Saturday, 25 April 2009

Punk Chicken

Mini is still being pecked on the comb by one of her flock mates. I think we've got the culprit, though, as when Mini ventured into the coop to lay there arose an almighty racket. Belinda is apparently willing to accomodate any hen but Mini in her broody mentalness.

Mini's comb is looking rather pathetic and scabby, so I decided to try and fix the problem. Wearing some marigolds, I grabbed a gentian violet spray in one hand and a small white hen in the other. Gentian violet is a purple dye, which disguises the blood, and also acts as a disinfectant. Now, I didn't want to just spray Mini's head, so I sprayed some of the pungent mixture onto the fingers of one glove, and massaged it into her comb. Feeling quite pleased with my efforts, I put her down. Mini shook herself, muttered a chicken oath, and then turned her head in the other direction. At this point, I realised that the application hadn't gone as well as I'd thought. A drip of the purple dye had rolled from her comb into her left eye. Oh, bum.

Mini didn't shriek, or give any other indication that having gentian violet on your eyeball hurt, but I can't help worrying. I observed her for twenty minutes, waiting for swelling or bubbling. Nothing. She does, however, look like she's wearing purple eyeliner. Basically, I now have a hen with a purple mohican and one made up eye. Let's just hope she doesn't want anything pierced.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Sheer Horror Of Skirts

Chickens are creatures of habit. They like to know what's likely to happen at any given time, and really don't appreciate surprises. Therefore, when I wandered down the garden yesterday wearing a long, flowing skirt, all hell broke loose.

The girls had accumalated in the greenhouse, beaks buried in Maeve's growers pellets. Spotting them from the kitchen, I decided to firmly show them the door. Being a warm spring day, I thought I'd wear my first skirt of the season. Strolling leisurely across the lawn, I couldn't have imagined what was about to kick off.

Maude spotted me first, and issued a low bok bok bok. This is chicken for 'Hang on, girls, something's up. That non feathered tall thing is on it's way down here to tell us off'. One by one, the others stood tall to peer at me through the glass. There was a gentle breeze, and they all began muttering as my skirt moved slightly. Sensing something was up, I slowed my advance and spoke reassuringly. That was the exact moment that a strong gust of wind blew the flowing material around my legs.

Mabel let out a blood curdling shriek. The greenhouse was suddenly filled with a vortex of feathers, beaks, shrieking and panic. Hens careered off the glass, crashing into each other and knocking trays of seedlings flying. After twenty seconds of them stampeding around the place, they all froze to get their breath back. We stood in a surreal tableau, chickens gasping and me holding my breath. Then the wind blew again and off they went, crashing into everything.

Sheepishly, I retreated with my terrifying skirt and let the dust settle. There was much chickenny muttering and feather rustling. In the end, I went and put on a pair of jeans.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Whole Point

Mabel and Maude show off their fluffy knickers.

Maeve munches a spud while Mini looks on enviously.

Today, while I sat on the bench in the spring sunshine, hens contentedly scoffing grass at my feet, I realised just how happy keeping hens makes me. As they mooched about, nibbling vegetation and occasionally murdering snails, I realised that my garden feels so much more alive for having the little monsters vandalising their way through it. It was an idyllic hour, with the sun warm on my face and the kids back at school. Even Belinda made an appearance of her own free will, and she didn't try to peck anyone to death. This is a completely self indulgent entry, and there is nothing more to say except, if you haven't already got some, get some hens. They really are rather fab.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Poor Mini

I noticed yesterday that Mini had odd little scabs on the points of her comb. After a thorough inspection, I came to two possible conclusions. Mini either had fowl pox, a non lethal but possibly scarring illness, or one of the other hens was duffing her up. After a brief trip out today, Mini's comb had signs of fresh blood. One of the other girls had decided to really give Mini a hard time. The nasty wench.

I don't know who it is, as when they're outside free ranging there is no sign of nastiness. I suspect that the attacks are happening when Mini is cornered in the coop. If Belinda wasn't welded to the nest, she'd be my number one suspect. As it is, I can't pin down the culprit.

It could be Mabel. However, as top hen she's never really resorted to bashing up her subjects, preferring to chase them away from the treats if they get a bit uppity, and occasionally delivering a deliberate disciplinary peck. Sustained attacks aren't really her thing. She'd much rather eat a lot and poo copiously than get too physical.

So, maybe it's Maude. Maude has always been more involved in the chastisement of the younger girls, but again I don't see this level of viciousness being in her nature. Maude is essentially Mabel's hench-chicken, carrying out diabolical deeds under advisement from Don Mabel.

