Monday, 23 July 2012

Changing The Terrain

Cor. It's been a while since I last updated. Sorry about that. Things have been rather hectic chez Madchickenlady. But anyway, I now have a spare twenty minutes or so to catch up, so let's plough on.

Today, as in, right now, there are two men in my garden dgging it up. No, it's ok. There has been no disaster (unless you count the three months of solid rain we've all had to put up with). They are landscaping. Well, landscaping may be a bit of a grand title for what is actually happening. They are laying slabs which will house the new coop, gravelling around said slabs so that I can eventually plant chicken resistant plants, and also gravelling an area for the youngest's enormous trampoline. I am happy about this for several reasons. One, there is far too much grass out there at the moment. Seriously, cutting it all is a killer. But more importantly, two, the chickens will finally be on slabs, have aubiose to play in, and be safe from predators. And the hell hound.

Ah, yes, the hell hound. Since I last posted, he has launched a full on assault on my ladies. The new coop had a perspex window. Notice the use of the past tense. He headbutted through it, and we had to replace it with a metal grill vent (which, incidentally, is brilliant ventilation while also keeping the wind and rain out). He also leapt at the weld mesh near the ramp so much that the mesh began to come away from the frame. The ever tolerant husband had to crawl through the slimy, chicken poo soup floor of the run to repair that. He was not overly happy. And by far the worst crime? He managed to get his chops around Hilda.

It was one of those split second things. The ever tolerant husband opened the coop roof to see if he could fix something else that was dropping of it (Seriously, I miss the Palace every. Single. Day.), and Hilda made a bid for freedom. The dog was out the door and across the garden like lightening. Hilda squawked, the dog grabbed her and tossed her high in to the air, husband, Madchickenlady and eldest all ran around in a Benny Hill stylee trying to rescue her. In the end, the eldest stopped chasing and bellowed the 'LEAVE IT' command. The hell hound dropped the indignant chicken. I grabbed her. The dog was banished to his basket in disgrace. We all caught our breath, chicken included, then I gave her the once over. She wasn't missing so much as one feather, but had crapped herself explosively in terror. A quick rinse under the outside tap restored her to her brillaint white glory, and I popped her back in to the coop. She sat on the perch, preening herself indignantly, apparently untraumatised by being used as a shuttlecock by a very rude young dog. This is the second time he has managed to get his face wrapped around a chicken, and both times we managed to get away without any casualties. This hasn't made me complacent, but I am relieved that when he does catch one he mainly wants to play with it like a squeaky toy. There has so far been no attempt to dismember or consume. But with any luck he won't get another chance to test my theory. I have extra grey hair as a result of his antics.

So, Hilda escaped her ordeal with nothing but an embarassing toileting disaster. But other than that, she is fine. My mighty mille's are still going strong, although Maude seems to be going in to a bit of a mini moult. She is pale of face and reasonably bald right now, so I'm adding poultry spice to their grub and keeping an eye on her. Maeve, the fearsome ASBO Chicken, is still determinedly broody. Daily, I remove her from the nest box and plonk her on the lawn, where she sits flattened out like a malevolent beret, hissing at anyone that ventures near. So pretty much business as usual with the Evil One.

When the new coop is in situ I will take some pics.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Ladies Move Down In The World

Fate is a cruel mistress. For two years, my girls resided in the small but quaint Convent. It was easy to clean out, looked great in the border, but severely limited my flock size. So the Palace came to be. And for two years, they lived mostly harmoniously in a flock of ten. Yet, after some untimely deaths and a few girls moving to pastures new, my small flock of four began to look rather lost in their giant house.

So now they are going to live here.

This is a perfectly pleasant, back garden coop. It is not dissimilair to the Convent. Once the Palace has been taken away by its new owner, I'm sure I will embrace it with happiness and love. But as it stands in the garden, and the Palace is sill here for comparison, my heart sinks a little. This is a step backwards and there's no denying it. Yet I console myself with the knowledge that my ladies won't freeze to death in their cosy new dwelling. If this coop is a warm little flat, the Palace is a draughty stately home.

