Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Chicken Catastrophe No. 279632 - Live

Well, this is novel. I am writing this in the midst of a genuinely distressing chicken related catastrophe. Oh no, don't worry. All ten inhabitants of the Palace are hale and hearty. It is yours truly who is suffering right now. Relieved, aren't you?

Yes, I am suffering. Why, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. It's because I have actual chicken poo in my hair and I can't right now wash it. Yes, you read that right. Actual, authentic chicken crap. In my hair. How, you ask? Why, let me elaborate.

About an hour ago, I decided to clean out the hens. I donned my trusty chicken cleaning coat, my garden shoes and the puppy. Tethering said puppy to the outside tap, I got on with it. I picked up the perch block and relaised my hands were wet. Looking down, I saw that the perch block was somewhat...splattered. Lovely. But being the trooper that I am, I wiped my hands and soldiered on. Now, it's windy here today in the midlands, and the newspapers and debris was blowing about a fair bit. I battled with the coop door getting it closed as a particularly frisky gust tore through the garden. But eventually, all was clean, secure and dealt with. I fetched the puppy and came inside where I immediately scrubbed my hands with half a dispenser of soap.

Yet I could still smell chicken poo. I checked my clothes, my shoes, the puppy. Nope, no sign. Yet every so often, an unpleasant perfume would waft up at me. With determination, I splashed bleach in the mop bucket and washed the floor. Ha, I thought, now I have conquered the poo where no poo should be. Triumphantly, I tucked my hair behind my ear. And was swiftly smacked in the face with the stench of excrement. Oh. My. God. The wayward poo was IN MY HAIR. I scrubbed at it with a bit of kitchen towel, shuddering. I must have tucked my hair back with a pooey hand without even noticing. Eugh.

I did a little dance of disgust, and was just heading upstairs to the shower when the doorbell went. It was the heating engineer, come to fix the radiator upstairs. An appointment we've waited a month for. So, reader, I let him in. I smiled and was polite. All the time there is poo in my hair. I made him tea. Knowing that less than an inch from my face was the remnents of poultry excrement. And I can't wash it out until the heating engineer leaves. I suppose I could mention to him my predicament and stick my head in the sink, but as he could see my dance of disgust through the window I suspect he already thinks I'm odd. There's no socially acceptable way of mentioning that you have animal faeces on your head.

Right now, reader, as I am writing this post, the puppy is sat on my lap intently sniffing my hair and then looking at me in utter amazement. Even he isn't such a skanky git, and he licks his own bum.

If the engineer doesn't leave soon, I will be forced to shave my head.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Integration Update

The serama have been in the Palace for three nights now, so I guess I'm committed. I peek in to the coop every so often, just to make sure none of the girls have harpooned Betsy to the wall with a specially sharpened talon, and so far so good. In fact, Betsy got quite brave this morning and even dared to make a grab for some stale bread I'd thrown in as a treat. Naturally, she got a sound duffing for her troubles, but her confidence seems to be growing.

Vera seems unbothered by her change of abode. She keeps a sensible distance from the narky pekins, but other than that just gets on with being a small fluffy chicken. Her apparent ease unsettles the pekin ladies. They like to see a bit of reverence and fear in their underlings. Unsure of how to tackle this new development, they tend to ignore Vera and focus their chickenny wrath on Betsy.

Betsy is fast, however. Much, much faster than a pekin in full waddle. She zig zags around her would-be tormentors, squawking her tiny head off. The noise is so astonishing that it frequently stops a pile on in its tracks. Of course, it helps that at this time of year chickens tend to be at their most lethargic. The long nights, the cold and the annual moult tend to put them off their stride somewhat. When I attempted integration in the summer, I had to abandon the idea as the pekins were in full feisty mode and I feared for the seramas' lives. Not now.

Last time, the charge on the miniscule chickens was lead by a fearsome Maeve. Now that we're in December, however, she really can't be bothered. If they wander too close they might get an ASBO Chicken special, aka a shrill growl and a puffing up of feathers. But she can't find the enthusiasm for giving chase of squashing anyone. Without their malevolent General to orchestrate chaos, the others have rather lost the taste for it. Well, all apart from Hilda.

Hilda still looks utterly ridiculous. She is no longer bald, but her sprouting feathers make her look a bit like a shuttlecock that a spiteful cat has been at. She seems to know that she looks like a berk, and to make sure that none of the other hens laugh at her, she has taken to attacking anyone that comes within range. Higher hens in the flock respond in kind, and she is getting in to a lot of fights. Poor Betsy and Vera bear the brunt of her filthy mood. Yet without back up, she is unable to do any real damage, and with Betsy able to run like a roadrunner while making a noise like a foghorn on helium, she's no real threat.

I always planned on having a united flock, so I very much hope that this works out. The serama have much more space in the Palace run than they do in their garage hutch, and they take up so little room they don't really impede on the others' space.

The only one who seems really put out is the pup, who very much enjoyed jumping up at the serama hutch and making them flap.

Friday, 9 December 2011

There Is No Such Thing As Perfect

This is now my mantra. There is no such thing as the perfect garden. I tell myself this as I survey my small outside space and witness the scattered stones, holey borders and lopsided shrubs. Once upon a time, ten small chickens were my garden vandals and the damage was relentless but easy to repair. Now there is a dog. Enough said.

There is no such thing as a perfect hen house. I tell myself this as I climb in to the Palace with a long handled broom to get errant poo from the far corners. To be fair, this is the only criticism I have of the Palace. And really it's my problem. I have stumpy arms.

There is no such thing as a perfect flock. Since the very beginning of my chicken keeping adventure, I have yearned to have a picturesque huddle of hens, all in fine health and feather, arranging themselves artfully around the borders. This does not happen. One hen will always be moulting or purple from Gentian Violet after a punch up. Artful arrangement will go to the wall as they dustbath all of your plants out of existence. And don't get me started on their appalling toilet habits. A hot, sizzling curry poo on the back step in July soon evaporates any ideas of genteel beauty, let me tell you.

There is no such thing as a perfect integration. There will be squawking, and screeching, and someone will end up being systematically sat on by everyone else. I write this knowing that right now that someone is Betsy, as all ten birds are currently shut in the Palace. The weather has turned cold and I'm worried for my delicate serama. If the pekins can grudgingly accept them and let them move in, they will have eight snuggly duvets to hide under. But as I said, no integration is perfect. They may end up back in their hutch after all.

Meh, perfection would probably be dull.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Bald Chicken And A Plummeting Thermometer

Tonight, we're expecting our first properly cold winter temperatures. The forecast is displaying a lonely number 1. Ordinarily, this wouldn't phase me much. This is my third winter with hens and I know that they can tolerate some pretty extreme temperatures. But right now, Hilda is virtually bald. Large patches of pink chicken skin are on display. Her underfluff is non-existant. And that concerns me. Chooks rely on their feathery insulation.

When I posted yesterday about Hilda's rapid derobement, a twitter pal jokingly suggested putting a tea cosy on her. You know, sticking her head through the spout hole. Now, of course that's ridiculous. I mean, it is, right? That would be mad. Of course, like most tea drinking households, we are in possession of a tea cosy. It's considered ironic or something. So, yes, technically I do have the required chicken jumper. But just because I have the hen and the tea cosy doesn't mean I should blend them. That would be daft.

Looking at the tea cosy, it does look about pekin sized. Not that I would, of course. Before we acquired the insane puppy, I might have brought Hilda inside and put her in the downstairs loo. But I feel that would be tempting fate. So Hilda must stay outside. Jumper-less. Even though I have the tea cosy. Right here. In my hand.

I'm just popping outside for a minute.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Hilda's Debut

Hilda, my white pekin, has been broody forever. Well, not quite forever. But a very long time. Despite many attempts by yours truly to dissuade her from sitting on her phantom eggs, she has remained true to her cause. Her stubbornness has proved resolute, and after checking that she was eating and drinking and not losing too much condition, I decided to leave her to it. This was preferable to the constant pecking (her) and swearing (me).

