Wednesday, 28 September 2011


You may have noticed that I've been remarkably quiet of late. There are many reasons for my lack of blogging, but by far the most pressing one right now involves this little chap.

Yep. We now have a puppy. His name is Jasper and he is 3/4 cocker spaniel and 1/4 springer spaniel. He pees and poos with abandon, to the point that I am exceedingly grateful that we have wooden floors. He has a particular fondness for socks, newspapers and eating chicken poo. All apparently normal. He seems reasonably intelligent, so the plan is that I will be able to train him to ignore the chooks. That's the plan.

In reality, he seems quite unphased by them. Yesterday, I let the girls out for their morning constitutional. After a few minutes, I stuck Jasper on his lead and we stood on the patio. Naturally, the feathered contingent chuntered with alarm and hot footed it down to the greenhouse. They stood in a huddle muttering, occasionally throwing me evils. Flo and Winnie seemed the least perturbed, and I remember an elderly spaniel mooching about their pens at the breeder's house. The rest of my girls have never been exposed to a canine.

For his part, Jasper pretty much ignored them. I suppose when you're only 12 weeks old, everything is new and fascinating. He didn't pull on the lead or show any sign of wanting to get any closer. After a few minutes, the hens went back to mooching. But they kept one beady eye on the weird fox/wolf combo predator being held on a bit of string my yours truly. Smart, my girls.

Later on in the day, when the girls were safely locked inside the Palace grounds, Jasper was bounding about the lawn chasing leaves. Mabel took off from the floor to the perch in the run, and the feathery kerfuffle peaked his interest. He slowly walked towards the Palace door, ears alert and ready to flee. Flo and Winnie carried on eating their lunch and totally ignored him. But Maeve was sat nearest the door on the perch. She lowered her head, raised her hackles, and when he came within her exclusion zone, hissed. He ran back to me and hid behind my legs.

I really don't blame him.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Sinister Call Of The ASBO Chicken

I was rudely awaken at half six this morning by an eerie call. As I lay there trying to decipher what was making such an unearthly sound, the ever tolerant husband rolled over and muttered something about 'those bloody chickens', so I thought I ought to investigate. I shuffled down the stairs in my dressing gown and stared out of the kitchen window blearily. The run was empty. Weird. Just then, the same mournful cry went out across the estate. Huh.

I opened the back door and stuck my head out. All in the Palace was silent. But something was making that spooky sound, so I trudged across the lawn in my slippers. What I found was a little sinister. Maeve was sitting on the perch, alone, like a crow on a gravestone. I opened up the coop door and peered in at seven sleepy chickens. Half six in the AM is not quite full light now, and they showed no signs of getting up for their breakfast. I closed the door on them and let them keep dreaming of worms and raisins. Or something.

So I turned my attention back to Maeve. She eye balled me and sat hunched on her perch like a feathery gargoyle, orange eye glittering. After some consideration, she opened her beak and issued the creepy sound again. It was like a cross between an owl hooting, and a particularly narked turkey. Think low resonance throat warbling. She closed her beak again, and glared at me. Well, this is new.

Maeve, up until this point, has only ever made quite normal chicken noises. The occasional 'bok-ARK', and more regularly a menacing growl. But she has never gone turkey/owl on me. Bracing myself for carnage, I scooped her up to give her the once over. No rattle in her chest, no snotty nose holes, bright eyes and in all obvious respects fit and healthy. So her new voice wasn't down to illness. I plonked her back on the perch. I'm probably imagining the look of malevolent amusement in her eye, but I wouldn't like to say. All out of ideas, I flung a left over jacket potato in to the run to distract her from her singing and trudged back to bed.

The ever tolerant husband enquired as to which one of the 'noisy cowbags' had woken us up. I told him it was our favourite poultry nemesis, and he looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged and rolled back over. I lay in bed waiting for the alarm to go off and thinking about this new development. Winnie and Flo are now full time residents of the Palace, and I wondered if this change in routine had upset our beloved ASBO. I found no trace of an egg, but she might have layed elsewhere. It certainly didn't sound like a victory bok, though. No, the longer I lay there, the more convinced I became that she was practicing. After all, all evil geniuses need an evil laugh.

Perhaps it was the chicken equivalent of mwahahahahahahaha.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Moving On Up

The two newest recruits, Flo and Winnie, have been with us for a couple of months now. They're still some way off laying, but Flo has already found her big girl voice and Winnie's is on its way. It's a curious time for a chicken when they switch from the babyish 'meep meep' to the adult 'bok-ARK'. They often look rather startled themselves when a 'meep' ends in a 'ARK', and the transition lasts a couple of weeks. So I suppose you could say that the two newbies have now hit adolesence. And that means one thing: moving out of the nursery.

The baby pekins have resided in the garage in makeshift accomodation up until this point. They have made firm friends with the serama, and often pop over for dinner. But ultimately they need to integrate with the big girls. I have locked them in to the Palace for short periods before now, and although they get chased a bit and the odd bum tail feather pulled, no serious harm has been done. So today I have bitten the bullet. Flo and Winnie are moving up in to the Palace.

So far, no major confrontation has taken place. The newbies have kept one step ahead of the established flock members, and there has been no coordinated effort to mash them in to the aubiose. But as with all things chicken, I can't exhale just yet. The next few days will be fraught for both human and chickens alike. Hopefully, though, at the end I will be left with a cohesive pekin flock (The serama will stay in their hutch home for the forseeable future due to the pekins' desire to turn them in to scatter cushions given half a chance).

