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....

Monday, 18 July 2011

I Swear They Do It On Purpose

People that don't keep chickens, and have no experience of them, will tell you that poultry is somewhat lacking in the brain cell department. They will make limp jokes about headless chickens and perhaps give an anecdote about the time so-and-so's idiot bird barbecued itself. All terribly amusing. However, anyone who actually knows chickens knows that this is utter rot. Chickens are devious. Like a gold digging centrefold, they can give an air of harmless stupidity while plotting against you. Beware the gormless chicken. She means you harm.

I have been doggedly trying to impress upon the ever tolerant husband the need for us to move. Principally, this is because the human elements need room to swing the proverbial cat. But I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't hankering after more outside space. I dream of a human garden, where plants remain unmolested and the only threat to my roses is greenfly. the hens would have their own garden, complete with dust baths and plenty of bushes to snooze under. But naturally I keep these ideas to myself. The ever tolerant husband is a very easy going sort of chap, but even he might baulk at the idea of taking out a mortgage based on the suitability for the chickens. I'll have to be much more cunning than that. Plus, this would be the third time we have attempted to sell this charming domicile. So, I have an estate agent coming at the end of the week to value our house.

Just as I wrote the appointment in my diary, I heard a tapping on the kitchen door. Maude was sat on the step, trying to get my attention. There is nothing unusual in this. The girls learnt at an early stage that the kitchen is where the food lives, and that if they hover for long enough I might take pity on them. Not that they're indulged or anything. Anyway, I ignored her. She was soon joined by Mabel. They chattered disgustedly, just loud enough for me to hear. I sensed I was getting the evil eye, so opened the door to shoo them away. And that's when I saw it.

The back lawn was liberally sprinkled with feathers. Not just the odd bit of fluff, but enough for the wind to be swirling around in little feathery devils. I stared out at the chicken arse explosion with my mouth open, and a growing sense of doom. The hens stared back at me impassively, apart from Gladys who was leaping about the place shaking her ratty bum about and shedding even more of her plumage.

Every single one of the pekins has gone in to moult. Over night. Every. Single. One. You have to keep hens to truly understand the impossible maths that governs the amount of feathers that can come from one small bird. They seem to expand and spread themselves far and wide across the land. And they are impossible to clean up effectively when it's wet. And its been raining, and will continue to rain, all week. They stick to everything, get caught up in the plants and blow out of the bin every time you lift the lid. The garden, which was quite tidy yesterday, now resembles an explosion in a pillow factory.

Now, of course this could be pure coincidence. Surely my girls haven't deliberately dropped their feathers to spite me. I mean, they wouldn't do that, would they? They wouldn't try and thwart my attempts to move and relegate them to their own area? They wouldn't begrudge being denied access to the kitchen door, and therefore food, right? They wouldn't turn themselves in to welfare concern cases for the estate agent pictures, thereby making me look like a nasty, cruel owner who starves her poor birdies, surely?

Experience means that I am reserving judgement.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Gladys Needs A Makeover

Gladys is my black frizzle pekin. It took me two years to track her down, and the ever tolerant husband had a 90 mile round trip to pick her up. She is a lovely, fluffy, curly girl. Or, as the ever tolerant husband puts it, she looks like a pekin that has held on too long to the dynamite in a Warner Bros. cartoon. Whatever your view on frizzled feathered fowl, she is undisputedly distinctive.

Unfortunately, at the moment, she's even more distinctive. Gladys has had a go at being broody recently, and as a result plucked her chest and belly. Never a dignified look at the best of times. However, Gladys has accompanied this self styling with a partial moult. And when I say partial, I really mean just her head. I might be the only chicken keeper in the country in possession of a hen with a rapidly receding hairline.

She is taking her ugly duckling status hard. She shrieks her Skeksis complaint call at everyone and everything. The serama have taken to hiding from her, and even the other pekins are giving her a wide berth. The newspaper on the coop floor feels the brunt of her temper, and she is spending a lot of time shrieking in the coop and flinging strips of mutilated broadsheet out of the pop hole door. The others wisely let her go to bed first, and only venture in to the coop when she's settled down to sleep. No one risks perching next to her. To add insult to injury, I have smothered her in mite powder as a precaution. So now she looks like a middle aged, balding goth with dandruff. It's a hard look to rock, frankly.

