Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Moving On

Can I take this opportunity to apologise for the miseryfest this blog has become over the last few posts? It has been a very bleak time indeed. This time last week I had 12 birds, and now I'm down to 8. Losing Hoppy and then Doris has been a massive blow. Hoppy more than likely had a genetic issue, and Doris either had egg peritonitis or a liver tumour. Either way, there was no fixing her. She will be missed, but I take comfort from the fact that she had three good years with us, and ate a hell of a lot of treats. She also shrieked her distinctive baby seagull song loud and long. The entire neighbourhood knew about Doris.

As I had to broody cage Gladys again yesterday (that hen is sneaky), my garden seemed quite empty. Mabel, Maude, Maeve, Celia and Hilda mooches about under the trampoline, hoovering up biscuit crumbs. Betsy and Vera, now firm friends again, dust bathed in my bedding plants while making occasional forays in to the palace to scoff pellets. And I missed my larger flock.

It was perhaps inevitable that I would start emailing breeders. and perhaps more inevitable that one would mail me back with a dizzying array of baby pekins needing new homes, from just about every point in the colour spectrum. The fact that this breeder is 50 miles away is a slight problem.

I'm making the ever tolerant husband his favourite dinner tonight.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Day Of Departures

This morning, I said goodbye to Silvio and Smudge, as they went off with the ever tolerant husband to their new home. It was a bitter sweet moment, as I was pleased to have found a good home for the little serama boy, but sad to let him go. I hope he has a long, happy life with plenty of ladies to woo.

This afternoon, I stroked Doris as she took her last breath. One of my original hens, she will always hold a special place in my heart. After our weekend away when we sadly lost Hoppy, I came home to find Doris in a bad way. Her breastbone was like a razor, and she had diarrhoea. I gave her a quick bath, and she ate a little from my hand. Doris has always been the greediest of hens, so this lack of appetite was the most damning evidence that she was very, very poorly. I realised that her abdomen was tight and swollen, and with a heavy heart realised that she probably wouldnt get better. Still, I had some Baytril left over from Mabel's illness, and as it was late on sunday night, thought I had nothing to lose. She took herself off in to a quiet corner of the garage, and I really thought she wouldn't make it through the night. So I made her comfortable in a builders bucket with a bed of woodshavings, and left her quiet.

This morning, I found her still alive and drinking. She ate a couple of grains from my hand, but that was it. I dosed her again, hoping that maybe she would rally. However, by lunchtime she was stood with her wings and tail down, her eyes closed and her breathing shallow. Knowing that the end was in sight, I decided not to drag her to the vet, with all the stress that that entails, and just let her pass peacefully. An hour later she was laying down, and while I gently stroked her she passed away.

Goodbye, old friend. You will never be forgotten.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Rough Patch Got Rougher

Hoppy died yesterday. My chicken sitter called me to give me the sad news, and my heart sank. As I said in my last post, she had stopped developing and I suspected that she was a weak chick. But I very much hoped that she would have a longer life than a mere 8 weeks. Out of the five chicks that I have hatched, only Hoppy was a girl. I feel a little cursed.

I doubt I will hatch again this year. To be honest, I'm feeling quite despondent about the whole chicken keeping exercise right now. As much as I love my girls, sometimes when you get a run of losses and bad health, it can all seem a bit much. No doubt I will rally myself and find my enthusiasm again, but right now I rather feel like weeping. Tomorrow, Smudge and Silvio head off to their new home, so I will be back to square one with my serama. So much effort for nothing. I think I can safely say that the serama hatching experiment has failed.

I promise that I won't post again unless I have cheered up.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Rough Patch

I am writing this post more as a record for myself than anything, so if you don't want to be depressed beyond all chickenny measure I'd advise you to leave me in my cloud of gloom and back away quickly. I really wouldn't blame you.

