Sunday, 27 February 2011

Betsy and Vera's New Pad

In a bid to shake off yesterdays sadness, I thought I'd show you Betsy and Vera's new home. I managed to get this hutch new from a chap on ebay who makes them in his spare time. It is of excellent quality, and literally a third of the price of the mass produced pet shop varieties. All in all, I am very pleased with it.

This video was taken by the ever tolerant husband, who also did the fifty mile round trip to collect it for me yesterday (he likes it when I tell you all how great he is). As you can see, there is a ramp between the top and bottom floors. The serama have yet to work out gravity, and keep randomly stepping in to thin air and dropping down a floor in a fetching homage to the 'RoadRunner' cartoons.

I have yet to think of a name for the new residence, so all suggestions welcome.

Vera and Betsy

The new pad.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Bye Bye Purdy

A sad start to the day here. I let the girls out to free range, and six eager beaks started snaffling the lawn. I assumed that Hilda and Purdy were laying. I was right about Hilda, but sadly I found Purdy dead between the roosting bars. With a heavy heart, I extracted her from her uncomfortable resting place. A brief examination proved that she was without injury, and she had shown absolutely no sign of illness. I take comfort from the fact that her end was swift and apparently pain free.

She must have died during the night. The rest of the flock were extremely noisy this morning, but I put it down to spring feistiness. I now suspect that they were trying to tell me something. As I cleared the coop, Maeve stood in the pop hole watching me intently. I doubt that chickens can really comprehend their own mortality, and certainly the heartless harridans must have walked over their deceased flockmate to exit the coop for breakfast this morning. But her body was unmolested by inquisitive pecking, and no one had pooed on her. That just about adds up to respect as far as chicken loyalties go.

Farewell, Purdy Pants. I hope that your year with us was a happy one.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Mt. Aubiose

Despite the fact that from tomorrow the weather is due to improve considerably, I picked today to thoroughly clean out the Palace run. I just couldn't look at the wet, dirty carpet of litter any more. The hens had started to wipe their feet on the way out in to the garden. Donning my funky chicken wellies, I trudged out to assess the situation. As I feared, the garden was a boggy mess dotted here and there with a decorative splodge of chicken excrement. Perfect.

Chickens are naturally curious creatures, and they do like to get under your feet when you're doing something potentially fatal to them. Clearing the run becomes a fun game where by the girls take it in turns to sit directly behind me, therefore risk being stood on, or sticking their head in the way of the swiftly descending rake which I use to pile up the used bedding. The more I waft, shush and generally try to get shot of them, the more fun it becomes. Luckily, everyone survived the clear out and Maeve even managed a triumphant poo right in the centre of the briefly spotless slabbed floor.

I was only harassed by the pekin tribe, though. The serama are proving reluctant to spend any time outside of the garage. While I'm sure that a glowering Gladys thundering towards you across the patio must be quite intimidating, I doubt it's the only reason. They really don't enjoy the wet, or the wind, or the cold. Basically, they behave like teenagers who just want to stay in bed all day. On saturday, the ever tolerant husband is going to fetch me a two tier hutch which will be placed outside and which Betsy and Vera will then call home. I'm hoping to a) get them used to seeing the waddling hoardes charging towards them, and b) to get them acclimatised to the great outdoors. Frankly, trying to locate them in the garage is getting rather tiresome. Especially as Vera has a penchant for burrowing.

Once everything was cleared out, cleaned and mite dusted, I dragged the bale of Aubiose to the run. It was only when I looked behind me that I realised that the bag had a hole in it, and that I had cut a muddy swathe across the lawn. Lovely. Slitting the bag open in the run, I emptied half of it on to the floor, threw in some corn and then retreated. By the time I had replaced the feeder and drinker, all of the pekins were exploring the shiny new landscape.

Initially, they all circled at the edges of the pile and scoffed the corn which was most accessible. However, it wasn't long before this easy source of grub was exhausted and the only way to get more was to start the ascent. Gingerly, various hens began the climb, muttering with alarm as the flooring slid beneath their feet. Mabel took up a supervisory spot on the perch and directed her underlings accordingly. Slowly, the aubiose was being redistributed about the run. With a sudden show of bravado, Gladys pushed on to the summit. She stood triumphant, a whole eighteen inches above the ground, and bokked a bit. Then she dug herself a hole turning the mountain in to a volcano. Just as her crazy frizzled head disappeared below the crater, Maeve rather maliciously turned her back on the spectacle and started furiously scratching. Gladys shrieked indignantly as ASBO Chicken attempted to bury her nemesis alive.