This afternoon, I moved the pekins from their old home to their new one. They reacted much as chickens will, and didn't notice for at least an hour as they were too busy scoffing toast. Then, they noticed. Maeve and Hilda, still deep in their broody psychosis, took it the hardest. They wanted a nice dark nest box to dream in, and the change in location means that their tiny bird brains can't work out how to find one. So they stand, frozen with indecision, and stare in to the middle distance. Mabel and Maude, the much more sensible mille's, spent the time pecking about at the much smaller perimeters of their new home. Once nest box angst and exploring were exhausted, however, they grouped together in the middle of the run and looked perplexed. Much chuntering ensued. They observed the puppy wandering around inside the Palace's grounds, and chuntered some more. After a brief huddle, Hilda attempted the ascent in to the house.

She managed to get half way up before her ascent became a descent. Slowly, she began to slide backwards. She greeted this development with mild surprise which quickly turned to alarm as she picked up speed. Landing on the floor in an undignified heap, she squawked her displeasure. It seems that this ramp has a steeper gradient than the Palace's.

When I next looked out, the run was empty. All four birds had found their way in to the new premises. I peered through the perspex window, and four curious birds peered back. They tested out the perches and pecked at the aubiose. The pup ran around the coop, looked in through the pop hole and made eye contact with me through the window. This blew his tiny spaniel mind.

All in all, I don't suppose they will mind the reduction in their circumstances. I'm sure I will mourn the pekin empire dream more than they will. And in the end, I know that they are well cared for and will see out their lives in comfort. This new house needs a name, though, so all suggestions are welcome.

I hope the house warming is a quiet affair.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

We're Baaaaaaaaaack!

Oh, sweet, sweet broadband! After three months without a phone line, we are finally back in the technological age. And oh, dear reader, I have so much to tell you. So much in fact that I'm bound to forget something and need to add stuff. So please bear with me.

Firstly, some very sad news. I lost both my beautiful serama. Betsy went down with a mystery illness at the end of April. She was hunched and not eating well, so I brought her inside in the warm and nursed her. At first I thought maybe she was just depressed at being bullied, as she was very much the bottom hen. But then her neck was starting to go wry, and she was missing her food bowl when trying to eat. I suspect it was some kind of neurological condition. I treated her with baytril in the hope that if it was a bacterial infection she might pick up, but sadly she passed away on the first of May. None of the other birds seemed ill, but I added a tonic to their water and scrubbed the coop anyway.

We were away on June 5th when my lovely chicken sitter found Vera dead in the coop. There was no sign of illness, although her vent was a little mucky. However, this could have happened at the time of death and she was in fine form when I saw her two days previously. Her weight was good, there was no sign of injury and all in all it's a head scratcher. The other birds were afected by her passing, as she'd had the audacity to cark it infront of the pop hole. Pekins have such stumpy legs that they couldn't clamber over her corpse and had to wait until the chicken sitter's mid morning visit to get breakfast. I like to think that she did it on purpose. She had spirit, that little bird. Losing both girls inside of a few weeks was very disheartening. I now have four pekins left, Mabel, Maude, Maeve and Hilda.

As I watched my four remaining girls pootle around the garden it occurred to me that I have gone a full circle. I started off with four hens, and now I am back to four. Now that we have the nutty pup, I am not prepared to go through the trauma of new introductions to such an established group. So my new plan is this.

My remaining girls will live out their lives without getting to bully any newcomers. But they will do so in a smaller residence. Yes, with a heavy heart I have decided to sell the Palace. It's far too big for four birds, and in the winter they'd freeze. So I have purchased a smaller coop, not so different from my original Convent, which they will find cosy yet still adequately spacious. In fact, said coop has just been delivered in two enormous boxes. I am going to landscape around the new coop with the aid of a garden designer and make it a feature of the border. Hopefully.

