This is my blog about the day to day lives of my little flock of pet chickens. They're a happy little flock, although they're totally crackers! If you want a laugh, they'll gladly give you one.


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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A word of warning maybe?

The Cluckers have got me really worried.  Before you gasp with anxiety, they are all fit, healthy and in excellent spirits.

They've got their moulting over and done with and they all look magnificent.  And that's what worries me.  Each and every one of them has a finer set of feathers than they have ever had before.  Ever!   I have to ask myself why.

The only thing I can think of is that they know something we don't.  My suspicion is that we are in for a very harsh Winter, my chickens are well aware of that and have, in a manner of speaking, put an extra pair of thermals on.

In my last blog I mentioned the lavish headgear the two Polands are now sporting.  Fizz, in particular, also seems to have sprouted considerably more feathers all over the show. It's a bit different with Pom-Pom.  Madam sheds feathers so discreetly it's almost impossible to see where she's lost them from, other than her tail.  For a while the pair of them wandered round without a tail between them.  It is equally hard to see where Pom-Pom has grown them back, other than lots of extras in her crest.

Both Maggie and Tu-Tu got rid of duvetfuls of feathers. However, they both had so many to start with they looked pretty much the same, but slimmer.  But their regrowth is even more abundant than it was before.

The two Araucana girls decided to approach their moults differently.  Punk decided to live up to her name and wandered round with stray feathers sticking up at all angles on her head.  That was about as far as she went.  Rebecca looked as if she was practicing for Halloween!  She ended up with all the shafts of her wing feathers showing on both sides, so that she looked like a walking skeleton.

Mad Irene got rid of her tail, as many bum feathers as she could without going bald, and lots from her neck.  The feather loss round her neck caused us some amusement.  She has a habit of stretching her neck up to its fullest extent to look at things and decide if she can be bothered going over to examine them more closely.  You really shouldn't do that when your neck is scrawny.   But her feathers have also all grown back in super-abundance.

So I'm off to the shops to get some really warm vests, a few pairs of long-johns and some nice thick socks - just in case.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Head on crash

We have taken pity on the lawn.  When it was time for the Cluckers to have their afternoon treat, we had got into the habit of throwing things onto the grass. Unfortunately, a summer of being scratched and pecked by over-zealous chickens, bent on finding every last piece of whatever-it-was, had left several bare patches.   We decided to give the lawn a break and plonk goodies on the paved path and the patio flag stones instead.

With winter fast approaching, we have been putting down lots of little heaps of mixed corn, dried mealworms and sunflower seeds.   We want the flock to fatten up a bit before the really cold weather arrives.

There is plenty for everyone; each chicken can have its very own, exclusive heap.  But what happens?   They all want to munch the same heap!  Wily old Tu-Tu always stays put; that way she has a whole row of heaps all to herself.

I always pick Pom-Pom up and deposit her at the pile which is furthest away from everyone else.  If I didn't, she would spend all her time running away.  Whenever she catches sight of Rebecca, she scoots off in the opposite direction.  Chasing Pom-Pom may be the furthest thing from Rebecca's mind, but the little Poland dashes off anyway - just in case.

Fizz spotted Pom-Pom chomping away on her own and decided to join her.   She didn't mind at all, but an unexpected problem presented itself.     The predicament took the form of their crests.  They collided if both chickens tried to eat simultaneously.

Two necks would stretch forward, each aiming for a tasty mealworm or a piece of barley, but neither beak could quite reach it.  As a result of their combined bounteous feather arrangements, if they both tried to eat at the same time, neither could get close enough to grab anything.  Their crests met and held their heads apart.  As a result, a cosy beak-to-beak supper was quite impossible.

Following this year's moult, Fizz's crest is rather more lavish than it has been in the past.  Pom-Pom's has always resembled the 60's Dusty Springfield bouffant hairdo I used to have. (My hair was so rigid from all the lacquer I used in those days, that had you dropped me on my head my skull would have been undamaged).

In the end, the pair of them gave up and wandered off to find alternative stockpiles to demolish independently.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A tribute to Titian

This has been a difficult blog to make myself write.  We have lost Titian.

She became unwell and after visits to the vet and phone consultations, she was diagnosed with heart failure.  She was clearly deteriorating and the vet said it would get worse and become very distressing for her.  So we had her put to sleep.

As you can imagine, No. 1 Son and I were very upset - she was from our original flock.  Then yesterday an odd thing happened.  For the first time ever, I found myself sharing the village bus shelter with two pullets.  And furthermore they both looked remarkably like Titian when she was young.  I stood quietly so that they didn't get scared, they decided I was harmless and continued poking around in the dead leaves.

As I watched them, I couldn't help remembering Titian and her antics over the years; before long I found myself smiling.

Her most enduring, and endearing, characteristic was her chattering.   The first thing she did when she got up in the morning was to have a drink.  The second was to come over and fill you in on all the latest gossip.  Woe betide you if you let your attention wander!  She knew and would tug on your trouser leg to bring your attention back to what she was saying.   Only when she'd finished telling you what you needed to know, would she go and eat her breakfast.

The day after Titian died, for the first time in her life Maggie came out of the coop when I opened up and straight over to me.  She muttered a quick "Good morning.  You all right?" and then headed for the food dish.  She hasn't done it again, but I appreciated the gesture.

