined her flockmates. Her eye is hideously swollen and, I now know, irretrievably lost. Sad as that makes me, I can't help but smile as she potters around the garden, offering the odd 'meh-meh!' into the general chicken chatter.

Kiki is still stubbonly broody, although she is a gentle wannabe mum, and not as psychotic as some of my ladies. I unceremoniously dump her on to the freezing lawn a couple of times a day, where she sits for several minutes in her broody trance, resembling a russian hat.

My mighty Mille's are ruling their roost as usual. Both girls have had a fairly radical makeover since their moult and are absolutely stunning. Mabel watches over her flock with a keen eye, and if she detects any mutiny in the ranks waddles over to the offending hen and sits on her. Maude occassionally assists her in rounding up offenders.

Doris is still moulting, so is keeping herself under the radar. She sometimes has a half hearted bok, but the enthusiasm isn't there. I'm guessing that she'll find her voice again in the spring.

Maeve is still a small chicken with a big attitude. When I think back to the small ball of feathers we brought home, I can hardly believe that it's the same bird. I'm quite nervous at the thought of a broody Maeve, to be honest.

Margot is the hardiest hen I have. Whatever the weather, Margot can be seen goose stepping around the garden. Whether this is because she genuinely doesn't mind the wet, or whether she has simply forgotten how to get back to the coop remains open to debate. Bless.

I have many plans for the new year. We aim to be moving in the spring, and that means transporting my girls. It also means new lodgings for the chooks, and I have many ideas I can't wait to put into practice.

Maybe I'll even get my frizzle pekin....

Happy New Year, from the madchickenlady, and the chooks! x

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Chilled Chickens

The weather is bitterly cold. It hasn't got above freezing for several days, and I have to break the ice in the girls' drinker several times a day. We had a smattering of snow which has now frozen solid. The decking by the back door is like an ice rink. Every so often, a small hen goes whizzing past the glass with a confused look in her eye. Chickens do not like snow, ice or anything else which is damp and cold.

For the most part, the girls are staying inside. Margot seems the least bothered by the weather, and is often seen skidding about the garden. Maeve and Doris venture out for brief periods of foraging, but retreat to the coop after a while. Mabel and Maude are having none of it, and other than quick trips to the food and water, stay perched up high in the Convent, muttering.

Kiki, for reasons best known to herself, has decided that this cold spell is the perfect time to go broody. She sits in the nestbox, guarding her eggs, and growling if anyone gets too close. I am unceremoniously dumping her on the cold lawn a couple of times a day.

Mini is still holed up in the greenhouse. She spends a lot of time in her coop, but comes out periodically for a scratch about and dinner. I tried to encourage her to explore a bit further today, and she made a beeline for the Convent. Maude chased her and grabbed a beakful of tail feathers. It is not ideal to have the bottom hen out of the fold. Mini scarpered to the border, and sat looking miserable. I scooped her up and put her back in the greenhouse, where she wont be picked on. Feeling sorry for her, I also roped in Margot, and the two hens are now snuggled up together in the little coop. I am considering rotating the gentler hens, so that Mini is not without allies when the time comes for her to return to the main coop. Kiki and Doris should be friendly enough.

Mini's eye is looking worse by the day. The gunky stuff has now covered her eye, and appears to have blood vessels through it. I would bet money on it being a cyst. It is swollen, but doesn't appear to be causing her pain. I think that the eye is irretrievably lost, and that saddens me, but I hope that she'll adapt and have many years ahead of her.

I long for this to have a happy ending.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Prognosis

After deliberating, I decided to contact Retfords again about Mini. They were lovely, as always, and very helpful. It is more than likely that Mini has a cyst behind her eye. In order to fix this problem, it is very likely that the eye would have to be removed. The cost for this surgery is in the region of two hundred pounds. It is also not certain that she would survive the anaesthetic. All in all, the worst news possible.

So, I asked the lovely vet what would happen if I simply left Mini, stopped messing with the eye altogether, and just kept her well fed and watered. The answer is that the eye will shrivel up and heal over, although this may take several months. However, she will live.

So, as I see it, I have two options. Risk Mini's life on the operating table, and pay several hundred pounds more towards treatment, or leave her be. Either way, she loses the eye. One way, she may die because of a quick fix. The other way, she may be in pain (although the vet can't be sure) for some time.

Rock and a hard place anyone?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Health Update

Well, the course of antibiotics finished yesterday. Mini still has a fat eyelid, and some stubborn thick pus. She seems ok-ish in herself, but is avoiding the others. When let out to free range, she sticks close to the coop, only venturing out of the covered run if chased. However, she is still eating and drinking. All in all, she is an enigma. Every day I brace myself to find her dead in the coop, and every day I am greeted with a squinting, dirty chicken warbling 'meh-meh!'. Perhaps if I plead with her, she'll spontaneously recover? It might be worth a shot, I've tried just about everything else!

The weather has turned decidedly cold, here, and the girls are unimpressed. My sensible pekin ladies take themselves into the warm, dry coop at the first sign of inclement weather. The silkies tend to stand in the middle of the garden, getting soaked through before they realise that it's happening. A soggy silkie is a very sorry sight. Quite amusing, though.

Today I collected three eggs from the nest box. So, as well as Maeve and Kiki laying, I suspect that Margot is joining in. I'm not certain, though, so for now the 'mystery egg' remains layer-less in my egg chart.

Although it has been added to the egg box going to one of the children's teacher's for christmas.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Incarceration Is Not Desired

Well, today is day three of the new medication. I have taken pity on the girls, and allowed them an hour free range a day. They are not happy with these arrangements, and can be seen pacing the run during their incarceration. If they catch me spying on them, they take up a chickenny version of 'Let us out!'. My guilt is enormous.

I wish I could say that Mini seems better. She is eating and drinking, but for the most part sits in the coop. Even during the 'exercise hour', she shows no interest in roaming. I am still wiping her eye daily, and she tolerates this with increasingly bad grace. I am trying to convince myself that she feels a bit poorly because of the medicine, or that she is the sensible hen, staying out of the cold and damp. Deep down, I can't believe it. I will persevere with the antibiotics, and hope for a miracle.

As an aside, Doris is also a bit quiet. I have found her nestled in the coop alongside Mini, avoiding the others. Doris has just gone through a moult, so is probably a bit low anyway. I am hoping that is all it is.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hooray For The Cavalry!

Yesterday, Retfords called me back to tell me that they had identified the bacteria causing MIni's infection. It has almost certainly originated from wild birds, who presumably have been using the back garden as a giant latrine. Most importantly, it is treatable. The extremely efficient person on the end of the phone ran through various antibiotics with me that would be effective, and once we had settled on one, promised to post it immediately. This morning, Mini's medicine arrived by courier.

She has been prescribed a medicine licensed for pigeons, called Soludox Doxycycline, which is to be added to the drinking water for seven days. The other girls are also to be dosed, as the vet feels they are likely to be infected. Mini appears to be like a canary down a mine; she shows symptoms, where as the others hide theirs. I have been warned that this particular antibiotic tastes foul, so I have also been sent a tonic to flavour the water with. I am literally joyous with relief, and will confess to doing a little dance holding said medicines above my head as soon as the courier left. I'm hoping he didn't see me.

Needless to say, the drinker has been medicated. At the moment, my ladies are strutting around the garden. However, they will be incarcerated shortly, and fed dry toast in an effort to make them drink the faintly luminous water.

For the first time in weeks, there is hope.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Housekeeper

I was late letting the girls out this morning. As I stood by the back door pulling on my boots, I witnessed a remarkable thing. At first, I assumed that it was a hen bobbing about in the pop hole. Then, I realised it was newspaper.

The newspaper rustled about a bit as it was wedged through the doorway, before flopping onto the ramp. It was followed out of the coop by Maeve. She fussily pecked at the rubbish, before stepping over it and proceeding to drag it down into the run. Once she had reached the ground, she trundled back up into the coop.

