Saturday, 30 January 2010

Here We Go Again....

The ever tolerant husband is a truly marvellous bloke. He indulges my chicken obsession, drives all over the country so that I can look at birds, pays endless amounts of his hard earned cash out to poultry supply stores and vets, and even puts up with my sobbing hysterics when one of my beloved girls departs this world. I am one very lucky madchickenlady.

Today he took me to a farm and let me choose two new baby pekins. I was very glad that there were no Mini-a-like's there, and was drawn to the cutest, scruffiest little ball of silver and grey feathers. Of course, I should be more level headed and avoid anything pathetic looking like the plague, but this little lady had me from first glance. I have decided to name her Celia, a suitably gentile name for such a delicate creature. Celia is a scruffy mix of chick feathers and adult plummage, but I can already see that she will be beautiful. While I was admiring her, a bolshy little gold partridge chick swaggered over, giving me the once over. Sold. (This bundle of attitude is proving harder to name, so I have created a poll, and would very much appreciate your input. Also, if you have any other 'old lady' name suggestions, feel free to offer them in the comments box).

So, there are now two tiny ladies asleep in the pet carrier in the downstairs bathroom, snuggled against the radiator. Tomorrow, the ever tolerant husband and I will clear space in the garage, and set up the heat lamp in a makeshift run. The new arrivals will spend several weeks under heat out there before they are sufficiently grown to cope without. Then the fun of introductions will begin again.

He is bloody fabulous, my husband.

Friday, 29 January 2010

A Difficult Job For The Boss

Its tough being top hen. The responsibility falls to you to align the pecking order, and keep everyone in check. When a member of your flock goes off to that great chicken coop in the sky, there is re-ordering to be done. If there was a cockerel about, he would do a lot of this work for you. However, the Convent is a chicken-bloke free zone, so all of this falls to Mabel.

Mabel is a brilliant top hen. She has just the right balance between benign care of her charges, and aggressive discipline. The others (perhaps with the exception of the social climbing Maeve) seem to respect her position, and heed her warnings. It would be over sentimental to say that the hens are missing Mini, but they are definitely aware that the position of bottom hen is now vacant. Everyone is keen for this place not to be filled by themselves.

So, today, there is a lot of pecking going on. The lower hens are sneaking up on each other and attempting to deliver a swift dig to the top of their opponents head. If the opponent wants to keep their position in the flock, they won't back down. A surprise attack often results in a surprised squawking and waddling away in to the shrubbery, though, and instantly the victim finds herself below her attacker in the social structure.

This process of re-jigging is always stressful for both the birds and anxious keeper. This squabbling can quickly escalate in to all out warfare, so I am very glad that Mabel is taking charge. Everyone but Maude is being squashed to the floor, as she asserts her dominance. No one is hurt in this display, but the squashed hen always looks a little sheepish afterwards.

The silkies pose a problem to Mabel. As the last members of the flock to be integrated, they are the most logical choice for the bottom two. They don't appear to hold ambitions of flock domination themselves, so should be easy targets. The problem is, they have long, road-runner-style legs, and can out run even a flat out pekin waddle. Mabel can't catch them. On the odd occassion that she does, she can't jump up on to their backs. They simply stand still, with their head to one side, and watch the demented ball of feathers bouncing next to them. This makes Mabel look ridiculous, but is hilarious to watch.

Mabel has apparently been working on this issue. This morning, while watching the girls in the garden, I noticed that she was stood on the rim of a large plant pot. Her stillness was odd, so it caught my attention. The others mooched around, plotting head pecking and looking nonchalent. As Margot ambled closer to Mabel's plant pot, Mabel assumed a take off position. Clever girl, thought I, as Mabel launched herself at the now-in-range Margot. With a startled 'Bok-ARK!', Margot was flattened. Mabel pinned her for a few seconds, and then dismounted her underling. She strolled off with a satisfied swagger, with the other hens as an audience. Kiki approached her stunned sister, still splatted in to the mud. Margot shook herself and stood up, and the two silkies began a low chuntering, no doubt discussing this new development.

Mabel reigns supreme.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Saddest Day

I am writing this in tears. Approximately half an hour ago, the vet called to tell me that my beloved Mini had died on the operating table.

After thinking about it long and hard, I decided to take her back to the vet to see if the cyst could be removed. The children were anxious, and I foolishly told them she'd be fine. The vet agreed to remove the swelling under anaesthetic, and I left her there at just gone 9am. The phone call came just an hour later.

