Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day 21 - Continued

I promised you updates, so here we go!

After hearing/seeing nothing this morning, I went out to run a few errands with a disappointed slump to my shoulders. I had more or less concluded that the great serama hatching experiment had failed. So imagine just how gleeful I was when I heard cheeping, actual real cheeping, from under Vera this afternoon.

I was sat next to the hutch, my chin resting on the doorframe and staring at Vera who was staring at me.  We were both quite fed up. I contemplated how hard it would be to get Vera out of broody mode without upsetting her, and Vera artfully placed pieces of wood shaving about her chest and wing area. After placing a piece, she would eye it critically from various angles, and sometimes finding it lacking, rearrange it. She began to look a bit like she'd cut herself shaving multiple times. Just as she was about to place another piece, her undercarriage cheeped. We both froze, but only one of us had a faceful of wood parings, so I think she was more surprised.

Cautiously, Vera dropped her next piece of wooden jewellery and chirruped back. The cheeping got more insistent. I was just about to do a victory (silent) scream, when Vera did something quite surprising. She leapt up off the nest and legged it. With my heart in my mouth, I wondered how quickly I could get the incubator up and running again. Vera was scoffing chick crumb like a demon. I carefully placed my hand over the eggs, hoping to keep them warm while I quietly panicked. Vera was now face down in the drinker, snorting H2O like it was going out of fashion. The eggs began cheeping. Loudly. With one last slug of fluids, Vera shook herself like a prizefighter about to enter the ring, and legged it back to the nest. I quickly withdrew my hand, but still earned myself a filthy look and a darkly muttered chicken curse. She gently settled herself again, and I got the distinct impression that Vera was stocking up for a prolonged period of sitting. A bit like the time I ate an entire family sized bar of Dairy Milk just before I went in to labour with the youngest. A girl needs her energy.

So now we are waiting. The last time I checked, Vera was still chirruping gently to her eggs, and they were cheeping back. She did look slightly alarmed when her rear end suddenly shot up an inch to the left before settling down, but she is still sat firm.

The serama are coming.

Day 21

Yep, today should be hatch day. Yet there is nothing to report. Despite knowing that serama are hard to hatch, I confess to feeling a little crestfallen. As I watch Vera determinedly clamped to her five eggs, I can only wish that at least one of them makes her a chicken mama. She has been an excellent broody, and it seems such a shame that after all of her diligent care she ends up chick-less. If it was in my power, I would rush out and get her some day old serama chicks to nurture. Unfortunately, getting hold of serama chicks is a bit like getting hold of moon beams. So, I continue to sit at the nest side, straining my ears and hoping against hope that I'll hear a cheep, or a crack, or something.

It's quite windy today, so the rest of the flock are a bit put out. They dislike being blown up the garden, and it doesn't make sunbathing pleasant. Betsy is refusing to leave the garage, as anything more than a slight breeze tends to toss the serama about at whim.

If anything happens, I'll let you know.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Waiting Is the Hardest Thing

Despite my concerns on Monday, absolutely nothing has happened with regards to the serama eggs. Vera is still sat patiently upon them like Terry Wogan's wig made sentient, and interesting rustlings are still issuing from beneath her. In fact, last night I spent a good five minutes nose to beak with the sound asleep hen contemplating all of these interesting sounds. As she is utterly still, yet the eggs don't appear to be doing anything, I can only draw the conclusion that chickens can, in fact, fart. And like pregnant ladies everywhere, Vera has given up trying to remain lady like.

Betsy is missing her pal enormously. If you step outside, you are greeted with the tippy-tappy sounds of a very small chicken speeding towards you looking for company. As I type this, Betsy is sitting on a garden chair and the youngest is hand feeding her individual blades of grass. He is also regaling her with tales of Doctor Who, and she is doing a good line in 'interested'. She seems to appreciate and approve of this treatment, obviously considering herself to be chicken royalty. She can't fool me, though. I have noticed flecks of bright yellow dried on her beak and on one chickenny eyebrow. Betsy lays infrequently, and they are either tiny, five pence piece sized fart eggs or larger softies. I suspect that she has noshed a softy this morning, which is an undesirable trait in any hen but on this occassion I shall turn a blind eye. Some allowances must be made for royal chickens.

