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.