That chicken definitely has a master plan.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Back To Business

As we near the end of February, I am pleased to inform anyone who cares that I now have five hens laying. That is exactly half my flock. Doris, Gladys, Hilda, Purdy and Betsy have all presented me with their first eggs this year. I have decided that spring officially starts when half your flock is in lay, so I am determinedly turning my back on winter. So ner.

After Betsy's tiny egg, she decided to take a weeks break. Yesterday, however, she produced a lovely little pale cream egg. She walked around it, chattering to me for all the world as if to say 'Ha! Now be impressed! I am only this big, yet I got this relatively large egg out of my behind. Aren't I clever?'. I have to agree that she is. The egg is roughly three quarters the size of a pekin egg. Considering that Betsy is half the size of a pekin...well, I'll leave the maths to you. It was never my strong point.

I am getting closer to purchasing a decent sized rabbit hutch for the serama. Although I still hope to integrate eventually, it's clear that it will take some time. At least with a decent hutch I can put them outside and they can all get used to looking at each other. At the moment, the pekins wander in to the garage to spy on the micro chickens, and Betsy and Vera hide in their cage. Or else get lost in the tangle of junk occupying the garage. It is not fun trying to extricate two tiny hens from the Jenga like pile of garden chairs and camping equipment. There is always the risk of...squashing.

Conditions here haven't really improved weather wise, but we are due a break from the rain towards the end of the week. I am itching to get out and clear the Palace run, especially now that I've managed to track down some aubiose. It doesn't take much to make me happy.

Now for some blatant self promotion. If you are reading this, you are likely to be a chicken lover. If you're in the UK, you might well purchase a magazine entitled 'Practical Poultry'. And if you were to purchase April's edition (on sale from the 25th of February), you might spot a familiar character.

That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Gently Does It

The chooks are unimpressed. Frequent downpours keep the garden a soggy mess, and my delicate feather-footed girls really dislike the way the wet makes their feet straggly. They examine the streamers trailing from their toes with disgusted mutters, and shake their feet with irritation as they become one with the longer grass. As they have just come through their moult, this problem is at it's worst. Their new foot feathers are particularly long.

Betsy and Vera are not affected by this problem. However, being silkied, they are not really designed for wet and windy conditions. On their brief trips in to the garden, they are buffeted about by the inclement weather and frequently retreat to the garage to poo all over the place and perch on the step ladder.

In an attempt to cheer them all up, I threw an apple out on to the lawn. The pekins watched it roll past, looked at me, and then went back to sulking. Even the greedier hens couldn't find the enthusiasm to stuff their beaks. The serama considered running the gauntlet of many garden obstacles, but then thought better of it. I think we're all missing the sun.

I noticed this afternoon that Betsy and Vera were scratching and shaking their heads, much like the pekins were just a few weeks ago. I wouldn't be surprised if the cause of this irritation was a mite, possibly of the ear variety. As the tiny chooks have been spending time in the Palace run, I am beginning to wonder if this beastie is living in the horse bedding. So this weekend I'll be clearing the run, scrubbing the slabs and dusting everything in mite powder. In the meantime, all birds got another spray with anti-mite and a light dusting of powder. In fact, I managed to gently dust the serama while they perched, looking up in wonder at the gently falling beastie killer.

It was quite festive.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Betsy Lays An Egg!

Yep, Betsy the tiny buff serama has produced her first egg for me. Some how, I doubt it will make a filling meal.

She was so pleased with herself, too.

Gladys Gets Vocal

Oh God. For nearly two and a half years there has been a clear leader in the gobby chicken leaderboard: Doris. She has owned this dubious accolade with her shrill baby seagull impression. Many a tea towel has been shook in her direction in a bid to shut her up when a passing cloud or rustling leaf has spooked her. But now she has competition. And, dear Lord, it's an assault on the eardrums.

If Doris sounds like a baby seagull, Gladys sounds like a cross between Alan Carr and one of these things:

Yep, it's a skeksis. From 'The Dark Crystal'. It makes a sort of 'Hmmmmmm?' noise, as if curiously inquiring. It's a sound that lingers, just past the limit of human endurance. I have a skeksis impersonator living in my garden. And she is LOUD. And she really likes to sing.