And so, the girls. You'll be pleased to hear that my magnificent mille's are still going strong at 4 years old, and even still laying the odd egg. Sometimes very odd. One of them layed an egg last week which looked like it had been shot. There was a perfect, round hole at the blunt end, surrounded by a black ring which looked singed. I actually cracked it to see if there was a projectile inside. The egg itself was perfectly normal and the membrane intact. I checked both girls, too, and found no hidden laser stashed under anyone's bum feathers. Another strange chickenny mystery.

Hilda has been broody for a month now. I kick her from the nest regularly, dunk her in water and basically wait for her to snap out of it. If last year is anything to go by, that should happen when she moults. So around August, then.

In much scarier news, the fearsome ASBO Chicken has also fallen under the broody spell. So narked is she if disturbed that she has taken to lunging at the pup through the mesh of the run if he gets too close. I swear there's some rottweiler in that bird's DNA.

It's good to be back.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Exploring The New Pad

Still without a decent internet connection here, but thought it might be nice to share a few pics of the flock settling in. Annoyingly, I don't think I can add captions. Drat. Anyway, as you can see they are enjoying rampaging around the new premises and liberally fertilising the fresh turf. Here's hoping for broadband really soon .

Monday, 2 April 2012

Well, Thank God That's All Over

It's done. We've moved. At long last, we have finally relocated. But we still don't have broadband, so any hilarious typo's are down to this phone (Which, incidentally, wants to write heterosexual instead of here. It's obsessed). Time to catch up.

Well, as my last post attests, I rehomed four of the girls. I was very down about it all, but can happily assure you that they have settled in with their new owner very well. In fact, Gladys has got herself a boyfriend and Celia is going out and about meeting prospective keepers. Much as I miss them, I am confident that they will have long and happy lives in deepest darkest Derbyshire.

The remaining girls stayed with my chicken sitter for a week while we moved and did battle with the Palace. The builders didn't get around to laying slabs before the move, so the coop is stood on the newly laid turf. When it became apparent that the builders weren't going to lay the slabs any time soon, the decision was made to install the hens anyway. And this is where I made a near fatal mistake.

The girls arrived in a large cardboard box. As I lifted Mabel out to pop her in the house, the pup leapt up and got himself a prime piece of chicken wing. I froze. Mabel shrieked. The pup wagged his tail furiously, pleased with his faceful of feathers. I defrosted rapidly, and yelled the 'drop' command. The pup looked at me, jaws still clamped around a whole heap of flight feathers, as if to say: ' What? Are you mad? I've been watching these flappy, squawky things for ages! And look! I caught one! Yay!'.

My lovely chicken sitter grabbed the pup's collar, and I supported Mabel with one hand and tried to prise open the canine's jaws with the other. Mabel was staring at the pup attached to her, beak open in shock and a parody of surprise. The pup looked confused and less certain as I furiously yelled 'drop it!' and worked at freeing my top hen, feather by feather. After a tense few moments, the pup gave it up as a bad lot and let go. I quickly bundled the mauve of face Mabel in to the coop, and frog marched the errant pup in to the house. My fear made me furious with him, but of course this was all my fault. You can't blame a dog, particularly a spaniel, for wanting to chase chickens.

I can't tell you how much this incident shook me. I returned the other girls to the Palace quickly, my mood dark and my mind made up. The hens weren't safe here. I would become them.

And you know what? I very nearly did. I got as far as arranging for a lovely lady to collect them. The night before, I sat outside and let them explore the new garden. As Maude wandered over to me, gently enquiring as to whether I had any corn for her, I realised something. I love these birds. They are my sanity. Yes, it's hard with the pup. Yes, they eat all of my plants. Yes, they do revolting curry poos on the patio. But they're my girls, they make me smile, and if I gave them up I would forever regret it. So I called off the rehoming. I spent an exhausting day training the pup to stop running around barking at them. And this Easter weekend, when everyone else is spending time with their extended families and eating chocolate, the ever tolerant husband and I will be laying a new base for the Palace.