So I was surprised on Monday to see her mooching around the garden with her flockmates. She has made the odd foray in to the garden, but it's usually been at the break neck speed of the fussy broody and involved diving in to the dustbath for a nano second. But here she was, slowly ambling about the lawn with the others and nibbling at the grass. At last, I thought, the dappy bird has realised it's November. Now I'll be able to collect the eggs without gauntlets.

But it seems that common sense was not the reason for Hilda shaking off her broody trance. On Tuesday I noticed the odd white feather in the coop, and it clicked in to place. Hilda was going in to her first moult. Mystery solved, I thought no more about it. So imagine the shock I got when Hilda emerged from the coop this morning, looking like this:

Yep, that is one bald pekin. In fact, she has a completely bald patch on her bum. There is what looks like an oven ready mini chicken sprinting about the garden, possibly in an effort to keep warm.

She has liberally redecorated the coop with her own feathers. Which is probably cosy for the other chooks.

My poor little Hilda is now roosting in the coop to escape the cruel November wind. I'll be adding some poultry spice to the hens' porridge tonight, and hope that she can stay warm enough. I have never had a hen moult so dramatically in such a short space of time. Of course, this weekend we'll see our first frost of the year.

I'll no doubt be trudging across the lawn at 11pm to make sure that the others have tucked her in to the middle of the flock.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

When Two Worlds Collide

The puppy has been here for nearly two months now. The chooks have gone from utter panic every time they catch sight of the crazy mutt to mild annoyance when he leaps at the Palace walls. In fact, now they tend to tell him off in very scolding tones and continue preening/eating/gossiping. He is a slow learner, however, and still likes to leap up and get them flapping. Naturally, this particular integration needs very careful handling. After all, this interloper has a long snout full of teeth and the urge to chase. Even the fearsome ASBO Chicken might have a problem pecking him in to submission. So, operation Desensitise Jasper has begun. It basically involves this:

Sophisticated, huh? Yep, I tether the puppy to the outside tap while I'm cleaning out the hens. The girls avoid him at all costs, and he is rewarded every time I walk past if he is sat quietly and not slathering at the chops with murder in his eyes (Disclaimer: I have never seen murder in his eyes, more 'Ooh! Feathers! Moving! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'). So far, so good. Today was the third time of trying this out, and he barked and fussed much less. Phew.

The girls are watching these developments with a beady eye. I am placating them with tinnned sweetcorn and extra deep bedding. No one has left home yet.

Just to prove that no one has been eaten, here are some pics taken on this grey yet freakily mild November day:

Celia, Maeve and Maude. Only Maude looks her best at the moment, as she moulted a few months ago. For some reason, the camera always turns Celia in to a ghost chicken. As you can see, Maeve is much reduced at the moment, and seriously annoyed about it. Hidden from view in the nest box behind Maeve is a still broody Hilda. Sigh.

My lovely, camera loving Vera.

Flo, almost grown up. The face furniture is reddening nicely, but I'm not expecting any eggs until early next year. You can just see Winnie's flares in the top right corner. She does not like her picture being taken.

Mabel and Betsy are also alive and well, they just were just too busy eating the leftovers of Jasper's breakfast to pose. Revenge is a dish best served from the dog's bowl, it seems.

Jasper munching a raw carrot, while Flo, Winnie and Gladys eat his kibble. That'll teach him.

By the summer, I expect to be able to live in a harmonious household, where chickens and spaniel coexist and share grapes. Maybe.

Monday, 14 November 2011

So, Er, Where's The Winter Then?

As I gaze out of my kitchen window at the chooks sunbathing, I have to keep checking the calendar. It is November, right? Because it feels much more like early September to be honest. The weather is ridiculously mild. I'm sure that this time last year I was trudging through snow to the Palace and defrosting drinkers at 7am. Weird.

In a way, this is a good thing. The moulting masses are benefitting from the balmy conditions instead of snuggling down in to the nest boxes and shivering, for example. But it is confusing. My roses have bloomed again. My summer bedding plants are valiantly flowering on, and the girls are firing out the odd egg while looking puzzled. Generally, my pekins shut up shop for the winter come October. I imagine them sitting on their perches at night, using their talons and wing feathers to count up just how many months since their last egg break.

But it can't last. Every day that we have such mild and pleasant weather, I get more nervous. I will not be lulled in to a false sense of security. It is November. The temperature will plummet. Drinkers will freeze and chickens will shiver. To that end, I have bought in porridge supplies and poultry spice. I've made sure that there is enough woodshavings to see us through should we get hit by a snowy apocolypse. I am even eyeing up a snow shovel in the afternoon sunshine, safe in the knowledge that when the first flake lands I will be prepared.

Do not be fooled, fellow chicken keepers, winter will soon be upon us.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Garden Sharing

Pekins are not very fond of getting their feet wet, so when the weather is inclement they tend to sit on the perches in the run, muttering and fluffed up. One or two daring explorers might leave the shelter of the run for a quick grass scoff, but on the whole they are content to stay within the confines of the Palace. The serama will venture forth in the rain as long as it isn't cold, but their silkie feathers are rubbish at keeping them warm so I have to monitor their excursions. As it is peeing down today, the hens are not bothered in the least by not getting hours of freeranging time. However, when it isn't raining they would much rather be out digging up my borders and pooing on the patio. Naturally.

But now we have the puppy. And the puppy must also have access to the garden. Quick access, unless you want wet feet. So it's a bit of a problem. I had been restricting the pekins free ranging anyway this year in a bid to have some plants, so they had been out for about 4 hours a day. I would often let the serama have longer than that, as the damage they can do to the garden is extremely limited by their tiny stature. This has now been severely cut down.

At present, the birds are getting approximately an hour and a half free range a day. The puppy has a long snooze after the school run, so that's when I let the girls out. However, once he wakes, he needs to pee. So the girls have to be coaxed back in to the run. They are not best pleased. In the end, I hope to desensitise the puppy to the chooks, so that there can be some managed integration. But we are some distance from that. He will sit by the run, intently watching them, and occasionally barking at these exciting, noise making feathery things. Training will be a long and arduous process.

I feel guilty. I feel dreadful. I feel like the worst chicken keeper in the world. I've considered putting up a more permanent fence around the coop so that the puppy can't get near and the hens can still roam. But he has successfully dug under my border netting, and I can't bring myself to suggest electric fencing in our average suburban garden to the ever tolerant husband. I think he'd laugh and then wrestle my debit card away from me. Probably rightly, to be honest.

So that leaves me with few options. I can either start leaving the girls out when I'm walking the puppy and hope that his copious leavings in the garden would protect the girls from any potential predators. Or they have to cope with being more restricted than I'd like, but remain completely safe. It's a dilemma that I haven't had to tackle before. I am even more distressed that the serama are confined to their garage hutch, but at this time of year they need to be sheltered. And realistically I know that the hutch is perfectly big enough for two tiny birds. But still.

I shall think on.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I have been neglecting you, I know. Not deliberately, but circumstances have conspired against me. No matter, for I am here now. I have a whole twenty minutes to tell you all about the exploding flock.

Not literally exploding. That would be news worthy and probably messy. No, just the feather explosions you'd expect at this time of year. We were on holiday last week, and my lovely chicken sitter did a marvellous job of taking care of my demanding divas. And as half of them are in moult right now, I'm sure they were very demanding.

Mabel and Maude are quite smug, having already grown their new plumage. They sit on the perches in the run preening themselves, taunting the arseless Celia and crew cutted Maeve. Celia is rather embarassed by her lack of behind, and keeps looking back where her bum should be and looking both confused and sad. She pecks half heartedly at her stubble, but it's very difficult to make quills look presentable. Generally, she finds a bush to hide under or a nest box to squat in. She has sneezed a few times, so I've added a tonic to the water and poultry spice to the feed. Moulting hens are vulnerable to illness and generally just feel a bit rubbish so every little helps.

Maeve is taking out her displeasure on the rest of the flock, as expected. Flo and Winnie won't moult this year, they're too young, so Maeve is particularly narky with them. Poor Winnie seems to have found herself at the bottom of the pile and regularly gets a peck on the head for no reason at all really. She accepts these spiteful digs with an air of resignation which makes me sneak her grapes. Poor girl. Maeve is moulting in such a way that has left her with a vaguely punky look, or as if someone had decided to remake 'Mad Max' but with chickens. All she needs is a semi automatic slung across her back and some interesting bits of leather tied to her feathers and she'd give Mel Gibson a run for his money. She stalks the garden, muttering vague threats and maliciously shredding my bedding plants. So, business as usual really.