Doris is definitely a contender. As a lower hen in the pecking order, it makes sense that she'd want to keep Mini in her place. Being as though her best pal Lindy has gone all hormonal and psychotic, she might well turn to bullying as a way of keeping her status.

It's not Maeve. Maeve couldn't even reach the top of Mini's head, so she's in the clear.

Now I have to find a way of disguising the blood. Chickens seem to go crazy at the sight of it, and generally once blood has been shed they all become a bit mental. Blood lust in chickens is particularly unpleasant, and when the girls are shut into the coop at night Mini would have nowhere to hide. So now I need something that tastes foul and covers the colour. You can buy anti peck sprays, but this being a sunday afternoon my chances of finding anywhere open are slimmer than slim. For tonight, Mini will be wearing granny smelling talcum powder on her head. Yes, she'll look ridiculous, and smell like old people, but hopefully no one will eat her from the comb down.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Belinda Wreaks Vengeance

A broody Belind refuses to give up the nest for Maude and Doris.

Right, so the ebay eggs are on hold until we get back from our travels (yay!). Therefore, a broody Belinda will not get her chance to hatch her first clutch, which means we're still trying to persuade her that there is more to life than sitting in the dark cooing to yourself.

After what seems like weeks of rain, the sun came out today. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so I stripped the coop down to give it a good scrub and disinfect. This always unsettles the hens, who understandably take exception to someone taking their home to bits, making it smell like flowers and disposing of their favourite chickenny smells. Doris was her usual vocal self. The entire neighbourhood was treated to the gobby madam ranting at the cheek.

Belinda sat on the grass where I'd plonked her, and glared at me. She issued a low growl whenever any of the other hens ventured too close, which earned her a 'Oi! Remember who you're growling at!' type peck on the head from top hen Mabel. It was quite disconcerting to feel Belinda's evil eye boring into my back while I crawled about in the run scraping poo (yes, my life really is this glamorous!). After about twenty minutes, she stood up, shook herself, and sauntered off down towards the greenhouse. Pleased that she'd given up her vigil, I carried on battling with easibed and wood shavings.

As I began reassembling the Convent, I heard an odd noise. The other girls had also heard it, and were stood with their heads cocked to one side, listening. Thump. Hmmm. I counted four big girls, and one little Maeve dotted about the human garden (so much for the fencing). Thump. It sounded rather a lot like earth hitting glass. Odd. Thump. After extracting myself from the hen run, I walked up the garden, looking for the missing Belinda. Thump.

The sound I had heard was indeed earth hitting glass. In fact, attached to the earth hitting the glass were some young tomato seedlings. Belinda was systematically pulling seedlings from a tray on my greenhouse staging, and launching them against the lower panes. She froze, seedling in beak, when she saw me stood in the doorway. Human and chicken eyeballed each other for several seconds, before the stroppy hen spat out the current seedling and attempted to move on to my sunflowers. Grasping her firmly with both hands, I removed the chav chicken and frog marched her back to the chicken garden. The hormonal vandal let out a blood curdling shriek which set all the others off bokking and running around in a panic. Plonking her none too delicately back in the Convent's grounds, I gave her a stern look. Regally, she sashayed back up the ramp into the coop, pausing only to throw me a look of disdain before disappearing into the darkness.

I never knew that chickens were capable of such vindictiveness.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Er, I sort of won those ebay eggs. Oops. The ever tolerant husband took it quite well, considering, merely pointing out all the very good reasons why it's a bad idea. He was very convincing. Hence, I'm waiting to see if the seller will accept my deepest apologies and let me off the hook. Good news is, hubby is coming around to the idea of hatching a few chickadees to sell. I feel a project coming on.....

Belinda has still been plastered to the nest all day. She has had company, though. Doris has snuggled in beside her. It appears that broodiness is contagious. I have visions of going out there one morning to find a huge pile of grumpy hens all trying to hatch each other.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Accidently Hatching Eggs?

Belinda is still broody, and growling at any human or chicken that dares to disturb her. I keep lifting her despite her protestations, and plonking her on the lawn. She sits for a moment, muttering to herself about stupid humans, before shakily wandering around. Soon as my back is turned though, she hot foots it back to the nest. The others are getting pretty fed up with their favourite nest being constantly occupied, and have taken to giving her a well aimed peck as she shuffles past. Like a bunch of bitchy school girls, the others gather and mutter amongst themselves about Lindy. The pecking order appears to be shifting.

The problem with having a broody, is that it brings to mind hatching chicks. Once that idea has lodged in the chicken keepers brain, it is only a matter of time before you start trawling ebay. Therefore, it's quite understandable how I might have accidently placed a bid on some blue laced wyandotte bantam hatching eggs. Ahem. Now, I'm not totally deluded, so I made my bid ridiculously low, and there is another day to run on the auction. I can't possibly win.