Doris seems to have something seriously wrong with her. But I can't work out what. She seems to have lost much of her appetite, and even treats don't really interest her. This is a massive personality change considering she would usually rugby tackle her way through a crowd to get at a tasty raisin. She has lost weight, and her breastbone feels sharp through her skin. If she had any other symptoms at all, I might know where to start treating her. But her comb is red, her tail is up, her droppings appear normal and there is no mucus flying about. I don't think she has layed for a while. I am worming the whole flock as a precautionary measure, and have added apple cider vinegar to the water in a bid to increase her appetite. Other than that, I suspect there is not a lot more I can do. To be frank, I suspect that Doris has something terminal. She is no longer screeching her head off like a baby seagull and takes herself off to bed an hour earlier than the others. At the moment, she doesn't appear to be suffering, mainly sunbathing and dozing in the daytime. Of course, she might be faking it, but somehow I don't think so.

Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions. Maybe she has just had a bug of some kind and will recover. Anything is possible. Whatever happens, I will not let her suffer. If I suspect that she has had enough, we will go to the vet. Bet you wish you'd stopped reading now, eh? Well, there's still time to get put before you hear more. Go on, run!

In other, equally depressing news, I am beginning to wonder if Hoppy is going to make it to maturity. She is now half the size of her much more developed brother, and doesn't seem to be developing further. She is fully feathered, but spends a lot of her time cheeping loudly with her tail down and wanting to hide under Vera. She is eating and drinking, and littering around the garden with. The others. The curled toes don't seem to cause her any problems, but I'm wondering if there is something else not quite right with her. Again, it's a wait and see situation. Oh, for a crystal ball.

In sad but also happy news, Silvio has a home to go to next week. He is growing to be a beautiful cockerel, and I hope he has a long and happy life. He is going to the breeder who sold me Smudge, and Smudge is going with him. Now that Betsy and Vera are pals again, they have excluded the younger bird to the point that she's become depressed. After careful thought, and being strict with myself that I cannot get yet more housing and extra friends for Smudge, I've decided to give her back. The breeder is happy to take her, as he was reluctant to let her go in the first place. So as of Monday, I will have just three serama.

Sometimes, chicken keeping can be very disheartening.

Monday, 20 June 2011

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

Hilda is giving a pretty convincing impression of being sane again. So convincing, that I released her from the slammer today. She has deliberately ignored the nest box, and dust bathed her day away. A less experienced keeper might pat herself on the back and consider that the spell in the broody cage has been a success. But I know hens. I know that they can do a fine job pretending that they're back to their non-mental selves, and then leg it back to their phantom eggs when your back is turned. So for now, I am remaining on guard.

However, with a vacant cage and two more broody hens to contend with, Celia found herself moving out of the nest box. She squawked indignantly as I plonked her in the bare cage, and gave me a look that could curdle milk. Being a hardened sort to chickenny antics, I left her to it in the garage. And gave it no more thought. Turns out, that was a mistake.

This evening, as I languished in the bath, I thought I could hear a muttering chicken. Considering that this was 9pm, I found that odd. Generally, my girls are roosting by then, and definitely non-vocal. Just as I shouted down to the ever tolerant husband to ask if there was a cat in the garden, he came bounding up the stairs. Before I got in to the bath, I'd asked him to lock up the girls for me. And he'd been outside to do just that, when he found Doris wandering around the garden. Considering the fact that it was peeing down, she was rather bedraggled looking.

The hens are shut in to the Palace run by tea time, and the pop hole closed when they roost. So I was very confused. I knew that I'd checked that every hen was present and accounted for when I closed them in, so I had no idea how she'd made her escape. An interrogation of the children revealed no clues. Hmmm.

As I scrabbled about for some clothes, the ever tolerant husband went back out in to the rainy gloom to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. He reported back by yelling up the stairs that all seven pekins were now safely locked in to the Palace, so I needn't worry. Well, that's good, I thought. And then....hang on. Seven? But there should only be six. Because Celia is in the....ah. Until I checked myself, I wouldn't be sure, but I'd bet my collection of 'Practical Poultry' magazines that Doris hadn't developed amazing ninja-like escape abilities. The Palace is about as secure as chicken housing gets. A parakeet cage, however, might be something that a very determined pekin could escape from. And the ever tolerant husband might easily mistake a silver partridge pekin for a blue pekin, especially at dusk. And of course, finding a roaming hen at that time, he had helpfully opened the run door for her.

