Sunday, 29 August 2010

It Has All Worked Out Brilliantly

Yesterday was a very odd day for me. The peeps and the silkies were all rehomed with wonderful new owners within a matter of hours. While I knew that the silkies were going, the rapid leaving of the peeps was a bit of a shock. It shouldn't be, really, because a tiny pekin chick is just about the cutest thing ever next to a kitten, but still. They left home at five weeks of age, which is surely a record. The frizzle left first, and is now named Hedwig. The lavender and the black went to the same marvellous home as the silkies, and are now known as Beau and Peep. I wish them all long, happy, hen filled lives. I heard this morning that the silkies have slotted in seamlessly to their new flock, and are being courted by a silkie cockerel who can't believe his luck. I hope that they have found their best fit home.

So, last night I found myself shutting my six pekin girls in to the suddenly cavernous Palace. They were completely unmoved by the silkies departure, and things have certainly got a lot quieter in the back garden. I happily cleaned and disinfected the brooder in preparation for today. Because today, my frizzle came home.

I woke up this morning with that bubbly, excited feeling in my stomach. I joyously roused the rest of the household, and grinned my way through opening the coop and making breakfast. At this point my bubble was well and truly burst. My eldest child was unwell, and definitely not up to a 180 mile round trip to the breeder. I could have cried, or at the very least thrown a very unattractive tantrum.

Once again, the amazing ever tolerant husband stepped in, and with barely a grimace swept out of the house with the youngest on a mission to collect my frizzle. He is my hero. Two hours later, my youngest called me to say that my frizzle and a new white hen were on their way home. I might have danced around the kitchen at this point, but to be honest I can't remember. I eagerly awaited their return, and at long last they pulled in to the drive. I rushed out to catch my first glimpse.

I fell in love at first sight. My black pekin frizzle will henceforth be known as Gladys, and her white smooth feathered pal has been named Hilda by the youngest. They are absolutely gorgeous. Within minutes of being introduced in to their new home, they were exploring and eating out of our hands. They are marvellously friendly. Gladys is pleasingly scruffy, and as soft as a feather duster. Hilda is so white she hurts your eyes, although I suspect that over the coming winter months that will be rectified.

I am over the moon.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Moving Day

Right now, at this moment, I have eleven chickens secreted about the place. By the end of the day, I should have only six or seven. Yes, today the silkies are going to their new home, and taking a boy chick with them. The lavender lad, aka the marvellously inappropriate 'Penelope', is moving out at the tender age of five weeks. Just before he leaves home, though, the black frizzle will be tripping off to his new home in the Derbyshire peaks, where he will no doubt rule the roost and have a brilliant time. That leaves me with just the little black chick.

The straight feathered black chap was the first to hatch, and up until just two weeks ago showed all the signs of being a girl. (Mind you, so did the lavender. It appears that feather sexing is not the most reliable way of sexing baby pekins). I had a suspicion that the black lad would be the hardest to rehome. He doesn't have the wow factor of the exploding frizzle, and he isn't the appealing colour of the lavender (who I suspect will be truly stunning as an adult). However, I shall persevere. Just this morning, I recieved an email in response to an ad asking if I still had any pekin cockerels. I have replied, bigging up the little dude, so here's hoping.

The timing of all this moving out is particularly fortuitous. Tomorrow, the amazing ever tolerant husband will drive me nearly ninety miles to the pekin breeder, where I will finally get my mitts on a pekin frizzle. She is eleven weeks old, and black, and definitely a girl! The youngest is allowed to pick her a straight feathered friend, so expect pics early next week. I am super excited, and the knowledge that I will soon have chicks I can keep is keeping me chipper for the inevitable sadness of saying goodbye to the peeps.

It's all go.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Maeve Bounces Back

I'm very pleased to report that Maeve seems none the worse for wear after her exorcist moment. When I checked her crop the next morning, it was empty but slightly stretched. I fed her some sloppy pellet porridge for breakfast, which she devoured, and then kept an eye on her for the rest of the morning. When I saw her produce a particularly large poo, I knew that her crop must be emptying. With relief, I let her out with the others. She strutted from the coop, ruffled her feathers, and growled at me. Giving me the evil eye, she waltzed off in to the shrubbery. No doubt if she had fingers, she'd have been making some very interesting signs with them. Ungrateful cow. I've watched her closely, and she is back to her usual, narky self. Bless her.

