Friday, 31 December 2010

So, That Was 2010

Happy New Year! Nearly. As we approach the end of 2010, I find myself looking back at an eventful year in chicken keeping. This year, I lost my beloved Mini which was rubbish, but hatched my first ever chicks, which was amazing. I said goodbye to the Convent, and hello to the amazing Palace. I waved the Silkie sisters off to their fab new home, and welcomed four new girls. One of which was my much coveted frizzle. I performed emergency first aid on ASBO Chicken and kept all of my fingers (I am particularly proud of that). Yep, it's been interesting.

So, what does 2011 have in store? It's probably best that I don't know to be honest. I find that things run more smoothly if disasters are sprung upon me rather than giving me time to panic. Doris is currently sporting another bubbly eye minus any other symptoms. Rather than running off to the vet, I've decided to ignore the attention seeking faker and see if it miraculously improves. Just so that you don't think I am completely heartless, you should know that Doris has form. She also has a massive amount of tonic in her drinking water right now.

I hope this year has been kind to you, and that 2011 is downright generous.

Maeve aka ASBO Chicken and her incredible swivelling neck.

Gladys at her frizzly best.

Purdy, the only layer at time of writing (so she's my favourite).

Doris, Maeve and Mabel.

A super curious Hilda.

My beautiful Maude.

Purdy and Mabel.

Hilda demolishing my alpine trough. Sigh.

Celia was knocking about, but managed to evade the camera. Her broodiness seems to be over. At long bloody last.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Thaw

The snow has finally departed. We are now left with a boggy quagmire where the back garden should be. Even the very air is saturated, and the thick fog adds a deeply unfestive gloom. The hens all look like they're sporting wet look gel in their feathers and squelch forlornly across the lawn in search of bugs. It's nice to see them emerge from the Palace, even if conditions are less than favourable. Although there is something rather majestic about a short, shuffling chicken emerging from the fog.

Wet, muddy conditions are a pain in the neck when it comes to pekins. Their beautiful foot feathers get clogged up with balls of mud which have to be gently soaked away so as to not cause serious foot problems. Luckily for me, my girls are pretty sensible and dislike getting their feet dirty. After a brief foray, they can be seen perched in the run fastidiously cleaning their feathers. I still check their feet regularly during the winter. It is a problem which can easily be rectified if spotted early, and a real welfare concern. Many pekin breeders who show never let their birds free range for this reason (plus broken foot feathers from digging up your plants looks scruffy). Personally, I'd rather give the odd pedicure and have them careering about the place.

During the summer months, the chooks use various inconsiderate places to dust bath. Barely a pot or container is left undisturbed in their efforts to beautify themselves. During the cold/snow/frozen ground/muddy months, things get a bit trickier. I have run out of clean, dry dustbathing materials and the girls are not happy. In fact, so great is Purdy's displeasure that she decided to bathe herself in the soggy border. She is now stalking about the garden looking like someone has used her to clean around a U-bend. Spikey, scrawny and covered in mud, I can't help thinking that this was not the effect she was aiming for. Every so often she strectches up and flaps her wings, sending arcs of sloppy mud flying across the rest of the flock. They mutter offendedly and shuffle further away from the skanky hen.

I will be buying some play sand in the morning.

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Christmas Miracle

Sorry for the lack of posts, but it is Christmas. Plus I'm still shaking off the vestiges of woman-flu/pleurisy, so my blog writing has had to take a bit of a back seat. You'll be pleased to hear, though, that now I'm back to update you all on the flock news!

You may recall that the freeloading feather bags haven't actually laid me an egg in months. Well, that all changed on Christmas Eve when Purdy decided to break the drought. I was so surprised to see an egg in the nest box that at first I thought it was a mirage. I reached out for the small-yet-perfectly-formed egg half expecting to clutch at empty air. Purdy watched the egg collection with interest, clearly expecing a medal, or at the least a handful of raisins. I did not disappoint her and snuck her some treats. She strutted about the run with a distinct self satisfied air which did not go unnoticed.