The adventure continues.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Farewell, My Pretties

Tonight, I said goodbye to Celia, Gladys, Flo and Winnie. They have gone to an excellent home, with a loving and knowledgable keeper, and I know they will be well cared for. But, oh, the deep sadness at saying goodbye.

The Palace seems very empty now, and the remaining birds seem unettled at all the extra space. As I lifted each departing bird from the perch, I found myself remembering collecting them, and felt my heart give a little lurch. Even as I placed them in the carriers, I couldn't quite believe I was going through with it. I saw each bird in all her glory, and it made me want to weep. Celia's beautiful markings, Gladys' soft frizzled feathers, Flo's gorgeous colouring and Winnie's perfect shape. Gawd, I'm typing this and welling up.

This moving lark isn't easy. I always imagined that when I moved I'd be expanding rather than downsizing. Our new house is perfect for the human contingent, the puppy won't much care as long as he gets walked and sausages, and my new smaller flock will have a luxurious free ranging area. But it is by no stretch of the imagination the kind of house and garden that you can set up as a mini smallholding. Ten birds would have impacted on a brand new estate in an undesirable way, and I know it. But it's so very hard to say goodbye.

I love each and every one of my ladies, and remember those that have passed with deep fondness. Mini will always have a special place in my heart. Yet I feel enormous guilt that I had to choose some hens to rehome, and in reality the four I chose were the easiest to part with. But it still feels lousy.

It'll be a while before I post again.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Tough Times, And I'm Posting After Wine

This is hard to post, but post I must. After lots of tooing and froing both here and in real life, and much angst, I will be parting with four of my girls. Celia, Gladys, Winnie and Flo will be heading to pastures new as soon as a good home can be found. I've posted an ad on Preloved with a heavy heart, and once they are gone I will be selling the Palace and buying a smaller, less grand home for the remaining hens. I should also be listing the serama for sale, but at the last minute I just couldn't do it. Serama are so little, surely no one will even notice them?

I'm not sure what will happen next.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Brief Catch Up

I know, I know. I have been neglecting you. Would it help if I gave my list of excuses? We're trying to move. It has snowed. A lot. We had to travel to visit the ever tolerant husband's family. Oh, and I have the plague (or a cold, depending on how dramatic you want to be. But this cold does come with a mouth ulcer named Kevin). So, I suppose I should fill you in.

Spring is just around the corner (no, really) and the hens are starting to wake up from their long winter slumber. As any keeper of pure breeds knows, these pedigree chooks tend to go in to stasis through the cold and dark months. They eat, drink and sleep their way through Guy Fawkes night, Christmas and Valentine's day. You barely see them, except for cleaning out and the odd sighting as they come down from the coop for feed. The suddenly, you notice that you're topping up the feeder more often. The odd egg appears in the nest box, and crucially, they find their voices again. Oh yes. You know that spring is about to be sprung when you hear the mournful caterwauling of a laboring chicken at 7.30 in the morning.

I am getting the odd egg, and I suspect that Flo is the culprit. The older ladies have yet to recommence laying duties, but their combs are bright red and they've resumed strutting. I'm not expecting too many eggs from Mabel, Maude and Maeve from now on, as they're pushing 4 and 3.5 respectively. But the others will soon be back in to full production. So now is the time to make sure that they have mixed poultry grit and access to grass. My girls pretty much ignore the grit during the winter, but nosh it at a rate of knotts come February. A laying hen needs the calcium, or else they leach it from their own bones. This cannot be a good thing.

I can pretty much rule out Winnie laying at the moment, as in a fit of total craziness she has decided to go broody despite never having layed an egg. This does not bode well for her laying abilities, to be honest. Still, she's a plucky young bird and if there is no egg to sit on, she tries to incubate enormous poos. Deeply unpleasant when I rootle about under her to find and eggs, but it's keeping her busy. And hideously fragrant.