I have advertised the peeps as free to a good home. Every day, I hope that the phone will ring and that the person on the end will have a burning need for a boy chicken to keep their girls company. Of course, this person will also live on a lovely smallholding, which will be a sort of chicken paradise. The chosen cockerel will live a long, disease free life, and email me weekly. As far fetched as this sounds, I have in fact found just such a home for the silkies.

Yes, the silkies are heading for pastures new. I have mixed feelings to be honest. I am glad that they are going to such a wonderful home, and also that I will still get to hear how they're doing from time to time. Yet I feel awful, crushing guilt about rehoming them at all. The thought of having to give up any of my other girls makes me feel slightly nauseaous, though, so I know that my own sense of failure should not stop me doing right by the fluffy ones. Hopefully their new owner will adore them the way that they deserve to be adored, rather than finding them vaguely baffling.

On a more positive note, I'd like to announce that I have today ordered two new pekin ladies. At least one will be frizzled. I'll have to wait a few weeks before my new girls will be ready, so I have time to find the peeps their new accomodation.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Emergency ASBO

Maeve decided to throw me a curve ball today. While I stood at the sink, refilling the drinker, I noticed that Maeve had something stuck to her face. A white something. A white something that made her look like the 'Phantom of the Opera'. Odd. I went outside to investigate.

As I got closer, I decided that she must have walked in to some cuckoo spit. It was exactly the same texture and consistency. Moving my hand to wipe it away, Maeve yawned expansively and coughed up more of the weird white stuff. That's not good. I have never seen a hen vomit, in fact I wasn't sure that they could, but Maeve was having a damn good go.

Grabbing the small black chook, I peered down her throat. Her throat muscles were in constant motion, and her crop felt hard. My first thought was poisoning. I frantically tried to think if there was any way that she could have got a hold of any slug pellets/rose fertiliser/garden lime. I grabbed her by the legs, and held her upside down. I have never done this in two years of chicken keeping, but vaguely remembered reading it was a fast way to clear the crop. I massaged the lump in her crop, stroking it down towards her beak. More mucus was gradually expelled, getting thicker. Every few minutes, I righted her and gave her time to calm down. This wasn't pleasant for either of us. Suddenly, there was some long pieces of grass all wrapped around each other and some mashed up pellets at the back of her throat. I gently reached in and pulled it free.

All the while I was doing this, I was watching Maeve carefully. Her face got darker at this point, and I quickly righted her and soothed her panic. Deciding that enough was enough, I took her straight to the vet.

The vet concluded that her crop was only about a quarter full, and with luck the remaining blockage would pass on its own. He wanted to keep her in over night for observation, but I opted to bring her home. A vet's holding room, full of cats and dogs, is not exactly a stress free environment for a prey animal. At home, she should be less stressed and recover more quickly. He also wanted to give her antibiotics because of the mucus, but as she's just finished a course of Tylan along with the other girls, I declined.

The rest of the flock have been banished from the Palace until bedtime, and Maeve is pacing the run with only the drinker and grit for company. She is alert and active, which is a good sign, and even growled at me when I went out to check on her just now. That's my girl.

However, the vet has planted a seed of worry in my brain. He mentioned the fact that the lump in her crop might be a physical issue, such as a tumour. He seemed quite keen on whipping his scalpel out to investigate. After losing Mini to anaesthetic, I am extremely reluctant to put any of my girls through such an invasive procedure.

So now I'm hoping that this is a fluke event, never to be repeated, and not the beginning of a severe problem.

(By the way, I have since been informed that hanging a bird upside down to clear the crop is not a good idea. Far better to hold the bird upright and stroke the crop upwards. The method I used makes it more likely that the bird will choke. I am lucky I didn't kill her)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

All Change

Things are changing in the Palace. After a year of silkie ownership, I have to finally confess to not being that keen. I have tried to find the silkie sisters endearing, or sweet, or charming, but it's not happening. They are either broody (which is fair enough), or running laps around the garden squawking their heads off and sounding like deranged turkeys (which isn't). The pekins have always stayed somewhat aloof from the manic feather dusters, and I have made my decision. Kiki and Margot are being rehomed.