Betsy is so far resisting the moult, but Vera is having a bit of a go. Every so often I find a drift of soft black feathers in their hutch. However, she seems to be doing it the smart way and instead of dropping all of her insulation at once she's taking her time. Things are still unseasonably mild here in the midlands, but the cold weather must be on the way so I'm glad that I don't have an oven ready serama to worry about.

Gladys is back to her frizzly gorgeousness. She did have to go about without a tail for a few weeks, which made her look a bit like a pom pom, but now she is just stunning. Naturally, this makes Maeve hate her. But Gladys is a wily one, and has got very good at evasive procedures. I'm rather proud.

Only one hen is still in the grip of broody madness. Sigh. Yep, Hilda is still clamped to her non-existent eggs and hissing at me if I go near. At some point in the last week one of her charming flock mates has seen fit to poo on her, so her once pure white feathering is now distinctly...smeared. It's far too cold to consider bathing her, though, so I gave her a brief wipe over with a baby wipe to remove the worst of the excrement and will now hope that she goes in to moult. If she does, the skanky feathers will no longer be an issue and she'll stop being broody. I have caged Hilda 6 times this year. She is one determined (mental) chicken. She is eating and drinking, so I am happy to lift her daily and keep an eye on her at this stage. She hates it when I sprinkle her with mite powder, but tough talons, lady. A mite problem would be disasterous.

Much like Maeve's retro punk look.

Friday, 14 October 2011

That Was Close

Now, there are many things I could be accused of. Being slightly animal crackers is definitely one of them. However, I am not blind to my animal's faults. So as much as I adore our puppy, I know full well that he is a wolf in Spaniel's clothing, and given half a chance would scoff my chickens for a laugh. So you can imagine my horror when the little demon worked out how to open the back door when the girls were free ranging yesterday.

I was first alerted to something being amiss by a desperately squawking Betsy. Mind you, Betsy often loudly complains if any of the other hens get too close, so I didn't run immediately. It took a moment for me to realise that I was hearing that squawk a little too well. Getting up from the sofa, I saw that the back door was open and the dog was outside. Oh buttocks.

The chooks were nowhere to be seen, but offended chuntering was coming from the coop. I still couldn't see the puppy. Rounding the corner of the house, I heard a commotion coming from the garage and discovered a desperately flapping Gladys trying to achieve higher ground while a jubilant puppy yapped and jumped below her. The pup, being only 14 weeks old, is not great at following commands so my 'No! Leave it!' fell on floppy but deaf ears. In the end, I snagged the furry terrorist by the collar and hauled him in to the house. Shutting him in, I dashed back to Gladys's aid.

I found her perched on top of the fridge freezer, preening her tail in a most aggrieved manner. At first she resisted my attempts to rescue her, and squawked loudly at me instead. I imagine I was being royally told off for bringing the chicken worrier in to the house, and was probably getting a few chicken expletives thrown in for good measure. Eventually I coaxed the frazzled frizzle in to my arms and began the trek across the lawn to the Palace. At exactly that moment, the demon pup escaped again and began charging towards us in a frenzy of clumsy baby dog legs and gnashing needle teeth.

There was nothing else for it. Going purely on instinct, I stood in the middle of my garden, in full view of all of my neighbours, and barked and growled at the puppy. This strange behaviour brought him up short, and he stared at me in fascinated horror. Even Gladys considered me in a careful manner, as if appeasing a person who has just broken out of a mental asylum. Now that the chicken was safe and the dog had stopped in it's tracks, I realised I could probably...stop.

No harm was done to chicken or puppy, but I can't say the same for my local reputation.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

We Are Not Amused

Today I cleaned out the chooks. Nothing particularly earth shattering in that, I hear you cry. Well, no. But it is the first time I've done a major clear out since we had the four legged terror. And the girls are in high dudgeon.

Usually, they mill about on the lawn and get under my feet as I partially take the coop apart for cleaning. Occasionally a particularly narky broody will stalk me and go for my ankles. However, today they all ignored me and hid in the shrubbery. They are clearly sulking. Only Flo and Winnie are happy to continue their normal potterings. I'm not sure if that is bravery on their part, or natural stupidity. It's a toss up, to be honest.

So as I toiled in the autumn chill, the hens glared at me from various hidey holes. I scattered corn in an effort to lure them out which worked for as long as it took to hoover up the grain, but then they vanished again. The puppy spent the entire time jumping up at the french doors, where he was imprisoned in the kitchen. The chooks looked at him, then looked at me reproachfully. They did not sign up for this. In fact, I suspect that if hens could employ solicitors I'd be getting myself an expensive letter threatening court action for breach of contract. I am suitably chastened.

I hope that in time chicken and dog can learn to live alongside each other in perfect harmony. Or at least learn to ignore each other enough that I'm not constantly on high alert for a dog with a bulging face and a mouthful of feathers. At the moment, they hate him and he wants to play with them.

Oh God what have I done.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Chaos Continues

I'm not neglecting you, honest. It's just that I've been dealing with some teething problems. Actual teething problems. The puppy is chewing everything in sight, and is rather keeping me on my toes. Coupled with the fact that we were both attacked by a very angry dog yesterday, means that my blogging time has been seriously compromised. But no matter. Right now the pup is chewing a shoe (I'm pretending I haven't noticed) and I have a few minutes to update the Chronicles. So here goes.

My girls are on an egg strike. I'm not sure if this is in protest at the dog's arrival, or just the natural changing of the seasons. I suspect a bit of both, to be honest. Either way, no eggs for me. They are now eating less as well, and barely touching their oyster shell. In reality I doubt I'll see another egg until 2012. They watch me as I hopefully open the nest box, and no doubt snigger as I trudge dejectedly away again. As always with chickens, the less they give you the more you give them. So out comes the mixed corn, and the viatmin supplements, and the ACV, in an attempt to get them through the moult they've decided to communily have. Maude is strutting about looking resplendent and smug, having finished her moult a few months back. But everyone else is looking tatty and miserable. They are also increasingly narky, and many a hen is getting an unprovoked peck to the bonce just for existing. Even poor Vera is losing feathers left, right and centre. The miniscule hen is disappearing before my eyes.

The pekins are decidedly wary of the hound, and keep a sensible distance. Well, most of them do. Flo and Winnie seem to not have a natural fear response to a slathering mutt charging towards them, and in fact take great delight on sitting on the back step, beak to nose with the yelping puppy, driving him mad. Maeve is only acknowledging his existence if he dares to look at her, at which point she raises her hackles and hisses at him in her Dark Lord manner. He is unsure about this, and loses interest in playing with her rather rapidly. She saunters away, occasionally throwing an evil glance in his direction.

The serama are having none of it, and hide in the top part of their hutch if they hear him coming. I can't say as I blame them. I am hoping that he can be trained not to fetch chickens in to the house every five seconds. The thought of a disgruntled Maeve being caught, carried in a canine mouth, and then deposited in my living room doesn't bare thinking about.

I suspect we would all pay a heavy price for such treatment.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


You may have noticed that I've been remarkably quiet of late. There are many reasons for my lack of blogging, but by far the most pressing one right now involves this little chap.

Yep. We now have a puppy. His name is Jasper and he is 3/4 cocker spaniel and 1/4 springer spaniel. He pees and poos with abandon, to the point that I am exceedingly grateful that we have wooden floors. He has a particular fondness for socks, newspapers and eating chicken poo. All apparently normal. He seems reasonably intelligent, so the plan is that I will be able to train him to ignore the chooks. That's the plan.

In reality, he seems quite unphased by them. Yesterday, I let the girls out for their morning constitutional. After a few minutes, I stuck Jasper on his lead and we stood on the patio. Naturally, the feathered contingent chuntered with alarm and hot footed it down to the greenhouse. They stood in a huddle muttering, occasionally throwing me evils. Flo and Winnie seemed the least perturbed, and I remember an elderly spaniel mooching about their pens at the breeder's house. The rest of my girls have never been exposed to a canine.