Celia proved that her broody psychosis is completely irrational by ignoring the actual, real egg and instead attempting to hatch woodshavings. I am no nearer to curing Celia of her madness and while there is still snow on the ground I doubt that I will. As long as she is eating and drinking I just have to cross my fingers that she'll remain strong enough to get through the winter, because as soon as spring hits that hen needs a bath and her toenails clipping. Never the most vain of hens, Celia is beginning to resemble Rab.C. Nesbitt. To be fair, though, none of the hens have been able to dust bath in the frozen earth. As soon as the roads are passable I will be heading out to buy some sand/compost so that they can clean themselves. Due to my illness I haven't been spending nearly as much time with my girls as I'd like, and I can't help fretting.

I hope you've all had a good Christmas.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Twelve Days Of Christmas, Madchickenlady Style

On the twelfth day of Christmas my chickens gave to me:

12 hatching eggs
11 weeks broody
10 (very nearly)
9 bins of compost
8 hens a-squawking
7 sane non-broodies
6 eggs on average
5 trips to the vet!
4 new girls
3 peeping chicks
2 attempts to hatch
...and an ASBO Chicken in the Palace!

Please don't judge. I'm stuck on the sofa with an illness and have had a lot of time on my hands.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Congratulations! It's A Nest Box!

You know that hen who went broody in September? Just as it started to get cold and miserable? Celia? Guess what? She is still broody. Yes, hard as it is to believe, the insane silver partridge is still firmly welded to the nest. I have had various attempts at breaking the spell, but she just plays along until I think she's cured and then legs it up the ramp as soon as I turn my back. I'm beginning to wonder if her software needs a reboot.

I've had determined broodies before, but generally the psychosis sets in during a more rational time of the year. Such as the spring or summer. As temperatures are plummeting well in to the minuses here in the midlands, I have to wonder just how crackers Celia is. No rational hen would consider these conditions perfect for rearing chicks in. The fact that she hasn't even had an egg to sit on in weeks and weeks is also perplexing. Usually a broody only stays broody for any length of time if she can find eggs to sit on/steal. Curiously, Celia doesn't seem interested in eggs. I have come to the conclusion that the little oddball is trying to hatch the nest box.

If I shut her out, she chunters with distress for a bit before joining the rest of the flock on a foray about the garden. As soon as able, though, she's back in to her beloved nest. The rest of the hens ignore her having obviously written her off as loopy. She is eating and drinking, and her overall condition is good. Apart from her tummy/chest feathers, which have taken on a bit of a wavy appearance what with being rubbed in to wood shavings for hours and hours a day.

If the weather was warmer, I would dunk her in a bucket of water and then broody cage her. However, with the cold being quite extreme the first option would be animal cruelty and even the second option leaves her at risk of not making it through the night. So I have devised a cunning plan. Her favoured nest box is the one nearest the pop hole. Tomorrow morning I am going to block it off. Now, she might just move next door which will be a little annoying (but not a major issue because none of the hens are currently laying. I could just shut down the whole nest box wing of the Palace). But if like I suspect she is actually mothering nest box number four, she might come to her senses.

Well, I can hope.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Palace Is Suitably Adorned

Now that the snow and ice have made a temporary retreat, the ever tolerant husband and I got outside this morning to clean the Palace run. The girls took the opportunity to have some time rampaging around the garden which was lovely to see. The poor things haven't left the Palace in over a week. They don't do the cold, white stuff. The garden has gone from a scene of serene, beautiful winter to a recreation of the Somme. I'm sure I used to have a lawn under the mud somewhere.

On a happier note, may I present the unveiling of the Palace's fab new sign:

A very talented Twitter friend made it for me, and I love it.

That's Mabel and Maude starring in paint form. The Mighty Mille's deserve recognition.

I am ridiculously pleased with it, and have deliberately placed it on the end of the Palace which gets the least sunlight to prevent fading. It's also visible from the kitchen, and every time I see it I grin. The ever tolerant husband is bemused but glad that I am no longer hassling him to make me a sign.

Now for the solar powered fairy lights.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

One Flew Over The Chicken's Nest

I've been keeping hens for two and a half years at this stage and consider myself to have a fairly good grasp as to what it involves. I have dealt with illnesses and deaths, injuries and bullying, and even the world famous ASBO Chicken's cowbag mood swings. On the whole, I thought I'd seen it all. So imagine my surprise when I looked out of the kitchen window earlier to see a chicken sitting on the roof of the greenhouse.

At first I thought I must be mistaken. Surely that vague chicken shape was merely melting snow inching its way down the glass? Erm, no. That would be Hilda the white pekin. Sitting on the greenhouse roof. Looking rather startled.

