Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Hilda's Debut

Hilda, my white pekin, has been broody forever. Well, not quite forever. But a very long time. Despite many attempts by yours truly to dissuade her from sitting on her phantom eggs, she has remained true to her cause. Her stubbornness has proved resolute, and after checking that she was eating and drinking and not losing too much condition, I decided to leave her to it. This was preferable to the constant pecking (her) and swearing (me).

So I was surprised on Monday to see her mooching around the garden with her flockmates. She has made the odd foray in to the garden, but it's usually been at the break neck speed of the fussy broody and involved diving in to the dustbath for a nano second. But here she was, slowly ambling about the lawn with the others and nibbling at the grass. At last, I thought, the dappy bird has realised it's November. Now I'll be able to collect the eggs without gauntlets.

But it seems that common sense was not the reason for Hilda shaking off her broody trance. On Tuesday I noticed the odd white feather in the coop, and it clicked in to place. Hilda was going in to her first moult. Mystery solved, I thought no more about it. So imagine the shock I got when Hilda emerged from the coop this morning, looking like this:

Yep, that is one bald pekin. In fact, she has a completely bald patch on her bum. There is what looks like an oven ready mini chicken sprinting about the garden, possibly in an effort to keep warm.

She has liberally redecorated the coop with her own feathers. Which is probably cosy for the other chooks.

My poor little Hilda is now roosting in the coop to escape the cruel November wind. I'll be adding some poultry spice to the hens' porridge tonight, and hope that she can stay warm enough. I have never had a hen moult so dramatically in such a short space of time. Of course, this weekend we'll see our first frost of the year.

I'll no doubt be trudging across the lawn at 11pm to make sure that the others have tucked her in to the middle of the flock.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

When Two Worlds Collide

The puppy has been here for nearly two months now. The chooks have gone from utter panic every time they catch sight of the crazy mutt to mild annoyance when he leaps at the Palace walls. In fact, now they tend to tell him off in very scolding tones and continue preening/eating/gossiping. He is a slow learner, however, and still likes to leap up and get them flapping. Naturally, this particular integration needs very careful handling. After all, this interloper has a long snout full of teeth and the urge to chase. Even the fearsome ASBO Chicken might have a problem pecking him in to submission. So, operation Desensitise Jasper has begun. It basically involves this:

Sophisticated, huh? Yep, I tether the puppy to the outside tap while I'm cleaning out the hens. The girls avoid him at all costs, and he is rewarded every time I walk past if he is sat quietly and not slathering at the chops with murder in his eyes (Disclaimer: I have never seen murder in his eyes, more 'Ooh! Feathers! Moving! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'). So far, so good. Today was the third time of trying this out, and he barked and fussed much less. Phew.

The girls are watching these developments with a beady eye. I am placating them with tinnned sweetcorn and extra deep bedding. No one has left home yet.

Just to prove that no one has been eaten, here are some pics taken on this grey yet freakily mild November day:

Celia, Maeve and Maude. Only Maude looks her best at the moment, as she moulted a few months ago. For some reason, the camera always turns Celia in to a ghost chicken. As you can see, Maeve is much reduced at the moment, and seriously annoyed about it. Hidden from view in the nest box behind Maeve is a still broody Hilda. Sigh.

My lovely, camera loving Vera.

Flo, almost grown up. The face furniture is reddening nicely, but I'm not expecting any eggs until early next year. You can just see Winnie's flares in the top right corner. She does not like her picture being taken.

Mabel and Betsy are also alive and well, they just were just too busy eating the leftovers of Jasper's breakfast to pose. Revenge is a dish best served from the dog's bowl, it seems.

Jasper munching a raw carrot, while Flo, Winnie and Gladys eat his kibble. That'll teach him.

By the summer, I expect to be able to live in a harmonious household, where chickens and spaniel coexist and share grapes. Maybe.

Monday, 14 November 2011

So, Er, Where's The Winter Then?

As I gaze out of my kitchen window at the chooks sunbathing, I have to keep checking the calendar. It is November, right? Because it feels much more like early September to be honest. The weather is ridiculously mild. I'm sure that this time last year I was trudging through snow to the Palace and defrosting drinkers at 7am. Weird.

In a way, this is a good thing. The moulting masses are benefitting from the balmy conditions instead of snuggling down in to the nest boxes and shivering, for example. But it is confusing. My roses have bloomed again. My summer bedding plants are valiantly flowering on, and the girls are firing out the odd egg while looking puzzled. Generally, my pekins shut up shop for the winter come October. I imagine them sitting on their perches at night, using their talons and wing feathers to count up just how many months since their last egg break.

But it can't last. Every day that we have such mild and pleasant weather, I get more nervous. I will not be lulled in to a false sense of security. It is November. The temperature will plummet. Drinkers will freeze and chickens will shiver. To that end, I have bought in porridge supplies and poultry spice. I've made sure that there is enough woodshavings to see us through should we get hit by a snowy apocolypse. I am even eyeing up a snow shovel in the afternoon sunshine, safe in the knowledge that when the first flake lands I will be prepared.