It was no surprise to me therefore to find Celia back in the Palace's favoured nest box. I stood there in the pouring rain and endured the most malevolent hissing and glaring fit ever unleashed on a mere human. Unimpressed, I hoiked the Houdini chicken from her cosy sleeping quarters and returned her to the sparse slammer. I found the cage on it's side, and the top detached from the base. I can only imagine the amount of force necessary to achieve this, and look at Celia with healthy respect. I also put a heavy tin of paint on top of the cage, and locked the garage door.

If I find her wandering around the garden in the morning, I will employ a clergyman to perform an exorcism.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Zombie Chicken

Hilda spent several uneventful hours in the broody cage yesterday before giving me a heart attack. I find that chickens are good at this. If you do something they don't like, they'll lull you in to a false sense of security by pretending they're going along with it. Then, just as you start to relax, they unleash some hideous illness or surprising injury. Hilda went for the latter.

I popped my head in to the garage just to check that the serama weren't engaged in a battle to the death. They stared back at me impassively, all settled in opposite corners of the hutch but seemingly content. Thinking I'd got away with the integration without any major trauma, I was feeling a bit smug. And then I spotted something strange about Hilda.

Hilda is a pure white pekin. Naturally, she's rarely clean looking what with dust bathing in the mud and rolling about the grass. But generally speaking, she isn't dotted with scarlet. Nope, can't say that I've even seen her sporting red polka dots before. Naturally, I closed in for a better look. And that's when I saw that the cage looked like the set from a splatter movie. The perch was coated, there were splashes of red all over the floor, and the bars of the cage were in some cases actually dripping.

I hurriedly removed the cage and gently picked up Hilda. I could see no obvious injury to her head or face. My first thought was that she must have somehow injured her comb, because I know from experience that a chickens comb bleeds like mad for even a small injury. But no, she was definitely not bleeding from the head region. The blood seemed more concentrated on her lower half, so with trepidation I turned her around to check her vent. There is nothing glamourous about checking a chickens bum for injury, but my greatest fear was that she had somehow prolapsed. Thankfully, all seemed as it should. Which deepened the mystery somewhat.

At a loss as to where the red stuff was coming from, I turned Hilda on to her back. It became immediately obvious that she'd injured one of her feet. Her foot feathers were sticky and bright red. On first sweep, I couldn't find the source of the bleeding. Her toes and pads seemed fine, so she hadn't cut herself. It was then that my brain registered how odd her left foot looked. Sort of lop sided. And then it dawned on me. Hilda was missing her outer claw.

Somehow, she had managed to rip her entire nail clear from her toe. The thought made me wince. The end of the toe was bleeding slowly, but starting to clot. Hilda looked at the toe, looked at me and seemed to be trying to communicate the immortal line from 'Short Circuit' : "Reassemble, madchickenlady, reassemble!".

Starting to panic slightly, I forced the ever tolerant husband to assist me in some chicken first aid. Unfortunately, the gentian violet bottle leaked all over his hands, me, and the now multi-coloured Hilda. She now resembled less a white hen and more a Jackson Pollock abstract. Naturally, the gentian violet stung a bit, and Hilda made her displeasure known by grabbing the soft bit of skin between my thumb and index finger and giving it a hearty twist. I managed not to drop her, figuring her pain had to be worse.

I would have liked to interfere more, perhaps dressing the wound and adding a bandage. But stress is a killer to a chicken, and I think that Hilda had been through enough during the gentian violet episode. My hope was that she would settle for the night, and the wound would get a chance to heal. I added a layer of wood shavings to the broody cage, a luxury rarely afforded to a bird in the slammer, and popped her back in. She sat on the floor, smothered in her own blood and well meaning purple dye, and looked at me pointedly. I took the hint, and gave her some corn.