How about a few pics?

Mabel, mid moult. She is not impressed.

Maude, post moult, and looking beautiful.

Hilda, looking quite nared at the new introductions, and in a pecky mood.

Nearly grown up Winnie and Flo. Flo is getting darker as she matures.

The greeting party. They mostly come in peace.

Maeve showing off her bosoms like a Boss.

You looking at me?

Vera appears to be going broody again. Excuse me while I bang my head against a wall.

Betsy pops up to say hello.

Now I just have to wait for sun down to see if the new girls are brave enough to try sleeping with the enemy.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Chicken Keeper Collection

There are many things you consider when you set out to keep chickens. You might spend quite some time poring over different housing options, where you will site your new feathered friends and just how much of your garden you are willing to lose to the marauding hordes. Yep, lots to consider. But I bet you forgot something. In fact, I can guarantee it.

The thing everyone overlooks when they enter the world of poultry keeping is that of attire. Sure, you assume that it's probably not a good idea to attend to your ladies while wearing a ballgown, but beyond that you probably haven't considered. Well, fear not. After three years of trying to keep order with my unruly lot, I can now bring you the definitive Madchickenlady Collection.

You will need enclosed footwear. It doesn't matter if it's July and 30C, you enter a chicken pen with bare toes at your peril. Sure, chicken poo is unpleasant between the toes. But you know what's worse? A chicken mistaking your toes for something edible. If you don't see them coming, a sneaky hen can get a really good grip and pull technique going on, and you will scream like a child. The screaming and hopping will intrigue the others, and before you know it you will be a chicken buffet. So, keep those toes covered. And only a total idiot goes near hens with bare painted toenails. They will think you're a fruit delicacy, you will cry.

Moving up the body, it's best to wear trousers. Bare legs, especially if you have any moles, invite curious pecking. Again, it's the surprise attack that will have you jumping back over the poo bucket and landing on your bum in a most undignified manner. So trousers are a must. The shoes and trousers can vary hugely in style, and you get extra points if you wear, say, wellies with pyjama bottoms. Do not attempt to match or coordinate in any way. Your audience will not care. Now we come to the most importat item in our collection: the chicken coat.

This coat will be your best friend. It will protect you from pecking, random curry poos and the biting cold of a January morning. It should be a little too big for you, so that you can wear multiple layers underneath. It should have a hood, to try and protect you from the howling November winds and driving rain. It should have deep pockets that you can store various chook appeasing treats in as well as concealing any medicines/treatments that the little darlings will be less keen to experience. Ideally, it will be a sort of fungus hue. Most chickenny excretions fall in to this mushroomy category, so a muddy/grey/beige/mustardy kind of coat is ideal for concealing hideousness. Think of your chicken coat like a surgeon's scrubs. It is there to catch all manner of unmentionables while providing a barrier between you and the utter horror that the chicken is in the process of evacuating. It should be washable, and quick drying. After all, you will need it again before you know it. It will also require it's own hanging space, well away from any other coat or jacket. It will often smell bad.

Last but not least, do make sure that you have some heavy duty gardening gloves. Sometimes you will have to do unpopular things to members of your flock. They will, understandably, want to show their displeasure. Never underestimate the ouch factor of a well placed peck.

So now you can visualise the whole Madchickenlady Collection. A pair of wellies, some pyjama bottoms, several layers comprising of pyjama top, shirt and jumper, and the key piece: the chicken coat, complete with various suspicious stains. Don't forget the gloves.

Strike a pose.

Friday, 2 September 2011

It's No Good, The Feathers Are Here To Stay

Now that Maude seems to be mostly done with her moult, I thought I'd have a go at cleaning up the garden a bit. There were feathers pretty much everywhere, but a good twenty minutes of plucking them from rose bushes and raking them from the borders made a world of difference. And then I spied the Palace.

Maude's old season plumage was liberally scattered about the run. In fact, it was like a new layer atop the sub-strata of the poo and aubiose. With a sudden burst of enthusiasm, I decided to get rid of all the feathers in the garden, and began clearing the run debris. Naturally, as soon as I began every adult hen in the vicinity decided that they needed to lay an egg. I opened the main coop door to give them an alternate route, but oh no. They actually wanted to waddle across the area I was working in, and use the ramp. That held me up somewhat. A succession of haughty chickens casually kicking through your piles of old litter is rather irritating. At last, all would-be layers were in the coop vying for the best nest box and I could get on with it.

It is still the school holidays here, and the children are therefore in a 'helpful' mood. Today the help consisted of flinging water all over the garage floor, tipping a large bucket of woodshavings out on the lawn (they missed the composter) and getting a seriously narked peck from Celia as they rummaged under her for eggs. Sorting out the various calamities meant that the clean out took two hours instead of one, but at last, we were finished.

I stood at the back door, covered in poo and aubiose and red mite powder, and surveyed my feather-free lawn. One by one, the hens emerged from the coop and went about their business. The last hen to emerge was Mabel. She took a few steps from the run door, and then shook her left leg like a dog. One solitary fluffy feather gently swirled to the ground. I chose to ignore it and look the other way. However, a few steps later she shook from her head to her talons, and several more fluffy underfeathers floated to earth on the breeze. I swear she looked at me to make sure that I'd noticed.

I should probably give up.

(As a quick aside, if you get October's 'Country Smallholding' magazine, and look on page 31 of the poultry section, you may spot a familiar beak...)