Do not be fooled, fellow chicken keepers, winter will soon be upon us.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Garden Sharing

Pekins are not very fond of getting their feet wet, so when the weather is inclement they tend to sit on the perches in the run, muttering and fluffed up. One or two daring explorers might leave the shelter of the run for a quick grass scoff, but on the whole they are content to stay within the confines of the Palace. The serama will venture forth in the rain as long as it isn't cold, but their silkie feathers are rubbish at keeping them warm so I have to monitor their excursions. As it is peeing down today, the hens are not bothered in the least by not getting hours of freeranging time. However, when it isn't raining they would much rather be out digging up my borders and pooing on the patio. Naturally.

But now we have the puppy. And the puppy must also have access to the garden. Quick access, unless you want wet feet. So it's a bit of a problem. I had been restricting the pekins free ranging anyway this year in a bid to have some plants, so they had been out for about 4 hours a day. I would often let the serama have longer than that, as the damage they can do to the garden is extremely limited by their tiny stature. This has now been severely cut down.

At present, the birds are getting approximately an hour and a half free range a day. The puppy has a long snooze after the school run, so that's when I let the girls out. However, once he wakes, he needs to pee. So the girls have to be coaxed back in to the run. They are not best pleased. In the end, I hope to desensitise the puppy to the chooks, so that there can be some managed integration. But we are some distance from that. He will sit by the run, intently watching them, and occasionally barking at these exciting, noise making feathery things. Training will be a long and arduous process.

I feel guilty. I feel dreadful. I feel like the worst chicken keeper in the world. I've considered putting up a more permanent fence around the coop so that the puppy can't get near and the hens can still roam. But he has successfully dug under my border netting, and I can't bring myself to suggest electric fencing in our average suburban garden to the ever tolerant husband. I think he'd laugh and then wrestle my debit card away from me. Probably rightly, to be honest.

So that leaves me with few options. I can either start leaving the girls out when I'm walking the puppy and hope that his copious leavings in the garden would protect the girls from any potential predators. Or they have to cope with being more restricted than I'd like, but remain completely safe. It's a dilemma that I haven't had to tackle before. I am even more distressed that the serama are confined to their garage hutch, but at this time of year they need to be sheltered. And realistically I know that the hutch is perfectly big enough for two tiny birds. But still.

I shall think on.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I have been neglecting you, I know. Not deliberately, but circumstances have conspired against me. No matter, for I am here now. I have a whole twenty minutes to tell you all about the exploding flock.

Not literally exploding. That would be news worthy and probably messy. No, just the feather explosions you'd expect at this time of year. We were on holiday last week, and my lovely chicken sitter did a marvellous job of taking care of my demanding divas. And as half of them are in moult right now, I'm sure they were very demanding.

Mabel and Maude are quite smug, having already grown their new plumage. They sit on the perches in the run preening themselves, taunting the arseless Celia and crew cutted Maeve. Celia is rather embarassed by her lack of behind, and keeps looking back where her bum should be and looking both confused and sad. She pecks half heartedly at her stubble, but it's very difficult to make quills look presentable. Generally, she finds a bush to hide under or a nest box to squat in. She has sneezed a few times, so I've added a tonic to the water and poultry spice to the feed. Moulting hens are vulnerable to illness and generally just feel a bit rubbish so every little helps.

Maeve is taking out her displeasure on the rest of the flock, as expected. Flo and Winnie won't moult this year, they're too young, so Maeve is particularly narky with them. Poor Winnie seems to have found herself at the bottom of the pile and regularly gets a peck on the head for no reason at all really. She accepts these spiteful digs with an air of resignation which makes me sneak her grapes. Poor girl. Maeve is moulting in such a way that has left her with a vaguely punky look, or as if someone had decided to remake 'Mad Max' but with chickens. All she needs is a semi automatic slung across her back and some interesting bits of leather tied to her feathers and she'd give Mel Gibson a run for his money. She stalks the garden, muttering vague threats and maliciously shredding my bedding plants. So, business as usual really.

Betsy is so far resisting the moult, but Vera is having a bit of a go. Every so often I find a drift of soft black feathers in their hutch. However, she seems to be doing it the smart way and instead of dropping all of her insulation at once she's taking her time. Things are still unseasonably mild here in the midlands, but the cold weather must be on the way so I'm glad that I don't have an oven ready serama to worry about.

Gladys is back to her frizzly gorgeousness. She did have to go about without a tail for a few weeks, which made her look a bit like a pom pom, but now she is just stunning. Naturally, this makes Maeve hate her. But Gladys is a wily one, and has got very good at evasive procedures. I'm rather proud.

Only one hen is still in the grip of broody madness. Sigh. Yep, Hilda is still clamped to her non-existent eggs and hissing at me if I go near. At some point in the last week one of her charming flock mates has seen fit to poo on her, so her once pure white feathering is now distinctly...smeared. It's far too cold to consider bathing her, though, so I gave her a brief wipe over with a baby wipe to remove the worst of the excrement and will now hope that she goes in to moult. If she does, the skanky feathers will no longer be an issue and she'll stop being broody. I have caged Hilda 6 times this year. She is one determined (mental) chicken. She is eating and drinking, so I am happy to lift her daily and keep an eye on her at this stage. She hates it when I sprinkle her with mite powder, but tough talons, lady. A mite problem would be disasterous.

Much like Maeve's retro punk look.