The vet told me that the swelling was a huge, pus filled abcess. It would not have got better on its own, and would eventually have infected her nervous sysytem and killed her. I am now wracked with regeret, wondering if opting for surgery sooner would have made any difference. I'm also cursing myself for not getting her, somehow, to a specialist avian vet for the surgery.

All regrets and 'what if?'s are pointless now, though, as she is gone.

I will miss her. Meh-meh :( :( :(

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

I Warn You Now, This Is Disgusting.

I am giving you fair warning. I am about to post pics of Mini and her revolting eye. If you are eating, you will not want to see them. I am posting them in the hope that someone, somewhere, will google 'disgusting eye chicken', come across this blog, and be able to tell me what to do.

So. You have been warned.

So, this is my lovely mini. This is the unaffected eye. Although, the other one is so swollen that it is in shot.

  This gives you some idea as to how large the swelling is. You'll notice that the other eye is not visible at all.

                              This is the affected eye. The hard crust is a fairly new development.

The skin around the swelling is very tight, and I think it must be very uncomfortable. She is, however, just getting on with it. The tissue seems to have totally filled the eye socket. It has nowhere else to go now, so I am watching anxiously. So, it's a long shot, but does anyone have any ideas?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cyclops Chicken

I am anxious. Instinctively, I want to prod and poke at Mini's humungous swollen eye. I have restrained myself to just grabbing her and having a good look. The actual eyeball is nowhere to be seen at this stage, and the cyst tissue has hardened in the gap between her eyelids. The swelling is now the size of a marble.

None of this sounds good, does it? I have to admit it looks even worse. My little splash hen is filthy from the winter, and has a giant crusty eye. From some angles, she resembles a praying mantis. Or one of those swivel eyed reptiles, anyway. She certainly wouldn't win any beauty contests.

Yet, the strange thing is, she's coping. In fact, she's more than coping. She pootles around the garden, looking for tasty things to eat. She runs for treats. She hasn't lost any weight, and her overall condition is good. She is getting better at avoiding the sneaky Maeve, who sidles up to her on her bad side to deliver a swift peck to the head. All in all, she's just getting on with her chickenny business.

So, I am resisting my urge to interfere. The last time I started prodding and poking, her eye bled and she shrieked at me. I should probably take the non-too-subtle hint.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Rainy Friday

After all the excitement of the snow, we are now back to good old rain. All day long, it has been pouring down. The ground simply cannot absorb any more of the wet stuff, and it runs in rivulets all over the flower beds.

Not surprisingly, my pampered ladies have not set one feathered foot outside of their cosy coop. Every so often, I have peered out of the kitchen window in an effort to catch a glimpse of a hen scoffing pellets, or having a scratch about. Nothing. The inclement weather means that I'd been putting off the daily poo clean, in the hope that it might brighten up. Eventually, I had to accept that it just wasn't going to happen, and reach for the water proofs.

Trudging across the decidedly boggy lawn, I heard familiar chunterings. I opened the coop to find four of the girls comfortably arranged in the nest boxes, while the top three peered down at me from the perch. Already drenched, I swept out as quickly as possible and replaced the paper. It suddenly occurred to me that the hens had the sense to stay in the dry when it was raining in biblical proportions, yet I, with the significantly bigger brain pan, was outside sweeping up their poo.

What's more, they were looking at me in a way that suggested that they knew it, too.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

New Beginnings

This week we have had some serious interest in our house. At the time of writing, it hasn't yet come to anything, but it has got me thinking. Perhaps a more rational person would be fretting over mortgages, or whether the furniture would fit into a prospective new home, or even whether the survey will throw up some horror. Not me. What has kept me awake at night is the logistics involved with moving seven small chickens.

In my defence, even the ever tolerant husband has been giving it some thought. When viewing a prospective home, he has remarked that the area nearest the garage would make the best chook garden. Without him even realising it, the hens have become a major consideration for him, too.

In an ideal world, and moving of the hens will be done under cover of darkness. Stress is a major problem with birds, and if they are dopey so much the better. The shock of waking up in new surroundings will be great enough without enduring being packed in to crates and embarking on a car journey in daylight. However, the reality is that on moving day, I have to somehow pack up the girls, dismantle the coop, transport it and reassemble it, and then move the hens. This is on top of the usual moving hassles.

It might be simpler all round to just buy a new coop.....

