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.