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.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A More Integrated Flock

It's finally happened. It's only taken a few months, endless patience and the destruction of my greenhouse, and we now have a complete flock! Maeve has been accepted into the fold. I have even observed her preening Belinda. I am a happy chicken keeper.

Naturally, she's made to sleep on the floor with the poo. She is also occasionally given a peck as she ambles past, and is often chased away from the treats. However, she has not been duffed up in any great way, so they must secretly like her. Mini is pretty much in the same boat, so the little splash hen and the little (alleged) mottled pullet have formed a shaky alliance. It's quite sweet, really.

Having all of the girls in the convent has helped with the husbandry side of things, too. Maeve's mini coop has been relegated to the garage to be used as a hospital wing if needed, and my growbags are safe from the feathery vandal that had been occupying my greenhouse. Bliss.

The red mite issue seems to have resolved itself with a liberal sprinkling of red mite powder and a thorough clean. However, I'm not being complacent as I know that the evil beasties are never too far away.

We are currently broody, illness and beastie free.

I wait with baited breath for the next disaster.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Rescue Mission

The thing with chicken keeping is, there is always another crisis around the corner. Having tackled the broody issue, and finally having an integrated flock, we now have the dreaded red mite. I was out doing my daily sweep of the poop tray, when I saw one of the evil little beasties crawling across the roof. Squishing it with the end of my thumb, I looked more closely. Yep, definitely red mite. Bum.

Red mite are little tiny parasites which feast on the blood of roosting birds. During the day, they hide in any cracks or crevices in the coop, and come out at sundown to munch on the poor sleeping girls. A severe infestation leads to a drop in egg production, ill looking hens, and if untreated, death. Luckily, I always keep a supply of diatom which is a pretty effective beastie killer.

The kids were delighted to help me commit insecticide. They happily squashed the critters with a stone, gleefully disgusted at the splatter, while I scrubbed, swept and disinfected. Mabel became quite distressed, pacing back and forth and peering through the pop hole at the void that used to be the nest box. I kept shooing her out, but she obviously needed to lay, and would not be deterred. So desperate did she become, that she tried a novel way of gaining entry to the nest.

The coop is on slabs against the fence. Between the mesh of the run and the fence, there is a gap of approximately four inches. The hens have never attempted to go down this narrow alley, until today. Mabel had obviously worked out in her tiny chicken brain that this might be another route to her desired destination. Hearing some soft clucking, I turned slowly around to see Mabel beginning to wiggle her way into the gap. Uh oh.

Mabel edged her way along, before the message that the space was too tight finally reached her brain. Deciding at that point that she didn't like it, she tried to turn around. I now had a chicken who's face was squished against the wire mesh, side on, and who's voluminous backside was mashed against the fence. Somehow, her wings were pinned above her. She looked for all the world like a ballerina attempting a pirouette. A severely narked ballerina.

The other girls gathered to watch their illustrious leaders humiliating fall from grace, while the children and I panicked. Every so often, she would have a frenetic attempt at freeing herself, but she seemed firmly wedged. I attempted to move the Convent, but it was far too heavy. In a moment of complete flappery, I phoned the ever tolerant husband at work. While I was on hold, with my back to the stricken bird, she managed to free herself. I found myself on the phone, trying to explain to the baffled husband that there had been a problem, but everything was okay now.

Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Poo Problem

It has been a glorious week here. The sun has shone from sun up to sun down, and the girls have grumbled about the heat and hidden in the shrubbery. The air has been filled with the sound of children playing, dogs barking, grumpy hens and the entire fly population of western Europe. Oh yes, chicken poo is apparently haute cuisine for blue bottles. Yuck.

Obviously, this cannot continue. I have been spraying diluted citronella essential oil around the garden like a demented...well, chicken keeper. The hens watch with amusement as I slowly make my way across the lawn, sweeping up their little presents with my dust pan and brush, and watering in the runny ones. I do this at least three times a day. Usually, I am followed by the chooks, who are keen to observe my antics in case I have food. In the course of our tortuously slow progress, they inevitably have to poo a bit. Chicken faeces has become a major talking point in this house.

On the plus side, these measures seem to have helped a good bit. There has been a definite reduction on the insect activity front. Also, the lawn looks fabulous, which I am putting down to all the free and fresh manure.

Oh, and Mini has been in the broody cage, and has now rejoined her flock mates. Just in time to add to the manure mountain.