Saturday, 27 March 2010

Managing Interlopers

Yesterday, both children had a friend around to play after school. Naturally, chaos ensued. The visiting children were excited, and boisterous, and fascinated by the hens. The girls did not share their enthusiasm.

I watched anxiously from the kitchen window as a noisy game of football started. With semi-hysterical cheeriness, I called for them to 'Watch the greenhouse! Its not safety glass!' and 'Mind the chooks!'. The chooks watched developments amid much chuntering. They ambled away from the marauding pack of boys and positioned themselves in the safety of the shrub border.

My children are used to the hens, and treat them with gentleness and respect. Other children tend to want to grab, to cuddle and to lug about. One of the visiting boys approached Mabel, and gave her a rather enthusiastic stroke. The startled Millefleur bok-ARKed and waddled for the safety of the coop. The other hens froze, and watched this strange miniature human cautiously. He then turned to Doris, who muttered offendedly but tolerated his gentle stroke to her comb. However, when both hands reached forwards with a definite motive to grab, she took flight and followed her illustrious leader back to the Convent.

Maeve was the next hen in the visiting childs immediate vicinity. She had watched all of the preceeding handling keenly, and now cocked her head to one side, sizing up her opponent. At this point, sensing imminent danger, I told the visiting boy that the hens don't like to be picked up, and that the small black hen was a bit grumpy. He either didn't hear me or chose to ignore my warning.

He reached forward and grabbed Maeve around the middle. She suffered this indignity silently, which was when I knew he was in trouble. Raising her to face level, he started talking to her. I flew out of the back door yelling 'Noooooooo!'. He turned towards me, removing his nose from pecking distance thankfully. Maeve used this opportunity to deliver a solid peck to his wrist. In surprise, he dropped her. Maeve calmly spread her wings, and landed heavily but safely at his feet. She then turned in a circle, and raised her hackle feathers. At this point, I thought it best to suggest ice lollies and a DVD.

The four boys then took their noise and enthusiasm inside. Slowly, the other girls emerged from the coop. Maeve strutted around the garden, bokking off and generally suggesting that you come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. The visiting child was unhurt, but decidedly more wary of the feathery footballs that did not want to make friends.

Maeve reigns supreme.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

An Accidental Purchase

I have had an accident. A terrible, ebay related accident. I was perusing chickenny stuff (as you do) when I saw a second hand manual incubator. Just a little, hobbyist one. I watched in horror as my fingers danced across the keyboard, and made a bid. I then watched in even more horror as the end of the auction dawned, and my bid won. Oops.

The ever tolerant husband has so far said nothing. I suspect he is biding his time. At some point, he will no doubt raise this accidental aquisition, and inquire as to my intentions. I have no idea what I will tell him.

Yes, in an ideal world, I would love to hatch some frizzle pekins. On first glance, it all seems like a Very Good Idea. However, I'm not completely clueless. Hatching chicks comes with responsibilities. The greatest of these responsibilities as far as I'm concerned is dealing with the resultant boys. I would love to keep a cockerel, but it is just not going to happen. So then you have a problem. There are many more cockerels hatched every year than will ever be needed. Indeed, it can be hard to even give them away. Responsible breeders often choose to cull any male chicks as soon as they're identifiable. I want to be responsible, and that is what is giving me pause for thought.

If I do hatch, I will only be popping three or four eggs in to the incubator. Out of those eggs, it's concievable that two could hatch boys. It is possible to rehome such a small number, perhaps, but it is in no way guaranteed.

More thought required.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

In Fine Voice

When you keep hens, you don't need a calendar to tell you that spring has sprung. For one thing, the eggs starting piling up in the nest boxes. For another, the girls become rather, erm, frisky. Maude has been waddling in front of me and crouching for weeks now, and is beginning to get frustrated with my lack of compliance. She fears not for her own safety, and I have narrowly avoided squashing the daft bird several times. Mabel has taken to flattening the others in an extremely disciplined and systematic way. Its got so that the next hen assumes the position as soon as she clocks Mabel approaching.

All of this fertility is the very essence of spring. In an attempt to find an obliging male suitor, the ladies have taken to bokking their heads off at regular intervals (I have taken to rushing outside and flapping a tea towel at them in an effort to shut them up. They watch this with interest, and then take up their song as soon as I retreat indoors). One chook starts the fracas, usually because she's laid an egg. It is soon taken up by the others, as one by one they fall under the spell. I listen to all this racket anxiously, and send boxes of eggs to the neighbours by way of an apology. Even the chooklets are getting in on the act, despite being several months from maturity.