If I do win, I suspect that the ever tolerant husband might get a good deal less tolerant. In fact, he might swear at me a good bit in gaellic before slamming a few doors. Can't say that I'd blame him. Despite my longing to have a bit of land, we actually have a very ordinary suburban garden. Therefore, by making the bid low, I'm hoping to hang on to the dream for a bit longer, while ultimately knowing that there will be no cute balls of fluff for Lindy to turn savage on. At least, not yet.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Leaving Chickens

For the bank holiday weekend, we decided to visit my family. We don't get to see each other that much, and I really miss them all, but leaving home also has consequences. When you have really spoiled hens, who are used to free ranging and being fussed over daily, it feels horribly cruel to leave them locked up for days.

I fretted and ummed and ahhed about asking the neighbour to pop in and keep an eye on them. However, as the ever tolerant husband pointed out, that would mean leaving the side gate unlocked and unbolted. Hmmm. So, it was a toss up between leaving them at the mercy of the two legged fox (the fabled chicken rustler), or just leaving them to it. Hubby finally bundled me out of the door after I checked the locks/drinker/feeder for the umpteenth time, and we headed down soth to visit the human members of the family.

We had a lovely time, and only stayed for one night. I didn't spend the whole time worrying about the girls, but a considerable amount of it. Hideous scenarios of chicken annhialation played on my mind. What if it got really hot, and Maeve would be slowly cooked in the greenhouse? What if Mini did her usual 'escape-from-Belinda' trick and managed to spill the water? Would I get home to a load of pathetically dehydrated birds, gasping their last? What if there was a monumental ruck which resulted in blood and feather loss? Would incarceration in the (reasonably sized) secure run lead them to go out of their tiny chicken minds? What if Belinda just stayed on the nest, refusing to eat or drink without my encouragement? Oh, the burden of responsibility!

Therefore, the first thing I did when we arrived home yesterday evening was to rush to the back door. I would have been even quicker, if the ever tolerant husband hadn't been in my way. He claims he was checking just to spare me the potential horror of what might await. I think he just missed them.

Of course, they shrieked their heads off to be let out the second they clapped eyes on us. They immediately set about cutting the grass. Belinda didn't come down the ramp with chicken glee, so I nervously approached the nest box. Taking a deep breath, I raised the lid. Belinda looked up at me, bright eyed and very puffed up. On lifting her out, I found six warm eggs in her nest, lovingly tended. Dumping her on the lawn, I removed her 'babies' and gave her some corn to make up for it. She ate with gusto, making me feel a whole lot better.

Maeve was particularly glad to see us. She ran around the garden like a loon, roadrunner stylee, cheeping like mad. Once she'd used up some energy, she toddled up to the back door where I was sitting on the step. She tilted her head to one side, gave me a stern look, and then jumped up on to my knee. After a bit of a fuss from me and the hubby, she got over excited and jumped onto my head. Chicken talons in your scalp is not the most pleasant of sensations. I strongly suspect that for Maeve, however, this was a gesture of chickenny affection closely associated with joy. Bless her.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

An Ongoing Battle

Belinda is teetering on the edge of full blown broodiness. If I turf her out of the nest box, she potters for a bit and eats, but if she catches sight of the coop, she legs it back up the ramp to make herself comfy. I imagine that while she sits buried in the wood shavings, she's dreaming of cute baby chicks. Now I have a fresh appreciation of the word 'broody'. Lindy is totally single minded. She can think of nothing but chicken motherhood. I actually feel quite sorry for her.

Doris pops her head into the coop to counsel her pal, clucking in a reassuring manner before wandering off again. She is definitely the kindest to Belinda's predicament. Mabel tends to barge in, sit on Lindy 'til her eyes bulge and she is forced to move, and then complain loudly that she can't lay her egg in solitude. Maude doesn't complain, but tends to sit on her anyway. Mini has decided that she wants no part of a broody Belinda, and has laid in the oft neglected other nest box. I don't blame her, Belinda isn't that nice to her when she isn't hormonal and crazed.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

First Broody

I knew it was coming, and I even knew which hen it was likely to be, but I'm still not happy about it. Belinda has gone broody. Maude, Doris and Mini all laid this morning, and Belinda sat tight on her flock mates eggs for a good two hours. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, in case she too needed to lay, but it soon became apparent that Lindy had other ideas.

A broody hen flattens herself out over the nest, until she resembles nothing more than a feathery cowpat with a small head. Chicken mama hormones flood her system, giving her a crazy glint in her eye and a baaaaaad attitude. Belinda sat on those eggs, and she wasn't budging.

