Monday, 24 May 2010

Purdy's Mini Egg

Here's a pic of Purdy's miniscule egg next to a normal sized Margot offering.

Surprisingly, the cracked egg contained a super small yolk.

Margot's cracked egg shows just how tiny the perfect mini egg is.

Summertime, And The Living Is Easy

Someone has broken the thermostat here in the midlands. It is ridiculously hot. Humans and chickens alike can be found in lethargic heaps. The girls amble apathetically between shadey spots, before flomping on to the ground and spreading their wings in the hope of catching some breeze. The children keep hydrated with copious amounts of ice cream. I'm keeping hydrated with shandy.

We had to travel this weekend, so the ladies were taken care of by my lovely neighbour. I spent the weekend fretting about them stuck in the Palace in this heat, and hoping that they would have enough water. I got home to find them all wandering about the garden with plenty of cool water to drink. My neighbour was sunning herself in her own garden, and could hear the girls happily pottering. I would usually be very anxious about them free ranging when I'm not here, but in this instance I was grateful. I fear that the heat was more likely to be a threat to them than any predators.

It was gone 9pm before the girls headed to bed last night, and still very warm. I left it 'til nearly dark before shutting them in, and was pleased to find that the coop interior was relatively cool. As I was leaving the run, my eye fell on the tiniest egg I have ever seen. I'm fairly certain that it was Purdy who laid it.

I believe that these tiny eggs are known affectionately as 'fart eggs'. Charming. It's unlikely to have a yolk. The children have taken it in to school today to show everyone (and no doubt to gleefully say the word 'fart' in front of their teachers), so tonight we will crack it open.

I don't think it's worth boiling it.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Purdy Grows Up

Purdy has been crouching for a few days now, so I knew that she was reaching chicken adulthood. The other hens seem to know instinctively when one of their number is about to come in to lay, and it always stirs things up a bit.

The girls spent the day mooching about the garden, commiting petty acts of planticide and eating things. Mabel, Maude, and Margot laid their eggs with nary an egg anouncement between them. All was peaceful and calm. At school pick up time, I enticed them all back in to the Palace's run with grapes, locked them in and thought no more about it.

While cooking dinner several hours later, I noticed only four hens in the run. Mabel, Maude, Doris and Margot were all sunbathing. I knew that Kiki was busy being broody, which left the chooklets and Maeve. Uh oh. Opening the coop door, I found Celia and Purdy cowering in the corner. Maeve was strutting between the two, administering sharp head pecks as and when she saw fit, looking very much like a sadistic Hollywood SS officer. Shooing her away, I moved the traumatised youngsters to a perch where they could easily escape, and went back inside to make the gravy.

Five minutes later, the run was still devoid of any chooklets. I had expected the young pullets to leg it for freedom as soon as possible, so I suspected that ASBO chicken had somehow recaptured her hostages. I found Purdy huddled beneath the perch, gasping, with a seriously pecked comb. Celia was sat nearby, not injured but staying close to her ally. Maeve eyeballed me triumphantly.

Grabbing the shocked Purdy, I wrapped her in an old teatowel and sponged off the worst of the blood. The injury wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but was still serious enough to require some antiseptic. As my eldest wandered past, I shoved the teatowel cocooned chooklet at him and went hunting through the garage for the gentian violet. It took a few minutes to locate, and all the while the children spoke softly to the little chicken, trying to keep her calm. Her stillness and quietness was rather worrying. In fact, Purdy seemed to be in a traumatised trance.

I gently dabbed the gentian violet all over her comb. Gentian violet never goes exactly where you want it to, though, so now the unfortunate chook has a purple comb, beak, face and one wattle has a distinctly violet tinge. Once I had finished my chook first aid, I told the eldest to put her down. As he lowered her to the floor and gently unwrapped her from the teatowel, he said something which sounded like 'Oh, her leg just fell off'. That brought me up short, I can tell you. Observing the shakey progress Purdy was making across the patio, for a split second I seriously considered that this might be the case. It was only when the youngest held up a tiny, brown, perfect egg that I twigged. Unfortunately, the egg shell was badly cracked from its fall to the concrete, but other than that it was a very impressive first attempt. Suddenly, the sudden attack made sense.

Purdy hadn't run from Maeve's mindless violence because she had needed to lay. In fact, she was probably sitting to lay where I found her being pecked. Celia must have been keeping her company. I watched the young hen for about thirty minutes, looking for signs of shock. The other hens took it in turns to charge at her, and she managed to stay one step ahead. At the time of writing this, a good two and a half hours after all the drama, things seem to have settled down. Purdy has eaten and drank, preened and pooed. Her teenage goth phase may last some considerable time though, because gentian violet is a pig to get off.