The pekins have finally made peace with being shut in to the coop until a reasonable hour, so I can now breathe a sigh of relief. Spring still has their sap rising, though, and there has been a lot of chasing and pecking order shuffling. Hilda's spell at being broody seems to have badly affected her standing in the flock, and for now she has to tolerate even her old best mate Gladys squashing her a bit. For the most part, she takes this quite well. I did have to rescue her yesterday, however, as her own egg was chasing her up the garden. Or this is how it appeared to the most disconcerted hen. In reality, the egg was firmly fastened to her ample behind by a particularly unpleasant poo. It was a team effort to free her, as she pulled one way and I another. The egg came free still attached to several feathers. Hilda turned around to examine her new waxed bits and scuttled off up the garden in high dudgeon. The egg was discreetly disposed of.

We now enter the critical phase with the serama hatching experiment. I check Vera regularly, and strain my ears desperate to hear even the merest hint of a cheep. But so far the only sounds are Vera's dubious rumblings. Today is day 19, so pipping could occur today or tomorrow.

Cross your fingers for me, eh?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Painting The Palace

I can hardly believe that it's been a year since the girls moved in to the Palace. I spent months trying to find the perfect coop for my pampered ladies and I have to say that I am delighted with my choice. However, perfection doesn't come cheap, so in an effort to protect my investment I decided to paint it. The recent warm weather made me think that today would be ideal. Naturally, the temperature has plummeted by around ten degrees and the wind has picked up. I also have two helpers at home, as the children are on their Easter holidays from school. Despite these possible hiccups, it went reasonably well.

I kept the hens in the run while I painted the outside, figuring that it's the outside of the structure which suffers the most weathering. I want to treat the inside as a red mite preventative, but what with the serama occupying the garage and my tomato seedlings taking over the greenhouse, I have nowhere to stick the pekins while it dries. So for now, the inside of the coop will have to wait. After giving the children strict instructions on the handling of the creosote substitute and putting them in some old clothes, we got started.

The creosote substitute (creocote) smells like creosote, but is thin and watery. So naturally it goes everywhere. The hens watched with interest as the youngest mostly covered his own shoes and arms in the runny mix, while I attempted to duck out of the eldest's spray. Doris kept up a running commentary in her baby seagull stylee, while the others muttered in the manner of little old ladies at bus stops that go 'Ooh!' about everything. After around twenty minutes of watching the carnage, I thanked my helpers graciously and sent them indoors to eat Easter eggs. The hens and I eyeballed each other, all of us grateful for the reprieve. I think the girls were tiring of dodging out of the way of random creocote showers.

With my helpers not helping, it was finished in no time. It doesn't take very long to slap a coat of creocote on to your chicken housing and can make a huge difference to both the longevity of it and also any red mite attacks. I heartily recommend spending a messy, stinky hour doing so. Just be prepared that you won't be able to smell anything else for hours as the fumes singe your nose hairs.

Now, I realise that I haven't mentioned Vera and the eggs yet. Apologies. The thing is, there is nothing more to tell. Tiny tapping sounds continue to be heard from the nest, and Vera continues her steady vigil. As yet, there are no chicks.

The waiting continues.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Well That's....Odd

I set the serama eggs on April the 9th. So, for just over two weeks the experiment has been underway. We've lost 7 of the original eggs along the way, and taken the incubator out of the equation. Now it is all down to a small black silkied hen. So far, so good. Except something rather strange seems to be happening.

Earlier, I made one of my daily checks on Vera. I opened the nest box door and peeked in at her. She sat there like a small headed cow pat with the glassy eyed stare of the hormonal hen. So everything as expected. However, just as I was about to close the door I heard a tap. Curious. A few seconds later I heard it again. Vera clicked her beak, but otherwise remained still. Ooh. Deciding I must be going mad, I called the ever tolerant husband outside to listen with me. Naturally, all was silent. Just as he was about to pat me on the head pityingly, the tapping started again.

The tapping was definitely coming from under Vera. Betsy, in the hutch below, kept looking up at the nest above her, clearly hearing whatever it was that was tapping. The ever tolerant husband said the unsayable: I think that we are hearing serama chicks. Refusing to even consider such a proposterous notion merely two weeks in to incubation, I was just about to close the door when I am pretty sure I heard some faint cheeping. Vera remained impassive, and firmly glued to her eggs. Still not quite believing my ears, I retreated to the house to google serama incubation times.