Titian was a slow, ponderous hen on the whole.  Place a tasty morsel in front of her and she would gaze lovingly at it, apparently anticipating its flavour with each of her 24 taste buds, one by one.   She rarely got to find out if her anticipation was matched by the reality.  One of her companions invariably dived in and scoffed said morsel before Titian's beak got anywhere near it.

There was one time, though, when she got what she wanted.   Maggie walked past her and rather rudely dropped a poo just in front of Titian, before joining the rest of the flock on the lawn.  There, sitting on the edge of Maggie's whoopsie was a piece of corn.  Complete.  Undigested.  Only one previous, careful owner.   Titian gave it her usual measured consideration, then ate it!   Well she couldn't let it go to waste, could she?

She gave Pom-Pom a very hard time when the little Poland first arrived in the flock.  One evening she decided to give everyone else a hard time too.  She went to bed early and positioned herself on the perch, just inside the pop hole.  As each chicken entered the coop, Titian pecked them on the head.  Once pecked, the chicken was then allowed to go and roost without being molested further.  Maybe she was doing my job for me and counting them in.  Who knows?  She certainly never duplicated this performance.

She was highly strung as a young hen, but nevertheless found a great way to relax and enjoy herself.  We had left a full bag of wood chips leaning in the corner of the run, so it would be handy when we needed to top up.   The bag itself was plastic and very slippery when wet, as you can imagine.  This suited Titian's purpose admirably.   She would jump onto the side of the wet bag and slide down the front.  Then she would repeat the process several times until she got bored and wandered off. I often wondered why none of the others joined her, but they never did.

Like most chickens she loved her dustbath, but woe betide anyone who was bathing in the spot she wanted.  She was our largest hen and used her bulk to advantage to shift the offender.  She would sit as close to the guilty party as possible and start her ablutions, while gradually moving sideways and pushing the other chicken out of "her" spot.   She always won.

Right from the start Titian aspired to the role of Chicken-In-Chief.  Unfortunately she was never able to work out how to make the climb from middle ranker to top of the heap.  Being such a slowcoach, by the time she'd developed a strategy, someone else had bagged the position.

Titian was not a lap hen and hated even being stroked.  It took her most of her life to work out that if we leaned towards her with an outstretched hand, all she had to do was run away, not squat to submit to one quick stroke.  On second thoughts, maybe it was just as well she didn't like sitting on our laps.  In later life she developed the habit of letting off totally silent, but world-class smelly farts!   She would stand at our feet, let rip, then assume an air of injured innocence as she walked away.

Our Rhode Island Red may have been a bit of a bird-brain, but the gal sure was a looker!  Her abundant deep auburn feathers gleamed in the sun and even shone in the shade.

We miss Titian.  We can't get used to counting seven chickens instead of eight.   But we are so very glad we had her in our lives.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Exciting news

I'm so excited.  The paperback version of Mucky Cluckers - Tales from the chicken run is finally available as a paperback.

It's £8.99 plus P&P  from

Lots of people have been kind enough to say how much they've enjoyed it.  Best of 
all, it makes people laugh.  

So the Cluckers are rightly proud of themselves - because all I've done is record 
their daft antics.

 “Recommended to animal lovers, whether you keep chickens or not” 

“What a fantastic read!  Made me laugh out loud in some parts.” 

“Wonderful book! Entertaining read & very well written”

Monday, 16 September 2013

An historic event!

I have fond childhood memories of chickens because my grandfather kept them. But whereas he simply saw them as providers of eggs ..... or Sunday lunch......, to me they are pets, just as much as my cat is. If Granddad could see me now, cuddling a chicken, he'd probably have 50 fits!

He certainly wouldn't understand why I should get excited over a chicken having a dustbath. But I did, because it was an historic event, in its way.

The chicken concerned was Pom-Pom and yesterday she took her first dustbath ... ever. She's 4 years old and has never felt it necessary to mingle at ablution time. In reality, she is at the bottom of the pecking order; but in her mind, socially we are all way beneath her, both chickens and humans. That may explain why, when she finally decided that a bath was in order, she condescended to bathe only with Fizz. At least he's family.

For those of you who haven't met the Mucky Cluckers before, here's a short video to show you everyone except Rebecca, who was busy laying an egg.

Friday, 9 August 2013

A model hen

No. 1 Son is less than impressed with the local bird life these days.  We were sitting in the garden enjoying a nice, cool lager when a piece of bird poo was delivered from above - straight into his glass!

Irene is now back to normal, despite a bit of a mishap with her last day's medication.   She had finally cottoned on that the butter we were kindly giving her was not just butter.  It hid half a tablet!  So just to show us how smart she is, she ate the butter from our greasy fingers and threw the tablet on the floor.   Quick as a flash, Rebecca darted in and ate it.

We thought that was accidental and offered Irene the second half of her tablet smothered in butter.  Blow me, she did the same thing again!  This time Punk dived in and ate the discarded tablet.   It seems none of them suffered any ill effects from not eating or eating the antibiotics, thank goodness.

Then Pom-Pom decided she had better walk like a model, just in case any paparazzi were filming her from the other side of the valley.  She took half a dozen steps, carefully putting one foot directly in front of the other.  Somehow that didn't feel quite right.  So she took a step, lifted her leg right up close to her body for a moment, then stretched it forward to take another step.  Then we had the same performance with the other leg.  This went on for a few minutes while she gave the imagined photographers time to get good shots of her from various angles.  After that, it was back to normal and blow the paparazzi.