I think the main problem is that I adore my pekins. I love the way they stand barely 6 inches tall, yet have the self importance of an ostrich. I admire their feisty, narky attitude. Watching them waddle about the garden at high speed after a tasty bug makes me smile. The haughty expression on their faces if I catch them in the greenhouse endears them to me each and every time (the vandals). The fact that Maeve (aka ASBO chicken) openly growls at me, who must look like a giant to her, if I dare to block out her light when she's sunbathing is, quite frankly, brilliant. In short, I have found my poultry best fit. And it is a small bird with a ginormous personality.

In comparison, the silkies seem rather dim. Actually, that's me being generous. They are skittish, highly strung and prone to screaming fits for no apparent reason. I can't detect any discernable personalities. To be fair, this is probably because they have spent a great deal of time pancaked in the nest box. However, they have never really calmed down to the human presence. They panic if the children go outside to play, unlike the majestic pekins who stroll away nonchalantly when a football comes barrelling towards them. Indeed, the pekins have even been known to tolerate rides on skateboards, or being carted around the garden by the youngest while he prattles away about bakugan. All has been tolerated with dignity. The silkies don't enjoy this attention at all.

So, I have advertised the silkies for sale. With any luck, they will be rehomed with someone who can make use of their broody abilities and who truly loves the breed. They will go together, and although the youngest is a bit put out (Kiki is officially his bird), I think that the neighbours will throw a party.

In other rehoming news, the peeps have all been confirmed as boys. I have also advertised them, and hope that I can manage to find them all homes before they commence doodling. They come off heat this week, so hopefully there are three new homes waiting with harems for my chaps. I am visiting them at a bare minimum, and hope that it won't be too heart wrenching to see them go.

I won't be hatching any more this year, if at all. If I decide to replace the silkies (who am I kidding? If?) I am hoping to source some young females. I will allow the youngest to pick one, as his new hen. Secretly, he still hankers after Belinda, and I hope that I can find him a suitable replacement.

I am still hoping for a frizzle.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Summer Rain

Not long after I wrote the last entry, we had a rather spectacular thunderstorm. I sat in the kitchen with friends, drinking a lovely cup of tea, having a nice chat and watching the monsoon through the patio doors. It was a serious downpour, and the patio was soon under a skim of water. Oooh, I thought, that's impressive. The bathroom fitter wandered in and told me that the garage was a bit flooded. This isn't unusual, as we often get some water under the garage door. I blithely shrugged it off.

This was a mistake, it turns out. The garage was under several inches of water, which explains why the bathroom fitter looked at me like I was crackers when I smiled and nodded instead of rushing outside with a bucket. When my friends left, a good twenty minutes later, I thought perhaps I ought to check on the peeps.

I found them literally splashing about in their brooder. The woodshavings had expanded, making a deep, waterlogged mire. The peeps were bravely battling the elements, being tossed about by the tide in my garage. With a shriek I grabbed them up. They all looked at me in an interested sort of way, and then attempted to take off back to their watery assault course. The cat carrier was near to hand, so I threw in some dry wood sahvings and deposited the protesting peeps. Once they were safely placed on the kitchen table, next to the radiator, they instantly fell asleep. Far too much excitement for one afternoon.

The ever tolerant husband sprinted home from work, and we set about sweeping our new indoor pool out in to the drain. Several telephone directories were employed in helping to mop up the residue, and I put the heat lamp on full to dry out the brooder area. After two hours of very wet work, I could return the peeps to their mostly dry abode. They seem unharmed by their paddle, thankfully, but have since learned to fly. Probably wise.

Doris has a slightly swollen eyelid, and I am watching her with mild concern. After everything that happened with poor Mini, I am reluctant to even consider that this might be the same kind of infection. My past experiences have led me to immediately consider the worst. However, the other girls all seem healthy, and Doris is no longer coughing, so it's a case of fingers crossed.

I did find a broken egg in the nest box this morning. The shell appeared to be just membrane, so I'm assuming that this is my first 'softy'. Eggs are sometimes laid without a hard shell, although this is more common in a hen just coming in to lay or a hen nearing the end of her laying life. I'm not sure of the culprit, and all seem well enough. I'm thinking it could be Purdy, who is over her broody spell, or Mabel, who has been strange with her alying habits for a while.