I threw the teatowel away.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Whole Gang

Margot advances for her close up.

Maude crouching. The hussy.

Maude, the supermodel chicken.

The Palace in its new location.

Celia meets the camera dead on. From the front, chickens look weird.

Doris's extreme close up.

Kiki's broody bum. This is all we're seeing of her at the moment.

The luxurious Palace nest box row, complete with resident psychotic hen.

Maude, looking beautiful as always.

Maeve, aka ASBO chicken, dust bathing at the back of the border. There used to be a lupin there.

The chooklets, Celia and Purdy, grab the chance to fill their crops. Purdy has begun crouching, so expecting the first egg any day now.

Our illustrious leader, caught in the undignified position of laying an egg. How terribly embarassing. Like catching the Queen on the loo.

Purdy practices her tightrope walking.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Kiki's Revenge

It has been glorious here today. I used the opportunity to knock the garden back in to shape, with the enforced help of the ever tolerant husband. We spent the morning shifting earth, moving plants and pots and generally tidying. The chooks mooched about after us, occassionally getting themselves close enough to the downwards stroke of the spade to only just escape the fate of a French aristocrat during the revolution. Doris is without doubt the most fearless, risking her neck several times for that juicy must-have worm.

At last, the chores were finished, and we locked the hens in to the Palace so that we could enjoy sitting in the sun without a feathery marauder landing on your shoulder. The chooks took this well, for the most part. The Palace is truly palatial to my small girls, and a vast improvement on the Convent's more modest grounds. They contented themselves with perching in the shade, or sunbathing in the aubiose. All was peaceful. Until, that is, Kiki was awoken from her broody spell.

I had caged Kiki earlier in the day in an effort to get her to eat and drink. The hormonal silkie has been in the broody zone for a fortnight now, and shows no sign of stepping out of it. She paced agitatedly about the cage, periodically sticking her fluffy head and long neck up out of the cage through the wire mesh like a submarine upping its periscope. After a few hours, I released her from the cage but shut the pop hole. Immediately, she dashed in to the Palace and smacked straight in to the closed pop hole. The rebound took her to the bottom of the ramp. Undeterred, she tried several times more. When sheer brute force didn't clear her path, she attempted to use her beak as a crowbar. I have to confess to being quite impressed. Alas, this too failed. She perched in the run, muttering darkly.

All of a sudden, she seemed to notice the chooklets for the first time. She has been in her broody alternate universe all through the move to the Palace, and the introduction of Purdy and Celia to the main flock. Her short spell in the cage was all it took to bring her round enough to notice. And she didn't like it. As we sat in the garden, enjoying the sun, Kiki decided to kill the chooklets. With uncharacteristic viciousness, she hounded them around the Palace, allowing them no respite. All of the hens took up a loud screeching, as Purdy and Celia legged it at light speed from the mental roadrunner. I watched anxiously, knowing that interference would only prolong any bullying, yet ready to step in should feathers and/or blood be drawn. It would settle down for a few minutes, only for the crazy Benny Hill chase to begin again with renewed vigour. Eventually, I decided to remove Kiki so that she could calm down.

Cornering her in the sleeping area, I grabbed her. She immediately started making a racket as if she was being murdered, flapping her wings and wobbling her neck about. With grim determination, I hung on to the struggling silkie and wrestled her back in to the broody cage. Immediately, the rest of the flock fell silent and went back to their sunbathing/preening/snoozing. Kiki resumed pacing and chuntering.

I have no idea what led to Kiki's sudden hostility. After about an hour, I put her back in with the flock. She strutted back up the ramp to her favourite nest box and pancaked herself. The glazed look in her eye told me that she was no longer with us. This is one determined broody.

I think that Celia and Purdy will be glad of it.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Digging For Victory

The Chook Palace has been successfully relocated. In the end, we had to call in the services of our lovely drummer neighbour to help move it. My assertion that I could lift it turned out to be, frankly, wrong. Like any self respecting Palace, it weighs a ton (If not literally, it's not far off).

Now that its reached its final resting place, I can begin to landscape around it. I would love to plant swathes of beautiful flowers, but the pragmatist in me knows that what I really need are unappatising, chicken proof shrubs. The chooks have taken the move well, and even obliged by putting themselves to bed last night like sensible hens. Partly, this might be down to the fact that it is absolutely freezing here again. I peeked in to the sleeping area to find all six pekins huddled together, the chooklets sensibly putting the fearsome Mabel between themselves and the social climbing Maeve. The silkies were a mass of fur in the nest box, and at some point I will be addressing this bad habit.