Monday, 18 January 2010

Normality Returns

With a heavy burst of rain over the weekend, we said goodbye to the snow. The temperature has risen considerably, too. The chooks are most pleased.

When I first opened the run up, they remained suspicious. With a bit of gently coaxing, they stepped over the threshhold and realised that the horrid white stuff really had had the decency to leave. There then followed a rather undignified bundle for the warm area on the decking. Naturally, Mabel duffed everyone up and won the choicest spot.

So, back to our normal routine, then. The girls are once again marauding around the garden, kicking stones on to the lawn and digging up spring flowering bulbs. In fact, if they could swig out of cider bottles and swear elaborately, you would see the resemblance to bored teenagers. There is the occassional squawk of protest as one of the lower pecking order hens gets a mean spirited peck from one of the upper echelons. They seem rather disgruntled.

At the moment of typing, not one of the free-loading feather-bags is laying, and I'm wondering whether the anticipation of pecking order shake-ups is leading to this mild animosity. Kiki has decided that being broody in january is a bit daft, frankly, so is back in the running. Maeve is still in the middle of a moult, and resembles a rather worse for wear vulture. She is defending her flock position, and the Silkies and Mini are bearing the brunt of her displeasure.

It's unlikely, but I'm secretly hoping that Mini will become a laying power house, and ascend to the perch.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Six Hundred And Fifty Two Is The Magic Number

It's a rather marvellous number, isn't it? Suitably impressive without being grandiose. I am a very proud chook keeper. You see, it is the total number of eggs my ladies laid in 2009.

Yes, I am that tragic. I sat down with my calculator, and added up every egg tally. That's one hundred and eight half dozen boxes. Brilliant. The ever tolerant husbanad was less impressed. As I attempted to defend my ladies by reminding him that the eggs we sold had paid for their feed and bedding throughout the summer, therefore making them partially self sufficient, he reminded me that Mini's vets bill's alone added up to more than any revenue made on the eggs. Ah.

Still, as I watch my cyclops chicken wander about the run with her head cocked at an odd angle, muttering 'meh-meh!' at no one in particular, I can't help but think that she's worth it. I am also reminded that some of those eggs were provided by flock members no longer with us, and Delilah and Belinda did their part. I hope that they are busy scoffing corn in the great chicken run in the sky.

This year, I predict that my egg total will top seven hundred.

Because I will probably aquire a few more hens....

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Tempting Them Out

I tried to tempt the hens out with some porridge. Only four were convinced.

The girls chow down, watched over by their illustrious leader.

They will come out for porridge, but are not happy about it.

Margot is the first to hear the siren call of hot food.

We Shall Not Be Moved

Overnight, we accumalated a couple of inches of snow. Much to the children's disgust, it wasn't enough to close the school, but it is certainly enough to irritate the hens. Only Margot ventured out on to the white stuff, and even she only lasted about five minutes before she accumalated a large ice/snow ball on one foot. Watching a hen with one large snow shoe strut-clunk, strut-clunk back to the coop was not good for my pelvic floor.

I decided to clear out the coop and throw in lots more bedding to keep the girls warm, so armed myself with a bucket of sawdust and a thick stack of newspaper. Opening the Convent door, I found three girls stuffed into the nest box, and four ladies huddled together under the perch. Now, usually, as soon as I start cleaning their residence, they wander off with much indignant muttering. Today, however, I was met with beady stares. A definite 'Bog off' look. Taking the edge of the newspaper covering the floor, I began to pull slowly, fulling expecting them to stand up and exit the coop. They continued to stare at me, and slowly slid towards me. Realising that they had no intention of moving, I took drastic action. Gripping the newspaper firmly, I attempted the 'tablecloth trick' (except instead of a tablecloth and dinner ware, I had some poo coated pages from 'The Irish Independent' and four disgruntled hens). It did not go according to plan. The hens all fell backwards, squawking, and the newspaper ripped, leaving me coated in droppings. Lovely. The nest box ladies watched all this carry on with a decidedly smug air, buried up to their shoulders in wood shavings.

I finally tugged the rest of the newspaper from under the hens, and attempted to sweep out the floor. I had to do it around Mabel, Maude, Doris and Mini, though, as they were obviously comfortable. I was then left with the next problem. Getting stuff out from under the girls was one thing, getting fresh paper under them was going to be another. I lifted Mabel out of the coop, and plonked her in the run. I then reached in to grab Maude, and turned to find the run void of my top hen. Glancing back into the coop, with Maude still in my hands, I found Mabel back in the huddle. So, it was going to be like that.