Watch out Julia Nobis, Pom-Pom can walk the walk too

Punk has no time for posers, so she rushed over to have a go at Pom-Pom.   Luckily No. 1 Son spotted what was going on and put his open hand in front of her to halt progress.  She was incensed!  If she couldn't have a go at Pom-Pom, then she'd jolly-well have a go at him!  She flew at him feet first, then bit his hand so hard it bruised!   No wonder I've used three exclamation marks in succession! (Make that four).  Then she stomped off, muttering to herself.

It's just as well the paparazzi weren't around a couple of days later.  We had given everyone some cooked broad beans;  Pom-Pom managed to wander round, blissfully unaware that she had a bit of bean stuck to the end of her beak.  She did look silly.

To make matters worse her far end looks daft too, as she's moulted all her tail feathers.  At least she's not on her own there, as Fizz has discarded all his lovely tail feathers too.  At least where the Polands are concerned, they truly are "all in it together".

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A visit to the vet

It's been quite a week one way and another, some of it amusing but part of it very worrying.

First Fizz decided to bonk Titian while she was dozing in the dust bath.  Titian's usual routine is a quick wash followed by a long sleep, as he well knew.   Quite what Fizz was thinking I don't know, but he decided to mount her sideways!  A novel approach, but it doesn't achieve the desired result as I've explained to him before.

Titian got her own back the next day.   Fizz decided to take his biannual dust bath, which is always a long, thorough affair.  Titian bided her time until Fizz was having the chicken equivalent of a long soak and a nap.  Then she casually sauntered over to examine a lone surviving piece of grass growing right next to Fizz.  The only way she could see it properly, of course, was to stand with one foot on Fizz's head and take a good, long look at the grass.   He had the good sense not to even attempt to wriggle out from beneath Titian's dinosaur-sized tootsie.  She finally got bored and moved on, much to his relief.

While all this was going on, we were getting a bit concerned about Mad Irene.

The lovely Mad Irene

Normally, before we open the run gate we say "Up Irene" and she jumps onto the nest box roof (which is next to the gate) if she hasn't already done so.  But on Thursday, she couldn't be bothered, no matter how much we encouraged her.

When the Cluckers trooped out we noticed that Irene was rather lethargic, her eyes looked tired and her comb was paler than usual.  There was a lump high in her throat, but her crop was empty.  Worried that food might be impacted in her throat, we fed her some tomato and then went off to search for maggots, hoping that these two remedies for impacted crop might work for whatever was going on in Irene's throat.

Harrogate has three huntin', shootin' and fishin' emporia because it's a posh town and one has to be able to purchase one's deerstalker and shooting stick from somewhere, doesn't one.  But they are far too upmarket to stock maggots.  Took us a while to find an angling supplies shop that hadn't either gone out of business or turned itself into a trendy wine bar.  But we finally got back to the chicken run with half a pint of the little wrigglers.

Irene ate a few, but didn't approach them with her usual "Mine, mine, mine and so are yours" attitude.  In fact she was unusually quiet and subdued;  she just drifted around a bit of the lawn near us.  Usually she rushes about all over the place, scared she might miss something that should rightfully be hers.  We gave it a while, then massaged the lump in her neck and eventually got the clump of food moved down to her crop.   But then I could feel a hard, forefinger sized lump in her throat which no amount of massaging could get rid of.   By now it was much too late to get to the vet.  We would see how she was next morning.

Disastrous as it turned out.  She wasn't too bothered about coming out of the coop, although she normally rushes out first.   She was very sluggish and had no appetite.  Then she did a semi-fluid poo with blood streaked starkly across the urates.   We immediately made an appointment with the vet.

She was the perfect patient.  She allowed a thorough examination with far more grace than we ever realised she possessed.   The vet could find nothing drastically wrong and concluded that she had something going on in her digestive system.  He then gave her an antibiotic injection, which she bore with great stoicism.   He prescribed a course of antibiotic tablets and off we went.

I had assured the vet we'd have no problem getting tablets down Irene.  Irene made no such undertaking.  Consequently the next day, when we wrapped small pieces of tablet in bits of raspberry, she ate the fruit and left the tablet.  We put the bits in with some corn, which she ate with relish, leaving the bits behind.  We put those same bits in with a few maggots.  The maggots got started on the bits - just very briefly before they were chomped up by Irene.  Who left the damned bits behind.  Again.

Then No. 1 Son tried smothering the bits with butter.  Irene nearly took his hand off in her eagerness to get the buttery bits eaten!  That evening we simply broke the large tablet in half, smothered them both in butter and they disappeared down Irene's throat so fast it made your head spin.

She rapidly improved and is back to normal now, as she proved by excavating one of her world famous "this way to Australia" holes this morning.

Oh, and that sinister finger-sized lump?   That turned out to be ..... her neck bones!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

For LilyRaine

Can't seem to find a way to send you a direct message Lily.  You asked for a picture of Mr Pheasant and I will try to get one for you.  In the meantime, if you take a look on my blog at the post of 5 March 2012 "Pheasant Company" there's a picture of exactly the same type of male pheasant as the two who come to see me every day.  The head feathers look black in the picture, but in sunlight they have a beautiful deep greeny-blue shimmer to them.   There's also a picture of a female with her young.

Hope this helps.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Flying kites

Apparently chickens have between 20 and 30 vocalisations, depending on which study you read.   Irene demonstrated one of them recently when she gave a low purring sound.  This purring sound can express three very different things:  contentment, fear or - as in Irene's case recently - a warning.