Feeling somewhat bemused, I approached the Convent to find shredded paper all over the run. Maude was engaged in ripping the paper into long strips, an activity she has always enjoyed. I opened the coop door, and peeked inside. Maeve was back on the perch, and gave me the beady eye. She was clearly trying to have a bit of a snooze.

Now I'm left pondering whether the fussy hen has cleaned the droppings from the night before because she was offended by the smell, or taken the paper outside so that Maude wouldn't keep her awake with her frankly mental paper tearing. After ensuring that I wasn't going to bother her further, Maeve turned around on her perch and went to sleep.

Quick update on Mini: The poultry lab called me back to say that they have identified a bacterial infection, and that they should be able to find the best antibiotic to kill it by tomorrow lunchtime. All of the birds will have to be treated.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Chicken Origami

Yesterday the swab kit arrived from the poultry lab. I roped the ever tolerant husband in to help, and restrained a miffed Mini. The ever tolerant husband approached Mini with trepidation, as I wrestled open her beak. I rather snappily told him to take the swab, rather than tickling her with it. We then moved on to the frankly, grim, eye cheese. Tentatively, he swabbed her gunky eye, and twirled some of the vile cheese-like substance from her eye socket. Neither of us felt like breakfast. This done, we posted the swabs to the lab. I confess to muttering a little prayer.

After a hasty Christmas shopping trip, we grumpily returned home. As I stepped out of the back door, I glanced into the run. What I saw made my heart sink. A jumbled mass of white, with some darker smudges, lay at the bottom of the ramp. I froze. Something in my posture brought the ever tolerant husband running, and as he too saw the crumpled mass in the run, he tried to console me. Very close to tears, I approached the Convent, fully expecting to see a very dead Mini, possibly duffed up by the rest of the flock. What I found was a screwed up layer of newspaper, that I use under the perch in the coop. Maude has a habit of taking her frustration at being incarcerated out on this layer, taking great pleasure in tearing it to pieces. As I breathed a sigh of relief, Mini stuck her head out of the coop, and muttered her trademark 'meh-meh' in greeting. I have never been so glad to see her.

The ever tolerant husband remarked that perhaps the flock had taken up origami to stave off boredom. Or perhaps to teach me a lesson.....

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Little Heartbreaker

Despite regular eye drops, cleaning and wiping, Min's eye shows no improvement. Out of desperation, I have contacted a poultry infection laboratory, and will be sending them swabs tomorrow. They will test for a few different infections, and the hope is that once identified, they can then prescribe the most effective antibiotic. The other possibility is that she has a cyst behind her eye, in which case we're talking surgery. I never thought I would feel so upset about a small, dirty hen.

Today I pulled more of the horrible, rubbery substance from her eye socket. This necessary treatment causes Mini untold stress, and left her gasping. I loathe having to do it, but am hoping that I'm giving her eye a chance at retaining some function. However, at this stage I would happily see her lose the eye if it meant she would have a good quality of life. Plenty of chickens get by with only one eye, and I have no doubt that Mini would cope. She has effectively been one-eyed for nearly 6 weeks now, and has no problem eating, drinking and navigating the garden.

I am trying to be positive about the lab identifying the problem. I cannot even consider surgery without a very heavy heart.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Mystery Layer

Quick update on Mini. After trying baytril, and more tylan, Mini is now having eye drops administered three times a day. The eye is a mess, and the horrid, thick eye cheese continues to be a problem. After liberating some from her upper eyelid yesterday, I very nearly threw up. Mini bears this treatment with understandable panic, but no malice. The eye is open, but looks awful. On the plus side, Mini is well in herself, happily rootling around the garden for tasty tidbits and leading the charge when it comes to treats. She is eating and drinking normally, so I am slightly more confident that she will survive whatever this infection is.

On a more happy note, one more of my girls is now laying (I say one more, because Maeve has yet to stop. That hen is a powerhouse of production!) Last week, I found a quite spherical egg in the run. Tinted like Maeve's, but a different shape. It still might have been Maeve's, I suppose, but I can't think why she wouldn't have laid in the nest box. It also closely resembled the kind of egg that a certain eye-infected chook used to lay. Then, two days ago I found a perfectly formed, slightly smaller, yet shiny, egg in 'Maeve's' nest box. This one was definitely not down to my ASBO chicken. Today, I have found another egg matching the description of the first.

Now, I'm fairly certain that this small, shiny egg layer is not one of my 'regulars'. My money is on the demented bog brush sisters, aka the silkies. So, I have diligently followed them around the garden, hand outstretched, in an effort to see if they crouch. They don't. They simply take off around the garden like road runner. Hmmmm.

The mystery deepens.....

Friday, 13 November 2009

Chickens Are Contagious

Well, a week on from Mini's trip to the vet, things seem to be improving. Her eye is still not right, but is an awful lot better than it was. She finished the Baytril course on Wednesday, and as she wasn't completely better I have put her on yet another Tylan course. She pootles about the garden with the others, making her distinctive 'meh-meh' sound and scoffing random bits of greenery, so I'm cautiously hopeful.

Sadly, it appears that Maeve has moved ahead of her in the pecking order, and there has been a fair bit of chasing. My lovely little Mini seems to be a born victim. Maeve charges at her, then stops short as Mini waddles away into the shrubbery. I knew that Maeve would shake up the pecking order, and I shouldn't be surprised that she's started at the bottom, but I still feel sad that Mini is getting harassed by the youngster. I'm a little embarrassed for her. However, she is eating, drinking her medicine and sleeping with the others, so no major problems.

A friend of mine, who has listened to my tales of chicken woe with a sympathetic ear, has just announced that she's expecting a quartet of hens. The coop has arrived, and now she just has to decide on which hens to keep. I feel strangely jubilant that someone else is going to know what I'm talking about when I mention bokking, crouching and chickenny vandalism.

I'm debating whether to warn her about her beautiful geraniums.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Problem With Mini

Mini is sick again. Just over a week ago, I noticed her wheezing. This was dreadful timing, as we were going away for a long weekend the following day. I dosed the water with Tylan, informed my chook sitter and reluctantly left her and hoped for the best.

When we returned, I was delighted to hear that her chest had cleared up, and she was back to making her 'brum' noises. One of her eyes looked a little gunky, but I assumed it would clear up in the next day or two. It didn't.

Over the next 48 hours, Mini's eye became increasingly swollen. On examination, it appeared that her inner eyelid was very swollen and inflamed. So, off to the vet we went. Again.

The vet ummed and aahed, and confessed to not knowing much about chickens (does anyone?!). I held Mini firmly while the vet had a good look at the swelling. With barely a hesitation, she grabbed what I thought was a part of Mini's eye and pulled. I learned that hens can scream. It turns out that what I had assumed was a physical part of Mini was in fact solidified pus. Lovely. The eye swelling was instantly gone, and she peered at me with a blood shot and sore looking eye. The vet duly prescribed Baytril, and off we toddled.

All was going well, and I thought we might be in the clear. Until yesterday. Until Maeve.

Maeve detected a weakness in her flock mate, and took advantage. She set about Mini with a viciousness which was truly depressing. Both of Mini's eyes were targeted, and she has cuts on both eyelids. I brought the hen inside to bathe her wounds, and at that point discovered two small critters on Mini's neck. Lice, I presume. Great.

Taking my mite spray, I methodically sprayed each complaining hen. Maeve was banished to solitary, and can still be seen pacing in the greenhouse. I cleaned out the coop, smothering every surface with mite powder. I dressed the feed with poultry spice, and also added ACV to the water. Every little helps, to plagiarise a well known supermarket.

The other hens are ignoring Mini, which is quite normal. Last night, when I went out to give Mini her evening dose of medicine, her eye was gummed shut. I unstuck it, and she peered blearily at me. It was the same this morning. She is currently sat huddled in the border.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The First Winter Storm

The moulting ladies are now looking much more respectable, with most feathers at least present now. I for one am very glad, as the weather has taken a decidedly wintry turn here in the midlands. The girls can be seen snuggled together in the border, heads tucked in, trying to keep warm. For the purposes of heat retention, even the silkie's are being tolerated.