In digging out the flower bed to make a flat base for the Palace, the ever tolerant husband has created a large pile of earth. This needs to be moved, and I managed to distribute four wheel barrow loads last night before my back threw a tantrum and stubbornly refused to haul any more. The hens are in raptures. Its a veritable smorgasboard of squirmy things, and they are gorging themselves. Indeed, Maude has gotten a little carried away, and managed to dig herself a crater. All that can be seen from this side of the mound is a fine spray of earth being furiously thrown up and behind her ample rear end. Occassionally, a hapless hen wanders past and gets a faceful of dirt. The protestations can be heard from the house.

Kiki is broody, so ignoring all of the activity. I turfed her out while the Palace was moved, and she diligently kept pace with it as it was transported up the garden. As soon as it was landed, she sprinted back up to her nest box. I imagine that when she finally wakes up from her maternal spell, she'll look about her at the cavernous Palace and go 'Huh?! Where am I?!'.

Something, while up to my elbows in chicken poo, I often ask myself.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Palace Is On The Move

The chooks are now happily settled in to their new abode. They adore the run perches, and scratching about in the aubiose. However, they are less enamoured of the sleeping area. The coop is huge compared to what they're used to, and very, very dark. When they need to lay, they timidly scuttle in to the nearest nest box from the pop hole, expel the egg and then run hell for leather back outside. Only the newly broody (again) Kiki shows any willing to spend time in the spacious indoors. At night, Margot goes in to join her flockmate, but the others snuggle up on an outside perch.

So, at dusk, I trek out to the Palace, and stuff birds in to the pop hole. One by one, I shove them inside. As they're in their sleepy trance state at this point, they don't happily wander over to the indoor perches. They stay plonked just inside the door. As subsequent birds are deposited, the preceeding hen is shunted across the coop floor. What you end up with, is a hypnotised conga line of chickens. I then turn a torch on inside the house, which wakes them up a bit. The sensible Mille's shake themselves and climb aboard the perch block. Doris slowly comes round and joins them. Maeve's first instinct on waking up is to duff up Celia and Purdy, who leg it in to the furthest nest box. Once all of this has calmed down, I turn off the torch and lock them in. I'm really hoping that they get over this fear of the great indoors quite rapidly.

The Palace was always destined to stand on the new patio. However, after just a few days it's become apparent that it needs to move. Much as I love hens, they are not tidy creatures. Within minutes of being released, they tend to kick bedding out of the door and poo a lot. The ever tolerant husband made an executive decision, and began digging out the border. I frantically removed plants before they fell foul of his spade and hurried to replant them in a safer place. The girls watched all of this activity from their lofty vantage point, occassionally shrieking encouragement. The ever tolerant husband just loves being serenaded.

By early evening, he had managed to lay four enormous paving slabs, and called it a day. As soon as he went inside to clean up, I released the chooks. With great joy, they ran/flapped over to the newly excavated ground and happily ate their own body weight in bugs. Unfortunately, in doing so, they managed to scratch earth everywhere and half bury the painstakingly layed slabs. Ahem. I hurriedly excavated the site with my foot.

The Convent was sold yesterday, for the amazing price of £122. The buyer was so keen, he actually drove an hour along the motorway to collect it as soon as the auction finished. I watched it go with a mixture of relief (Yay! My garden back!) and sadness. After all, it was the coop that began my chicken keeping journey.

I wish its new owners well as they begin theirs.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The First Night

I contacted Smiths yesterday after updating this blog to enquire about putting the hens in to the freshly creocoted Palace. I was informed that as soon as it was dry, they could move in. So, at seven o'clock last night, they did.

I eagerly prepared the shiny new coop for the chooks first night. They watched the activity from afar, apparently unconcerned by this new development. I very much doubt that they expected the new structure to have anyting to do with them. Boy, were they in for a surprise.

Once everything was ready, I threw in a handful of corn and called them. They came thundering up the garden, before coming to a comedy stop at the threshold of the new pad. Some low level chuntering passed from the hens at the front (Maude and Maeve) to those at the back (Mabel and Kiki). Most opted for a slow backwards retreat. However, Doris was hungry, and shot in to the run to grab a beakful of grain. Maeve sauntered after her, looking around the fabulous new addition to my chicken keeping empire. She half heartedly scratched in the bedding, before nonchalantly turning back for the door. At the same time, Doris decided to vacate. It started out quite sedately, and ended in a mad dash across the patio. Not sure what spooked them, but they were definitely disturbed. So, there was nothing else for it.