The serama are still road runnering about the pekins, and in this way have avoided being a) eaten and b) flattened. They work in a tag team of distraction, leading the homicidal pekins on a wild serama chase while the other one scoffs pellets. Everyone seems to be coping with the situation, and even Maeve is getting bored of 'pluck the serama'.

The next big thing will be the move.

Friday, 3 February 2012

This Here Is Chiseling Weather

Huh. It seems that winter has decided to put in an appearance here after all. For the last few days the temperature has struggled to get much above freezing. Of course, this means that our central heating decided to shut down. Impeccable timing, our appliances. However, the human suffering is nothing compared to that of the chooks.

Chickens are surprisingly hardy creatures. They can tolerate very cold temperatures, as long as they are dry and out of any cruel winds. But they are utterly dependent on help from their keepers. I maintain that you haven't earned your chicken keeping stripes until you have trudged through snow in your pyjamas at 7am to make sure your hens have some non-frozen water to drink. Bonus points if you get up during gales to check that the roof is still on the coop.

So, this morning I braved the thick frost to clean out my girls. I knew I was in trouble when my fingers got stuck to the run door latch. That's how cold it is. The hens muttered blearily at me, and had to be encouraged to leave the coop so that I could clean. Once evicted, they sat at my feet like pissed off tea cosies and made themselves as awkwardly placed as possible. Running the chicken assault course gauntlet to clear the soiled newspaper from the coop floor was no easy feat, let me tell you.

Once the paper was out, I found myself with a familiar problem. The hens had used one corner of their sleeping quarters for their most, er, energetic of expulsions. This charming pile of excrement was now solidified and welded to the coop floor and wall. I hit it a bit with the dustpan and brush with predictably rubbish results. With a resigned sigh, I fetched the edger.

Now, to be fair, a wallpaper scraper would be more effective and less troublesome. But we don't seem to have one. So the only thing with a steel edge I can find is the border edger. Which has bent, because we're on solid clay and it's a cheap tool.

Weilding the edger like a welly wearing warrior, I set about Mount Poo. Instead of cleanly coming away in one solid lump, my efforts merely shaved it. I was basically chiseling a poo sculpture. I ended up with dessicated chicken faeces, blowing in spirals around me. Nice. But eventually, the poo mountain was shaved away and swept in to the bin. Of course, by now I can no longer feel my fingers.

In these temperatures I tend to layer the nest boxes with extra wood shavings, just to make sure that if things get dire the girls can use them as extra insulation. While slinging handfuls of bedding in them with my numb claw hands, I found an egg. Hardly news, what with it being a chicken coop. But what was different about this egg was that it had frozen solid. And in that process, cracked. So the shell was zig zagged with a delicate pattern, and the inside was frozen jelly. I was going to take a picture, but the demon hound leapt up as I was examining it and ate it. Gulp. In one swallow. He didn't even look sorry.

We are predicted a heavy snow fall tomorrow, so at least I know that my girls are prepared. There is poultry spice on their feed, and mealworms and pasta on the menu for their before bed snack.

C'mon, winter. Do your worst.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

It's A Question Of Maths

I've been thinking about numbers a lot in the last week. Namely, the numbers 10 and under. I've been considering how much the difference between, say, 10 and 6, actually matters. I mean, if you're talking about millions of pounds, it probably has a greater impact than if you were say, talking about Mars Bars. An extra 4 million pounds might make the difference between a mansion and a mansion with a swimming pool and stables perhaps. But an extra 4 Mars Bars just means that you're likely to be sick as well as have a stomach ache. You see? On a small scale, there isn't much between 10 and 6.

Which leads me to consider rehoming any of my girls. Because at the moment, I have 10 small chickens residing in the Palace. I had decided to rehome up to 4 of my girls in order to make less of a scary impact on my new neighbours. I was thinking along the lines of noise reduction, looking less like I was moving a farm in and showing some compromise. But it suddenly struck me. If any of my new neighbours are going to object to the birds, it won't be the amount they will object to. It will be the whole idea of clucking poultry living next door. It's a very rare occurence that all 10 hens make a racket together, and they barely make any noise at all during the autumn and winter months. So perhaps it makes no sense to rehome some birds now, when a serious complaint might mean that all birds need rehoming.