This is a problem. There is currently no known way of muzzling a gobby chicken. She is impervious to the tea towel flappage. Chasing her only makes her squawk more. Treats merely stall her ghastly song. Just yesterday, as she began her unlovely serenade, the ever tolerant husband looked up from his paper and inquired: 'Who the hell is being strangled out there?'. I pretended I couldn't hear anything. I doubt this will work for long.

So, wat to do? Well, there's nothing I can do to be honest. I can only hope and pray that Gladys is making such a racket because she is coming in to lay, and that once spring has sprung she'll settle down. When Hilda goes to lay her egg, her frizzled mate has taken to sitting with her, shrieking encouragement. Even the other hens seem irritated by Gladys's need to be heard, and mabel has taken to chasing her around the garden in an effort to make her breathless just so that she shuts up. It doesn't work, merely delays the inevitable.

I am beginning to hope that chickens can get laryngitis.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Let The Sun Shine

A glorious morning here in the midlands. For the first time this year, I was eager to pull on my wellies and get stuck in to the garden. The ravages of the winter were still apparent, but new promises of spring are cheerfully making their presence known. Now that the hens have been denied access to the border, bulbs are poking through the soil and buds are beginning to ripen on the rose bushes and shrubs. All in all, most satisfactory.

The chooks followed my progress as I pruned and weeded, and Mabel chattered away to me with her head on one side as if asking my opinion on something. Not being able to speak chicken, I think I rather disappointed her in not being able to help. As I worked, I left neat piles of clippings so that I could collect them later. Silly me. When I looked back I found that the girls had helpfully rearranged my piles all over the lawn, as they picked up various prunings and threw them around looking for bugs or tasty new growth. Chickens love to help with the gardening.

The serama tentatively explored the garden. Occassionally, Hilda or Gladys would chase them a bit before getting distracted and forgetting about them. I felt happy enough to leave them freeranging with the bigger girls and headed inside to fill the drinkers. As I gazed out of the kitchen window, contemplating crisps (as you do), I noticed that the flock had gone very tall and quiet. Uh oh. Dashing outside, I found the hunter cat stalking along the top of the fence, his predatory gaze fixed on the oblivious micro chickens. Waving the broom, I hissed at him and chased him away. Maeve watched me with interest, and a calculating expression across her chickenny chops. Merely minutes later, I lost sight of the tiny newbies and went searching. I found them by the side gate, and the hunter cat perched above them on the gate post. This might be a very real problem.

I have no wish to keep Betsy and Vera caged, and after all they need to do normal chicken things. So, I think the best solution will be to get some kind of movable enclosed run so that they can enjoy scratching, dustbathing, scoffing things etc without becoming some feline's latest toy. The stalking cat is the same one that Maeve saw off some months ago. However, a feisty pekin is a very different creature to a soft serama. Personally, I don't fancy their chances if it came down to a stand off.

After tidying away the pekins 'help', I sat on the back step with a cup of tea and surveyed my suburban idyll. The hens laid in shafts of sunlight, catching some rays. Even Betsy assumed the position, strangely with one leg pointing skywards. She looked a bit like she was auditioning for an exercise video. The gentle peace was shattered by a squeaky 'bok bok bok-ARK'. Human and chickens alike looked about, wondering if any of the neighbours ahd recently acquired chickens. Then Vera strutted around the corner in to view, throwing her head back and really going for it. I'm sure she meant to show us all who was boss, but frankly the noise was pathetic. A bit like she was bokking quietly in to a paper bag. If chickens could laugh, the others would have sniggered. As they can't, they just went back to their collective sun worship. Vera wound down with a vaguely embarassed air, and started preening.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Micro Chickens, Meet The Flock

Maude clocks the new mini chickens sauntering towards the coop. Celia does an ostrich impression.

A quick conference is called.

The flock decides to send out it's secret weapon: ASBO Chicken. Betsy looks wary.

Maeve's slow saunter fools no-one, and Vera and Betsy keep their distance.

I think Maeve looks more curious than murderous, but the mini chooks are taking no chances.

The others gradually emerge for a closer look. Doris is more interested in the porridge.

Gladys looking marvellous, just because.

This is the closest pic I can get of the serama posing.

Betsy and Maeve size each other up, while Doris takes her snout out of the trough long enough to look on.

Out of curiosity, I weighed the serama today. My pekin girls weigh around 600g each. Betsy weighs in at 375g, and her tiny pal Vera is 275g. I think this makes Betsy overweight according to breed standards. I won't tell her though.