For his part, Jasper pretty much ignored them. I suppose when you're only 12 weeks old, everything is new and fascinating. He didn't pull on the lead or show any sign of wanting to get any closer. After a few minutes, the hens went back to mooching. But they kept one beady eye on the weird fox/wolf combo predator being held on a bit of string my yours truly. Smart, my girls.

Later on in the day, when the girls were safely locked inside the Palace grounds, Jasper was bounding about the lawn chasing leaves. Mabel took off from the floor to the perch in the run, and the feathery kerfuffle peaked his interest. He slowly walked towards the Palace door, ears alert and ready to flee. Flo and Winnie carried on eating their lunch and totally ignored him. But Maeve was sat nearest the door on the perch. She lowered her head, raised her hackles, and when he came within her exclusion zone, hissed. He ran back to me and hid behind my legs.

I really don't blame him.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Sinister Call Of The ASBO Chicken

I was rudely awaken at half six this morning by an eerie call. As I lay there trying to decipher what was making such an unearthly sound, the ever tolerant husband rolled over and muttered something about 'those bloody chickens', so I thought I ought to investigate. I shuffled down the stairs in my dressing gown and stared out of the kitchen window blearily. The run was empty. Weird. Just then, the same mournful cry went out across the estate. Huh.

I opened the back door and stuck my head out. All in the Palace was silent. But something was making that spooky sound, so I trudged across the lawn in my slippers. What I found was a little sinister. Maeve was sitting on the perch, alone, like a crow on a gravestone. I opened up the coop door and peered in at seven sleepy chickens. Half six in the AM is not quite full light now, and they showed no signs of getting up for their breakfast. I closed the door on them and let them keep dreaming of worms and raisins. Or something.

So I turned my attention back to Maeve. She eye balled me and sat hunched on her perch like a feathery gargoyle, orange eye glittering. After some consideration, she opened her beak and issued the creepy sound again. It was like a cross between an owl hooting, and a particularly narked turkey. Think low resonance throat warbling. She closed her beak again, and glared at me. Well, this is new.

Maeve, up until this point, has only ever made quite normal chicken noises. The occasional 'bok-ARK', and more regularly a menacing growl. But she has never gone turkey/owl on me. Bracing myself for carnage, I scooped her up to give her the once over. No rattle in her chest, no snotty nose holes, bright eyes and in all obvious respects fit and healthy. So her new voice wasn't down to illness. I plonked her back on the perch. I'm probably imagining the look of malevolent amusement in her eye, but I wouldn't like to say. All out of ideas, I flung a left over jacket potato in to the run to distract her from her singing and trudged back to bed.

The ever tolerant husband enquired as to which one of the 'noisy cowbags' had woken us up. I told him it was our favourite poultry nemesis, and he looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged and rolled back over. I lay in bed waiting for the alarm to go off and thinking about this new development. Winnie and Flo are now full time residents of the Palace, and I wondered if this change in routine had upset our beloved ASBO. I found no trace of an egg, but she might have layed elsewhere. It certainly didn't sound like a victory bok, though. No, the longer I lay there, the more convinced I became that she was practicing. After all, all evil geniuses need an evil laugh.

Perhaps it was the chicken equivalent of mwahahahahahahaha.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Moving On Up

The two newest recruits, Flo and Winnie, have been with us for a couple of months now. They're still some way off laying, but Flo has already found her big girl voice and Winnie's is on its way. It's a curious time for a chicken when they switch from the babyish 'meep meep' to the adult 'bok-ARK'. They often look rather startled themselves when a 'meep' ends in a 'ARK', and the transition lasts a couple of weeks. So I suppose you could say that the two newbies have now hit adolesence. And that means one thing: moving out of the nursery.

The baby pekins have resided in the garage in makeshift accomodation up until this point. They have made firm friends with the serama, and often pop over for dinner. But ultimately they need to integrate with the big girls. I have locked them in to the Palace for short periods before now, and although they get chased a bit and the odd bum tail feather pulled, no serious harm has been done. So today I have bitten the bullet. Flo and Winnie are moving up in to the Palace.

So far, no major confrontation has taken place. The newbies have kept one step ahead of the established flock members, and there has been no coordinated effort to mash them in to the aubiose. But as with all things chicken, I can't exhale just yet. The next few days will be fraught for both human and chickens alike. Hopefully, though, at the end I will be left with a cohesive pekin flock (The serama will stay in their hutch home for the forseeable future due to the pekins' desire to turn them in to scatter cushions given half a chance).

How about a few pics?

Mabel, mid moult. She is not impressed.

Maude, post moult, and looking beautiful.

Hilda, looking quite nared at the new introductions, and in a pecky mood.

Nearly grown up Winnie and Flo. Flo is getting darker as she matures.

The greeting party. They mostly come in peace.

Maeve showing off her bosoms like a Boss.

You looking at me?

Vera appears to be going broody again. Excuse me while I bang my head against a wall.

Betsy pops up to say hello.

Now I just have to wait for sun down to see if the new girls are brave enough to try sleeping with the enemy.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Chicken Keeper Collection

There are many things you consider when you set out to keep chickens. You might spend quite some time poring over different housing options, where you will site your new feathered friends and just how much of your garden you are willing to lose to the marauding hordes. Yep, lots to consider. But I bet you forgot something. In fact, I can guarantee it.

The thing everyone overlooks when they enter the world of poultry keeping is that of attire. Sure, you assume that it's probably not a good idea to attend to your ladies while wearing a ballgown, but beyond that you probably haven't considered. Well, fear not. After three years of trying to keep order with my unruly lot, I can now bring you the definitive Madchickenlady Collection.

You will need enclosed footwear. It doesn't matter if it's July and 30C, you enter a chicken pen with bare toes at your peril. Sure, chicken poo is unpleasant between the toes. But you know what's worse? A chicken mistaking your toes for something edible. If you don't see them coming, a sneaky hen can get a really good grip and pull technique going on, and you will scream like a child. The screaming and hopping will intrigue the others, and before you know it you will be a chicken buffet. So, keep those toes covered. And only a total idiot goes near hens with bare painted toenails. They will think you're a fruit delicacy, you will cry.

Moving up the body, it's best to wear trousers. Bare legs, especially if you have any moles, invite curious pecking. Again, it's the surprise attack that will have you jumping back over the poo bucket and landing on your bum in a most undignified manner. So trousers are a must. The shoes and trousers can vary hugely in style, and you get extra points if you wear, say, wellies with pyjama bottoms. Do not attempt to match or coordinate in any way. Your audience will not care. Now we come to the most importat item in our collection: the chicken coat.

This coat will be your best friend. It will protect you from pecking, random curry poos and the biting cold of a January morning. It should be a little too big for you, so that you can wear multiple layers underneath. It should have a hood, to try and protect you from the howling November winds and driving rain. It should have deep pockets that you can store various chook appeasing treats in as well as concealing any medicines/treatments that the little darlings will be less keen to experience. Ideally, it will be a sort of fungus hue. Most chickenny excretions fall in to this mushroomy category, so a muddy/grey/beige/mustardy kind of coat is ideal for concealing hideousness. Think of your chicken coat like a surgeon's scrubs. It is there to catch all manner of unmentionables while providing a barrier between you and the utter horror that the chicken is in the process of evacuating. It should be washable, and quick drying. After all, you will need it again before you know it. It will also require it's own hanging space, well away from any other coat or jacket. It will often smell bad.

Last but not least, do make sure that you have some heavy duty gardening gloves. Sometimes you will have to do unpopular things to members of your flock. They will, understandably, want to show their displeasure. Never underestimate the ouch factor of a well placed peck.

So now you can visualise the whole Madchickenlady Collection. A pair of wellies, some pyjama bottoms, several layers comprising of pyjama top, shirt and jumper, and the key piece: the chicken coat, complete with various suspicious stains. Don't forget the gloves.

Strike a pose.