Fizz yells his warnings at the top of his voice.  The resulting racket is something along the lines of a strangled shriek.   We reckon he is actually yelling "CROW!!!!", but he does have a tendency to apply it to all sorts of things.  In the past he has warned of helicopters, sheep and, last week, a passing Red Admiral butterfly.   But to be fair, he has a limited knowledge of English, so "CROW!!!!" has to cover everything.   Not that it matters;  none of the girls take the slightest bit of notice of him.

But they immediately took Irene's warning seriously.  Each one of them instantly froze.   After a moment of complete immobility they quietly, and in an orderly fashion, trooped into the safety of their covered run.  Fizz was already in there having a quick snack, but I doubt he'd have noticed the very real danger circling overhead.  His fringed hairdo means he misses a lot.

The reason for Irene's alarm was that she had spotted a pair of Red Kites patrolling in the cerulean sky directly above her.   Red Kites!   No wonder my Cluckers decided to hoof it back to where they felt safe, despite the fact that I was sitting in the garden with them.

I see the young kites quite often.   Sometimes they are being chased off by irate birds intent on protecting their young, sometimes they are circling so high in the sky you can scarcely see them.   It's doubtful they would attack the Cluckers because they mostly dine on carrion, only occasionally taking small birds or mammals.  

But Irene was taking no chances.   After all, for all she knew these Kites might have fancied chicken for a change.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Kindred spirits

I may have been delighted to see No. 1 Son return home after his long, long holiday but the pheasant wasn't.  In fact he was so miffed he wouldn't speak to me for a few days.

The problem was he had got used to it being just him and me at breakfast and afternoon tea.   When I went down to open up and feed the chickens each morning, he would always be hanging around in the garden or on the wall waiting for his share.  In the late afternoon, he would leg it across the field as soon as I appeared in the garden.  More corn for him, and his lady wife if she put in an appearance.

He was a bit late last week, but he knew I would be in the garden with the chickens at that time of day, and so jumped up on the wall.  Horror of horrors - I was not the only human!  My son and our neighbour were there too.  

Well that wasn't on, was it?   He glared at me, leapt back into the field and marched off, his wife scuttling along behind him wondering what the hell his problem was.   

He decided to teach me a lesson.   When I have corn for him, but he hasn't noticed I'm around, I make a loud "kissing" sound.  He stops grubbing around in the field, looks up, spots me and runs over.   For the next two days whenever I made my "kissing" sound, he looked up, scowled at me and got on with his grubbing.  I rather had the impression that his wife shook her head and raised her eyes skyward - but I could be wrong.

Yesterday morning he reckoned I had been punished enough (and anyway he was missing his corn).  So as I sat watching the chickens doing the gardening, he appeared on the wall.  I apologised and fed him.  We were friends again and that should have been that.  But it wasn't.

That afternoon, he was waiting in the garden for me.  No. 1 Son was with me and decided that if I could get pally with the local wildlife, so could he.  He poured some corn into his hand and held it out towards the pheasant.

"He won't eat from your hand," I said.  "You'll have to put it on the wall or the ground," I said.  "Careful!  Don't frighten him," I said.

So what did the bloody pheasant do?  Came straight over and happily ate from my son's hand.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bosom pals

I've never had a chicken sit on my bust before, but this afternoon Pom-Pom did just that!   I blame Punk.

A while back Punk realised that the only chicken below her in the pecking order was our little Poland bantam.   So she has made a point of giving Pom-Pom a quick peck whenever  the opportunity presents itself.  Yesterday, she not only pecked, she chased too.  Poor old Pom-Pom ran away but as she can only see downwards (due to her huge crest), she inevitably ran into things.

For once Fizz remembered that cockerels don't just bonk everything in sight, they are also meant to keep peace and harmony within the flock.   He went over and stood in front of his half-sister so that her persecutor couldn't get to her.   I was so proud!

I let them all out into the garden this afternoon and blow me if Punk didn't start her nonsense again!   I scooped Pom-Pom up and had words with Punk.

Pom-Pom and I sat on the garden bench, I put her on my knee and fed her a bit of corn.   Then she glanced down and spotted Punk chomping on the grass nearby.   Panic stations!   And she decided that her best course of action was to climb up me.

I presumed she was heading for my shoulder, but I presumed wrong.  She got as far as my busty substances, found them rather comfy and settled down.  She shuffled around a little so that my chin rested nicely on her back and then went to sleep!   Well it was a lovely sunny afternoon, she felt safe, so why not?

I can't honestly say it was equally as comfortable for me.   For a start, because she rarely does any digging her claws are quite sharp.  Even though she was at rest, they stuck into parts of my anatomy that simply aren't used to that kind of treatment.   And I suppose I could have moved my chin, but she'd got it just where she wanted it, so it hardly seemed fair to put it somewhere else.

After a while, along came Fizz who jumped up on my lap and began to preen.   This woke Pom-Pom who thought preening was an excellent idea.   That was another first for me.  Having a chicken sitting on my less-than-ample bosom, tarting herself up!

I wouldn't mind, but their toilette took forever!   Eventually I decided that enough was enough, put Pom-Pom in a safe place in the run and ushered the rest of them back inside too.

Then I tootled back to the house to check my bra and its contents for damage.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Drop by any time

If I needed any confirmation that chickens and pheasants belong on the same family tree, I got it yesterday.