I don't want her to get a complex.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Spring Is In The Air

After yesterday's confirmation that Hilda has started laying, I am delighted to report that Doris has decided to join in. Considering that Doris has had a couple of bouts of weirdy eye illness over the winter, I am particularly glad that she has rallied. The bad news is, she layed her torpedo egg and then sat on it. For an hour. This could be a world record for a laying hen turning broody.

While Doris was busy in the nest box, Betsy and Vera were safely locked in the run. Last night was a bit nippy here, but I resisted cosseting the tiny serama beyond covering their cage with a thick rug. They managed to find the parakeet perch, and when I last checked on them before human bedtime their feet were toasty warm. I have decided to press ahead with gentle introductions, because I will be happier when they're snuggled up next to a pekin duvet.

The flock have taken it in turns to approach the run door and observe the interlopers. There has been much concerned chuntering, but no acts of aggression. For their part, Betsy and Vera have pretty much ignored the bigger girls. I did go dashing out when I heard the whole flock sounding an alarm call, and was amused to see the serama bouncing up and down to try and see over the six inch kickboard that surrounds the Palace's perimeter. It turned out that the terrifying threat was a plastic shopping bag which was blowing above the fence line before sinking back down.

Maeve ignored the whole commotion, preferring to lay flat on the patio in full on sun worship. She has also ignored the newbies. Her indifference is suspicious. She usually asserts herself pretty much immediately with new hens. I wonder if their size makes her think that they are babies, and therefore not worth bothering with. They have yet to bok.

No eggs yet, but the incy is dusted off. Just in case.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Getting On With It

Despite my best efforts to convince the ever tolerant husband that tiny chickens can be house pets, the serama are now happily relocated to the garage. We picked up a large parakeet cage which will serve as a temporary home, and they seem totally unphased by all the changes. During the transition from house to outbuilding, I risked letting them have a little fresh air.

If it's possible, they looked even tinier stood on the patio. After a few moments of sussing out their general surroundings, they sprinted over to the bird feeder (knocked down by the recent gales) and scoffed the home made fat ball. The flock seemed to notice the newbies all at once, and eight fluffy chickens did their best beady eyed statue impersonations. Mabel clucked quietly at this new development. I watched this initial interaction carefully. Betsy and Vera seemed oblivious to the bigger girls. I doubt they'll get away with that for long. No move was made towards the miniscule ladies, but I suspect that was more out of shock than kindness. The look on Maude's cocked head suggested she thought she might be hallucinating. Perhaps seeing tiny chickens is the poultry equivalent of seeing pink elephants. That apple cider vinegar is good stuff.

I briefly allowed them some freedom today while cleaning their cage (They are exceptionally messy eaters). As they dashed about the patio, pecking in the cracks, the flock slowly ambled their way. Unsurprisingly, it was Gladys leading the reconnaissance mission. In my experience, it is always the current bottom hen who is most forthright with new flock members. I suppose she has the most to lose. Their slow mooch didn't fool me for a second. This is the chicken equivalent of creeping up on your enemy. A nonchalent peck at the ground as you gradually close in might just fool your prey that you're not going to eat them. I allowed them to get to the edge of the patio for a better look, but picked up the serama and returned them to their quarters before the chase could begin. Again, Betsy and Vera seemed totally at ease with the situation. The pekins were less serene.

Purdy has been back in lay for a while now, but over the last week I have noticed an increase in egg production. Today I finally caught the secret layer in the act. It seems that Hilda has come of age. I had a sneaking suspicion it might be her, as she keeps being squashed by a narky Mabel. Mabel might not be in lay yet, but she won't let the younger hen forget who's boss. I expect the other hens to follow Purdy and Hilda's lead very soon. Oh, and speaking of eggs...Betsy is in lay and has been running with a cockerel. If she lays for me over the next week, I might put her eggs in the little incubator.

Just as an experiment, you understand.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

You've Been Framed

Just a couple of very amateur videos of the new Serama ladies, Betsy and Vera. They seem to really like apple.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Tiny Chickens Rock

I have been to Worcester today to pick up my Valentine's day present from the ever tolerant husband. Now, can you say 'awwwwwwww'?

Introducing Betsy, a 7 month old serama hen already in lay.

Betsy and her pal Vera, a 4 month old serama pullet.

You can see some slight cockerel damage to Vera's wing here, and also the ever tolerant husband's foot.

Tiny ladies with attitude.

And fluffy bums.

I have tried my hardest to get a pic of them in profile, but they won't have it. They are far more interested in eating toast crumbs off the rug. Neither are show quality serama, but I think they are little beauties.