Friday, 2 September 2011

It's No Good, The Feathers Are Here To Stay

Now that Maude seems to be mostly done with her moult, I thought I'd have a go at cleaning up the garden a bit. There were feathers pretty much everywhere, but a good twenty minutes of plucking them from rose bushes and raking them from the borders made a world of difference. And then I spied the Palace.

Maude's old season plumage was liberally scattered about the run. In fact, it was like a new layer atop the sub-strata of the poo and aubiose. With a sudden burst of enthusiasm, I decided to get rid of all the feathers in the garden, and began clearing the run debris. Naturally, as soon as I began every adult hen in the vicinity decided that they needed to lay an egg. I opened the main coop door to give them an alternate route, but oh no. They actually wanted to waddle across the area I was working in, and use the ramp. That held me up somewhat. A succession of haughty chickens casually kicking through your piles of old litter is rather irritating. At last, all would-be layers were in the coop vying for the best nest box and I could get on with it.

It is still the school holidays here, and the children are therefore in a 'helpful' mood. Today the help consisted of flinging water all over the garage floor, tipping a large bucket of woodshavings out on the lawn (they missed the composter) and getting a seriously narked peck from Celia as they rummaged under her for eggs. Sorting out the various calamities meant that the clean out took two hours instead of one, but at last, we were finished.

I stood at the back door, covered in poo and aubiose and red mite powder, and surveyed my feather-free lawn. One by one, the hens emerged from the coop and went about their business. The last hen to emerge was Mabel. She took a few steps from the run door, and then shook her left leg like a dog. One solitary fluffy feather gently swirled to the ground. I chose to ignore it and look the other way. However, a few steps later she shook from her head to her talons, and several more fluffy underfeathers floated to earth on the breeze. I swear she looked at me to make sure that I'd noticed.

I should probably give up.

(As a quick aside, if you get October's 'Country Smallholding' magazine, and look on page 31 of the poultry section, you may spot a familiar beak...)

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Helicopter Rant

This is less a blog post and more a furious out pouring. Someone local to me has recently acquired a new toy. Unfortunately, it isn't a football or a bike or even a pogo stick. No, it is a fully functioning helicopter. Not the model type, but an actual, sit in and fly helicopter. Fair enough I suppose. If you want to zoom about in a helicopter that's your business. But I'm fairly certain there are rules about how you fly the effing thing. And buzzing over my estate low enough that I can see your stupid, grinning face is probably illegal, you arse.

Chickens are sensitive creatures. Like all birds, they are prone to stress. They learn to adapt to new sounds and objects in their immediate area, but it takes time and constant exposure. A helicopter suddenly whizzing by at ear splitting volume is not something you can acclimatise them to. This morning the helicopter did a fly by for the second time since the weekend, and it caused chaos. The hens were all happily free ranging when we began to hear the tell tale wasp hum. Initially they froze, then went tall and skinny looking for the threat. I rushed to get corn to try and get them undercover before it appeared overhead, but was too slow. It seems to burst out of nowhere, loud and ugly, before disappearing again. The girls panicked, big time. From their perspective, a big loud predator had just appeared over the garden.

All six current residents of the Palace hot footed it in to the coop. The serama bolted for the garage in their roadrunner way. But poor Flo and Winnie didn't know what to do with themselves. They ran about in a panic, running laps around the Palace and constantly missing the door in their desperation to get under cover. I managed to scoop them up and put them in the garage, but before I could secure them in their run they had escaped and hidden under a pile of garden furniture. By this time the helicopter had long gone.

A quick check found the pekins huddled in the coop, Maude and Celia panting. The serama were huddled in their nest box, heads under each others' tails. And the baby pekins were still taking refuge in the garage. I confess that my heart was in my mouth when making these checks. There was a chicken keeper on the news last year who was losing birds and couldn't work out why. It turned out that hot air balloons were flying across the field early in the morning, and the birds were so frightened they were literally dropping dead with fright. With that in my mind, I was very afraid that I'd find one of my precious girls dead. Luckily, that wasn't the case. But stress is a funny thing, so I'm keeping a close eye.

It took half an hour to coax the baby pekins from their hiding place. All of the birds are now skittish and a bit quiet. I'm adding ACV and poultry spice to their rations in a bid to combat any lasting stress, and swearing inventively the entire time using 'whirly' as a prefix.

If it flies over again, the pilot may find me giving some very direct hand signals.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Stuffed Animals, Maude And The Chickens With No Arse

When I was at school, the Headmaster had several creepy stuffed animals dotted around. One was a fox, one was a badger and one was a pheasant. Us 'orrible children used to dare each other to touch these macabre ornaments. The fox felt greasy, and the ultimate act of bravery was to put your chubby child hand between his snarling chops. The badger felt wiry and looking at it made me feel sad. But at least these two specimens were mostly intact. The pheasant wasn't so lucky. It's plumage was tatty from years of having small people running their hands through it. Feathers would sometimes fall off the dusty bird, and we'd stick them back haphazardly. Why am I telling you this? Well, because Maude has looked like that straggly pheasant for a long time now. Her moult seems to be taking forever. But just as I started to worry, she is once again beginning to look magnificent.

Most of the fluffy underfeathers have finally become untangled, and her new feathers are unfurling. She now looks like Maude again, but with a shorter, funkier hair do. Maude has been smart. Her moult will be but a memory when the bad weather rolls in. The rest of the flock will no doubt sit in the coop, bald from the neck down and shivering come October. Then Maude will strut about in a smug manner, flaunting her high tog duvet and mocking the sparrow sized serama.

Actually, I'm a bit concerned as to what the serama will look like when they moult. Half their body size is in their upright tail feathers. A bumless serama is going to look odd. And probably a bit like a quail. Don't worry, I will gets photographs for you amusement. I have already found a few black silkied feathers in the nest box, so I suspect that Vera is about to shrink substantially. The youngest showed concern at the idea of the serama moulting. As he put it, what if they simply poof out of existance like 'Angry Birds'? It got me thinking. Perhaps that explains why there are so few of them about,

Now that August is drawing to a close, I've decided to give up on the summer. It's been long, and dry, and sometimes unbearably humid. Today is the first cool day we've had since early June, and it's actually raining. The ground is that dry that I swear I can hear it sucking up the moisture like a two year old with a straw. We have been in drought here in the midlands. Even the hens ventured out for a splash in the puddles. Granted, it didn't last long. Pekins hate getting their feet wet and serama aren't very waterproof what with the silkied feathers. But I think they enjoyed a brief freshen up nonetheless.

The integration plans for Flo and Winnie are going ahead. Ideally, they'll be fully fledged memebers of the gang by the end of September. They've spent quite a bit of time in with the big girls now with minimal interference. They get the odd bit of chasing, but nothing substantial and they're smart enough to keep out of pecking distance. I've had to stop plans to add Vera and Betsy to the main flock now, though. It tuns out that pekins are hideously species-ist. They seem to know that the serama are Not Their Kind, and for some reason really have it in for Betsy. They ganged up on her in a way I've never seen them do with any other potential flock mate, and if one caught her she couldn't get away. The others then all stood around taking it in turns to pluck her alive or issue a stabby peck at her head. Of course, I rescued her and abandoned all plans of moving the serama in to the Palace. They will remain in the garage hutch. Strangely, when they all free range together there are no problems at all. Betsy often pops in to the Palace for a quick shifty, or to grab a drink. That seems to be tolerated, so I suppose they are integrated enough. And Vera is still micro-managing the pekin youngsters, so I'm hoping that that particular serama/pekin alliance will continue.

Now if I could just stop thinking about that creepy stuffed fox...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Sometimes, It's Just A Pleasure

Yesterday was a bit stressful for me and the chooks. I basically bunged them all in to the Palace for two hours and sat next to the weld mesh waiting for a riot to break out. Surprisingly, it didn't. I mean, of course there was some stroppy squawking and chasing, but on the whole it was strangely peaceful. Betsy and Vera mainly lurked in the coop, occasionally venturing in to the run when they felt like tormenting one of the bigger girls. Winnie and Flo managed to keep mostly out of beaks way, and when Maeve did corner Winnie she merely issued a couple of half-arsed pecks before ambling off to eat something. This is very encouraging.