In short, I'm ninety percent certain that I'm going to take all of my birds to the new house and play it by ear. If anyone has concerns, I can address them as and when. Because if I rehome birds, and then move in and find myself surrounded by chicken lovers, I will be very sad indeed.

It's all for one, and one for all from now on.

Monday, 23 January 2012

We're On The Move

The deed is done. We have reserved a new home. I am freaking. Out.

Partly it's the usual house moving stuff. How will we move all of this stuff here, to there? How will I pack everything in just six weeks? How will I feel when I leave our home for the last 11 years and move in to the soulless box of the new build? How much gin will I need to get me through it? All normal, understandable concerns.

But I also have my hens. And that's where I fall to bits a little. Because I'm moving on to a brand new estate, where everyone scratches their heads when I ask if I can keep chickens there. They um and ah, and make vague references to domestic animals being ok, but there being nothing specific about livestock. In fact, every time I pose the Chicken Question, I am met with blank looks quickly followed by an expression best described as appeasing. In short, the builders think I'm mental.

No matter. I can handle being thought mad. It's nothing new. But I think to be safe I need to hedge my bets. I currently have ten chickens residing in the Palace. Ten chickens sounds like a lot. If someone who isn't a chicken lover hears that I have ten, they tend to respond thus: 'Ten! Bloody hell! Your graden must be like a swamp! Are you running a farm?' etc etc. Yet when I had six, it went more often like this: 'Aw! Chickens! How sweet! Lots of people are keeping little back garden flocks now, aren't they? I read it in The Guardian' etc etc. So I think I have to do the unthinkable. I think I have to rehome 40% of my flock.

It's not an easy decision. In fact, it's quite a painful one. But I know it is better for me to have some birds, than none. And my fear is that if we move in with ten birds, there will be complaints. People get a bit snarky if they spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a brand new house and then discover that a zoo has moved in next door. In my mind, I see us moving in with the Palace on a trailer, hens bokking off, and the puppy hanging out of the car window barking his head off. We look like the Beverley Hillbillies. First impressions count.

When I announced all of this on Twitter yesterday, I had several enquiries to rehome some of my girls. My Twitter friends are wonderful, and the poultry peeps that I know on there will no doubt help me find my girls a great new home.

But oh, it will be hard to say goodbye.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Tough Decisions

I find myself at a crossroads. After three years of back garden chicken keeping I have some tough decisions to make. We humans are rapidly outgrowing the available house space. As we dance around each other in a complicated waltz in order to reach the bread bin, I know that something has to give. The ever tolerant husband has made his position clear: the animals have plenty of room, the humans do not.

So we are looking at moving. Based on the dire housing market, the only sure fire way of doing this involves selling our souls to the Devil (well, our house to a builder). That means moving in to a shiny new house built from cardboard and spit. It also means being able to move, and possibly sit in a room without rearranging the furniture or turfing children from the near vicinity.

It also, in reality, means a less than ideal garden space. If not smaller than what I have, certainly less flat and regular. The garden attached to the new house will either require skiis to navigate or a map. So it comes down to me having to make some sacrifices. Possibly.

The Palace is a large piece of furniture. It is unlikely to fit easily in to the new garden. Or, if it does, it is unlikely to fit well. I can't in good conscience give my girls less free ranging space. So that leaves me with a dilemma.

I won't under any circumstances give up all of my birds. But I may have to give up some. The old guard (Mabel, Maude, Maeve) will be going with me even if they have to live in the bath. But I find myself contemplating not having all of the others with me. As I look out in to my (admittedly trashed) garden, I don't know how I can choose which girls come with me and which I say goodbye to. In the grand scheme of things, I realise that this isn't a life changing decision.