The Cluckers and I were out in the garden, taking advantage of a rare sighting of the sun.   The female pheasant was doing the same thing in the field behind our garden.  In fact she was having a dustbath.   It was a long, luxurious, thoroughly self-indulgent affair.  Had she been human, there would have been lots of perfumed bubbles;  probably a glass of wine on the side too.

Her husband was pottering about at the far end of the field, but noticed madam finishing  her ablutions.  When she stood up and shook all the dust off, he came hurtling over.  As he drew near he suddenly stopped, dropped his wings and danced sideways over to her.  It could have been Fizz!  The similarity became even more evident when Mrs Pheasant totally ignored her husband's advances.

To my surprise, the chicken comparison didn't end there.  One of the pheasant daughters chose that moment to jump up on my wall and into my garden.  She'd noticed me all right, but she'd also noticed the corn which my chickens hadn't yet got round scoffing.   She obviously thought that what was sauce for the goose was also sauce for the .... er ..... pheasant and tucked in.

Pom-Pom noticed a strange pair of feet in her limited field of vision, took a couple of steps towards them, then thought better of it.   After a while, Irene noticed the intruder too.  She sauntered to the edge of the lawn, took a long, hard look at the pheasant and decided she had better things to do than chase strangers.  But that was it.  If any of the rest of them noticed the foreigner in their midst, they were far too polite to say anything.  Fizz didn't even see her.

She kept glancing at me but as I stayed still, she kept right on eating.   When there was nothing much left, she rejoined her parents.

Her mum and dad are usually just outside my garden at around 4 pm every day.  So I've got into the habit of throwing them a handful of corn.   The cock pheasant now comes running over when he sees me, but the hen is a bit more reticent.   So he calls her over.  As he's pecking away at the corn he chunters, just like Fizz does when he's telling the girls he's found something nice for them (even though it's often just a dead leaf).

I wonder if Miss Pheasant will make a habit of dropping in for afternoon tea?

Friday, 17 May 2013

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down

In my last post,  I told you how my chickens ran away from home at the first opportunity.   They have been put to shame by a friend's hens, who stayed put even when their home was falling down around their ears.

Earlier this week, Nugget, Penny and their sisters found themselves right in the middle of some typically British Spring weather.   Gale force winds, driving rain, freezing cold - that sort of thing.

The strength of the wind was such that it blew the whole side of the coop off!   The impact of the wood as it hit the ground was so great, it broke.   Nugget was in the nest box at the time, but got such a fright she shot out of what was left of the coop, screeching her head off.  Understandable really.

Susan effected temporary repairs, but had to call in reinforcements to make sure the chicken house was made totally safe again.  Enter Susan's husband.  

But in the meantime, Nugget had unfinished business and some things won't wait.   So despite the precarious state of her home, she went back inside and settled down.   By now Penny also had her legs crossed, so she squeezed into the nest box with her sister.   Said husband waited patiently for the pair of them to get their eggs laid before starting work on the coop.  But there are some things a girl simply cannot do in a hurry.  Laying eggs is one of them.

In the end, the repair was carried out properly and efficiently, despite loud protests from the occupants inside.  After all, some people have to get back to their proper job.

I am lost in admiration for Nugget and Penny.   Despite having to put up with the racket from the weather and the noise and inconvenience of the repair man, they knew where their duty lay.  In the nest box, providing tomorrow morning's breakfast.  And nothing was going to stop them!

Ladies, I salute you.

With thanks to Susan and her girls

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A wake up call

No. 1 Son is away on a well-deserved holiday, so the task of opening the chicken coop at some unearthly hour every morning has fallen to me recently.   And I am not a morning person.

Off I staggered this morning, opened them up, fed them and replenished their water.  I half listened to Titian giving me the latest gossip while I poo-picked.  The flock looked fit, healthy and were tucking into their breakfast with gusto.  All was well with their world, so I left them to it.

We have a padlock on their run gate, which is kept locked.   I carefully turned the key, pocketed it and went back to the house for a nice cup of tea.

If I just want to just check on the chickens, rather than sitting in the garden with them, there's a part of the fence I can lean on.  It allows me to look down into the run without actually having to go into the run itself.  So after breakfast I decided to go and have a quick peep at them.   I was horrified to discover that they were all missing!  Every - single - one.

The run gate was closed, so they had obviously been stolen by someone hoping to leave the place looking perfectly normal to the casual glance.   I raced down into the garden, dreading what I might find.  One part of me hoped and hoped they were all just being silly and were simply hiding in the smoking shelter.  But why would they do that?

I ran down the steps, rounded the corner and ..........  There they were - clustered together on my side of the gate, patiently waiting to be let back in!   I opened the gate, they stampeded back inside and headed straight for their food dishes.

I bet you're wondering how this could have happened, aren't you.  Well I did mention that I am not a morning person.  Please bear that in mind.

When I left the chicken run, as I've mentioned I carefully locked the padlock that secures the gate.   What I did not do, in my somnambulant state, was slide the bolt across first.  Neither did I close the bolt at the bottom.  So the gate was not secured in any way at all, even though it was closed!

After I had returned home and was supping my first cuppa of the day, along came a gust of wind and blew the gate open.   "Whoopee" chorused the Cluckers and made a dash for Freedom.   Then that perfidious wind blew the gate shut and they were all stuck outside.   They had a whale of a time!   They had access to all the places they are not usually allowed to visit.