We are expecting our first spell of rotten weather later on today, so straight after the school run I prepared the coop. Clearing away last nights droppings, I have added more sawdust to the nest boxes (where Doris sleeps in one, and Margot and Kiki in the other) and a fresh, thick layer of newspaper on the floor (where Mini sleeps next to the door). Mabel. Maude and Maeve sleep high up on the perch, although this might change as the temperature drops.

We are expecting strong winds and driving rain, probably the worst kind of weather for short legged, fluffy hens. I know that the pekins will take themselves off to the shelter of the Convent the second the rain starts to fall, but I can guarantee that I'll be chasing the road runner-esque silkie's around the run in an attempt to keep them warm and dry.

I might even mix up some porridge for my ladies this afternoon.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mabel Gets A Make Over

Now that the girls have mostly lost their old plumage, they are busy growing their winter fashions. Maude looks much the same, a lovely caramel colour dotted with black and white. She has begun to preen and strut again, obviously thinking that she looks like the cats pyjamas. Mabel is going through a more radical image change.

The tips of a millefleur pekin's feathers are supposed to be white, so it's no great surprise that the first burst of quills have left Mabel looking like she's been through a bad shock. Her head is almost completely white, as is her chest. All indications are that she will have a lot more white in her markings than she has had previously. The others eye her with suspicion. Who is this new, pale leader? Mabel herself seems to spend a remarkable amount of time preening her new wing feathers, as if she can't quite believe that these odd coloured feathers belong to her.

She has, however, returned to flattening the others periodically, just to remind them who's boss.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

A Few Moulting Pics

Margot, Kiki and Mabel.

My moulting Milles! Maude and Mabel.

My scruffy girls, with an inquisitive Maeve.

Big Girl Voices

The moult continues. Maude now resembles Billy Idol, with a funky short spikey 'do. Mabel is only half the chicken she used to be, and seems to be struggling with her top hen status. Maeve has moved up on to the perch next to the Millefleurs, staking her claim as third in line for the top job. The flock is unsettled.

Our newest members have settled in to the Convent well. Occasionally, Maeve attempts to rip out a beakful of fluff from their ostrich-like necks, but on the whole they are unmolested. There still appears to be some confusion amongst the pekins as to what exactly Kiki and Margot are. For their part, the silkies do their best to stay out of pecking range, and try and blend in with the shrubbery. In this way, no blood has been spilled.

Today was the first day, however, where the babies found their voices. Somewhere between a pekin and a congested duck, is my expert opinion. The pekins stopped foraging and watched the two fluffy pullets trying out their big girl noise. After a bit of bokking/honking, the silkies fell silent and watched the pekins. The ladies had a brief conference, and then rolled around in the flower border.

I assume that means Margot and Kiki were not declaring war on pekin kind.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Moulting Maude

Mini has moulted in stages. Every so often, little piles of feathers can be found in the garden and coop. She sits hunched up and pale, eating little and generally looking a little poorly. I am especially careful when handling her, as the sharp new quills poking through her tender skin cause her constant discomfort. She bares her condition reasonably well, merely giving the odd bad tempered peck at passing underlings.

Maude, however, has gone into a full moult practically overnight. With every step, she leaves a feathery wake. The others are constantly shaking her stray feathers from their own backs, and the nest boxes are now feather down beds. Such is the amount of feathering on a pekin, that Maude appears to be shrinking before our eyes. Her once beautiful plumage now resembles a moth eaten feather duster. She is not taking it well.

Instead of following Mini's dignified example, she is being a harridan. Any unfortunate hen who crosses her path gets a severe duffing up. She is loudly protesting her discomfort, rubbing her head along the ground and generally burying herself in the dust bath. She refuses to cooperate when I need to lock the flock away, and has to be chased at high speed around the garden. Once caught, she struggles frantically. She is not a happy chicken.

Mabel is beginning to thin out around the cushion, too.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Two Tribes

Now that the decision to sell the house has been made, it has forced me to speed up the integration process. I couldn't quite get my head around showing prospective buyers the super sparkly house, and then letting them peek into the garage only to be confronted by two demented bog brushes and acres of poo. So, two nights ago I bit the bullet and the silkies moved in to the Convent.

It went as well as can be expected. Mabel was pancaked in the nest box, so Maeve had free reign. She chased them and kung fu kicked them a few times. The other girls dived out of the way and generally muttered about the impetuousness of youth. The silkies have long legs compared to a pekin, so speed is their advantage. Eventually, everyone got bored and went to bed. Kiki and Margot waited until almost full dark before tentatively climbing the ramp to the sleeping quarters. After a little indecision, they slunk inside and huddled up in a nest box. I was quite smug about the whole thing.

My smugness didn't last, as at dawn I was up separating them. It wasn't that the chasing was particularly bad, but Doris had taken up a war cry which could wake the dead. Not the best way to keep the neighbours on side, Doris. Removing the silkies worked, and we all went wearily back to bed.

Yesterday, the new girls decided to spend their time hiding behind the greenhouse, making only the occasional foray to search out food and water. For the most part, the flock ignored them, only getting shirty if they approached any treats. Again, all perfectly normal and even promising. At dusk, my original ladies pootled off to bed. The silkies hung back, looking agitatedly for somewhere else to sleep. When they realised that there were no other options, they slunk into the Convent. I locked the door, feeling confident that all was well.

On checking the coop with a torch before bed, I found Kiki and Margot asleep under the sleeping area in the run. I unceremoniously grabbed them both and stuffed them into the coop, where they made the mistake of trying to bed down for the night on top of a grumpy Mabel. She gave them both a smart peck on the head, and much chastised they curled up in the other nest box. I half expected to be woken at dawn again, but helpfully Doris kept schtum.

We'll see how it goes tonight, after I remove the persistent Mabel from the equation.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mabel Is Sent Down....

Something has happened which could have serious implications for the flock. My top hen, Mabel, has gone broody. A broody hen is not interested in keeping order, or even her own position within the group. I suspect that Maeve will make a move any day now.

In order to try and keep the status quo, I have broody caged Mabel in the Convent's run, where she is highly visible. For now, they are all behaving themselves, but I keep finding Maeve sat next to the cage, peering in at the pancaked Mabel. She appears to be weighing up this new development, and considering her options. I think that Maude would try to defend the top hen spot, and keep it warm for Mabel, but it really depends on how long it takes to break Mabel's brood.

I think that a flock ruled by Maeve would be an unhappy flock. She has a despot manner, and benefits hugely from being disciplined by the older hens. As she matures, I'm hoping that her general pushiness will decrease, and then she might well make a marvellous boss chicken. Until then, I'll continue to desperately hope that Mabel snaps out of it quickly and gets back to squashing the others periodically.

This period of unrest has led to some fairly unpleasant behaviour from my usually gentle girls. I found a toad, minus one of it's back legs, on the lawn. Horribly, it was very much alive. I gingerly picked it up and returned it to the damp end of the border, and can only hope for the best. The hens were all busy looking innocent, but I have my suspicions.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Flying The Coop

After months of careful persuasion by yours truly, the ever tolerant husband has agreed to move house. Principally, this is so that the humans have more room. Naturally, there is also another, more chicken oriented, furtive reason.

I dream of a bigger garden, with a designated chicken area, and a walk in run. Of course, this chicken mansion will be far too big for my girls, so I will feel obliged to add a few more. Ahem. My sneaky plan involves hatching a few eggs of my own, and selling the extra youngsters. In this way, I will aquire my much coveted frizzle pekin. If the garden is big enough, I might even aquire a serama cockerel and a couple of hens. Serama are the worlds smallest chickens, and a serama cockeral crowing sounds much like a cat feeling amorous. I have many, many plans.

All of which has to wait until the frankly tedious business of selling our own house has been achieved. With steely determination, the ever tolerant husband and I set about regaining control of the garden from the feathered marauders. We cut, hacked, mowed and swept until the back garden looked, well, wonderful. The hens watched all this activity from various dustbaths which they have rather inconsiderately made all over the garden. I emptied the greenhouse of all the spent tomato plants and scraped rather a lot of chicken poo from the path. At last, we were finished.