Yet somehow it feels like it is.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

ASBO Chicken Trains The Puppy

Now that the puppy has settled in, it's time to make sure he knows that the hens aren't mobile chew toys. He will now sit quietly tethered to the outside tap while they free range on the lawn if I'm mucking out, which is an improvement on the leaping-barking-fruit-looping he was doing a few months ago. So I decided it was time to step it up a gear.

When I thought about introducing the puppy to the birds, I knew that a short sharp shock was the best way to go. Therefore, there was really only one contender. Maeve. Nothing scraes Maeve. She has seen off many other chickens, a couple of cats and at least one of the children's school friends. I have found her eyeballing the hysterical puppy from the back step as he frantically tries to claw through the glass. Her orange, intelligent gaze appraising his floppy ears and lolling tongue and finding him, frankly, pathetic. Last week she quite deliberately took a dump in his food bowl. I suspect she thought this an insult, but the puppy seems to think chicken poo is a delicacy.

So, back to today. I approached the mighty ASBO carefully. She continued preening in the winter sunshine, one keen eye fixed on me. As I drew closer, she ruffled herself and took on her 'come and have a go if you think you're hard enough' stance. I know from experience that any timidity gets you a nasty peck, so I swooped down and grabbed the malevolent ninja with both hands. She looked at me coolly, biding her time. Taking a deep breath, I walked towards the tethered puppy.

As we drew closer, Maeve cocked her head to the side. The puppy stretched his lead out and stood on two legs, eager to get at the funny feathery toy. With great care to keep them at maximu distance, I held Maeve up for him to sniff. He barked at her. She looked at him, looked back at me, and then pecked him square on his tender pink nose.

The puppy recoiled, sneezing. Maeve hissed. Gathering himself, the puppy leapt at her again. This time she was ready, and grabbed the flesh between his nostrils and gave it a tug. He shot back against the wall, licking his tender shnoz and looking confused. He approached again, but cautiously. Gently, he extended his head to sniff her. This time she really went for it, her head coming back like a jackhammer, and left a small dent in the flesh. Deciding that this was enough teaching for one day, I put her down.

The puppy was most perplexed by the whole episode, and when I untethered him he still attempted to bound off after the flock. But I noticed that while the other birds still picked up there a pace and legged it to keep their distance, Maeve merely sauntered, throwing him a 'watch it, mate' glare.

I think she'll train him yet.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Always Something New To Learn

So far, this has been a wet and windy winter. The hens are unimpressed. Their copious feathering and lightness make them particularly vulnerable to anything above a strong breeze. Many times over the last three years I have had to rescue a windswept hen from a rose bush or the coop roof. So they have spent a lot of time huddled in the coop, muttering complaints and refusing to lay eggs.

Of course this is an improvement weather-wise on last year, when we were under a foot of snow for weeks. My girls dislike snow even more than the wind and wet. They spent most of last December shrieking at the injustice of the white stuff covering up their lawn and feigning death to make me bring them treats. Cunning, chickens. In the very cold weather, I was defrosting the drinker two and even sometimes three times a day. We were all cold, miserable and fed up.

This mild but soggy winter should therefore be a breeze (pardon the pun). I confess I took my eye off the ball, and was quite pleased not to have to trudge across the lawn at 7am with the kettle. You would think I'd have learned by now, wouldn't you?

Yesterday morning, I saw a scrum at the feeder. Normal breakfast behaviour. But ten minutes later, there was still a scrum. And a few fights. Huh. That's not normal. I put down my tea, secured the bonkers puppy and went to investigate. I found a full feeder, but an empty tray. The driving wind and rain had managed to turn the feeder tray in to a mini swamp. These soggy pellets had made a sort of disgusting soup, which the girls had happily scoffed. Unfortunately, the creeping wet had made the pellets in the main part of the feeder mutate in to a sort of pellet cement around the feeder holes. So no feed could flow in to the tray. It just sat in the main body, looking all delicious and edible but tantalisingly out of reach. Which explained why a hungry and bad tempered Maeve was kicking the fluffy arse of every one of her flock mates.

