Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Helicopter Rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 August 2011

Stuffed Animals, Maude And The Chickens With No Arse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 August 2011

Sometimes, It's Just A Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Professional Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Great Corn On The Cob Heist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Eating Out, Chicken Style

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

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

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

Hilda wisely decides to leg it with a noodle.

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

Hilda returns for more noodles.

Mabel manages to look graceful amongst the carnage.

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

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

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

Friday, 12 August 2011

Chicken Prison

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

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

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

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

It's been a long summer.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Please Form An Orderly Queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Small Visitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

That chicken has gumption.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Another mystery never to be resolved.