So I now have pebbles from the path and one of the borders strewn all over the patio area.     My lawn is adorned with bark that originally surrounded the dwarf fruit trees.  These trees are now surrounded by the holes the chickens dug with gay abandon.  It's a similar story in the rose bed, except that the bark from that area is mostly covering the steps I had raced down earlier.

For some odd reason they left the daffodil bed and another flower bed alone.  I suspect they would have got round to them later, but someone heard me coming.   That was the signal for them to rush over and huddle round the gate looking forlorn and innocent.

Maggie missed out on all this.  She had gone into the coop to lay an early morning egg and was still there when I ushered everyone back into the run.  However she did come out to see what all the kerfuffle was about.   Unfortunately she left the nest box a shade too soon.  Her egg hadn't had time to dry before she stood up and walked away.  Consequently, it was stuck to her abundant Orpington bum feathers.   It looked very decorative, but I thought I'd better remove it before it got broken.

So today I have learned the hard way:  when you are solely responsible for looking after the pets you write about all the time - WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 22 April 2013

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” *

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will be well aware that Fizz harbours a secret passion for Titian.   Well, not all that secret if I'm honest.

Fizz being a handsome bantam

Time and time again, Fizz has fluttered his wings and danced up to the chicken of his dreams, only to have those dreams shattered.  To say he's been spurned, rebuffed and rejected would be putting it mildly.   He's been on the receiving end of furious glares.   He's had his beak pecked.   He's been thwacked into the middle of next week.   Any other suitor would have given up long ago, but not Fizz.

Titian is big, beautiful and twice Fizz's size.

It was such a lovely sunny day yesterday that we took our tea down into the garden, opened the run gate and let the chickens out to ruin the lawn.  Before too long, Titian decided that a nap was in order.  She found a nice warm spot in the dust bath area, made herself really comfy in the soft warm earth and snuggled down.  It had the benefit of warmth radiating off the dry stone wall, which she faced so she could enjoy the extra heat.

It didn't take long before her eyes drooped shut.  It took only a little longer than that for Fizz to realise that his golden opportunity had finally, finally arrived!   Before any of us realised what was happening he had raced over and jumped on Titian's back.  It took a fair bit of skilful manoevering because as well as being taller than him, Titian is quite a bit longer too.   But the lad actually managed to get the right bits of their joint anatomies in the right places.  Bingo!

Titian was so astounded by this unexpected interruption to her snooze that she simply stood up looking dazed - losing Fizz, who slid off.

But it just goes to prove, doesn't it, that dreams can come true.

 * Albert Einstein

Friday, 19 April 2013

Getting stuck in

No. 1 Son commented today that I seem to have a lot more grey in my hair.  Given Maggie's stunt on Tuesday, this is hardly surprising.

It was a nice sunny afternoon for a change and we'd all spent a happy hour or so in the garden.   I know Maggie was out there because I'd watched her and her best mate Tu-Tu meandering round the garden together.  Anyway, I'd counted them all out hadn't I, and she certainly wasn't missing then.

The two old biddies exchanging gossip

However, when it came to counting them all back in at close of play, I discovered I only had 7 chickens instead of the 8 I had started with.   A quick look round the garden soon confirmed that nobody had been left outside.

Convinced she had quietly popped in to lay an egg, I checked the nest box.  No Maggie.  Nor was she in the caged area below.   Then we spotted the daft old biddy stuck fast behind the spare coop.  

She's not the exploring type, but she does love her food.  So my guess is she spotted a solitary piece of corn back there, or maybe a tomato seed and thought "That's for me!".   Having squeezed and pushed her way in, she then found she could move neither forward nor backward.   Luckily we came along fairly soon after and No. 1 Son moved the coop so she could escape.   She had to make her way out backwards (most undignified), but at least no harm had been done.  

We've now blocked each end so further exploration by any of my daft flock is impossible.  But I bet they are plotting how they can add further grey hairs to my collection, even as I'm typing this!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Doing one's duty

It appears that Fizz is finally taking his role as a cockerel seriously - sort of.  I'm talking about leadership qualities here; he's taken bonking seriously ever since he learned how to do it from Rocky (an Araucana cockerel, junior to Fizz, who used to live with us).

I used the words "leadership qualities".  On reflection, "escort duties" might be a bit more accurate.  Or do I mean .............. oh never mind, make your own mind up when you've read the blog.

It started at the weekend.  The pophole was opened and as usual out shot Rebecca, immediately followed by Mad Irene.  Then Fizz danced down the ramp.  Obviously he'd spotted the early birds and, being a Marvin Gaye fan, had decided to give them a little "Sexual Healing".

He got to the bottom of the ramp and realised that there were only two girls.  Good gracious, he couldn't manage on just the two!   In any case, he'd never been able to persuade our Light Sussex that she loved shorter men.  So he danced back up the ramp and into the coop.   There was a bit of a kerfuffle, then out stomped Tu-Tu looking more than a little hacked off.  Fizz followed close behind her.   As soon as he was certain she was safely downstairs, he turned and went back up again.

This time the air went blue, so he was obviously tackling Punk.   There was a heck of a ruction before she made an appearance.  She stood for a moment in the pophole, might even have turned round and gone back to bed.  But Fizz was having none of it.  So she flounced down the ramp and headed for the nearest food dish.

Back up the ramp strode our tireless little cockerel, only to come beak to beak with a very bleary-eyed Maggie at the top, whose beauty sleep had been ruined by the noise.   What Fizz wanted to do was get behind her and give her an encouraging push.  But being a bantam Orpington, Maggie has enough feathers to fill a duvet.  So there's no getting past her.   She began her slow, stately progress down the ramp.   Fizz had no option but to descend too - backwards.