I am not quite sure what the pekins will think.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A Serama Encounter

I have finally met some serama. A local breeder was kind enough to introduce me to her breeding flock, and I am very impressed. In the flesh, they are no bigger than quail and really rather bold. No mad skittishness or cowering. In fact, one particularly feisty little chap took on one of the ever tolerant husband's shoes.

He was doing his very best 'Yeah, come on then! I am well 'ard! I'll have your ankles!' dance. His little chest was puffed, his hackles raised and his tail erect. As he strutted about our feet and charged at the ever tolerant husband, we all went 'aahhhhhh!'. I very much doubt that was the effect he was going for. I felt rather sorry for him to be honest. No more than six inches high, he was really giving it some and doing his upmost to be terrifying. After a few passes, he realised we weren't going to run fleeing from his mighty wrath and got rather disheartened. Slowly, he lowered his tail and hackles and sloped off back to his wives who were watching his humiliation. The breeder informed us that her huge doberman is terrified of the little cockerel, so at least he gets to put the fear of God in to something.

Predictably, the showy males are the most eye catching. They raise and fan out their tails in a way that reminds me of, simultaneously, peacocks and flamenco dancers. The females are less extravagant. However, they are neat little birds, with pretty heads and tiny little feet. All in all, they are quite a dainty breed. The size varies a fair bit, and apparently they don't breed true in colour or size. A few boys let loose with a fairly pathetic crow while we stood chatting which was interesting (and made me wonder....). However, as we were leaving one of the tiniest males let rip with a voice that was humourously out of synch with his diminuitive stature. Of course, there is no way of knowing just how loud, or how persistent, a cockerel might be until he's in situ. So for now, a male is out.

On saturday, I am heading to Worcester to see some available pullets.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

February Dawns

At last, the dreaded January is banished from the calender. Hoorah! As we greet February, the snowdrops and crocuses are beginning to slowly emerge. At least they are this year, because they are safely ensconsed behing the Barrier. The hens can only eye them with longing, instead of scoffing them with abandon. Ha! In your chickenny faces, ladies!

The hens are still playing by the new rules when it comes to the border. I am, frankly, surprised. Usually they find a way around any obstacles pretty quickly. I can only assume that they are content to lull me in to a false sense of security. No doubt as soon as the border is erupting in to colour, they will break in and rampage around like a load of drunken students, demolishing all plant life in their path. No matter. For now, I am happy to imagine that this might work.

Spring is a strange thing in the chicken kingdom. While I can see spring on the horizon, I'm not expecting it's arrival for a few months yet. The chooks sense it is much closer. Hilda and Gladys have begun crouching, and their first eggs are imminent. At the moment, it's still only Purdy in lay, but any day now I expect her to have company. Combs are reddening up, the odd scuffle is breaking out and Doris is once again doing her deeply annoying baby seagull impression. Seriously, when I think about how I wouldn't dream of inflicting a cockerel on my neighbours, I can't quite believe that no-one has reached over the fence and stuffed Doris in a casserole dish. That hen can be shrill.

Over the winter, the pecking order stays static. There is little in the way of dominance displays, and Mabel very much retreats in to the general flock. But as soon as the days start lengthening, she feels the need to knock the flock in to shape. Many startled hens have been happily minding their own business only to be flattened to the floor by our Illustrious Leader. She is coming up to 3 years old, and is showing no signs of giving up her throne.

Maeve is watching the two youngest flock members keenly. Gladys seems quite content to stay near the bottom of the flock and does her best to avoid confrontation. She isn't bullied in any way, and is obviously a quiet character. The same cannot be said for Hilda. Hilda has decided that she likes the look of the upper echelons of chicken society. Purdy, Celia and Doris have all been challenged, and I can see her sizing up the world famous ASBO Chicken.

I am watching this with trepidation. Maeve is biding her time, and ignores the young upstart unless she sashays past a little too close. A well aimed hiss tends to make her sashay faster, but she doesn't break out in to a full blown waddle. This displeases Maeve. I suspect that any day now, Hilda will launch a full assault. Indeed, sometimes when Maeve is eating Hilda has the metaphorical balls to stand next to her and eat like her equal. This is currently being tolerated, which makes me distinctly nervous. I only hope that when Maeve eventually loses her patience she leaves the younger hen enough feathers to keep her warm for the rest of the winter.

I might end up fashioning a chicken jumpsuit.