To be fair to Gladys, growing new feathers is an uncomfortable process. Spotting that her crop area looked red earlier, I grabbed her for a closer look. As soon as my hands sank in to her under feathers, I could feel the sharp quills of her new plumage poking through. Unsurprisingly, she squawked and then pooed copiously down my trouser leg. I gently returned her to terra firma. She shook herself, muttered darkly, and stalked back in to the shrubbery where she still lies like a malevolent, balding feather duster.

I'm not going to disturb her.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Almost, But Not Quite

In all the excitement of being hideously mauled by a tiny chicken yesterday, I forgot to tell you about my almost bravery. I have to say almost, because when push came to shove I bottled it. But, we very nearly had serama/pekin integration yesterday evening.

It's not unusual to find the serama in the palace when the hens are all free ranging. And now that Vera is without her chicks, integrating has once again become a real possibility. Why would I bother, you ask? Well, my serama girls are tiny and silkied. If we get another harsh winter I'm not entirely sure they'd be ok in their garage hutch. If I had a few more, they could huddle together and produce more heat. However, I've decided to stick to my two serama girls for now. The hutch really isn't big enough to house more ladies at this time, and my garden isn't big enough to take another palace type set up. So, it's a case of expecting the serama to spend some of the winter in the downstairs loo perched on the radiator (which would be rather off putting, apparently), or try and get them pally with the pekins. A pekin is basically a high tog duvet on legs. Despite temperatures getting down to -14c last December, my pekin girls were toasty warm.

So, I was cunning. I tempted the entire flock with some cleaned wheat, and threw it in to the palace run. The pekins waddled in and began scoffing. The serama road runnered in behind them. And then I closed the door. As the bolt shot in to place, Betsy and Vera stood upright, looked at each other, and then looked back at the closed door. Chickens don't have obvious Adams apples, but if they did I imagine I'd have seen a deep swallow in a 'Oh, crap' manner.

The pekins were too busy eating to bother with the tiny trespassers, so with characteristic stealth Betsy and Vera gingerly picked their way through the chowing hens, and then hot footed it up the ramp in to the coop. I hovered anxiously in the garden, half heartedly pruning things and weeding. About five minutes after the micro chickens had hidden inside, Hilda began ascending the ramp in to the dark house. Gulp.

Initially, there was no reaction. Perhaps she didn't see them. I have no idea whether chickens have decent night vision. However, something alerted her to the intruders and she began screeching her head off. I peeked in to the coop and saw that Vera was perched on the edge of the preferred nest box. Betsy was actually in the preferred nest box. Hilda was apoplectic, and took to shrieking her displeasure in between tearing up the newspaper floor covering.

The other hens took the bare minimum of notice at the increasingly hysterical Hilda. The serama seemed unbothered by the kerfuffle. I retreated slightly, wondering if chickenny vengeance would soon be wrought. I heard the unmistakable thump of a pekin advancing. At the last minute, the pitter patter of a serama reached my ears, and I breathed a sigh of relief. They had seen sense, and moved. A quick peek inside revealed that Betsy had seen sense. Vera was still perched on the nest box edge, and was almost eye to eye with the fluffed up, growling Hilda. The tiny hen was making herself as tall as possible and attempting to intimidate the much larger chicken. Vera has small man syndrome.

Just as I expected Hilda to eat Vera, both hens seemed to back down. Hilda stepped back uncertainly, and Vera attempted a casual stroll away from the nest box entrance. She joined Betsy on the perching block, and Hilda clambered in to the nest with her legs crossed. Peace reigned again. This seemed significant, so I left them all to it. I even left the serama in the palace while I popped out for an hour. They occasionally made forays in to the run, and were chased about a bit in a half hearted way. I seriously considered leaving them in there overnight. The only reason I didn't, was because at this time of year I have to close the coop door in order to prevent a 4am dawn chorus. I didn't fancy the teeny chooks' chances if closed up with bored, hungry pekins. So they went back to their hutch last night to sleep.

Eventually, I'm going to have to bite the bullet.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Rampaging Chicken Mauls Owner!