What became of the torn off nail, I do not know. I looked for it in the cage, and on the floor surrounding it, but found nothing. The ever tolerant husband suggested that she'd probably eaten it, which put me off my dinner somewhat. But he's probably right.

This morning, Hilda seems fine. But she looks like she's been vandalised.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Foxes Aren't Clever, People Are Stupid

I have been keeping hens for three years. I keep my girls in the fort Knox of chicken coops. The run is sited on paving slabs, so no predators can dig their way in. I check the weld mesh regularly to make sure nothing has been worrying at it. My chooks never free range if I'm not here. I have prikka strips around the garden in an attempt to keep unwanted visitors out. All of these precautions are meaningless, however, if in an act of absentmindedness you leave the run door open. Oh, and prop it open with a spade.

Yep. I got up this morning to panicking children. Thankfully, I had closed the pop hole, so all of the pekins were present and correct. It was suggested that we'd been visited by the four legged scourge of the chicken keeper, Mr.Fox. At this point I had to accept responsibility, because as wily and clever as the fox is reputed to be, I suspect his talents fall short of using a garden implement to keep the run door open. If he could commit such a feat, I imagine he would have a utility belt equipped with several sized screw drivers and his own camping stove. And as well as eating the chickens, he'd have stolen the telly and raided the fridge.

So it just goes to show that even an experienced keeper, who knows the risks, can slip up. And where a human slips up, a fox gets a free meal. I am now considering rigging up some kind of alarm. I'm half kidding.

In other news, I have taken the bull by the metaphorical horns. With three broody pekins, I need that parakeet cage. So after taking a deep breath, I shoved Smudge in to the serama hutch with the others. Vera stays for the most part on the top floor with the chicks, so it was left to Betsy to chase the newcomer around the bottom of the hutch, occasionally hanging on to her neck feathers in greeting. Like the coward I am, I hid indoors for half an hour and hoped that no blood would be shed. On inspection, I found Betsy and Smudge settled down in to opposite corners and preening. So I am cautiously hopeful that no one will lose an eye.

Hilda is bad temperedly stalking about the confines of the parakeet cage, alternately hissing at the serama and keening for her nest. It's never a pleasant thing to cage a broody, but as I now have a queue for the cage I am determined to wait her out. At the moment, she should get parole on Sunday. And Celia will take her place. I might install a turnstile.

Today for the first time I let all of the birds out together under my supervision. The garden time share situation was proving a real headache, so now that the chicks are 7 weeks old, I thought it was worth a try. Interestingly, they all pretty much ignored each other. Apart from Celia, who wandered a little too close to Hoppy. Vera leapt out of the rosemary bush like a tiny ninja, and the two embarrassingly mis-matched hens had a bit of a battle. Vera kicked the bigger hens arse, and Celia skulked off looking sheepish.

Apparently, size isn't everything.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

These Girls Fall Like Dominoes

You know how I said that my Pekin girls are a tag team of broodiness? Well, I wasn't kidding. Hilda has been waving the flag for hormone induced psychosis for about a fortnight now, and just a few days ago Celia went under the spell. As of this afternoon, the Skeksis voiced frizzle has decided to join the gang. Gladys has turned to the dark side. Now three out of four nest boxes are filled with vacant, hot, pale faced chickens. Terrific.

I could weep. Not because I will now be getting only half the eggs I should be. Not because in turfing them out of the nest regularly I am in danger of losing a thumb or an eye. Not even because broody poo is an abomination to the human olfactory system. No. But because my broody cage is inhabited by a small serama hen, and she can't yet be fully integrated.

This is a problem. At the moment, I am sticking my broody girls in a run with food and water, so keeping them from their cosy nest boxes and making sure they don't lose condition. However, they're not away from the Palace for long enough to lose their purpose. As soon as they're released from the run, they are straight back up in to the nest boxes and pulling out their own chest feathers. Much like the way they have me tearing out my hair.

I don't like leaving hens broody. I don't like the fact that they become vulnerable to parasites, and disgruntled flock members. I don't like to see a healthy, glossy bird lose condition. But in order to break a determined broody pekin, it's a minimum stay in the cage of at least 48 hours. And I have nowhere else to stick Smudge without risking the biggest serama punch up on British soil.