There then followed a ridiculous and humiliating episode where by I shovelled hens out of the coop as quickly as possible, while the hens raced round to get back in to the warmth of the coop. In the end, I managed to paper over two hens, had one sat on my forearm, and another hen pecking at my welly. The hens that I had papered over didn't seem particularly bothered initially, but soon wriggled free once Maeve decided to sit on them.

I am outnumbered.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

And A Few More

Doris's bum. She wasn't feeling very co-operative.

The magnificent Mille's, Mabel and the marvellous Maude.

A moulting Maeve and a broody Kiki.

For some reason Blogger wouldn't let me upload these pics in one post. As you can see, they're all looking fabulous (Except of course Mini, who always looks like someone cleaned the car with her).

Chooks In The Snow

Mabel, my mighty top hen, post makeover.

Cyclops chicken!

Mini, with her bulging eye just visible.

Margot in the snow.

This chook is well 'ard!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Ice Breaking

The cold snap lingers here in the midlands. With the temperature barely creeping above freezing during the day, I'm not seeing a lot of my girls. Most of the time they are huddled together in the coop, apart from Margot who tends to lay her egg and then do victory laps around the garden. I have gone back to shutting the pop hole at night in a bid to trap some heat. This means that as soon as I get up, I have to head out into the blizzardy wilderness to let the girls get to their breakfast. Certainly wakes you up.

Several times a day I have to defrost the drinker. Not that the chooks are drinking much in these temperatures. I also have to chip their pellets free from the feeder. It's only a matter of time before I have to go and peel frozen talons from perches at this rate. On the plus side, frozen poo is much easier to clean up.

I have been watching Mini now for months, and decided to interfere a bit more today. Clamping the filthy hen under my arm, I examined her bulging eye. The cyst has well and truly taken hold now, and after I prodded and poked at it a bit, Mini screeched at me and pooed down my coat. I think her meaning was clear. I had some notion that if I cleaned her eye up a bit she'd be more comfortable. Obviously, I was very much mistaken. Released from armpit captivity, she sauntered off, glaring at me over her shoulder with her waft eye. Then it occurred to me. She was not looking at me out of her bad eye at all, she was using her good eye to see where she was going.

I am now the proud owner of a cyclops chicken.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Big Chill

Perhaps not unusually for January, it is absolutely freezing outside. The ground barely gets a chance to thaw before the night descends again, and with it plummeting temperatures. According to the weather reports, for the next week we can expect night time lows of up to -7 degrees Celsius. Brrrr. Now, that's one thing if you're a human with lovely central heating, fleecy pyjamas and an ever tolerant husband to make you tea. It is quite another if you are a small, short legged chicken.

The girls are deeply unimpressed with the current conditions. They hop from one short leg to the other across the lawn, muttering at the cold. They huddle against the back door, looking in at the warm kitchen, layering on the human guilt. Chickens are not very good at looking beseeching (no movable eyelids/eyebrows), but they are exceptionally good at giving you a look which says 'You in there! Yes! You! You with your radiators! You disgust us!'. They often follow up this look with a large poo, right outside the door. Chickens are vengeful creatures.

In an attempt to keep them warm, I purchased a large plastic tarpaulin. The idea being, that I could enclose the Convent and run, so that the bedding would stay dry and the wind would be kept out. If there's something that chickens hate more than damp, it's a draught. I battled valiantly with the enormous sheet of plastic while the chooks looked on. It took quite some effort in the not inconsiderable wind to get it anchored down. The ladies watched all of this from the garden bench, where they sat, muttering and giving me the beady eye.

At last, the tarpaulin was in place. I was quite pleased with the result (and fairly philosophical about the amount of poo/mud which the damn thing had splatted up against me when the wind decided that what really needed wrapping in a plastic sheet, was me). Throwing some corn into the run, I stood back to allow the girls access.

They were having none of it. My redesign of their living space did not meet their approval in any way. Even Maeve, the bravest, fiercest hen who has ever lived (probably) wouldn't get closer than about three metres. Every so often, the wind would rustle the plastic, and much chuntering by the hens would ensue. In fact, they not only seemed dubious, but also actually affronted. I decided it was far too cold for all this carry on, and manually stuffed small hens into the coop. Generally, the girls are used to more dignified treatment, and were shocked into compliance.

Ungrateful little madams.