I barely paused to tug on my boots before legging it down the garden. As I left the house, I shrieked for the ever tolerant husband over my shoulder. The greenhouse is eight foot high at its peak, and Hilda was sitting on the glass roof very near the ridge. After my mad dash down the garden I found myself clueless as to how to proceed. Hilda peered down at me with interest while the ever tolerant husband stood in the door way hardly believeing his eyes.

Pekins can't fly. It's a basic fact of the breed. Their stubby wings and rotund bodies can at best manage a sort of flapping jump. I have never clipped a pekins wings for this reason. Yet here was Hilda, somehow having scaled at least seven feet. Now I may have mentioned that I didn't think that Hilda was the best example of a pekin. She has limited foot feathering and a rather pointed tail, none of which is desirable in the breed. However I have no intention of breeding or showing my birds, so I can happily overlook these things without any consequence. Or so I thought. Because apparently Hilda's non-Pekin-ness means that she can get some serious height in to her flight.

As I stood there, vaguely formulating a plan involving a broom, Hilda began to move. The snow that she had landed on was inching its way like a glacier towards the edge of the roof. At first she didn't seem to notice and carried on watching me in an interested sort of way. As momentum built she adopted that long necked, comically startled expression that chooks do so well. She began her squawk just as she slid in to grabbable distance, and I managed to rescue the errant hen before she ski jumped from the roof in to the roses. It wasn't the best save in the world, as Hilda ended up upside down and hanging on to my thumb by one claw, but at least she wasn't buried under the avalanche her descent had created.

I righted the adventurous chicken and she seemed no worse for wear from her ordeal. The ever tolerant husband tried unsuccessfully to suppress a guffaw and made a passing remark about 'You've Been Framed'. Hilda stalked back in to the coop with her head held high, clearly trying to preserve her dignity. As all of the other hens had watched proceedings from the run perches, I closed the door after her so that she wouldn't attempt to fly south for the winter. I can only assume that the covering of snow made her think that the greenhouse roof was a legitimate landing strip.

Hilda may need grounding.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Seriously Unimpressed

When I look out in to my garden, I see a six inch covering of snow. Everything is white and sparkly and beautiful. Icicles hang from the Palace's roof and frosted spiders webs decorate the fence. Where once there was water there is now ice. And where once there were eight chickens pootling about the garden there are now....well, no chickens pootling about the garden.

The chooks are refusing point blank to engage with the weather in any way, shape or form. They make brief excursions out in to the run to eat and drink, but that's it. The rest of the time they are holed up in the coop no doubt muttering darkly about the lack of sunshine and heat. I make frequent visits to break the ice in the drinker and check on my feathered friends. No amount of bribery will bring them out of the Palace. I even tried throwing an enticing handful of corn out on to the frozen tundra, but they watched the arc of the treat fly through the air like specatators at Wimbledon and then stared at me. The message was clear: you'll have to do better than that.

Keeping them clean and warm has been a bit of a challenge if I'm honest. The newspaper I use under the perch was frozen to the coop floor this morning and when it finally came loose, peeled off in a solid sheet. Thankfully the copious amount of poo was similairly frozen and adhered to said sheet. I found myself in the strange position of trying to fold this befouled tabloid in to the compost bin. It wasn't as brittle as you'd expect.  The girls watched all of this from the perches in the run and complained bitterly about being temporarily evicted from their quarters. Replacing the paper and perch, I threw in a few handfuls of woodshavings to help with the extra dung being produced by eight housebound hens.

Here's hoping that the arctic conditions let up soon.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Thank Heavens For The Palace

More snow has descended on us overnight. The girls have refused to leave the coop for the third day in a row and only venture out to grab food and water. This is my first winter with the Palace, and I have to say I am hugely grateful for it. Last winter I spent hours clearing the Convent's run and weighing down tarpaulin to keep the chooks dry and draught free. Now I don't have to do anything except defrost the drinker regularly. The Palace is worth every penny.

If you look carefully, you will see eight small hens scoffing porridge.

The snow has dared to breach the Palace run walls, but the hens are ignoring it.

Obviously bored of waiting for me to sort out some festive decorations, the Palace has provided its own. And very nice they are too.

I am not sponsored by Smiths Sectional Buildings, but I would highly recommend them if you're looking for good quality housing.

If anyone from Smiths is reading this, I am not adverse to being sponsored and being paid in chocolate. Ahem.