As the very last 'News Of The World' has rolled from the printing press today, I thought I'd give you a tabloid style headline. Its technically true, although I dont think you can legitimately claim that a chicken has rampaged. They just dont really have the capacity. I have certainly seen severe narkedness from a hen, and occasionally even full on high dudgeon. But actual rampaging has been thin on the ground. But as the photo below proves, I have in fact been mauled:

Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking a kitten, or a small dog had scratched me. But no. It was a tiny, teeny chicken. Namely, this one:

Yep, Flo. In her defence, she was trying to climb her way up on to my shoulder. From her perspective, perhaps I resembled a mountain which needed conquering, and she felt it necessary to break out the crampons. As she scaled my upper torso using her considerable talons for purchase, I had a small amount of time to wonder at the sharpness of her tiny baby nails. I don't think I've ever known a pekin with razor sharp tootsies before. These claws resemble more hawk than domestic poultry, and I find myself trying to remember when I last had a tetanus booster. I am considering flooring the run with sandpaper in an effort to make her less lethal.

Now that my hideous ordeal has been covered, let's move on to the almost unbearable cuteness of baby pekins. The new arrivals have settled in rather well, and we're all a bit in love with them already. Even the ever tolerant husband had a cuddle with the teeny Winnie yesterday evening. There is something about Winnie which reminds me of Maeve at the same age, so I'm expecting her to grow up in to a very handsome bird with a penchant for evil. Could be very interesting. Flo, as well as an enthusiastic climber, is quite noisy. I'm hoping this settles down, or else she and Celia will have to have a sing off.

Celia and Winnie eye each other up.

Flo and Winnie investigating the Palace, safe in the knowledge that the big girls are behind weld mesh.

The adorably tiny Winnie.

I'm off to rub savlon in to my wounds.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

I've Done It Again....

Yep. I can't be trusted. My 'look' at a breeder's baby pekins turned in to a 'buy'. Want a look?

The buff girl is now called Winnie, and she's about six weeks old. The charming blue and white little lady is Flo, and about eight weeks old. They are both utterly adorable and squidgy (Disclaimer: Do not actually squidge baby pekins. No good will come of it.)

The rest of the flock seem only minimally interested, although Betsy really wants to get at the growers pellets.

If I so much as look at hatching eggs, slap me.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Here We Go Again

Every time something hideous happens to the poultry contingent, I swear that I will never acquire another hen. This resolve usually lasts about two days, so it shows just how affected I am by Doris's demise that I am still at six pekins nearly two weeks after she shuffled off this mortal coil. The remaining hens potter about happily, occasionally chasing the serama for sport, but on the whole quite content. But I have an appointment to visit a pekin breeder on Saturday, and only an idiot would bet that the cat carrier will remain empty.

So what is it that keeps me coming back to the pekin. Is it their feisty temperament? Their relative intelligence? (I feel justified in this assessment, having owned silkies for a year. Now that is a stupid breed of chicken) Is it their fluffy, cuddly appearance? The comedy flares? The bickering old biddy chatter? Well, yes. It's all of those things. And it's also the way they sail across the garden in high winds, and refuse to interact with inclement weather on any level. Last year during the snow I had to bring them breakfast in bed, and they complained when they realised id left the raisins out of the porridge. I rather like that sense of entitlement.

I dally with other breeds. I have a fondness for the serama and their dainty pitter patter across the patio. I am rather fond of blue laced wyandottes. But the pekin just has that bit of magic. When they're in the mood, they're good little layers. They're friendly and easy to tame, and have very distinctive personalities. And of course, pekin babies are utterly, totally adorable. I defy anyone to watch a young pekin attempting to run across the lawn while simultaneously falling over their own foot feathers and not go 'awwwwww'. Everything about them is appealing, and their potential for comedy boundless.

So, I will almost certainly have pictures for you on Saturday. The breeder keeps a huge amount of colours, so it'll probably be hard to choose. I think I'll choose birds based on personality rather than colour this time, the flock could do with a challenge. I like to keep things interesting.

I also like to make things hard for myself, apparently.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Vacancy Has Opened

Doris was an extremely gobby chicken. She shrieked to be let out in the morning. She shrieked when she layed an egg. She shrieked when someone else layed an egg. She shrieked if the washing blew in her direction. She shrieked if she glimpsed a cat, or a magpie, or a vaguely disconcerting cloud. In short, Doris was an alarm chicken. She took it upon herself to let the rest of the flock know if something slightly threatening might possibly be happening, whether they cared or not. More often than not, they didn't.

Now that Doris has departed this mortal coil, I was expecting things to be much quieter in the back garden. Oh no. Apparently this isn't how it works. It seems that a flock has to have an alarm chicken, in the same way that it needs a top hen. And Doris has left a vacancy.

The competition is fierce. Mabel and Maude are far too high up the pecking order to bother with such a menial task, and Maeve is too much of an outlaw to care about her standing. She prefers to batter her way in to position than be helpful. She is the James Dean of chickens. So that leaves Celia, Gladys and Hilda.

