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.