We sat in the kitchen and surveyed our handiwork, pleased with the results. The hens gradually emerged from various hhiding places, and convined on the lawn. The pekins muttered amongst themselves, keeping one eye on us through the french doors, obviously trying to work out what all of this tidying meant, and whether it would mean good things for them. The silkies shot out from under cover of the rhododendron bush, and threw themselves full force against the greenhouse door. Which was shut. Shaking the impact off, Kiki once again attempted to walk through solid glass.

Definitely not the brightest bulbs.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Oh, The Glamour!

The silkies are still free ranging with the pekins, unharrassed. Mabel occasionally watches them as if deliberating their chickenness, but after a bit waddles off to eat something. The new girls have the flock completely befuddled. For their part, Margot and Kiki are content to accidentally frighten each other, and then hare round the garden like road runner. Or, they scramble into the greenhouse and throw compost everywhere. Either activity keeps them happy for hours.

Much as their appearance implies, they appear to have the brains of a toilet brush. When it rains, the pekins cock their heads to one side, mutter a bit, then run into the convent. The silkies meep (another road runner trait), run around in circles in the middle of the lawn, or stand still and drip. After two weeks of letting them in and out of their coop, I've accepted the fact that they are just not bright enough to learn to do it themselves. I now suspect that the silkie's friendly reputation is mainly down to the fact that they're too dippy to run away.

It came to my attention that Mini and Doris had some matted feathering near their vent, so the most glamorous aspect of keeping chooks fell to me again. Holding a pair of scissors in one hand, and a firmly stuck poo ball in the other, I gave the ladies a nether region trim. They are not grateful, and now look a tad bald.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Freeranging Feather Dusters

After a week of keeping the new chooks in a separate pen, they are now freely exploring the garden. The girls are eyeing them with bafflement. Every so often, Doris or Maeve charges at them, then stops, paralysed with indecision. Are they chickens? Really?

Mabel took to jumping into their pen to scoff their growers pellets, but was completely uninterested in showing the newbies who's the boss. She appears to have dismissed them as another species, and therefore not worthy of her attention. Mini just kept creeping up to the fence, and staring at them, unable to believe her eyes. Maeve liked to pull out a few feathers if she got close enough, but given half a chance Maeve would remove your toe nails, so it wasn't really indicative of her believing that the silkies were hens. Maude ignored them completely. Doris shrieked, for a change.

The newbies are much more on the ball, and have definitely pegged the girls as a threat. They keep a respectful distance, and stick together. Mini is tailing them at a discreet distance, clearly wanting to initiate something, although she remains unsure of whether these furry birds are friends or foes.

We anxiously await the penny dropping, and chicken tyranny to prevail.

Friday, 21 August 2009

An Early Morning Visitor

Several times this summer, we have awakened at around 6am to the sound of Doris bokking a warning. On investigation, nothing is ever found for these random early morning alarms. She generally greets our grumpy shushing with disgust, and struts back into the coop muttering. This morning, I think we've gotten to the bottom of it all.

The children woke us up just before seven with excited chattering about a hedgehog in the paddling pool. Fearing the worst, I dragged myself over to the window to find said hedgehog doing a bad French mime impression against the smooth plastic sides of the pool. Luckily, the pool is on a slope and only half full. The poor spiky critter must have wandered in for a drink, and then became trapped.

Wandering outside in my dressing gown, I flattened down one side of the pool and held it in place with a stray tennis racket. The hedgehog played dead, and spiked up, much to the kids' amusement. The ever tolerant husband attempted to get some photographic evidence of the spectacle, but the hedgehog was very camera shy. It just looks like a picture of a conker.

The girls watched all this activity by the pool with interest, and in silence. I retreated back to the house to watch and see where our little visitor would go. After a few minutes, it decided it was safe to uncurl. It snuffled around for a bit, then wombled it's way over the edge of the pool and into the shrubbery by the cherry tree. At this point, it became visible to Doris. Instantly, she set about shouting her head off, puffing her chest out and generally strutting around the run. The others all looked at her for a moment, then went back to bed.

And to think I was worried that our visitor might have been a fox.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Convent Gets A Makeover

This year has flown by. I have been meaning to paint the Convent since May, but the inclement weather has made it a bit difficult. So, today, while the weather was fine, I decided to just get on with it.

Painting the Convent has two purposes. Firstly, it should protect the wood from the worst of the winter weather, and hopefully prolong the total life of the coop. Also, it just looks better. I picked up the paint months ago, so all I had to do now was keep the girls away. Easier said than done.

I hung about this morning until Doris had finished laying her egg. No one else made a move for the nest box, so I set about dismantling the coop for a clean, and began the painting. After an hour or so, most of the first coat was applied. It was at this point that Mabel began pacing back and forth by the netting. Oh bum.

I hurriedly completed the first coat while fending off an increasingly agitated Mabel. A hen that needs to lay is completely single minded, and my top hen would not be dissuaded. Time and time again she bounced/jumped/crashed over the netting and attempted to barrel her way past me into the nest box. In the end, I gave in and let her enter the run.

She looked around at the new decor, looked at me, and then bobbed her rear end to the ground and deposited a large poo. Now, logically I know that she was just clearing the way for her egg, but I couldn't help but view it as a statement on my choice of colour scheme. With a bad tempered bok, she took herself off to the nest box.

Much to her fury, I propped open the lid. She squawked and screeched at me, doing her best harridan impression. I ignored her though. I wasn't about to risk bumping her off with noxious paint fumes.

Hopefully the colour will grow on her.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The New Girls

Margot at the front, Kiki behind and a bemused looking Mini in the background.

Kiki, the bouffanted chicken!

What the HELL is that!?!?

Yesterday, the ever tolerant husband trekked halfway across the midlands so that we could pick up two silkie bantam pullets. As it was also our wedding anniversary, I think he deserves special mention.

Since the early demise of Belinda, our youngest son has been a very sad little boy. When asked what would make him feel better, he made it perfectly clear that if resurrecting belinda was out of the question, it would have to be another hen. Preferably one that looked like a microphone. This description puzzled me for a bit, until the penny dropped. He wanted a silkie.

We arrived at the breeder's and were greeted with a shed full of silkie chicks. The problem with silkies, is that they like to keep their gender ambiguous. Being relatively slow to mature doesn't help, and many a poultry keeper has looked out at their eight month old hens one day and suddenly heard a wimpy cockadoodledoo. There can be no vocal manifestations of maleness in our small suburban garden.

The breeder handed us three chicks which he was certain were pullets. Our youngest instantly fell in love with a microphone headed blue which he has named Kiki Fluffy (he is six). The ever tolerant husband instantly proclaimed that this was a stripper name, so I elbowed him in the ribs, not wishing to have to explain the term 'stripper' in front of the breeder. I chose the other pullet, a partridge-ish coloured girl who just looks like a Margot. They definitely look as though they should be wearing grand Pat Butcher style earrings and clutching handbags to their matronly bosoms.

I have set up a separate pen for the newbies, next to the Convent's grounds. When we first got home, I put the silkies out in their hutch and let the girls out of the Convent. Mabel came over to the netting instantly, suspecting that something was afoot. Seeing nothing obvious, she lumbered off into the border to eat my marigolds. The others watched Mabel, saw her lose interest, and proceeded to do likewise.

It took Kiki and Margot a good forty minutes to feel brave. Kiki stuck her head out of the hutch first, eyed the ground (they had never been on grass), and then hid again. A few minutes later, after a brief conference with Margot, they both slowly emerged and set about scoffing the lawn.

They did all this in silence, so they'd been out a while before the girls clocked them. Mini edged closer to the netting, staring intently at the new comers. Mabel took matters into her own hands, and jumped straight in to the pen. She was swiftly evicted, much to her disgust. Slowly but surely, the girls encircled the silkie enclosure. They seemed unsure as to how they should react to this new development. Obviously, if I'd brought new chickens into the garden, there would need to be some duffing up. However, the girls seemed to decide, these ridiculous looking things were not chickens, so should probably be ignored.

The silkies hid behind the rose bush, and did their best to look like discarded feather dusters.