Tentatively, I reached in to the nestbox and stroked her back. She growled at me. A definite undulation of her vocal chords told me in no uncertain terms that if I pushed it I'd end up with less fingers than I started with. Mabel bobbed anxiously in the coop doorway, needing to lay her own egg but nervous of approaching the shrieking harridan within. My top hens nerves told me that I had to break the broody.

I propped open the nest box door, letting a cruel wind blow all over the sitting hen. A broody hens body temperature sky rockets, and cooling her down again can break the broody spell. Belinda glared at me, and dug herself deeper into the wood shavings muttering obscene chicken oaths. Ten minutes later, my youngest son tried to lift 'his' hen out of the coop to play. He got a solid peck on the finger for his troubles. Now it was personal.

Taking a steadying breath, I reached in quickly with both hands to lift her. Chickens are easily confused, and faced with two potential pecking targets she froze in indecision. I plonked her down in the run before she came to her senses and chewed my fingers off. The poor hormonal hen looked a bit bewildered to find herself doing her best cowpat impression in the open. Doris wandered over and used her as a stepping stone to get to a particularly green blade of grass. This was too much for Belinda, who shakily stood up and staggered off to eat something. After stretching out her legs by walking about in circles for a while, she took off up the garden to chase Mini.

She's broody, but so far, easily distracted.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Update On Mini's Health

Doris, Belinda and Maude in chicken prison.

Suddenly realised that I've gone a bit quiet on the chook health front. Rest assured that this isn't my attempt to shield you from armageddon-like chook deaths, but just that I forgot. Which, if you think about it, must be a good thing.

Mini is wheezing considerably less. She is eating and drinking her medicine like a good chicken, and has also put on a bit of padding around the breastbone. Mabel has stopped firing goblets of snot across the garden, and the others are all fine. The tylan course finishes tomorrow, so hopefully we are out of the woods. About blooming time, quite frankly. Mini even laid a teeny egg yesterday, definite proof of a hen on the mend. Sick chickens don't bother wasting energy on eggs.

I really hope now that I've written this down that there isn't a sudden relapse. I'm not ashamed to admit to being a bit superstitious when it comes to my girls.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

A Bit Too Close For Comfort

I suspect that we had a lucky escape tonight. I shut the girls into the run this evening a little earlier than usual as we were going out for dinner. What I didn't remember was that my youngest child had been out egg collecting earlier, and he has a habit of forgetting to shut the main coop door. Therefore, when we got back this evening with two very sleepy children, hubby discovered the coop door open and only two visible hens on the perch. Cue much panic, until I rushed out and ascertained that the other three were bundled in the nest boxes. Note to self : not much point in making the run fox proof, and locking the side gate with two deadlocks and padlocks, if you go out and leave the sodding door swinging in the breeze.

At Her Majesty's Pleasure

We've established that my attempt at netting in the hens was rubbish. The idea was good though, so this weekend hubby and I were on a mission. A quick trip to the local DIY place later, the ever tolerant husband got on with building a proper barrier. Using short wooden stakes and some pvc netting, he managed to neatly cordon off the garden into two distinct sections; the convent and grounds, and the human garden. Brilliant.

I methodically sought out small fluffy chickens and popped them into their new area. At first, they didn't notice the new improved fence and assumed that I was just moving them around for fun. There were no complaints, just resigned clucking as I plonked them down in chicken prison. The peace didn't last long, however.

Maude was the first to notice that the new fence wasn't so easily breached as the 'cobwebs on sticks' attempt I'd made. She bokked to the others in a 'hang on, girls, I'm not liking this!' manner. Mabel waddled over, giving the netting an experimental peck. Finding the plastic unyielding, she took up a war cry. Within minutes, five pissed off hens were speedily trotting along the whole length of the barrier, looking for an out. Back and forth they went, looking very much like they should have had little tin cups in their beaks to clang along the bars of their new prison. Oh, the guilt.

Maeve was cheeping on the lawn, in the priviliged position of being allowed on the human side of the fence. This isn't favouratism, more that the others might eat her. This way she can get on with growing big enough to defend herself when the inevitable integration duff up occurs. Didn't stop her gloating, though.

Deciding that my presence was probably agitating them more, I took the cowards way out and went to have a calming cup of tea. When I next looked out, Mabel was by the back door, a glint of triumph in her eye. The absolutely tiny gap between fence and coop had proved big enough for her to squeeze her matronly bum through. We know that this was what she must have done, because we soon saw Doris do the same thing. Hubby looked at this, and then blocked the gap with a tall plant pot.