But today, I didn't feel like giving myself a stress fuelled heart attack. So I just let them get on with it and attempted to tidy the garden. So often as a chicken keeper you can be focused on this ailment, or that broody, that you can easily foget to simply enjoy the greedy feather bags mooching about the garden. You should sit back and smell the roses, as it were. So today I sat back and smelled the evil broody poo.

Maude is coming through her moult at long last, and is as beautiful as ever. Now that her quills are through she isn't in any discomfort and I can breathe a sigh of relief at another non-fatal moult. Mabel is holding on to her top hen status and continues to be a benevolent ruler, only sometimes feeling the need to flatten an underling. She doesn't bother with the newbies at all. Celia is still determinedly broody despite my best efforts. I am continuously turfing her out of the nest box and smothering her in mite powder. She stares at me glassily and coos at her imaginary eggs. Loon. Our beloved ASBO Chicken continues to skulk like a feathery ninja, and stages the odd ambush. She isn't particularly fussed whether her victim is human or chicken, but has a particular fondness for hiding under the trampoline and pouncing on the children's feet as they dismount. That's my girl.

Gladys is found next to Celia in the nest boxes, and her back end is indistinguishable from her front under all of the frizzling. She does have the sense to wander from the nest several times a day, though, so I'm more confident that she'll snap out of it of her own accord. Hilda is currently sporting exquisitely well manicured fingernails, as I gradually file them down. Her weeks of being broody led to crazy talon growth, so now when she walks across the patio she sounds like she's wearing heels. Now there's an image.

Betsy is still laying the odd egg. Very odd. If it isn't soft shelled it's the size of a five pence piece. I have given up worrying about it and just assume that Betsy's egg laying gubbins is wonky. She is not in the least bit bothered. Vera is still herding her giant babies and busy telling them off at every possible opportunity. It's really rather sweet. For their part, Winnie and Flo are wonderfully tolerant of the barmy Serama. Flo made her first proper 'bok-ARK' yesterday, and was exceedingly pleased with herself. She is growing in to a real beauty. Winnie is still playing catch up, but is a gentle and quiet pullet so far. I can see her being bottom of the pecking order, but not really minding much.

As I watched all ten of them scavenging the wheat I'd just thrown on the lawn, I thought to myself: I must post about this. That it's not all tragedy, illness or comedy gold. Sometimes it's just bloody lovely.

So go and watch your chooks and remind yourself why you bother.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Professional Mother

Vera is a brilliant chicken. A brilliant, and tiny, chicken. She gets up to all sorts of mischief, torments the pekins and regularly breaks in to the house to steal stray cheerios. In short, she has character. She looked after her serama eggs brilliantly, and proved herself to be a caring and attentive mother. Ok, so when one of her babies died and the other one was rehomed she didn't bat an eyelid, but when they were right in front of her, she cared. So I probably shouldn't be too surprised by this turn of events.

When the broody domino effect was in full swing a couple of weeks ago, Vera jumped on the bandwagon. I caged her for two days at the beginning of this week and on her release she appeared cured. So it was odd to hear her doing the 'broody chunter' from the garage as I was pottering in the garden. I don't want Vera to be broody really. I worry about her. She has tons of personality, but only 275 grams of physical presence. I walked towards the garage mentally preparing the broody cage. But Vera was not in the nest box. Oh no. Vera was sitting on Flo and Winnie.

The baby pekins were huddled in the corner of the serama hutch and Vera was balanced on top of them like an ill fitting hat. I can't be entirely certain that the pekins were comfortable with this arrangement. But Vera seemed exceedingly pleased with her position, and stared happily in to the distance, riding a sea of maternal hormones. Flo gingerly attempted to rise to her feet and was greeted with a disciplinarian shriek of warning and a scrubby wing thrown over her head. Mother had decided it was bed time. At 4.30 in the afternoon. Oh dear.

When we first collected Flo and Winnie, Flo was about the size of the serama, and Winnie a bit smaller. But they've been here 5 weeks now. Flo is currently twice the size of the would-be mother, and Winnie a little bigger. In short, they tower over the silkied serama hen, and don't really need to be shoved under anyone's wings to sleep. Especially wings that barely stretch across their heads, let alone their abundantly feathered bodies. I lifted Vera from her awkward perch and allowed the pekin babies to escape. Vera muttered with concern as her young charges waddled out in to the sunlight. As soon as I put her down, she charged off after her adopted chicks, chuntering and fussing like the proverbial mother hen. Betsy watched this from the border dust bath with her beak open. I'm sure she was just panting in the heat, but it did really look like her gob was hanging open in disbelief.

Flo and Winnie seem to have accepted Vera's attentions with mostly good grace. They aren't so keen on being sat on, but are quite happy if their adoptive mother finds something delicious,  breaks it in to pieces and calls them to eat it. Vera watches them hoover up the treats and chunters encouragement. She then herds them from food to dustbath and back to the garage. I had to rescue them this morning from the serama nest box where she sat guarding the doorway. This is the first time I have had a broody hen take mothering duties upon herself. Usually, my broodies get over their hormonal mentalness and start chasing any newbies about in order to restore the status quo.

I think she'll have her work cut out when they hit the teenage rebelliious weeks.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Great Corn On The Cob Heist

I went out for dinner yesterday. If you're interested, I had a pasta dish. The eldest had spaghetti, which oddly, came with a random corn on the cob. The eldest doesn't like corn on the cob. The corn sat on the side of his plate, taunting me, for the whole meal. But I didn't want it. I don't think corn on the cob is a natural accompaniment to pasta, as it happens. However, I knew several someones who would very much enjoy that corn on the cob.

As the ever tolerant husband was busy sorting out the bill, I seized my chance. I casually picked up a napkin, gave a quick glance around the table to make sure I was unobserved, and went to grab the corn. Unfortunately, the waiter chose that exact moment to reach forward for the plate. He hesitated as I clutched my prize, and instead of simply ignoring the whole awkward situation, I blurted out for no apparent reason 'It's for Maeve. She's a chicken'. I actually felt the ever tolerant husband wither and shrink in to his chair.

When we got home, I triumphantly presented the corn to the inhabitants of the Palace. They had already retired for the evening, but the whiff of luke warm corn lured them back in to the run briefly. Chickens generally pig out before bedtime, so they had already filled their crops with pellets. After several gluttonous pecks, they admitted defeat and went back to bed. I had no doubt that they would dream of crispy, fresh corn and wake up raring to scoff.

Of course, as well as being eating machines, chickens also have pretty rubbish attention spans. So this morning, the half eaten corn lay neglected under the Palace's ramp. It hadn't been spotted by the usual suspects at breakfast, and now that they were all out free ranging it was all forgotten about. That is, until the new pekins spotted it.

Winnie and Flo regularly stroll in to the Palace at this stage. If a regular spots them, they will give a half hearted chase. But on the whole, they're ignored. So imagine the sheer joy they experienced when they found the corn. Flo actually did a lap of excitement, flapping and bouncing around the run like the total nutjob she is. They pecked at the corn gingerly, not really understanding their prize but twigging that the other pekins wouldn't want them to have it. With this in mind, they took it in turns to drag it to the run doorway.

Just as they were about to commence dragging their treat across the lawn, they were spotted by the serama. Vera has given up being broody for now, and she and Betsy clocked the newbies Getting Away With Something. They came over to inspect. Flo dropped the corn and pretended she was very interested in the grass. Winnie decided to perch on it, in an effort to hide it under her voluminous knickers. The serama were not fooled. They pecked at the corn a bit, then commenced muttering. I don't speak chicken, but it seemed to me that Vera was issuing instructions. After a quick conference, Operation Rob The Corn was back underway, now with the serama helping to drag/push/peck the corn towards the garage.

I watched all of this with a smile on my face and a cup of tea in front of me at the garden table. The pekins were mooching at the bottom of the garden, and I was frankly amazed that the tiny thieves hadn't been noticed. Of course, I should have known better. As the corn got within a metre of the garage door, Maeve ninjad out from behind the rose bush and landed in the middle of the cooperating outsiders. They wisely scattered. ASBO Chicken strolled around the corn, marking her territory. She gave the silently creeping Vera the beady eye and chuntered in a menacing manner. Defeated, Vera, Betsy, Winnie and Flo went off to dust bath.