Thinking caps on, people.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Oh, Bloody Hell

You may recall that I have a broody white pekin named Hilda. You may also recall that I currently have a mottled serama called Smudge living in the broody cage at the moment, so breaking Hilda is taking some time. Unfortunately, broodiness is catching. As of two days ago, Celia has also fallen under the spell. Crap.

The rest of the flock happily bumbles about the garden, eating things I'd rather they didn't and digging up things I'd rather remained buried. But Hilda and Celia remain clamped to their respective nests. At least they have settled for separate nest boxes, I suppose. Although this now cuts down the potential laying spots for the others by half. Rats.

Luckily, I now have a movable run in the garden which was purchased to allow Vera and the chicks some safe outdoor time. It is now being employed as the broody cooler. Never let it be said that chicken keeping comes without complications.

I placed a drinker and feeder in the run, and then braced myself to fetch the new inhabitants. Hilda is so deeply in the zone, that she didn't so much as murmur when I hooked her from the Palace and dumped her unceremoniously on the soggy grass. Celia squawked her head off and tried to sever my thumb. As I manhandled the evil hen towards the run, I glanced back at the pile of feathers she had lined her nest with and sighed. Celia is possibly the most determined broody I have ever had. Last autumn, she spent a grand total of twelve weeks clamped to the nest. Various trips to the broody cage had no effect, and in the end only going in to moult shook her from her crazy mission. Oh, and she is pure, unadulterated Beelzebub when broody.

Once I had thrust the flapping, squawking, hand-gouging Celia through the roof of the movable run, I clamped the lid down and caught my breath. Hilda still sat there in the middle of the run, staring off in to the distance and impersonating a curled feather boa. Celia immediately began to chunter and pace, knocking over the feeder and drinker while eyeballing me as if to say 'Yeah? You think you can break me? I'm just getting started'. I felt her evil eye on my back all the way across the garden.

The serama have decided to treat the incarcerated pekins as a zoo exhibit, and wander past the weld mesh clucking and staring. Celia is now running laps, while occasionally pecking at the still dopey Hilda. I am hoping that the cold, damp grass will prove an unsuitable nesting site.

I am now taking bets on which girl will succumb next.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Betsy and Vera Become Flatmates Again

For the last few weeks, Vera and the chicks have wandered about the garden with Betsy and Smudge. There have been no assassination attempts, and amusingly the older hens seem quite scared of the tiny chicks. This is at least in part due to the fact that they can fly reasonably well, so will suddenly zoom off across the garden in an alarming manner when everyone else is sunbathing. They are unable to steer with any great success, so If Betsy or Smudge gets between them and their mother, they tend to get 'goosed' by a pin balling fluff ball. This leads to wide eyed squawking from the goosed party, and a general mistrust of the tiny duos intentions. Silvio, who is very obviously a boy at this stage, has even taken to posturing and fronting up to the pekins in the Palace grounds. Maeve watches him from the other side of the weld mesh as he does his 'I'm well 'ard' dance, and she slowly sharpens her talons on the concrete floor.

With this in mind, I think today is the day that I turn the serama hutches back in to one living accommodation. Silvio will hopefully be found his own harem before too long, and Hoppy is still showing all signs of being a pullet. I hope she isn't going to suddenly turn male on me, because I'm quite attached to the little chicken. So, with that in mind, in the end I should have four birds living in the large double hutch.

At the moment, I have five birds living in three separate cells. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, I will end up with just Smudge sleeping alone. I don't expect that to last for too long, though. Betsy and Smudge are already free ranging side by side. Unlike my feisty pekin madams, serama don't seem to have the stomach for ongoing mortal combat.