At that point, Fizz gave up and didn't even bother Pom-Pom.  Something similar happened last year, so maybe waking the girls and making them get up is going to become an annual event.

A few days later he thought of another angle to try.   He'd escort them to the nest box when they wanted to lay an egg.   He decided to practice with Rebecca.   The trouble was, Rebecca didn't want to lay an egg right then.   So although she was happy to go for a walk into the coop with him, she turned round and walked straight back out again.   He followed.  That wasn't what he had in mind at all!   So he ushered her back in.   She immediately led the way out.

Things weren't going according to plan at all.  Well, not the original plan.  But then he spotted Maggie standing knee-deep in one of Irene's craters - the perfect height for a bonk!  So he did his cockerel duty and felt so much better for it.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Irene is on the case!

I'm convinced that our chickens' main aim in life is to provide us with laughs, no matter how cold and miserable we and the weather may be.   Eggs are simply a secondary by-product.

The flock had been let out of their run for a while so that they could either dig up or eat the lawn, depending on their inclination.   A series of little heaps of corn were placed along the pavement too.   The leftover corn was thrown into the upper half of the run, partly to give Pom-Pom a chance to have a quiet munch on her own and partly to give everyone something to scratch around for later on.

As usual, Mad Irene was running round like the maniac she is, checking that nobody had anything that she felt she should have instead.   All of a sudden, she remembered that we had disappeared into the run.  That could only mean one thing;  we had sneaked something in there that she didn't know about!

Any normal hen would have made her way through the gate, walked along between the smoking shelter and coop, climbed the three steps and got to the top of the run in a calm, ladylike manner.  Not Irene!  No time, you see.  Must check for goodies.  Hell of a rush.   Vital she got there first!

So Irene being Irene, she roared in through the gate and decided to take a shortcut across the smoking shelter roof.   Neither timing nor elegance are strong points with this girl.  She took off a tad early, landed almost on her bottom and slithered across the corrugated plastic roof.   This meant she met with the  low fence instead of hurdling over it like poultry's answer to Sally Gunnell.    However, walloping into the fence didn't prevent her toppling over it.   She somehow landed on her tummy, but ...... oh joy!  There, just a neck stretch ahead of her, was a piece of corn.

Mission accomplished!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Spring is here - or is it?

At the end of January Mad Irene spotted some sunshine.   It only lasted about half an hour, but that was enough to convince her that Spring had arrived, so she laid an egg.   All the girls had given up producing eggs at the back end of October, so we were delighted that Irene had gone back into production.   We hoped that the rest of them would take the hint too.

We waited and waited, but although Irene was now in top gear and presenting us with lovely offerings every other day, nobody else showed any enthusiasm whatsoever.   Then, a fortnight later, Punk dramatically produced one as described in an earlier post.   But just the one.   She now seems to have settled into a routine of laying one egg every two weeks.  The other part of her egg laying routine is to drop them just outside the coop, preferably in a bit of mud if she can find some.

A couple of days ago I remembered that last year she laid her eggs in a nest box in the spare coop, so I went off to check if she was hiding some there.  Instead, I found three Titian eggs.  She has continued to keep them at half their previous size and with a very pointy end, but at least she's laying.

Earlier in the week, I was delighted to find that Tu-Tu had joined in the egg laying bonanza.  She has always been totally reliable, laying an egg every other day from the day she arrived, except in Winter.  Now I'm beginning to wonder if she's taken a leaf out of Punk's book and intends to lay only on alternate weeks, because there's been no follow up.   We shall see.

There's no sign of Maggie even considering getting into the nestbox for any purpose other than sleeping.  I am, however, surprised that Rebecca hasn't laid yet.  Normally when Irene does something, Rebecca is hot on her heels and copies her.   Seems she's drawn the line at egg production though.  The one hen who doesn't surprise me is Pom-Pom.  She hates the whole egg laying thing and tries to avoid doing it as much as possible.   She managed to reduce her performance by half last year, and she's no doubt hoping like mad that she's gone into early henopause this year.

And then there's Fizz.   The day Irene spotted the sunshine, Fizz spotted Rebecca and chased her round the run.   He's done a bit of chasing and dancing, but not nearly as much as in past years.   Last week when they were all out in the garden munching on the lawn, Tu-Tu actually invited Fizz over by squatting before he'd even made an improper suggestion.   He gratefully accepted the invitation.   So it came as something of a surprise to him when she gave him a sharp peck post-coitus!

It's not too long before we mess around with our clocks and end up with an extra hour of daylight.  Hopefully, that will remind all the girls that their job is to produce our breakfasts.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Sitting ducks they ain't!

In January last year I passed on an hilarious story about chickens that invaded someone's house.   This time it's ducks that have caused me so much amusement.   Their escapade appeared on the Down The Lane Facebook page and is reproduced with the kind permission of their owner.

The adventurers

"Tonight, I had to do several laps of the kitchen, into the hall, into the dining room, back to the hall, into the lounge, out of the lounge, into the dining room........and so on.....following my two ducks.  Not impressed.  I had to follow them very slowly so as not to scare them.  The second they get worried....yup, splat on the floor....thank heavens its wooden.  Cat was doing the rounds with the ducks.  She even lapped them.  They took no notice.