I found one interesting account of serama hatching on day 16, although this seemed to be notably rare. Most breeders tend to find that their chicks appeared somewhere between day 17 and day 20. So the earliest I should be expecting any babies would be tuesday.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 22 April 2011

We're Going All Natural

Last night, after careful consideration and much procrastinating, I turned off the incubator. But worry not! Because I gave the three fertile eggs to the serama pancake formally known as Vera. To my amazement and great relief, she looked at the eggs in front of her and then tapped them a bit with her beak. After a moments consideration, she scooped them under her wing one by one and wriggled about a bit until she was comfortable. I have officially placed all of my precious eggs in one basket.

I decided to go down this route for several reasons. After candling, I was relatively certain that Vera only had two fertile eggs. But the egg shell meant that I wasn't entirely sure, so I left it another twenty four hours and candled again. The egg lit up like a fairy light, but I could still see a dark mass. And the dark mass appeared to be slowly moving. It was definitely not as developed as the other embryo's, though, so I assumed that this embryo had died at some point and I decided to discard it and give Vera the remaining eggs. Once she was happily settled, I took the dud egg in to the kitchen.

Bracing myself, I decided to crack it open to see exactly what was going on. It took me a few minutes to pluck up the courage. Like most novices, I am so terribly afraid of getting it wrong. I had visions of cracking the egg only to find a tiny, viable embryo. In my rather over-active imagination, I could see a tiny chick turning to me with a reproachful look, and then I'd have to stick my head in the oven to make amends for wanton chick murder. Of course, when I cracked it I found a perfectly formed but unfertilised yolk. With slow dawning, I realised that the dark mass I'd seen slowly moving was probably this exact yolk suspended in the albumen. What a muppet.

So now it's all down to Vera.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Half Way Point

So, today is the serama hatching experiment's half way point. And I must confess to being a very bad chicken keeper. I just very quickly candled Vera's eggs while she took a food and water break. I used a tiny LED torch for mere seconds, so heat and light disruption were minimal. One egg is definitely clear, with no development whatsoever. The other two are more promising. Air sac's present and correct at the blunt end and a dark, possibly moving mass towards the pointy end. I replaced all three eggs before Vera noticed they were missing, and watched her for a moment to make sure she would settle again. Thankfully, she has. I am now wondering if I should remove the obvious dud, or whether that would upset her. Any advice from more experienced chicken people most appreciated.

Having candled Vera's eggs, it was but a moments work to briefly candle the incy eggs. Disappointingly, only 3 of the eggs in the incubator show air sacs and development. The other six are completely clear. Whether this is down to the postal system, or a cockerel not doing his job, is hard to say. So now I know that I have five precious serama embryo's at the half way point. The odds aren't great, but I shall persevere.

In other news, the flock has been a gobby nightmare. Spring has well and truly sprung, and the girls seem to think that the best possible way of celebrating this is to screech their heads off en masse at 6am. Not good. So last night I shut them in the coop hoping that the dark would keep them quiet. No such luck. At 6.30am I was ejected from the bed by the ever tolerant husband to 'shut those bloody hens up'. When I arrived, blearily, at the coop I found a general air of narkedness paired with the occassional highly indignant bok-ARK. They had clearly got up for breakfast, and finding their way barred, decided to complain loudly to the management. I'll be glad when this spring fever has passed, and no doubt so will the neighbours.

I leave you with the youngest's interpretation of an easter chick. Bet you can't guess who.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Determination Is The Key

Make no mistake, a broody hen is a force to be reckoned with. I have heard tales of chickens playing at being broody, spending a few days annoying the rest of the flock and then getting bored and losing interest in the whole thing. I have yet to see a pekin give up after such a half hearted effort. So far, Celia wins the most persistant broody award, having notched up nearly twelve weeks last autumn. I tried everything short of burning down the nest box to break her, but in the end the only thing which brought her out of her broody nuttiness was going in to a full moult. She was practically having daily baths and being force fed at one point. Still, she eventually came through it after several false starts and numerous trips to the slammer.