Maeve didn't tell the rest of the flock, and stripped the corn bare on her own like the boss she is.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Eating Out, Chicken Style

Welcome, Madame. Would you like your usual space on the parched lawn? Yes? Very good. Will anyone else be joining you this evening? Ah, an indeterminate number of flock mates. Of course. Would Madame like to hear the specials? As well as the usual high quality layers pellets, chef has been busy making sure there are plenty of tasty leftovers for your perusal. Firstly, we have a portion of mashed poatatoes. Yes, Madame, I understand your excitement. There is also a small selection of rice noodles going spare, and a slotted spoonful of garden peas. Would Madame care for a sharing platter? Very good.

The food artfully arranged by our award winning chef. She also does a mean line in porridge with raisins and added mixed corn.

The diners get stuck in. Notice the oh-so-elegant face in trough technique. Sheer class.

Hilda wisely decides to leg it with a noodle.

Er, Maeve? Gladys? There's just a little something...yes...there...and there...in fact, your face is now more potato than chicken.

Hilda returns for more noodles.

Mabel manages to look graceful amongst the carnage.

This photo was taken approximately sixty seconds after dinner was served. They don't mess about, chickens.

Flo and Winnie make do with some crayons and an activity pack in the garage.

Thank you, Madame. But a tip was not necessary .

Friday, 12 August 2011

Chicken Prison

I released Hilda from the broody cage yesterday, fairly sure that she had got out of her broody psychosis. She was no longer chuntering, and when let out in to the garden spent several hours having a leisurely dust bath and hunting for bugs. So you can imagine my displeasure when I went to close up at bedtime and found the grumpy white one back on the nest and growling. Insert expletive here.

Anyway, Hilda will just have to get on with it for now. The cage currently has another occupant. Celia is ensconced in a corner of the cage. She is as flat as a cowpat and periodically ends up sitting in her drinker. She is deeply in the zone. Gladys is taking up space in the Palace's choice nest box, so hunched up that I literally can't tell her arse from her metaphorical elbow. I just waggle my fingers in her general vicinity and see which end tries to peck me. Vera refuses to share the serama nest with a still laying Betsy. Poor Betsy ends up laying on the floor in an effort to prevent a fishwife battle of 'Jeremy Kyle' proportions breaking out. All in all, the broodies are taking over.

Winnie and Flo are enjoying half of the flock being out of the equation. For a start, it means that there are less established flock members to give them a hard time. Somehow, though, I don't think that's the most enjoyable part of it for them. The two newbies are proving to be a mischievious pair. They have taken to sitting on top of the broody cage and pooing on the unfortunate occupant's head. Celia is now fairly well decorated, and looks more like a town square war memorial than a chicken. I repeatedly chase the youngsters outside, but as soon as my back is turned they're back to torturing the prisoner. Broody hens are rubbish at defending themselves against such underhand tactics, so it's left to me to use baby wipes on the afflicted hen and to flap tea towels at the naughty chicks. Celia is utterly passive. But deep down, I suspect she is taking notes. I doubt this mistreatment will be forgotten.

I am constantly turfing the broodies out of their respective nest boxes to make sure that they eat, drink and generally take care of themselves. They oblige me briefly, dashing from feeder to drinker to dust bath, all the while chuntering with anxiety that their non-existant eggs will come to harm. As I clean out the coop, there is a broody queue forming on the ramp ready to hop straight back on to the nest as soon as my human meddling is over.

It's been a long summer.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Please Form An Orderly Queue

Sigh. Pekins. They're adorable, feisty and full of character. That's why I love them. Unfortunately, they're also a bit mental. I now have Hilda, Celia, Gladys and Vera all sitting on imaginary eggs in the nest box. When evicted, they run about en masse doing the 'broody chunter'. It's more than a little reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch.

Mabel, Maude and Maeve pretty much have the garden to themselves at this stage. Considering that Maude is still in the process of growing her feathers back, it's really left to the other two to keep up with the garden vandalism. Consequently, the garden looks fabulous. The rose bushes actually have intact roses on them. It's creepy.

Betsy, Winnie and Flo mainly stick to the dust bath by the compost bin. Occasionally they venture forth to liven things up with the established flock, but on the whole they're quite happy sticking to the sidelines. When I step outside it's eerily quiet and calm. No chasing, no manic bokking, no chickenny disputes being settled via flapping and indignant squawking. I don't like it. It's as if my flock has been reduced by half. I get the urge to run out and replenish my stock.

So, once again I have a queue for the broody cage. Hilda is currently on day 2. She has already had two 48 hour incarcerations, so I have lengthened her sentence. She won't get out until tomorrow. As soon as the slammer is free, Celia is moving in. Then Gladys. Then Vera. I am less chicken keeper at the moment than prison warden. And about as popular.

Just to really hammer home the broody concept, the chicken sitter's Black Rock has decided to have a go. When I popped up yesterday to attend to the giant poultry, I found Midnight clamped firmly to the nest. Seizing her with two hands I went to casually lift her from the nest box and plonked her on the ground. I nearly dislocated my shoulders. A large fowl broody mama weighs considerably more than my feather bags, but no one seemed to have told my arms that.

I swear the other hens were chuckling at me in a sinister manner.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Small Visitor

My little black serama girl, Vera, has decided to go broody again. This is a pain in the backside for several reasons, not least because it leaves Betsy wandering around the garden like the new kid in the playground that everyone ignores. At first, Betsy tried to cajole her friend out of her hormonal insanity, but all she got in return was bad tempered growling and the odd peck between the eyes. Wisely, she decided to let her get on with it and concentrate on herding the baby pekins.

Vera is like a very small toupee nestled amongst the wood shavings of her washing up bowl nest box. She is so much smaller than my pekin girls that I really can't let her just sit. She would lose condition quickly. However, the holiday means that I can't cage her immediately. So, yesterday, I evicted all small chickens from the garage and closed the door so that they couldn't get back in. Betsy, Flo and Winnie took this in good humour and set about eating all of the big girls' pellets. The big girls, for their part, were too hot and bothered to do much more than grumble occasionally from the shrubbery. But Vera was not happy.

The first I knew of her deep displeasure involved a stench that Satan himself would have been proud of. Nothing unusual in this, perhaps, as broody hens have a tendency to pass noxious droppings. But this particular leaving was under the kitchen table. Nice. Vera herself was stood on the back door step, looking in at me with a malevolent glint in her eye and a broody chunter on her lack of lips. I attacked her dirty protest with yards of kitchen roll and disinfectant while inventing some impressive new swear phrases.

I felt that she had made her point, and as the temperature here topped 30 degrees celsius yesterday, I risked leaving the back door open. A few minutes later as I ate a sandwich in the living room something caught my eye. I could have sworn that I saw movement in the kitchen doorway. Listening hard, I awaited the tell tale clicking of talons on wood to let me know I had an interloper. Nothing. Hmmm. I shrugged and went back to my sandwich.

There! There was definitely a small black something legging it across the door way. I crept over to the door and peered left. Clear. Turning my head to the right, I startled Vera who was in the process of running out of the back door with a piece of bread. When I say piece, I mean piece. The rest of the slice was in an ever disintegrating trail from the counter top to the back door. Vera looked at me defiantly, and strutted outside with her prize. I swore a bit more and set about disinfecting the entire kitchen. As tolerant as the ever tolerant husband is, I think even he would baulk at chickens walking across the counter tops and making themselves a sandwich.

After that, Vera declared open season on the house. if the back door was open for even a moment, she was in. After chasing her around the living room and finding her on the sofa after visiting the loo, I decided to give in. With a defeated air I unlocked the garage door. Vera followed me, scolding the whole way. As soon as the door was opened, she hopped in to her hutch, ran up the ramp and jumped back on to her imaginary eggs.