Speaking of the feisty pekin madams, Hilda is still broody. Until I get Smudge out of the parakeet cage, I have nowhere to stick the determined harridan to break her. She sits in the nest box like a malevolent cloud, grumbling and hissing at all who approach her. Naturally, the others are getting fed up. I now have a white pekin with a purple head in an effort to deter the disgruntled flock from pecking at her as she takes up space in their favourite nest box. I kick her out several times a day, Which at least ensures she won't lose condition. Ultimately, though, I know that this is one determined girl and she is unlikely to snap out of it without a trip to the slammer.

The broody relay race is well underway.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Strawberry Fields...Are Nasty

While rootling through the fridge yesterday I discovered half a punnet of strawberries. They were just at the point of going soft, so there was no way the children could be tricked in to eating them. I usually give the hens the tops as a treat, but with a dozen fruits going to waste I thought I'd spoil them. Feeling very generous, I gave each hen her own strawberry to eat, including the serama. Oh, what a mistake.

Chickens love most fruit, and they eagerly devoured them. There was so much strawberry juice flying about, it began to look like a massacre. As several fruit-crazed hens dashed past the kitchen door, their faces splattered with red and specks of strawberry flesh clinging to their feathers, it was all a bit 'Chicken Apocolypse'. The determinedly broody Hilda looked the most sinister, as her entire head had become a delicate shade of pink. After several piranha-like minutes, things settled down and I pretty much forgot about the treat.

So when I went out the following morning to open up the Palace, I was unprepared for the sheer horror of the strawberry scented poo lake under the perching block. Good Lord, never has a substance more heinous been created by a still living beast. The hens flapped and jumped from the perches to the pop hole, eager to escape in to fresh air. They sat in the run, staring at me with haunted eyes, seemingly unable to believe that they had produced something so noxious. Trust me, no one wants to deal with fruit induced chicken squits at eight o'clock in the morning. Not even this Madchickenlady.

I retreated to regroup my senses and work out what to do next. Naturally, my first concern was for that of the birds' welfare. However, on inspection I found that they all seemed well and remarkably slick-free. I imagine that the explosion was so violent that it didn't even get a chance to cling to any feathers. As a precaution, they all got a bum wash regardless. This wasn't greeted with any enthusiasm, and Mabel was particularly aggrieved. Considering that this was her second bath in a month, perhaps she had the right to squawk indignantly throughout. Once the hens were dealt with, I braced myself to return to the scene of the crime.

I considered my options. Carefully, I rolled the newspaper carpet towards the door. The poo lake rolled towards me in a wave. I decided that rolling was a bad idea. After some thought, I used most of my newspaper supply to soak up as much of the catastrophe as possible, pushed the whole lot in to a bin liner and then threw buckets of water and disinfectant in to the coop until my nostril hairs stopped burning. Those seven strawberries cost me an hour of hard, stinky labour. The girls watched me from the border, where they considerately jumped up occasionally to chew on my roses.

Eventually, the job was done. There was still a vague stench of strawberries in the air, but the worst of the biohazard had been tackled. With a resigned sigh, I trudged towards the garage, fully expecting to have to hose out the serama hutches and parakeet cage. I found Betsy and Smudge contentedly eating breakfast. There were a few loose droppings, but nothing like the horror in the Palace. I had, thankfully, only given Vera and the chicks a tiny piece of strawberry between them, and their hutch was therefore clean. From this, I can only conclude that pekins, while bigger and definitely greedier, have a more delicate stomach than the allegedly fragile serama. Regardless, strawberries are off the menu for the forseeable future.

I may need counselling.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Here Comes The Sun

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet. If you're a serama, its time to lay about on the lawn looking untidy.

Betsy catching some rays.

Smudge cautiously approaching me with the camera.

Vera and Hoppy. I need a new name for this chick.

Vera, Hoppy and the newly named Silvio. If you look carefully, you can see the difference between the month old babies in this pic. Silvio is definitely a boy, and I'm hoping that Hoppy isn't a late developer.

Amusing 'chick running' shot.

Vera makes sure that Betsy knows the score. She is getting less protective of the chicks, and to be fair the other two hens show little to no interest in the fluffballs.

Smudge. I think that once her headgear grows in, she'll look less gamey.