Now I am doing battle with Hilda. After spending the entire weekend in the broody cage, you'd think she'd be well and truly fed up by now. Indeed, when I went to look her over yesterday she had stopped the 'broody chunter' and was sat on the perch preening herself. Carefully, I placed the bottomless cage on the lawn and observed Hilda behaving in a normal, grass-scoffing-chicken way. So I took off the cage. She stopped mid-munch, eyeballed me, and then slowly sauntered towards the Palace. As she crossed the threshold, she looked back at me over her shoulder, broke in to a run and was back on the nest before I could open up the nest box.

I discovered her once again puffed up and growly in the fourth nest. With a sigh, I retrieved the hormonal harridan and plonked her back in to the garage. She is still there now, muttering darkly with malice glittering in her beady eyes. Hopefully tomorrow she will be more amenable to giving up on the broody madness.

Of course I feel guilty about trying to break Hilda. It seems quite cruel to be taking the hard line with her, while just a few feet away Vera is tending her own eggs. But I can't risk the great white pekin with serama eggs, and I'm not planning on hatching any pekins this year. So it's a necessary evil.

Now that I'm approaching the half way mark with the incubation, my mind is turning to hatch day. It was a truly marvellous experience watching the Peeps burst in to the world last July, and I'm trying not to get too anxious or excited about these eggs. Of course I'd love to get a decent hatch rate, but I know that I'll be lucky to get a 25% live hatch.

Expect a lot of chewed fingernails and angst in around ten days.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Being Broody Makes You Unpopular

Hilda is still broody. This isn't an unusual situation when it comes to pekins. In my experience, they are a tag team of nest hoggers. Of course, this brings it's own problems. A broody hen takes up space in the nest box, and that gets right on the other hens' bosoms.

Naturally, Hilda has set up her hormonal vigil in the favourite nest box. Never mind that there are four, yes, four, nest boxes to choose from, given half a chance they all prefer the one furthest from the pop hole and nearest the coop door. And now when the rest of the flock goes in to lay, there is an inflatable white pekin filling it up with her craziness and growling. Initially everyone took this with good grace, or at least the minimal of grumbling. But now Hilda has been broody for nearly a fortnight and their patience is running out.

Increasingly a commotion can be heard from the Palace as a narked hen wedges herself on top of the broody Hilda to lay her egg. As the laying hen leaves, she is wont to give Hilda a sharp peck to the comb, just to show her displeasure at the lack of privacy. As a result, Hilda's comb is beginning to look a little...nibbled. She isn't seriously hurt, but it could tip over in to violence at any time.

Under normal circumstances, I'd have broody caged the errant hen over the weekend. However, we won't be here so I can't. For the next two days Hilda will have to stay broody as I can't ask my chicken sitter to don the gardening gloves and broom handle necessary for handling a psychotic chicken. But her broody days are numbered. As of Monday, she's in the slammer.

Vera is still sitting tight to her eggs. I am trying very hard not to interfere in any way, but must admit I am struggling. I'm worrying that she isn't eating enough, or drinking enough, or pooing enough. She is such a tiny little thing, I won't take any chances with her welfare. However, every time I open the hutch to peer in at her, she glares at me in a distinctive 'Naff off' manner, so I suspect she is doing everything just as she should.

Betsy is missing her pal enough to attempt making friends with the pekins. Despite being chased and generally having iot made clear to her that she's not welcome, Betsy proves determined. She follows the flock about like an annoying little sister and even makes herself at home in the coop. The girls watch this audacity with slightly stunned inaction. So far, she has avoided any repercussions because of her 'Roadrunner' abilities. Serama are speedy.

Two weeks until hatch day.

Quick Edit: I have separated Hilda. I couldn't go away knowing that Maeve was attempting to eat her from the comb down. So now she is on the floor of the garage covered with a broody cage, most put out and kicking her water everywhere. I hope my chicken sitter doesn't kill me.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Waiting Game

Well, here we are two days in to the serama hatching experiment. The incubator is busy whirring away, and rotating the eggs every forty minutes. When it does this, it sounds a tinkling alarm which has never failed to make me jump, and make the ever tolerant husband roll his eyes. If he thinks that's annoying, just wait until I break the news that any resultant chicks might have to live in the downstairs loo.

Vera is so far sticking with it. Up until yesterday, I was lifting her from the nest to make sure that she ate and drank, but today I have just observed her. She seems to come around from her broody trance around lunchtime for about ten minutes. Today, I just so happened to be in the garage when I heard the trademark anxious broody chuntering, and saw Vera pacing at the hutch door. I opened it for her, and she leapt on to the floor and scarpered out of the garage door. I confess that at this moment I had a moment of panic. I needn't have worried.