I darted about the garden, grabbing hens and stuffing them in to the coop. Finishing with the chooklets (who were stuffed in to a nest box), I stood back and waited for the girls to emerge. Ten minutes later, I was still waiting. Some bokking could be heard from the bedroom area, but not so much as a beak passed the open pop hole. I decided to make myself a cup of tea.

When I returned, I saw Maude emerging from the house. She stood at the top of the ramp, doing that curious 'head up, head down' thing that all chickens do when trying to suss out their environment. She darted her head all about, taking in the roof and walls, before elegantly leaping on to one of the external perches. Shaking herself, she let out a loud bok-ARK. Maude had obviously been chosen as the scout chicken. Finding the coast clear, she gave the signal. The others began to emerge.

They spent the next hour or so exploring the grounds of the palace. Every so often, someone would attempt to fly up to the roof, no doubt checking the security features. So engrossed in this were they, that the chooklets were largely left alone. Only when Celia refused to vacate the space on the perch which Mabel felt was rightly the top hens spot did she get a bit of feather pulling, but on the whole it has been quite tame. Relieved, I retreated to the human house to eat biscuits.

At half eight, I went out to check on them. Strangely, the daft silkies were the only birds to go in to the house to sleep. I found them wedged in to a nest box. This was a surprise, because in my experience the silkie girls have the combined intelligence of a crisp packet. Maeve had occupied a neighbouring box when first introduced to the Palace, and had stubbornly refused to move. Outside, on a perch, I found five snoozing pekins. Chook by chook, I placed them on the internal perch block. Being in that curious half asleep/hypnotised state, they allowed me to do so without a sound. I closed the pop hole, and crossed my fingers.

My alarm went off at 7 this morning, and I eagerly went out to open the coop. Not a sound. With a dark dread I opened the main door, imagining lots of creocoted to death chooks. Eight hens stared back at me, blinking in to the light. The coop is very, very dark. This is very, very good. Hopefully, the false night will keep the gobby hens quiet. Within the hour, all of the girls (even Maeve) had made their way downstairs to get some breakfast. They are staying in today, just to get them totally used to their new house., and so that they can redecorate a bit.

Moving day is always a bit stressful.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Chook Palace Has Arrived!!!

So, the day has finally come. The magnificent Chook Palace has finally arrived. After months of researching, planning, umming and aahing, and wheedling, my ladies have their posh pad. I have to say, I am rather pleased with it.

I had planned on moving the girls in immediately, but it is still a bit wet from its dip in a large vat of creosote substitute. Therefore, unless it dries out really quickly today, it'll be tomorrow before my girls can officially take up residence. They are studiously ignoring it at the moment, although I suspect that Maeve's curiosity will get the better of her before long.

In other news, I managed to wedge the pop hole well and truly shut last night, so we were not woken by the squawking silkies. They have won themselves a brief reprieve. I trekked around to all the neighbours yesterday, issuing heartfelt apologies and boxes of eggs in equal measure. Hopefully, this damage limitation means that there will be no official complaints.

I am dying to decorate the new Convent.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Is The End Nigh?

Kiki woke the ever tolerant husband up at 5.15 this morning. He in turn woke me up, and I dragged myself down to the coop in a semi conscious state. I asked the ever tolerant husband to shut the pop hole last night, but he obviously was unaware of the silkies house breaking abilities. If the door is even slightly ajar, they use their beaks as a crow bar and escape. Hence the dawn shrieking.

I eyeballed the gobby hen. She looked back at me. I grabbed her and stuffed her unceremoniously back in to the coop, firmly closing the door. Returning to bed, I had a lovely two hours of lying anxiously, awaiting an understandably furious neighbour at the door. No knock came, but this cannot continue.

With a heavy heart, I informed our youngest child that the silkies might have to be rehomed. Many tears followed. The new chook palace is coming tomorrow, and this has put a dampener on it. When the pop hole is securely closed, the Convent is pitch black inside. This keeps the girls sleeping. The new house is well vented, which means that there will be more internal light. My fear is that the silkies might take up singing and dancing even when confined. And dawn is, well, dawning ever earlier.

This morning, I was adament that the gobby duo would have to leave. However, in the bright sunshine, watching them sunbathe with the rest of the flock, I have my doubts. The early morning serenades only began when the coop was moved on to the grass for the patio work to be completed. I suppose its feasible that once installed in the new coop, they will settle. Hmmm.

Rehoming the silkies will be awful. Yet not as awful as the penny dropping with the ever tolerant husband that if the flock shrinks by two, the chook palace becomes unnecessary. Oh dear.