Friday, 14 August 2009

It Came From Beneath...

Last weekend, we went on our first ever camping trip. Jolly nice it was, too. Unfortunately, it peed down on the morning we were leaving, and we had to bring the tent home wet. Yesterday, as the sun was shining, we laid the fly sheet out on the back lawn. The girls watched us from the shrubbery, bokking amongst themselves about this new and unusual development.

They were obviously unsure about this new surface to the lawn, and skirted around the borders to avoid it. Even the fearless ASBO chicken, Maeve, didn't get too close. We were quite pleased about this, as I didn't relish the prospect of cleaning chicken poo off of our new canvas. They slunk away to bed, still muttering and eyeing the interloper with suspicion.

The tent is currently still laying out on the lawn, as there is no way that I will get it packed away without the ever tolerant husband's help. The chooks emerged from the Convent after breakfast, scratched about a bit, and then kept a respectful distance. All was well. Until, that is, the wind picked up.

At first, the fly sheet just inflated slightly, before deflating slowly. The hens froze. They remained as statuary for several minutes, before gradually resuming mooching duties. This happened several times, and the girls soon grew bored of waiting to be devoured, and decided to ignore it. Then one corner flipped back.

This caused a bit more consternation, and the girls alarm called to each other. Suddenly, a large gust of wind folded the tent in half. Chickens can, apparently, scream. There followed a mass bundle into the Convent, with no regard for manners. Flock mate stood on flock mate, and it was every chicken for herself. I ran out to tether the tent back down and to try and calm down the shrieking ladies.

It took several handful's of corn and much gentle cooing to persuade them to come out again. As they stuffed their crop's with cereal, they kept one wary eye on the chicken eating tent.

Even Maeve declined to take it on.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Search Begins

So now we are back down to five chickens. The flock appears to have settled back down, after a few days of Mabel sitting on everyone just to remind them who's boss. My youngest son is still upset over the loss of his beloved Lindy, and my attempts to get him to adopt a different hen haven't been wildly successful. He reared Belinda from a six week old ball of fluff, and suddenly being handed the frankly ginormous Maude is not quite the same. So, I am on a chicken search.

The problem with sourcing chickens, is that there are just not that many to find. Breeders tend to trade amongst themselves, and often sell unwanted birds at auction. Pet shops and garden centres might sell hybrids, but rarely sell bantam pure breeds. If they do, they will be at extortionate prices. So, it becomes a bit of a trial.

I have managed to track down some desirable birds, but they all come with husbands. Not good. The lovely breeder that sold me Maeve has got a couple of cuckoo frizzle bantams coming along nicely, so that is definitely an option. Although they wont be ready for four weeks, as they are still with their mum. The good news is, though, that they are slightly smaller than my pekins, which will definitely help to convince the ever tolerant husband.

Watch this space.....

Friday, 7 August 2009

Another Sad Loss

When I went out to let the girls free range this morning, I am sorry to report that I found Belinda dead in the run. She was lying by the drinker, with no obvious signs of injury or illness. I think that the poor little hen just gave out. The children are devastated.

Just yesterday, she was naughtily scaling the chicken fencing and legging it across the decking to dust bath in my flower bed. Belinda was a real character, and will be a real loss to the flock. The girls seem unusually quiet today, unsure of this new dynamic. My youngest son owned Belinda, and he is inconsolable.

We shall have a little funeral in the back garden later, and Lindy will be buried by the cherry tree (a favourite place for her to stretch out in the sun).

RIP Lindy x

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Welcome To The Jungle

The British summer continues in it's usual soggy manner. The hens can regularly be seen, huddling in the convent, throwing disgusted looks out at the rain. The humans are behaving in a very similar fashion, actually.

All this rain has encouraged the garden to go wild. Weeds are springing up everywhere, and the grass is having a definite growth spurt. It desperately needs taming, but as our garden is on clay, at the moment it is a squelchy bog. The girls can no longer weeble along, but have to hop and jump from one spot to the next. The long grass gets tangled up in their foot feathers, leading to the hilarious sight of small chickens tethered to the ground and having to eat their way out.

In protest at the ground conditions, they have taken to perching in inappropriate places. Like on top of the Convent, or the wheelie bin, or (worryingly) the barbecue. I'm assuming that this last location was chosen purely for convenience, and not as a suicide attempt.

The hemcore in the run has been so thoroughly soaked, that it's woven itself into a hemp mattress. The chooks have no chance of scratching about in it, and it's poo absorbing qualities have been severely compromised. All in all, it's pretty grim, and I prefer the easibed.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Miserable Weather

The rain hasn't let up here so far this week. The girls have made a few forays into the garden, but then end up running back to the relative dryness of the Convent. We're all quite miserable.

Now, the girls are generally quite spoiled, and enjoy many scraps and treats from the kitchen. However, they still require layers pellets, which is their staple diet. They tend to gorge on these when they get up in the morning, before they are let out and have access to alternatives. The sides of the Convent are strong weld mesh, so not water proof. The driving rain has been getting into the run, and more importantly, the feeder. This causes the pellets to turn into a sludgy porridge, which then sets like concrete. So, instead of dry pellets, freely running into the little dish around the feeder for the hens to scoff, the food stays put in the main body of the device, and my girls go hungry. Several times a day, I have to get soaked to the skin in order that my ladies have access to their grub. Are they grateful? Are they hell!

They complain, bitterly, about the soggy feed. Then, they queue up to leave the Convent, only to realise that it's still raining. At least one of them will then come up to me, bokking away in disgust, as if complaining to a hotel manager. If the hen in question is particularly narked, she might drop a giant poo near my foot. Then turn around, and scrape it back at me. Nice.

All in all, we'll all be relieved when the rain clears and the sun shines again.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Moulting Mini

Mini is definitely in a normal moult, and not the victim of some nasty parasite or illness. I have been checking my little bottom hen regularly, since she went off colour about a fortnight ago. During an examination yesterday, I found something sharp sticking through her breast. Gently parting her feathers, I found several half inch spikes. These are Min's new feathers, making their slow progress through her sore skin. No wonder she's been a bit quiet. She gave me her best 'Brum' noise as if to say 'Yeah, I know. Ouch'.

I can only assume that growing plumage is a tiring business, as Mini can be regularly seen snoozing on the lawn. Her face is still a little pale, but she is eating and drinking well and still able to run for treats. Although her eyes are still swollen, so she's rubbish at picking them up. She nearly caused World War III yesterday when, in attempting to pick up a tasty morsel from the floor, she gave Mabel's foot a severe pecking. Let's just say that my mostly relaxed top hen was not amused, and all of her underlings felt her limpy wrath.

One down, five to go.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A Big Girl Now

Great excitement here today, as little Maeve joined the egg laying flock. A small, but perfectly formed, light brown egg greeted my eldest son when he went to check the nest box. As Maeve was the only girl hovering about the run, and the egg was still warm, we put two and two together.

Warily, I approached the unpredictable black chicken to congratulate her. She watched me approach with her head cocked to one side. Tentatively, I reached out my hand to stroke her. I was delighted when she not only allowed the fuss, but actively pushed against my hand. This time last week, she'd have attempted to remove my finger nails one by one had I had the brass neck to try and touch her in any way. It looks like her hormonal psychosis might be at an end!

The others muttered together in a cluster, obviously gossiping about this new development. As Maeve approached, they all eyed each other with a new found wariness. Our baby chook is all grown up, and I think that the pecking order is going to be turned on its head.

If chickens wore clothes, Maeve would be wearing a leather jacket with the collar turned up, and if chickens had lips, there'd be a cigarette dangling from hers. Our young rebel chicken has come of age.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Maeve Aquires A Trophy

I waited all weekend for a dry spell so that I could dismantle the Convent and clean out the run, but it was only this morning that the weather obliged. I dutifully scrubbed, swept and shovelled out soggy easibed with a healthy measure of chicken poo. In order to get all of the bedding, it's necessary for me to get into the run. As the Convent is only four foot high, this can only be achieved by squatting and shuffling along like a crab. The girls are always intrigued by this. It perplexes them to be outside, while the human is in the cage. At some point, I expect to hear the bolt slide home as they deduce a way to lock me in. This might sound paranoid, but I have long suspected that the stupidity of chickens might be over rated.