I removed the feeder, and emptied it from the top. The free flowing pellets were still good, but at the bottom the pellet cement was well and truly set. It took two boiled kettles of water and a toothbrush to clear it all out, and all the while I muttered obscenities about bad design and the Great British weather. Once everything was back in working order, I returned the pellets to the run. The girls dived in, stuffing their beaks and occassionally throwing me evil looks.

It's nice to be appreciated.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

This Post Isn't About Chickens

And yet, in a round about way, it is. It firstly concerns a clock.

From a distance, this clock looks like a handsome brass carriage clock. That might even be gold leaf marking time on its dial. At first glance, you might even suppose that mother of pearl makes up its face. It is only on closer examination that you realise things are not as they seem. It is far too light to be brass, far too shiny for its casing to be anything other than gold sprayed plastic. There is no wind up mechanism, just space for two AA batteries. In is the kind of clock given as a free gift by an insurance company, or the Readers Digest people. Yet it was given to me as a precious object. I was assured that the giver had wanted me to have it for ages, but had just been waiting for the right time. She also told me that it was valuable, and that she'd had it for many, many years. The giver was my maternal grandmother.

My grandmother was a formidable lady throughout my childhood. My earliest memories of her involve her standing in my parents' kitchen, jangling car keys in her hand, and organising everyone. She was always busy, and when I was young I would often go along for the ride. She tried for years to make the grapevine in the greenhouse do something useful. She made amazing and elaborate cakes. Her cheese straws and pickled onions have never been bettered. She taught us to do handstands against the garage wall, and how to skip double dutch. Periodically, she'd pick up a new hobby and run with it. The entire family sported aran jumpers one winter, like it or not. Her hands always had to be busy. For a while, everything was knitted. Dolls, clothes, decorations. Everything. Then, growing tired of knitting, she turned to cross stitch. There wasn't a wall in the house that didn't have at least one framed masterpiece, and everyone else in the family had their share too. I have one in the downstairs loo.

She travelled extensively, regularly disappearing to the other side of the world for months on end to visit her sister. She often exasperated her children, stubbornly doing whatever the hell she liked whether it seemed appropriate or not. Like driving, despite being shocking at it. I stayed with her regualrly at weekends, and she taught me to knit, sew and bake (with varying degrees of success). I discovered 'Gone With The Wind' at my grandmother's flat, and it remains one of my favourite films. She told me I was clever, capable, amazing. She copied down my primary school poetry in to a book as if I was a proper poet. We played many games of Scrabble, which she always won. Sometimes she farted elaborately and audibly and pretended she hadn't. My cousin nearly had a hernia trying not to laugh.

But, like I said, she was formidable. If you annoyed her, you knew about it. Her favourite way of conveying disappointment was to write letters. Woe betide you got one of her letters. Quick tempered and tongued, you knew if you'd stepped out of line. Yet to me, she was always an inspiration, and still is.

My grandmother now has vascular dementia. The cheap clock she insisted I take she has mistaken for the clock which stood on her mantelpiece for years, and which is now safely put away in a cupboard. She gets confused and misremembers things. Sometimes she gets stroppy and can be less than pleasant to my mother and my aunt. Taking care of someone with memory problems is wearing, heartbreaking and frustrating. She has been scammed out of money, wandered off and got lost, misplaced precious jewellery. Daily dramas which test her daughters' patience and nerves to their limits. The strong woman she was has been replaced by a vulnerable person who needs care. In fact, the kind of person she would have delighted in helping and fussing over (and bossing about). When I was in hospital poorly with my second child, my 75 year old grandmother was attempting to hoist the 'old dear' (a woman about five years older than her) out of her bed and on to a commode. She never really retired from nursing.

So this post isn't about chickens. Yet in a way, it is. Because this woman helped shape me, and I doubt I'd be the same person I am today without her influence. And while she is in the slow, heartbreaking process of forgetting me, I will never forget her.