After the early morning wake up calls of early spring, the hens had been relatively quiet. Within days of Doris's demise, that had changed. They now seem to be in competition with each other to be the first noisy hen in the coop. Hilda isn't really a serious contender, and her song is rather half hearted. Celia is taking it more seriously, but can't compete with her predecessors ear splitting shriek. Gladys can't do the baby seagull 'ark ark ark' sound necessary, but can do her godawful Skeksis squeal which sounds a bit like a car skidding played backwards. I realise that is a confusing description, but until I capture her doing it on film, you'll have to trust me that that's as close as I can get.

So now they shriek to be let out. They shriek when they spot a threat, even a flapping dressing gown. They shriek when anyone lays an egg. I glare at them from the kitchen window, praying that the new alarm chicken will be chosen by democratic process quickly. One hen that I know won't get the job is Vera. She tried to throw her hat in to the ring yesterday when a magpie had the temerity to hop along the fence. Just as Celia reared up to give it some, she was pipped to the post by the 'chicken on helium' squeak of the black silkied serama. Vera managed to get a couple of repetitions in before the other contenders descended on her en masse and gave her a severe duffing. She extracted herself from the melee with difficulty and hot footed it back to the hutch, no doubt doing the chicken equivalent of sniggering.

Wicked sense of humour, that tiny chicken.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Running Raids

It's been very quiet here this week now that my flock is much reduced. The hens themselves seem completely unfazed by the disappearance of various flock members, and even Vera doesn't seem particularly bothered that her offspring have vanished. Chickens are totally without sentiment. They have quickly occupied themselves with covert operations.

Vera has gone back in to lay, and it seems to have switched her mischievous brain back on. Before she went broody and hatched the chicks, she was getting quite brave and infiltrating the Palace. Her favourite pastime was to torment laying pekins, by just jumping up at them from under the nest box rim. I had many an odd shaped egg thanks to her shenanigans, and was rather hoping that motherhood would take such inclinations away from her. No such luck.

To be fair, the pekins started it. Not long after the serama arrived, they would waddle in to the garage in attack formation and take it in turns to get in to the hutch and scoff the seramas pellets. This act of dominance obviously annoyed Vera more than I realised, because within days she was sneaking in to the Palace and emptying the grit pot all over the floor. That'll teach 'em.

Yesterday, the pekins realised that they could get back in to the serama housing. One by one, they jumped in to the food area. Celia even defecated on the freshly cleaned floor. Vera and Betsy, watching from the safety of the lawnmower handle, have taken it personally. Today, like a couple of pint sized ninjas, the serama duo have been running raids on the Palace.

I watched in bemusement as the tiny hens ran along the fence to the back of the Palace run, heads down and bums up. A few moments later, a tiny buff head poked around the corner to check that the coast was clear. Some high pitched muttering later, and Betsy ran like the clappers around the perimeter of the run until she reached the door. Again, she froze and checked out her immediate area. As if attached by elastic, Vera came careering around the corner and came to a sudden stop next to her pal. They muttered a bit more, and then Vera had the temerity to step foot over the threshold.

The pekins were sunbathing in the border at this point, and weren't taking a lot of notice. Then Hilda spotted the micro chickens on the ramp, and started a low 'Bok, bok, booooooork' in indignation. Five heads swivelled in the Palace's direction. Betsy froze mid goose step. Everyone started chuntering. Ooh 'eck.

Like the boss she is, Vera swaggered down the ramp and sauntered over to the feeder. With great care, she examined the feed and plucked one solitary pellet from the pile. Betsy slunk over to her as the pekins rose as one, and pretended to stroll casually towards the Palace. Vera began to move towards the door in an equally laid back manner. It was a bit like waiting for the Sharks and the Jets to meet in the road, but with less dancing.

The pekins began to speed up, lead by the always eager for a ruck ASBO Chicken. Betsy was the first one to break in to a run, and was away and up the garden before the others realised that she'd gone. Vera remained dignified until she stepped back over the door way, and then ran hell for leather back to the garage, still clutching the stolen pellet like a flag. The pekins were in hot pursuit, but gave up the chase when they realised they couldn't all fit in to the serama hutch, and not one of them was going to get up the ramp in to the second level. In an act of pure nose-thumbing, Vera dropped the stolen pellet in to her own feeder.

They may integrate yet.