So, anyway, I was in the run doing my crab shuffle, and scooping the poop. Maeve watched me curiously from the doorway, and occasionally darted forwards to peck the stud on the pocket of my jeans. That'll show me who's boss. There isn't actually room to turn around in the Convent, so it's necessary to back out in crab fashion. In doing so, I managed to collide with the ramp to the coop, and fell inelegantly sideways. I found myself lying on my side, face pressed to the fairly fragrant concrete slabs of the run. I had fallen in such a way, that my knee was wedged against the bucket I was filling with manure, and my back was jammed against the weld mesh that makes up the Convent's sides. Oh dear.

While I viewed the situation from this unexpected angle, Maeve's head peered into view. She clucked at me questioningly. I rolled my eyes in a rubbish shooing gesture. She crept closer. I actually said the word 'Shoo!'. She cocked her head to one side, and walked a bit closer. I wriggled a bit, in an effort to unstick myself. Maeve jumped up onto my shoulder and peered into my ear, muttering quite loudly (from my perspective, anyway). I shook my shoulder, in an effort to unperch her. She squawked with displeasure, and then plucked a strand of hair from my head before legging it out of the Convent and haring off down the garden.

At this point, the shock from my fall had passed and I managed to free myself from the run. Creakily, I unfolded myself from the floor and shuffled out into the daylight. Maeve was running laps, a long brown hair in her beak, and a look of triumph in her eyes.

I'm going to keep an extra careful eye on that hen.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Quick Health Update

I have spent an anxious week observing the girls. Mini seems a little better in herself, but her eye still looks irritated. I have heard far more sneezes from the flock than I'd like, but they seem generally ok. The tylan course finishes tomorrow, and I'm reasonably hopeful that no one is going to die, so I shall carry on observing and fretting for a bit.

Mini has chosen now as the best time to moult. At first, when I found small piles of white feathers everywhere, I panicked. Then, it began to make sense. A bird in moult is more prone to illness, and as Mini has suffered from mycoplasma before, it's likely that the stress has made her symptoms resurface. We did have a ridiculously hot spell a few weeks ago, and I suspect that might have triggered the whole process. She is much more her old self since I began the tylan treatment, but can still be seen sitting hunched up and grumbling every so often. I can only imagine that keeping up with the latest feather trends is quite uncomfortable.

So, another first in my chicken keeping experience. I am truly amazed at how many feathers a bird can lose, without showing any bald patches. I'm considering going into the duvet business.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Uh Oh

While investigating Mini's symptoms, I found that Doris had a bubbly eye. This coupled with Mini's weird eyelid thing has led me to add a hefty dose of Tylan to the water, and instill a curfew on the Convent. The girls are mutinously glaring at me from the confines of their posh chicken pad, chattering at the injustice of being incarcerated long before dusk. As the weather has been so showery, there are a myriad of places for them to get a sneaky drink without having to take their medicine, so locking them in with the doctored source is the only way of insuring that they all get a share. They are not happy.

I had assumed that Mini was off her food, but the truth is much more upsetting. Because of the swelling to her inner eyelids, she is unable to see forwards. When she attempts to peck at something, she's missing it by about a centimeter. Her depth perception also appears to be out, and she can be seen pecking in mid air for her treats. I managed to get her to eat a few raisins by piling them up, so that every peck pretty much guaranteed a reward. My poor little splash hen is hungry, but the food must seem to disappear when she gets close. No wonder she's been miserable.

Belinda had just started her shift in the broody cage today, but in order to make sure she is dosed, she has been offered a brief reprieve. She is contenting herself with growling at me from the nest box.

Despite her vision problems, Min does seem able to locate the drinker, and I saw her have a long drink just after I added the Tylan. At least I know that she's getting a helping hand.

Poorly Mini

Mini is not right. I swear, that hen will be the undoing of me. She's pale in the face, and keeps closing her eyes for a little snooze. Her eyes seem a little irritated, but there is no discharge. Her chest sounds clear, and she's making normal chicken noises. Her crop is empty, but she appears not to be eating, just picking at the grass. She hasn't, as far as I can tell, lost any weight. I have noticed some rather runny poos in the run, and I suspect she might be the culprit. She hasn't laid an egg for over a week, as she had gone broody. The broodiness appears to have passed now, though, and she's outside the coop.

Mini has never been an overly healthy chicken, and seems to have a bit of a rubbish immune system. The only thing I can think of is that she has a soft egg that she needs to lay, and is feeling a bit rotten because of it. I can't feel anything in her abdomen, but don't want to poke her about too much in case I make it worse. Her vent is clear and doesn't look inflamed.

Instead of rushing her to the vet, who will almost certainly shrug his shoulders and then charge me twenty pounds, I have decided on trying to treat her at home. I've added citracidal to the water, poultry spice to the feed and when the ever tolerant husband gets home, Mini is getting a darn good spraying with a mite killer.

Hopefully, I'll stumble across the remedy for whatever is ailing her.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Maeve, Queen Of Kung Fu

The youngest member of the flock has developed a rather bizarre habit. She has taken to hiding in the shrubbery of the Convent grounds, and sitting very, very still. Then, when one of the others ambles past, she leaps out at them and attempts to kick them in the face. The unsuspecting victim usually issues a questioning 'Bok?!', before severely duffing her up. After the victim has made her displeasure known, Maeve retreats back amongst the perennials, and plots her next assault.

This would be amusing if she didn't also practice her Kung Fu skills on me. The first time the hormonally insane chook leapt out at me, I threw chicken food all over the garden in my fright. That chicken is fast. Head down, bum up she charged at me, before rearing back and booting me in the ankle. She then fell over, being a very small chicken and me being a relatively large human. Taking this as my retaliation, she strutted around my feet, feathers on end, growling. This is the chicken equivalent of 'Come on then! If you think you're hard enough!'. My little chick was taunting me.

I have to admit that this behaviour gave me pause for thought. Karate moves are usually the domain of cockerels, and this sudden (futile) aggression made me wonder if Maeve might be an under developed boy chicken. On careful examination, and the fact that she has just started to crouch, I've ruled that out. She will tolerate being picked up, but depending on her mood, might give me a severe pecking if I attempt to fuss her.

She seems generally fit and healthy, with a particular liking for sunbathing. The others don't really give her a hard time, unless leapt on from the shrubbery, so I don't think she's being bullied. I suspect that Maeve has her little chicken eye on the position of Top Hen. Somehow, I don't think that her current tactic will work.

Last time I saw her do it to Mabel, my largest girl cocked her head to one side, watched Maeve's 'I'm hard, me' display, and then sat on her.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The British Summer Returns

After last weeks burning temperatures, the British weather has done an about turn. It's raining. A lot. The garden is appreciating the wet, and the plants are replenishing their scorched leaves. The chooks, however, are not so impressed.

Feather footed birds tend to hate the wet. Their long foot feathers get matted together making getting around difficult. As a result, I have a disgruntled flock. Mabel and Maude, being a bit bigger, are able to jump from one place of relative dryness to another, but the others have to plow through the soggy grass which is by now at breast height. They bok with with ill humour, stopping every few feet to preen their feet in an effort to stop them getting knotted together. Looking miserable, they make only brief forays into the run for food and water. The rest of the time, they huddle in the coop.

Mini and Belinda are both broody, so are welded to the nest. Maeve is in a bit of a dilemma. She likes to keep outside of pecking distance from the others, but is finding it hard to do her road runner impression out in the open. As a result, she's spending a lot of her time perched in the coop, ready to flee if any of the others jump up next to her. My littlest hen is in a state of high alert, and is being quite pecky. To try and remind her that I'm a friend, and not a psychotic flock mate, I'm hand feeding her some corn while stroking her back. She is tolerating me, just. She did however karate kick my mother when she visited last week. Maeve may be the recipient of the first chicken ASBO.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot!