A running Smudge. She tends to roadrunner everywhere at the moment. The others aren't chasing her much, but I think she just likes running.

Vera tries to catch a few minutes of sun worship, while Hoppy uses her as a climbing frame.

Smudge de-mossing the patio. And making herself a rather fetching butterfly effect picture.

I imagine that this is Vera asking if Betsy will mind the kids for a bit, and Betsy is basically saying no.

I would have got pics of the pekins, but they rather sensibly had retired to the shade of the Palace. Even the possibility of chasing the micro chooks wasn't enough to tempt them forth. Hilda has gone in to the broody zone again, so had an appointment with a bucket this morning. She seems undeterred, but soggy.

It's one of those lovely days where I can't imagine not keeping hens.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Garden Timeshare

Right now, I have several poultry factions to manage. I have the pekin hordes in the Palace, Vera and the chicks, Betsy, and the new girl, Smudge. Letting them all out together is out of the question. My pekin ladies are most put out at the arrival of more micro chickens, and are unlikely to roll out the welcome mat if given opportunity to get within duffing distance. Betsy is trying to be friends with her pal Vera, but Vera's mothering instinct is strong and she's extremely defensive of her young. Throw the new pullet in to the mix, and I expect things would get ugly very quickly. So, I am juggling garden time.

The pekins get to free range in the morning. They rampage about the place, digging up my plants and attempting to gain access to the youngest's birthday present, an 8ft trampoline. So far the enclosure has baffled them, but any day now I expect to find Maeve sunbathing in the middle of it. She watches the children bouncing, and I see the wheels in her tiny chicken brain squeaking around. Some time around lunchtime, I entice them back to the Palace grounds with a treat.

Once they are safely locked away, I free Betsy and Smudge. Serama integration is nothing like as fearsome as Pekin integration. They have postured at each other a fair bit, and there's the occasional feather pull, but they seem to forget that they're supposed to be fighting for their position in the pecking order and end up mooching about the garden together or sunbathing. After several peaceful and companionable minutes, one or the other remembers they're supposed to be fighting to the death. But it's all very half-hearted, and I'm quietly hopeful that they'll be able to live together within the week. At the moment, they are still housed seperately at night.

While the micro chooks get to know each other, I put Vera and her babies in the run. They are now four weeks old, and still keeping schtum about their possible gender. They bumble about the run, eating things and chasing each other while Vera sunbathes. She occasionally squawks at them as if correcting some undesirable behaviour, but on the whole she lets them get on with it. Vera and I have obviously read the same parenting books. After a few hours, I return Betsy and Smudge to their secure units, and I allow Vera to free range with Hoppy and Sylvie. The chicks are getting very curious now, and I have to stay out to watch over them. It's amazing the amount of trouble a tiny chook can get in to. I have so far had to rescue the chicks from a lavendar bush, a tennis racket, a stray sock and a shallow puddle. I will be incredibly glad when they reach a less labour intensive phase of development. Vera tends to just squawk at them a bit, show them food, and then leg it to the dust bath. She has been an exceptional broody, but I think her patience is beginning to wane.

When my nerves have had enough, the serama family are returned to the run, and Betsy and Smudge released again. Smudge and Vera spend some time attempting to duff each other up through the weld mesh of the run, which seems pointless to me but they seem to be enjoying themselves. Hoppy and Sylvie watch this with interest but no apparent alarm, which makes me wonder if it's a training exercise. Eventually, Vera gets bored of butting her head against the bars, and assumes the position. A sunbathing serama is an amusing sight. One skinny yellow leg is always pointing skywards. If the sun is out, they all seem to congregate together, one leg aloft. It's like a mini forest of twiglets.

Now, for a bit of self promotion. If you've come to this blog as a new keeper, or you're a more experienced poultry person, I would heartily recommend the Poultrykeeper site. There is loads of information about common poultry issues, advice about ailments and even a monthly 'What to do this month' bit by yours truly. It's definitely worth a look.

Now, back to micro-managing a garden which has to hold 7 pekins, 5 serama, a trampoline and my sanity.