Vera ran straight across the patio to the lawn and ripped up great beakfuls of grass. Bolting it down, she legged it over to the dust bath and rolled about for about thirty seconds. Personal grroming dealt with, she shook herself  on the patio and assumed that look of pensive contemplation that chickens make before they poo. Having evacuated a dropping almost as big as she was, she ran to a puddle to drink. Betsy was following her pal around the whole time, but backed off considerably upon the arrival of Giant Evil Faeces Monster. Can't say that I blame her.

Thirst slaked, Vera stood tall for a moment, surveying the garden and the other hens. Then she chuntered and ran back to the garage, jumped up in to her hutch and returned to her nest. The last I heard, she was fussing around her eggs and getting comfortable. Betsy arrived at the garage door, and we looked at one another. Vera's appearance had been short and sweet, and I imagine that the way she had packed an entire day of chickenny activities in to five minutes was rather bewildering to her micro chicken friend. As a gesture of sympathy, I gave Betsy a few grains of corn.

I'm not too concerned that Betsy is lonely, though. She is showing an amazing amount of pluck. Over the last few days, she has begun sneaking in to the Palace run and sitting on the perches. Sometimes the other hens wander in, and she stays still and silent, watching them. Yesterday, Maude spotted her sitting there and I thought we might have a bit of fisticuffs. But after a moment, Maude went back to slurping from the drinker and then mooched back out. This morning, I could hear Betsy but not hear her. I found her sitting in the Palace on the perching block, chattering to the grumpy and stubbornly broody Hilda. Hilda glared, but made no move to eat the little hen so I'd say that's progress.

Perhaps acceptance is in the offing?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

As Promised, Some Pics

A gorgeous spring day here, and perfect for taking some pictures.

Nine serama eggs now slowly rotating in the new incubator. As this new Brinsea Mini Advance does everything bar top up the humidity pool for you, I'm feeling a bit redundant. I had to practically sit on the pekin eggs last year.

No, this is not what Hilda usually looks like. This is the new, hormonally psychotic, puffed up, 'I kill you' Hilda. She is narked because I keep turfing her out of the nest box, and when she legs it back in there I am. Again.

In this pic she is considering goiung all ninja on my arse. I am wearing gloves.

Celia and Maude caught red handed happily throwing the contents of the border all over the patio.

And Mabel is busy stomping some alliums in to paste. Thanks ladies. Your gardening help is always appreciated.

Gladys dust bathing. No jokes about KFC, please.

This is Betsy playing in the garage. She seems completely oblivious tot he fact that it isn't a chicken adventure playground.

A broody Vera sitting on her three eggs, and some rolled up socks for comparison. See? There's not much in it. I'd like to add that shortly after this picture was taken, Vera gave me such a look of contempt that I removed my socks and slunk away.

Another pic of the inflatable Hilda, just because I have never seen such a puffy pekin.

And a non-puffy Doris laying her egg and ignoring the nutjob Hilda.

The non-laying, non-broody girls really getting to work with some serious garden vandalism. Maeve is attempting to dig to Australia.

Happy spring everybody.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Did Someone Mention Hatching?

Today was a very good day. At ten o'clock this morning, my lovely postman brought me a dozen very well wrapped serama eggs. So well wrapped that it took me fifteen minutes to carefully cut through the many layers of bubblewrap, sellotape and tissue. Those of you who remember what happened to my first lot of pekin hatching eggs last year will understand my caution. With almost reverent care, I unwrapped twelve perfect little eggs. I'm no expert, but they look like they're a good size and shape. So far, I'm very pleased.

The incubator is busy whirring away next to me as I wait for the temperature and humidity to even out. I am hoping to set nine eggs tonight, just before bedtime. Why nine, you ask? Ah, well that would be because Vera is currently snugly welded to three.

I decided to switch Vera's four infertile eggs for three of the fertile ones while she had a five minute break. I lifted her off the nest and placed her by the feeder and drinker while I made the switch. She stood there uncertainly for a moment, before ejecting the horror that is a broody poo. Unbelievably foul smelling, and strangely tinged green, it caused Betsy to scarper to the other end of the hutch. Can't say that I blame her.