The heatwave is still in full swing. The Met Office keeps issuing weather warnings, and the mercury keeps rising. Even at night, there is no relief. Us humans have taken to wearing as little as possible, and sticking our heads in the fridge. The chickens have taken to laying on their sides, wings spread, beaks open, and panting.

Of course, chickens don't have the option of stripping off in the heat. Neither can they fix themselves a cold drink, or take a cool shower. The responsibility for keeping the girls comfortable in this ridiculously Mediterranean weather is mine.

Obviously, making sure that they always have access to cool, fresh water is vital. I have also been refreshing their drinker every few hours, for maximum coolness. They thoroughly enjoyed a frozen corn on the cob earlier, too, as a sort of chicken ice lolly. The ever tolerant husband attempted to give them a shower with a fine mist from the house, but they all went into the coop in disgust.

I'm watching them anxiously. Mini has decided that a heatwave is the perfect time to have a go at being broody again, and while I would normally slam her into the clink for a few days, I'm reluctant to do so in this heat. At least the Convent is shaded and, for the most part, cool.

We are all dreaming of thunderstorms.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Bath Time!

A skinny Mini!

Poor Mabel, looking more like a drowned rat than top hen!

It's not pretty, is it?

We're having a heat wave here at the moment, and the girls are suffering. They lie listlessly in their compound, wings aloft in an effort to keep cool. Pekins have a lot of 'fluff' feathers, which is lovely and cosy in the winter, but a bit like wearing several jumpers in the summer. They are grumpy and obnoxious, pecking at each other and the hand that feeds, to show their discomfort. I decided to cool them down.

As I filled the bucket, Mini set about trying to hide behind the greenhouse. Obviously, chickens have memories. The others watched her, looked at me, and tried to work out what was going on. My first victim was Mabel.

She took it quite well, considering. When I first dunked her, she froze in shock. Then she dug her powerful talons into my wrist and tried to peck my hand to bits. All the while, I was trying to clean her knickers and stop her from escaping. Eventually, through a mutual agreement, bird and bucket parted company. She shook herself off, and then threw me a look of pure malice. Head down and bum up, she charged at me and delivered a smart peck to my ankle. That was me told.

Maude had cannily hid herself behind the greenhouse, and wouldn't even come out for raisins. Doris's greed got the better of her, and she also found herself with soggy drawers. Mini made an attempt to sneak past me to the nest box (I suspect another broody episode is looming), but I grabbed her on route. Belinda and Maeve joined Maude behind the greenhouse.

Three down, three to go....

Friday, 26 June 2009

A New Era

Just twenty four hours after ordering it, the new chicken netting arrived. A new era of garden ownership had dawned. As I danced around the kitchen with glee, the chooks watched me from the garden in a huddle.

It took about twenty minutes to erect, and the whole time the girls watched me with curiosity. I nearly stood on Maeve and Mini several times, as they pecked experimentally at the netting poles. The bigger girls kept their distance, and plotted.

Once it was up, I put the girls on their side of the garden. They scratched about a bit, pecked the netting, and then pretty much ignored it. I sat on the bench watching them, and dreamed of having flower borders and being able to walk across the lawn bare foot without squelching in a curry poo. My day dreaming took me into a very happy place, and it was some time before I realised that Maude was sat at my feet, looking up at me.

I couldn't believe it. Ten minutes! That's all the time it took for my resident escape artist to breach the new, metre high barrier. Eyeing her sternly, I put her back over into the Convent's grounds. She clucked happily to the other hens, no doubt imparting her secret. At this point I realised that I hadn't got a chicken that could walk through things, terminator style. I'd forgotten to block off the greenhouse. With that done, the girls were fully enclosed. They went to bed happily, and so did I.

This morning, I let them out into their new exercise yard without any concerns about escapism. You can probably guess what happened next. I heard an almighty racket, and dashed out into the garden to find Maude stood in the middle of the lawn. She ruffled her feathers at me, bokked a bit, and then watched me to see what I would do. I unceremoniously dumped her back over the new chicken netting. She looked at me pityingly.

Twenty minutes later, she had taught Mini and Belinda to cross over, too. She's an evil genius chicken.

Someone has clearly forgotten to inform Maude that pekins can't fly.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A More Appropriate Solution?

As much as I love looking out of my window and seeing the girls artfully displaying themselves in the flower borders, the situation really does need to be managed. The ever tolerant husband made a good attempt at fencing the girls in, only for them to work out within a week that it was perfectly possible to fly/bounce over the barrier. We've rather lost heart, since then, and they've been happily marauding over the entire garden.

Which means that the entire garden has become a giant chicken latrine. No matter how many times I go out there and poo pick, there will always be the stray whoopsie that ends up on the youngest's sock, and therefore all through the house. Which is, at best, grim. At worst, it appears that the flies have decided that our back garden is the place to eat.

The problem was that we approached the confinement of the girls in a half hearted manner. Deep down, I didn't want them penned in, feeling it was somehow cruel. Let's just say that I have had a complete change of heart, and some proper chicken netting and posts are winging their way to our house as I type. It's completely movable, allowing me to fence off different areas as required, and hopefully able to create a poo free zone in which we can enjoy the summer.

They won't know what's hit them.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

New Chicks On The Block

There is more or less constant screeching in the garden now. I know for a fact that the neighbours are reaching the end of their tether, with at least one 'Shaddup!!!' yelled out of a window. The girls are most put out.

A new bird family has moved into the area. We've yet to track down the exact site of the nest, but the racket those babies make is something else. The chooks are uncharacteristically quiet, even cutting short their egg laying celebration songs, because frankly, they can't compete. They have taken to bad temperedly bokking lowly as they strut around their domain, glancing up at the roof and neighbouring trees, trying to work out where the interlopers are.

I'm used to the girls' various sounds. They are familiar enough to me now that I can tell their 'voices' apart, and usually why they are making a racket. Luckily, my neighbours seem to find Belinda's 'Ooooohhhhh Nooooooooooo!' pre egg laying chuntering soothing, and Doris's 'Aaarghhh! Look! A cloud!' alarmist rantings comical. No one is as fond of the new bird song.

It is particularly loud, shrill and repetitive. It also starts at sun up. Is it wrong that part of me is delighted? Who will complain about my, by comparison, extremely reasonable ladies?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Handbags At Dawn

All hell appears to have broken loose amongst the flock. I'm not sure if Maeve's adolescence has caused the unrest, but I certainly hope that it settles down soon. Doris and Belinda have fallen out, big time.

Both hens were in the nest box, and I could hear a bit of squawking. This isn't unusual, and is generally just a matter of one girl moving up a bit so that the other can wedge herself into the preferred nest. I returned to watering the greenhouse. The squawking reached a crescendo, and suddenly Belinda came running down the ramp from the coop, muttered and shook her head a bit, and then ran back in. Again, this wouldn't be that unusual, as Lindy loathes laying eggs, and often legs it if she thinks she can escape from her duty. This 'in and out' series of events was played out a couple of times more, with Belinda becoming more and more agitated. With a desperate effort, she flew up on top of the coop, presumably so that she could abseil down the other side and surprise Doris into giving up the nest. It was at this point that my eldest son noticed that Lindy was bleeding. A lot.

I rushed over to the frantic hen and picked her up. Lindy's comb was literally running with blood, and she was keeping her eyes shut. The ever tolerant husband bounded up the stairs to fetch a towel to wrap the shocked bird into, so that I could begin to examine her. With a cloth and some cold water, I set about trying to clean her up. Belinda stayed perfectly still, and I was relieved to see her open her eyes. The main injury seemed to be to the base of her comb, where some of the flesh was missing. She also had multiple cuts and scrapes along her face.

The ever tolerant husband fed her a couple of raisins, which she scoffed greedily. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. A greedy chicken is a basically ok chicken. Digging out the gentian violet, we managed to dab it on to her injuries. Now that we knew she was alright, our thoughts turned to her (usually) best chook pal, Doris.