I remember this phenomenon from last spring, and if memeory serves me it should all calm down again sometime around May. Probably just in time for the first hen to catch broody. In the mean time, I shall continue to waft my tea towel and throw slices of bread out of the back door.

Some exciting developments with regards to the chook palace. My Dad has agreed to take a look at my favourite (expensive) design, and let me know whether its doable. I am both excited and nervous, as I haven't yet told him that I want a hanging carved sign reading 'The Convent'. He will definitely think I've lost the plot. The benefits of having the palace built bespoke means that I can get the exact dimensions I require.

Dimensions which would be suitable for ten small hens....

Monday, 22 March 2010

On The Prowl

I am not a massive cat fan. No particular reason, but I would always consider myself more of a dog person. Dogs seem to offer unending devotion, where as a cat might move in two doors down because they buy a better brand of cat food. Their affection seems rather...transcient. That said, there have been a few cats that I have grown rather fond of. When we first moved in, there was a local moggy that we nicknamed Carpet Cat. It was a big, soppy, lazy tom, who would happily lay on your feet while you sat in the garden. Carpet Cat would even tolerate being dragged about the garden by the then toddling children, a resigned and indulgent expression on his face. He was unendingly gentle and patient. One day I realsied that I hadn't seen good old CC for a while, and he has never been seen since. I like to think that he found somewhere to live where the humans served fresh salmon, although a more sinister ending is probably more likely.

So, me and cats have rubbed along ok for the most part. My lovely chicken sitting neighbour has two posh long haired kitties who have the unfortunate belief that my front lawn is a toilet. Too posh to bury their leavings, my lawn is often dotted with little whirls of very stinky poo. My lovely neighbour can be regularly seen scooping the poop (she really is lovely). However, now that I keep chickens, my relationship with the feline species has altered. Where as before they were a distant sometime irritation, they are now a real threat.

In the last few months, we have aquired two determined hunters. The first one, a sleek black fellow, turned up shortly after christmas. He was a particularly skilled hunter, and could slink into the garden unseen. He kept himself hidden, and was only spotted by the ever tolerant husband. Now, the birds never even detected his presence, which was very worrying. I chased him out of the garden a couple of times, and touch wood, he hasn't returned. I suspect that he may have stuck to the shadows because the girls probably look quite a lot bigger close up than they do from the safety of the fence. Basically, I don't think he liked his chances.

The second chicken worrier showed up at the weekend. Thankfully, this young cat has a collar with bell fitted, and the birds heard it coming. An almighty racket alerted me to an intruder, and when I rushed outside I saw the white and ginger kitten bouncing around the lawn chasing the badly frightened birds. Reacting purely on instinct, I chased our unwelcome visitor over the fence with a hiss (the neighbours now really think I'm some kind of loopy animal impersonator). Finding a smattering of feathers on the lawn, I feared the worst. The girls had fled to the coop, and one by one I looked them over. The feathers belonged to Kiki, but she appeared to have no injuries. I can only assume that the speed in which she took off down the garden left some of her plummage behind. I watched the flock anxiously for the next couple of hours, fingers crossed that stress wouldn't overcome any of them. A dollop of apple cider vinegar in their drinker made me feel better.

This morning our feline visitor returned. The girls sent up the alarm call early, and I got to the back door just in time to see it drop behind the greenhouse. Again, I ran up the garden hissing like a mentalist and chased it off. The likelihood of a small cat mauling a hen is pretty small, but the stress and panic caused to the bird from being 'played' with can be lethal.

I will not be befriending this cat.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Tracking Down The Perfect Palace

Now that the decision to stay put has been made, I have spent the last week trying to organise a new abode for the ladies. The six older girls currently reside in the Convent quite happily, but there is not room for the chooklets to join them. The Convent run is approximately 20 sqaure feet in size, which is adequate for six small hens as long as they get plenty of free ranging opportunities. Adding two more to the current set up would be overcrowding, and lead to stress in the flock. Stress leads to health problems and bullying (I'm sure I don't need to go in to the evils of battery farming chickens here, so I won't).

Therefore, I have been looking at my options. In an ideal world, my chook palace would be walk in, with a six foot ceiling height. With a footprint of approx. 6 x 9 feet, it would give my girls a floor space of 54sqft. This is a decent amount of space for birds that might never free range (although my girls will always have the opportunity to undo all of my gardening efforts). It will also be built like Fort Knox, allowing total peace of mind when we travel.