We shall see.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Some Good News, And Some Not So Good News

First, the good news. Doris seems to be responding well to the Tylan. At least, she is not getting worse and I can't hear any wheezing. The incarcerated ladies are bearing up quite well considering, restraining their protests until they clap eyes on me. I am once again scuttling about beneath window ledges in a bid to keep the peace. It's a case of cruel to be kind, however, so I am persevering.

The not so good news concerns the chicks. They are three weeks old today, and I took some more pics last night.

Chick 1.

Chick 2.

Chick 3.

As you can see, the lavender chick is looking rather red, comby and wattley. Unfortunately, the other two also look like they're heading the same way. I posted these pics on Twitter, where I have some followers who are much more experienced with chick sexing than me, and it seems that I might have three boys. Bah. I am most disappointed, especially as I was hoping to have just the one cockerel. It'll be another week before I can be totally sure, but the signs aren't good. The lavender chick is back to being Chick 2, and I am deliberately trying to distance myself from all three.

Not the best start to hatching.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Another Round Of Myco?

The weather is glorious here at the moment. Usually, the hens would be out from sun up to sun down, rearranging my planting schemes and sunbathing. Not this week, though. Because Doris is coughing.

After last nights human meal, I had some mashed potatoes and noodles left over. This is a feast for the chooks, who go absolutely crackers for mash. They bury their entire heads in it, and when the dish has been picked clean, nibble it from each other. It is always a joyous occassion. So, the eldest child took the treat bowl outside, and sat down to watch the show. After a few minutes, I was called outside because Doris was coughing. And she was. She was gobbling down pulverised spud at a rate of knotts, and then occassionally hacking as if she was on forty a day. At first I assumed pure chickenny greed, and that the daft bird was gorging herself and was going to be sick. However, I've never seen a chicken vomit. In fact, I'm not sure that they can.

Grabbing hold of her for a closer look, I could hear her wheezing. She was breathing heavily with her beak open, and when I put my ear to her back I could hear the tell tale 'clicking' that suggests respiratory infection. Looking her in the eye, I noticed some slight bubbling. All classic signs of a mild mycoplasma infection. Arse.

With a heavy heart, I plonked the poorly girl back on to the lawn. She let out a hoarse 'bok-ARK' just to show her displeasure, and I trudged back to the house to root out the Tylan. Doris is the eldest child's hen, and understandably he is anxious. Since the sad loss of Mini back in January, the girls have been hale and hearty. This is a disappointing set back. However, we have had mild myco outbreaks before that have responded well to Tylan, so my fingers are crossed. The hens are relegated to the Palace for the next few days, to avoid them slurping out of puddles. They aren't overly keen on the Tylanised water, but if all other options are removed, they have to drink it.

This morning, Doris is not wheezing. She is eating, reluctantly drinking, preening and dust bathing. All in all, she seems in good health. None of the other hens are showing obvious signs. With a bit of luck, by the weekend, everyone will be infection free.

Much hand washing is occurring before I go near the chicks.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Summer's In Full Swing

The hens are very busy at the moment. There is a lot of new plant growth to eat, a greenhouse to vandalise and mysterious peepings from the garage that need to be investigated. Not to mention the extremely tall human walking about and making horrendous noises with various power tools (we are having the bathrooms replaced). Only some of them are busy laying eggs, though.

Purdy is still in her broody trance, shrieking at anyone who gets too close. The soppy silkie sisters have laid about fifteen eggs between them, and then returned to broodiness. Sigh. The others are picking up the slack like the troopers that they are, although Mabel seems to be having a bit of a problem.

For the last month or two, I have occassionally found an egg in the run, or on the coop floor. It's taken a while to work out who the culprit is, but it's now clear that it's the mighty Mabel. I am most puzzled. The other girls are using the nest boxes and there is no sign or red mite. I frequently see Mabel sitting in the nest box, yet she rarely leaves her egg there any more. I'm beginning to wonder if she is unaware that the egg is somehow following her out of the nest. A sort of egg incontinence. I have given her the once over, and can find no obvious injury or weakness, so it remains a mystery. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

The chicks are growing up scarily fast. My plan is to sell the suspected boy and girl black chicks as a pair, and to keep the lavender. That is if it proves to be a girl. Despite feathering up fastest, and having a very ladylike manner, it does have more of a comb than the other female. So we shall wait and see.

If the lavender is a girl, it will be staying. And named Penelope.