Doris was still in the nest box, Belinda's blood across her beak. There were also blood splatters in the coop. Firmly, the youngest son grasped her and dumped her on the floor. Belinda is his chicken, and he was taking it personally. I fetched the broody cage, and deposited a disgruntled Doris into it. Belinda was then free to lay her egg in peace, which she managed in record time. I then released Doris, so that she could lay her egg.

Belinda by this time was mooching about the garden, happily munching stray aphids and scratching at the lawn. All of a sudden, a demented Maeve leaped from the shrubbery with a war cry and a battle of epic proportions commenced. Maeve is obviously unhappy with her positioning in the pecking order, and decided to try and take out Lindy. Neither bird would submit, and the feathers were starting to fly. I waded in, with cries of 'Leave it out! She's just not worth it!' etc, and they reluctantly retreated to their own corners. Five minutes later, they were at it again.

Change is afoot.

Teenage Chicken?

I'm actually quite upset. My littlest hen, Maeve, has had a personality transplant. Where a matter of a week ago she would have been friendly and inquisitive, jumping up onto my lap at the earliest opportunity for a fuss, she has now turned into a mad attack chicken. If I put my hand any where near her, she pecks me. If I try and stroke her back, she fluffs up her feathers and charges me, beak open and a look of bloodlust in her eye. I have never encountered this behaviour before.

I don't remember any of the other young birds going through this stage, so I'm at a bit of a loss. I have certainly never been actively chased by a hen. I'm wondering if she's trying to assert dominance over me, as all the other girls like to put her in her place, although Mini has never done this. I am ridiculously sad to see her be so aggressive.

My best hope is that this is some kind of hen puberty, and that she is having the chicken equivalent of a door slamming 'You're sooooo unfair!!!' human teenage tantrum. The worst case scenario is that she has been so traumatised by the other girls treatment, that she has some kind of mental health issue.

I want my little friend back.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

You Always Pick On The White Chicken

I have been eyeing Mini for a few days. It's perfectly possible that all my girls are a bit grubby, but Mini looked shocking. Her feet were a dirty grey, and her knickers were disgusting. At this time of year, fly strike is a real possibility, so there was nothing for it. Mini had to have a bath.

Mini has been bathed before, and I've also bathed Delilah (RIP), so at least I'm not a complete novice. The ever tolerant husband has made me promise, however, that all future bathings take place in a bucket in the garden, and not the family bath, so this was going to be a new experience for us both.

I nonchalantly wandered over to the garage to fetch a bucket. The girls all stopped what they were doing to watch me. The corn is kept in the garage, and they are forever optimistic. It took a while to locate said bucket, and when I emerged from the garage I found the entire flock sat patiently by the back door. Now, usually when I appear with something in my hand that isn't corn, they mutter to themselves and walk off in a crestfallen manner. Today, though, I had a bucket. And a bucket might contain all number of tasty things. An excited chattering and jostling commenced.

Gingerly, I stepped between the girls, shooing all the way. Not to be deterred from the possibility of food, they ignored me and did their best to trip me up. Tame chickens can be a hindrance as well as a blessing. Eventually, the seven of us shuffled across the decking to the back door, and I made my escape into the house. As the bucket filled with warm water and a generous squirt of washing up liquid, I lobbed a slice of bread out of the window for them to scoff. Much contented bokking.

Now, the tricky bit. I carried the half filled bucket outside, and tried to look innocent. The hens were having none of it. A concerned chuntering began, and they slowly began to congregate at the furthest point of the garden away from me. Trying to pretend I was just going for a stroll, I walked slowly down the garden towards them, not making eye contact. Now they knew something was up. Mabel eyeballed me with suspicion, and then legged it as fast as she could into the convent. The others all followed her lead. As Mini thundered past me, I swooped down and picked her up.

She let out a startled 'mer MUH!' (her 'Brum' sound effect) and then just relaxed, resigned to her fate. I scratched her head, and talked in a soothing voice as we approached the bucket. Mini looked at the bucket, looked at me and bokked hopefully. I felt rotten.

Then I dunked her. She squawked a bit, and then just seemed to lose the will to complain. I suspect that being bottom hen is a hard cross to bear for poor Min, and nothing awful that happens to her is much of a surprise any more. I lathered her up, and then realised my problem. When I've bathed a chicken in the bathroom, I've used the shower to rinse them off. Oh dear.

I released Mini on to the decking. She stood there, covered in bubbles, and with her usually fluffy feathers slicked to her tiny frame, while I emptied the bucket and went inside to refill it with rinse water. Seeing her opportunity, the little bedraggled hen hot footed it down the garden.

And what a pathetic sight it was. Pekins usually look as though their feet have been stuck to their round bodies. You'd be forgiven for thinking that they didn't have legs at all. Now that all the fluff and feather was slicked down with fairy liquid, the scary truth was revealed. Mini resembled a hairy dinosaur, with long stilt-like legs. Eugh.

I took off in pursuit, and spent several frustrating minutes chasing her around the shrubbery. Finally caught, she was unceremoniously dunked back into the bucket and rinsed. The other hens kept their distance, obviously assuming that Min was merely my first victim.

Wrapping Min in an old towel, I brought her inside to watch 'Loose Women' while I blow dried her feathers. She loved being returned to her clean, fluffy self. She particularly enjoyed the custard cream.

Just don't tell the husband.

Monday, 15 June 2009

....And A Few More!


A scruffy looking Mini.

Mabel and Maude chow down on some garlic bread.

Doris and Belinda, busy in the nest box.

Maude and Mabel, refusing to share.

A Few Pics

Here's a few hastily taken pics.

Mini, Belinda, Doris, Maude's bum and Mabel's bum.

A very nosey Maeve!

Belinda having a bit of a preen.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

High Days And Holidays

Now that the summer appears to have arrived, we're all spending a lot more time outside. The children are playing out with their friends, and constantly running back and forth via the side gate. I'm forever pottering around the garden, changing things here and using scary electrical equipment there. The girls are not impressed.

I suppose, from their point of view, it must seem terribly unfair. All through the long, miserable winter, they were allowed to wander wherever they liked. There was lots of bare earth to dig and scratch about in, and I only appeared to feed them warm porridge and keep them comfortable. However, the weather was far from ideal, and they spent a good stretch of it in the coop, huddled for warmth.

Now that the sun is shining, they long to sunbathe in the middle of the lawn (A chicken sunbathing is a disconcerting sight. They lay on one side, one wing spread out to catch the sun, and looking a lot like they've been flattened from on high. The first time I saw this pose was from an upstairs window, and I nearly broke my neck getting down to what I thought was a soon to be ex Maude). However, the pesky humans keep disturbing them. They are particularly unimpressed with the lawn mower, although Mabel has taken to (fittingly enough) playing chicken with it. She lays there, reclining in the sun, and glares at me flymoing towards her. Naturally, as I approach I tend to slow down, having no desire to dice the stubborn bird. She usually takes up a loud bok-bok-bok-ARK as I get within six feet, but still stays firm. I gingerly edge towards her, making shooing sounds, and she stays put until the air ruffles her feathers. At which point she stands up, stretches slowly, and then saunters off. I suspect that if she had fingers, she'd be showing me two of them as she departs.

If I'm not harassing them, then the kids generally are. The youngest got a swingball set for his birthday, and the two of them love nothing more than whacking the tethered ball as hard as they can. Initially, the hens hid in the shrubbery from all this frantic activity. As time passes, they are beginning to realise that this horror has a limited reach, so it's probably safe to run hell for leather between shrubs. In this way, they commando their way around the perimeter of the garden and back to the Convent, where I imagine they are dreaming up diabolical plans of chicken sabotage.

By far the worst offense we have committed against our feathered friends has to be the humble barbecue. I refuse to light the barbie while the girls are free ranging, so they are banished back to the coop. As far as they are concerned, this is unforgivable. No matter that if left to their own devices, they might try to land on the lit barbie. Chickens are notoriously nosey creatures, and I know that at some point one of them would want to investigate the sausages. They show their displeasure by shouting loudly at us while we try to enjoy a pleasant evening. They have us over a barrel with this one, as the only way to silence their disgust is with food. They're quite partial to hot dog rolls.

I bet they can't wait for the winter again.