After a quick scoff and drink, Vera ran back up the ramp to her nest (For now, Betsy is still able to access the upper level of the hutch, but as of tomorrow the ramp will be removed turning the two tier hutch in to two one tier hutches. Following so far?). I held the door slightly ajar to watch the tiny hen as she discovered she was one egg down. Now, I know that chickens can't count, but Vera made quite a show of rolling the eggs about as if suspecting that one was hiding. She looked at me, looked back at the eggs and then seemed to shrug. With a bit more rearranging, she settled over the three potential serama chicks. And I breathed a happy sigh of relief.

Tomorrow, there will be pictures.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Point Of Being Broody

The weather is beautiful here at the moment. The sun is shining, the wind is virtually non-existent and the days are lengthening towards summer. All in all, it puts everyone in a happy, lazy mood. The pekins alternate between basking in the sun and retreating to the shaded border to dust bath and look for bugs. They are getting used to sharing the garden again, as the children batter hells bells out of the swingball and tear about the place on bikes and scooters. Already the hens have stopped running in terror as a flourescent yellow tennis ball whizzes millimeters above their combs or a bike stops inches from their prone, sun worshipping forms.

Hilda is alternating between joining in with the flock, and having a go at being broody. When I returned from my travels, I found seven eggs on the side placed carefully by my chicken sitter. I thought at the time that the yield was down a good bit, but it was a passing thought and I was soon buried under the washing mountain generated by travelling as a family. It wasn't until after my last post that I went outside to find Hilda sitting grumpily in the nest box. She raised her tail and glared at me as I approached, so I knew that the hormones were high. In fact, Hilda herself seemed a little high. On closer inspection, she appeared to be hovering several inches above the wood shavings. Now I'm no physicist, but even I know that chickens can't levitate. Taking a broom handle, I gently shoved the stroppy hen off of the nest. With a defiant splatty poo, Hilda stalked off out of the coop grumbling. She left behind an egg mountain. I have never seen a hen sit on so many eggs. I had to fetch a bowl to collect them all. In the end, it turned out that Hilda had hoarded ten eggs, which is a record here. I dread to think how she was managing to balance, but at least I now have an explanation as to why egg production seemed to have dropped off. Since removing her clutch, Hilda is only playing at being broody. She occassionally spends a few hours zoned out in the coop, but then seems to snap out of it and resumes rampaging around the garden with the rest of the flock.

Vera is not snapping out of it. If I lift her from the nest, she mutters in that anxious, panicked way that broodies do, gulps down some pellets and water and then legs it back to the nest. I am currently dithering over breaking her brood. Because Tuesday I purchased a dozen serama eggs, and they are hopefully on their way as I type. I am considering giving the little hen three eggs of her own to sit on. I am still debating this, however, as I have never used a broody before and I am a little unsure of how best to house her and any tiny chicks she hatches. Still, it is an intriguing idea.

When the eggs arrive, the adventure begins.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The First Broody Of The Season

Hello! I can only apologise for my longer-than-average silence, but I have been gallavanting with the ever tolerant husband. Normal service will now resume, you lucky, lucky people. So, a quick round up.

Everyone is now in lay. I am, on average, getting 4 eggs a day from my flock. However, as Betsy is still laying ridiculour five pence piece sized eggs, we're not really counting hers. Which is a shame, because she always looks so incredibly pleased with herself. The pekins are all happily laying, and despite showing some signs of going broody, Celia has so far resisted. Unlike Vera.

Yep, the tiny serama has gone hormone mental. She is sat huddled in her nest box, no bigger than a pair of rolled socks. If I lift her out, she makes the anxious keening noises familiar to me from my broody pekin ladies, but in a higher octave. In fact, she sounds a bit guinea-pig like. I have on occassion left a broody pekin for a bit before breaking her, but I will not be taking any chances with Vera. She is so tiny, I'd be quite concerned that sitting for any more than a few days could seriously affect her health. So, if she hasn't got over it by the end of the week, she'll find herself in the slammer.

I was away for four days, and my lovely chicken sitting friend took care of the girls impeccably. Still, leaving them is always difficult. As I watch them mooching about the garden and attempting to breach the barrier when they think I'm not looking, I find myself smiling with pleasure and relief that everyone is in rude good health. Despite travelling a fair amount, I have yet to have any problems int he flock while I'm away.

They seem to wait until I'm around to fake their own deaths.