I managed to find a few examples online, but the price made the ever tolerant husband go a funny colour. Thinking outside the box, I decided to make contact with a few local joiners, in the hope that they could build me exactly what I wanted for a slightly less cardiac arrest-inducing price.

It often slips my mind that other people aren't chicken obsessed. Its become such a normal part of our every day lives to step over squatting hens when hanging out the washing, or to find random feathers under the sofa, that I just assume that others also know everything there is to know about chooks. So when I started blathering on about pop holes, nest boxes and wind breaks to the joiner stood in my kitchen and he looked at me like I was slightly mad, I think it was a shock for both of us. I resorted to showing him an expensive online example. He was still a little nonplussed, and muttered about research before hightailing it for the safety of his transit van. His quote came in the next day at several hundred pounds over budget. I suspect that he didn't really want to build my chook palace.

The second joiner was much more enthusiastic, and even made several sensible suggestions himself. When he left, I felt a warm glow of satisfaction that my needs had been understood. Unfortunately, it was a fleeting satisfaction, as his quote came in at over a thousand pounds. I didn't even show the ever tolerant husband that one.

The third joiner has disappeared in to the sunset with his tape measure and sketch pad, never to be heard of again. Well, by the madchickenlady anyway. Honestly, you'd think that people had never seen a chicken before. Admittedly, Maude did try to sit on his shoulder, but shes a sociable bird. Also, he was wearing a hoop earring. Maude likes earrings.

So, it looks like the expensive internet options are actually the more affordable. Amazingly, the ever tolerant husband seems resigned to having his wallet hoovered out in the near future. I am determined to have the chook palace in situ by the end of May.

We are no longer moving, but the girls are.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Staying Put

After weeks of faffing about, our potential buyer has taken his ball and gone home. Bah. Now, there are two ways to view this development. I could sit in a corner, rock and weep a bit, before getting up and preparing the house for another viewing. The second option involves ripping the 'for sale' board out of the lawn, laughing manically as the agent attempts to arrange more viewings, and deciding to make the best of what we've got. The second option is deeply, bone warmingly appealing.

Therefore, today I am making enquiries. The ever tolerant husband wants quotes for new bathrooms and a patio. I will make these calls. However, I also have a secret agenda. I need to track down a carpenter to plot my chook palace with. Mwahahahahaha!

One of the main appeals of moving was the tempting thought of a bigger garden. A bigger garden means more chickens! I can't make my garden bigger, but I can create a fabulous walk in run, complete with many perches. A sort of chicken playground, if you will. I have a very definite idea as to how I want it to look, hence the sneaky carpenter finding. I imagine it stood on the newly paved area near the current coop, which is a mud bath, and has been all winter. It will have hanging baskets, and a weathervane. There will be a hanging sign reading 'The Convent'. My ladies will be chicken royalty (I also realise that this will cement my 'madchickenlady' persona, but I don't care. So ner).

Alas, my plans for hatching a few chicks etc will have to be shelved. I am disappointed, but am realistic about keeping a few hens (or, er, eight) in the average suburban garden. One day I will get my adorable frizzle, and that will have to be good enough for now.

And you know what? It is.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sunshine, Introductions And Moving House

If I have any devoted followers, it may have been noticed that its been over a week since my last post. The reason? House stress. We very nearly sold our house, but then didn't. We very nearly bought a house, but then didn't. So. Once again, I am doing my best to ignore the whole circus unless someone brings me news. Easier said than done, to be honest. However, my ladies require my attention, which is a very Good Thing.

Introductions are going reasonably well. Celia and Purdy will now happily leave the garage under their own steam. They tend to stick close together, and are mostly found loitering on the decking. The other girls mostly ignore them, with only the occassional chase or peck. Margot is the most determined baby chaser, which just confirms to me that with the loss of Mini, Margot has taken the position of bottom hen. Her status will be short lived though, once the partridge girls join the main flock.

The sun has made a much welcomed appearance here, and despite the cold it lifts everyones spirits. Maeve is in raptures, and lays on the decking for hours sun bathing. She only moves to change which wing to spread out to catch some rays. All of the girls like the sun, but Maeve is a full on sun worshipper. Unfortunately, her favourite spot is behind the back door. I end up gently shoving her across the decking if I need to get outside.

I don't blame her for making the most of it.