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.