That chicken has gumption.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Sound Of Silence...Interspersed With A Party Blower

Things are a bit hectic here at the House of the Madchickenlady. It's the summer holidays, so the children are adding to the general air of chaos which permeates. Not that im twitching. Much. The weather has turned hot and sticky, and the small people can be seen flaked out on the trampoline eating ice lollies while the hens lay underneath it, hoping for some droppage. I think it's safe to say that the garden looks like a post-apocalyptic scene in a zombie film. Still, at least they're all quiet. For now.

Currently, Hilda, Celia, Vera and Gladys are all broody. Hilda has had two trips to the broody cage, and remains stubbornly fluffed up. Under normal circumstances I'd persevere until she snapped out of it, but we're heading away to the Lake District tomorrow so she will have to stay in the palace and growl at the chicken sitter. It's official ladies and gentlemen, the broodies have won.

Just to shake things up and get some attention, Mabel decided to play silly buggers on Monday. I was alerted by the smallest child that Mabel 'was making a weird noise'. On inspection, I had to agree. Mabel was breathing with an audible 'party blower' sound. She was also still eating, drinking, preening and chasing underlings. I gave her a thorough check over and could find no other issues. Placing the chicken kazoo on the ground, I fretted a bit. Mabel looked back at me, and spontaneously stopped being a percussion instrument. After several minutes of watching her silently mooching about the garden in seemingly perfect health, I shrugged and made for the door. At which point she immediately started up her comedy sound effects again.

With difficulty, I wrestled the hen's beak open and peered in to the abyss. Nothing. I had some vague idea that I'd find a piece of grass that hadn't been properly mashed down in to her crop. My theory was that as she breathed in and out the grass was being vibrated, causing the annoying party blower effect. You can probably tell that I have no veterinary training. Releasing the disgruntled chicken's face, we stared at each other. I suspected her of fowl play. She suspected me of idiocy. We were probably both right. Mere moments later, she stopped making the sound altogether. I do think she had something stuck in her crop, but I have no idea why it created the chicken kazoo.

Another mystery never to be resolved.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Apparently, You Can Teach An Old Chicken New Tricks

The thing with chickens is, they're tricky. Just when you think they have shown you every bit of poultry vandalism possible, they come up with something new that is so diabolical you wonder who taught it to them. Is there some kind of universal hive chicken mind? It really is incredible the destruction they can wreak. Especially as they don't have any hands. And once one of the little darlings has learnt a new destructive behaviour, it spreads like wildfire.

Last week, Gladys noticed the gaps between the paving slabs. She had probably seen the serama delicately nibbling the moss there and wondered if it was worth the effort. But Gladys doesn't do anything delicately. She is a clumsy and loud and full on sort of bird. So instead of gentle nibbling, she decided to use her face as a spade and effectively excavate the paving slabs. I was unimpressed by this new pastime, but hoped she would forget about it soon enough.

Ha. Some hope. And since I first noticed the face digging, she has recruited the others. Now the entire flock is busy playing archaeologist to my beautiful patio. I go out with the yard brush and attempt to sweep the sand back in to the gaps, but I know that I am Canute to the chickenny sea of determination. Even the serama are now at it. That patio has been down for over a year without any such attention. I am at a loss as to why they have all decided to destroy it now.

Experience tells me that it is an awful lot harder to get a chicken to forget something than it is to teach it in the first place. So I am being vigilant. Every time I see this undesirable behaviour, I am sweeping or watering the bird away. Problem is that my girls are far from scared or intimidated by me. Earlier, Mabel squatted in front of me while I dribbled water on her head from the watering can. Then she started to preen, for all the world like she was enjoying a helpful alfresco shower.

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Close Encounters Of The Fluffy Kind

There is never a perfect time to introduce new birds to a flock, but after a bit of experience you learn to judge it about right. As the sun was shining this morning, and the non-broody hens were all busy sunbathing in the border, I thought today was a good day to let Winnie and Flo get better acquainted with them. It has been eye opening.

I expected the other hens to take it in turns to chase the new underlings, and initially this is what happened. However, instead of running away in terror, the newbies stayed in a defensive 'bum to tail' formation, and wielded off any serious attack. If they were separated from their 'gemini' position, they hid under their assailant. This caused huge amounts of confusion as the pecky hen looked about in astonishment, sometimes turning in a circle, while the vanished victim scuttled about under their ample bosom. Winnie pulled this trick on ASBO Chicken several times before she twigged. I like to think that I saw a look of respect in her eye as she let Winnie run back to her accomplice.

After these early shenanigans, the other hens pretty much ignored the babies. They did have the temerity to sunbathe in Maeve's favourite spot at one point, so she almost playfully pecked their bums until they shifted slightly to the left. She then assumed her sun worshipping position and closed her eyes. I have never known Maeve to allow another chicken to sun worship next to her, so this was surprising. What happened next has literally never happened before. Flo crept towards the snoozing ASBO and pecked her square between the eyes. Maeve squawked in shock and leapt to her feet, eyeballing the smaller pullet. This was a Mexican standoff of epic proportions only broken by the arrival of raisins. I couldn't handle the tension.

As well as taking on the scariest chicken who has ever lived, the fluffy twosome decided to invade the Palace. A distinctly narky Hilda chased them out several times, but as soon as she turned her back they were back in the run, happily dust bathing in the aubiose and scoffing the big girls' pellets.

There may be trouble ahead.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Trials Of The Madchickenlady

Maude is a miserable sight. Where once she sported a fine coat of glossy feathers, she is now threadbare and scrawny. Her irritation is palpable. She regularly shakes herself from pale combed head to barely there backside and turns herself in to a snow globe. As the swirling feathers alight on the lawn, she stalks off muttering. The rows of new quills poking painfully through her skin are visible as she moves. If there was such a thing as chicken ibuprofen, I would definitely give her a dose. Unfortunately, all I can offer her in way of relief is some poultry spice to top dress her feed and a tonic in her drinking water.

My sympathy for Maude is only matched by my despair at the state of my garden. Every day I bribe the children to pick up feathers for me. I offer biscuits and extra minutes before bedtime if they will just pick up twenty pieces formerly of Maude. They do so with eye rolls, and in the last few days have picked up nearly 400 feathers. I wish I could say it's made a difference. This morning, I spent forty five minutes gathering a carrier bag full of pillow stuffing. With pride, I surveyed my almost perfect lawn. Maude watched me from her dust bath in the border. Predictably, no more than ten minutes after I'd finished the great lawn pick up, she emerged. With a stately stroll across the grass to the Palace, she undid all my hard work. The wind picked at her bare coverings and gleefully redecorated the garden with under fluff. I decided to have wine with lunch.

Just as picking up feathers is beginning to feel like a Herculean task, I similarly can't see any end in sight to the parade of broodies passing through the nest box. Hilda was rapidly joined by Celia, and both girls need breaking as soon as possible. However, I know that they will quickly be replaced by other members of the flock. They seem to have some complicated rota system sorted out between them. I wish I'd been copied in to that memo because it would have saved me a lot of time.

A keepers tasks are never done.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Admit it, you didn't believe me yesterday. You thought 'Oh, that Madchickenlady. She exagerrates. No way could six little chickens blanket an entire lawn'. Well, prepare to have your flabber well and truly gasted. Maude is the only one in full moult right now, but the others are all on the slide. This is my garden.

Maude, with her rapidly disappearing arse, attempting to look nonchalant.

Surveying the carnage. The entire lawn is in the same condition. And don't even get me started on the border.

A good portion of Maude's arse can be found in the coop.

And I'm guessing she sat here at some point.

Gladys is now sporting a short spikey do on her bonce, but is still amusingly bald in places.

She is not impressed. Oh, and that big white cloud in front of her?

Hilda is broody again. Sigh. I'm hoping that she'll bump out of it once her own bum falls off.

This was a pic of Maeve, but Vera has a real love of the camera. She sees me coming and flings herself at the lens.

Our beloved ASBO Chicken, looking fine.

Mabel is also moulting, but in a more sedate manner than Maude. She looks a bit moth eaten, bless 'er.

This was supposed to be a picture of Winnie. But you can't see her because Vera has once again ninja'd in to the frame. Gawd that chicken makes me laugh.

I wonder if the estate agent can airbrush feathers out of the photographs....