As we stood there, discussing the flaws in our security system, Maude took a running, flapping jump and joined her best pal on the other side of the fence. A problem that is not so easy to fix. However, only Maude and Mini seem capable of flying to any height, so we're hopeful that they'll get bored of being away from their chicken chums. Maybe.

Their complete disgust that the barrier was still in place when I let them out this morning was audible. Today, it was Mini that popped over for a visit. It's really more of an open prison.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Great Escape

Yesterday was glorious here, blue skies and bright sunshine. The kind of weather that demands that you go outside to enjoy it. Also the kind of weather which shows up just how much your flower borders are suffering because of chickenny attention. Hmm. I'm a keen gardener, so the sight of trampled and nibbled favourite plants nearly sent me over the edge. The girls sat there looking at me, heads on one side, as I bemoaned the state of my tulips and the lack of foliage on my lupins. Once I'd finished this pointless telling off, they wandered off to drop manure on the lawn and to eat something else I was fond of. Enough is enough.

Determined not to spend a fortune on netting, I decided to improvise and aquired some garden netting and some bamboo canes. I marked off the area that I was happy for them to munch/poo in/dig up, and set about erecting my DIY fence. The hens watched with interest, occassionally coming over to cluck conversationally and peck at the netting. I struggled with getting the netting to stay up, and I struggled even more in getting the canes into the hard clay soil. Eventually, it was done.

I stood back to admire my handiwork, certain that now I could have some flowers in my garden. The girls seemed to realise that something was up at this point, and decided to leg it into the garage. Retrieving them, I popped them over the netting and watched their confusion at this new obstacle. After standing around a bit and complaining, they got bored and went to scratch/poo/munch. Ha!, I thought, Me 1, Chickens 0. Happily, I skipped inside to eat my lunch.

I stood in the kitchen filling the kettle, and suddenly realised that all five hens were back on the lawn. Bugger. I strode out, looking for the breach. Puzzled, I examined the intact barrier. The chooks cackled behind me, obviously pleased with themselves. We went through this routine a couple of times before I realised the crafty cows were legging it behind the greenhouse and escaping down the side. Once I worked this out, I blocked off their escape route with some timber. All the while Maeve was charging around the greenhouse cheeping her head off at all the excitement. I'm pretty sure she was egging them on.

Now that I had a foolproof pen, I plonked them all back inside it and watched. They immediately tried the greenhouse route, and complained loudly when they found it blocked. They wandered back around to the fence, Maude leading the way. There then followed what can only be called a chicken conference as they discussed this new problem. A lot of clucking and bokking later, Maude took a run up and flew over the netting. Pretty much simultaneously, Doris limboed under a section that I couldn't get pegged down.

Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Complicated Chickens

Maeve, the new chick on the block

Well, best laid plans and all that...

My idea had been to integrate Mini with the new teeny Maeve, and once they were firm pals to reintroduce the pair to the flock. Easy. Except Mini has some kind of respitory infection. She's wheezing a bit, snotty and has a slightly swollen face. When she sneezes, mucus flies. Oh crap. Just as I noticed this new development, Mabel wandered over, bokked a bit, and then sneezed wetly up my arm. Double crap.

To be honest, at this point I may have thrown a little tantrum. After the nightmare of Delilah's illness and subsequent death, I really thought I was owed a good run of chicken health. Ha! The chicken God apparently has a wicked sense of humour. So, monday morning saw me high tailing it to the vet and picking up some baytril.

Baytril is a broad spectrum antibiotic, which in this case comes as a syrup. Cue me trying to hold a chicken in a headlock while firing medicine down her throat. Cue Mini making an alarming amount of noise of the 'I can't breathe! I'm dying!' kind, and turning an unpleasant shade of purple. In a human you'd have called it an asthma attack. I popped her back into the coop, sadly expecting her to cark it from stress. Five minutes later, she trotted down the ramp and wandered off to eat aphids. I actually let out an audible sigh of relief.

We went through the whole rigmarole again yesterday, before my brain engaged this morning and I squirted the baytril onto a piece of bread. Mini scoffed it with enthusiasm, and no near death episode. Good. I am currently awaiting the delivery of a set of digital mini scales, so that I can measure out the Tylan I need to treat the whole flock. Hopefully, this will kill all bacteria and the birds will be healthy again. Until the next time...

Maeve has been cheerfully destroying the greenhouse, managing to tear up everything in the growbag and then crap on it. She has been out for the odd wander around the garden, and rightly keeps out of the other ladies way. She has a big charcter for such a little bird. When she is grown, I think she's really going to shake up the pecking order....