"I had been madly busy all day, in and out of the house 5 times.  When this happened I was only home for about half an hour.  I thought - go and check on/lock up chickens.  Darned ducks.  I came through the back door, following the ducks inside.  There were 2 eggs in each cardigan pocket, 3 eggs in my hands and I holding an empty feed bucket - chasing these ducks.  Hubby sat on sofa laughing, daughter sat with headphones on, staring at PC saying "what?" while I'm flapping around trying not to drop/crush eggs in pockets.  Stress or what!   As if that wasn't enough, went out for 2 hour lecture on web design, came home to cockerel crowing (11pm) and ducks on patio shouting for dinner.  Went to investigate cockerel noise and guess what happened......

"At least they only made it into the downstairs bathroom this time.  I will remember to shut the door when I go out next time....I think...."

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Temper, temper!

Punk being jolly cross

One of the reasons we could never fit an automatic pop hole closing thingy to our chicken coop is Pom-Pom.   Unless it's pouring with rain, she always roosts on the cage gate; sometimes she stays out even if it is raining.  This means one of us has to go down to the run every evening, check whether she's out or in and deposit her inside the coop with the others if necessary.  Only then can the pop hole be closed up.   That "someone" is generally No. 1 Son.

Yesterday evening he went down to lock up and Pom-Pom was comfortably hunkered down on the gate.   All the others were nicely settled inside the coop.  Maggie and Titian were snuggled up in the nest box, Tu-Tu was in solitary splendour on the back perch and everyone else had jammed themselves onto the front perch.

Then No. 1 Son opened the side door of the coop to pop Pom-Pom inside.   This annoyed Mad Irene so much that she got off the perch, leaving a convenient space for Pom-Pom.

So far, so good.  Unfortunately, that meant Pom-Pom was right next to Punk, who took strong exception to having to sit next to her ladyship.   So the Araucana decided to give Madame a good, hard peck.  Fortunately the hand is quicker than the beak and my son managed to move his between Punk's beak and Pom-Pom's head.  So she got him instead.   This made Punk even crosser and more determined to get at Pom-Pom.   So she drew herself up to her full height, stretched her neck to its greatest extent and tried to deliver her peck over the top of the offending hand.   Her effort was just that bit too much for her equilibrium;  she overbalanced and fell off the perch!

That was the last straw!  She stalked off to the other perch, delivering a totally ineffective peck to Pom-Pom's tail as she passed it.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Drama Queen's understudy

As you may remember from previous posts, our little flock's Drama Queen is Pom-Pom.   Her performance on the days she condescends to lay an egg deserves an Oscar, if not two.   Starting around 11 o'clock, when she's had time to come to a bit, she parades round and round the hen run.   This perambulation is accompanied by recitations from various Shakespeare plays, a wide selection of poetry, the famous aria from Madam Butterfly and her interpretation of Meg Ryan's 'When Harry Met Sally' performance.  You know that bit - after which an old biddy in the restaurant says, "I'll have what she's having"?  Honestly, Pom-Pom goes on and on for hours until she finally rids herself of her pesky egg at around 4 pm.

All our girls stop laying in October and refuse to start again until late February/early March time.  However, we saw the sun for a few moments last week.   That was enough to fool Mad Irene into thinking Spring had arrived, so she laid an egg.   

Not to be outdone, the next day Punk decided she'd lay one too.   When I went down to check up on everyone, she had made herself comfortable in the nestbox and had a far-away look on her face.   Unfortunately, things did not proceed as planned and when No. 1 Son went down to check them again, she was obviously not at all well.

She was tottering round the lower end of the run, wings drooping and looking very sorry for herself.   A quick look and we saw what looked like egg white dribbling down from her vent.  Her vent also didn't look right at all.   There was no egg to be found anywhere, so we were very worried that it had broken inside her.   Although it was Sunday, we knew our lovely rural vets run an emergency service.  OK, it would be expensive, but what choice did we have?  So we phoned, explained the situation and got an appointment to see her in a couple of hours.   Back we went to the chicken run to see how poor little Punk was doing.   

How was she doing?   I'll tell you how that scrawny-necked cockroach was doing.   She was absolutely fine!   She had deposited an egg in a convenient piece of mud by the cage gate and was busy tucking into some corn with the others.

We picked her up, checked her nether regions and everything was perfectly normal.   She started swearing at us (she can be a foul-mouthed fowl when she wants), so we let her return to yumming the corn.   Then we trudged back to the house to cancel the appointment with the vet.

Pom-Pom, watch out;  I suspect you have competition for that Oscar!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

"When snow falls, nature listens" *

The bit of nature that decided to listen this snowy winter was a family of rats.   We've had a very wet summer, so they were no doubt flooded out of their original home.  They must have thought they were in heaven when they discovered free food was available in the chicken run, even though the supply disappeared every evening.

The chickens didn't bother them much.  During the very cold weather, when the snow was 'deep and crisp and even', Fizz and the girls ate and then poddled off back into the coop.  Much warmer in there and, like me, they hate the snow.

A couple of winters back I went to check on them and found Pom-Pom chest deep in a snowdrift.   It was a good job I found her, as she couldn't work out how to escape.   So whenever it snows now, we keep the cage door closed;  we know they are safe that way.   Not that it matters, they prefer their sleeping quarters in this freezing cold weather.

Obviously, we could not allow the rats to stay.   So we got a humane trap and began to catch them, two by two initially, then one at a time.    The prisoners were then taken half a mile away and deposited in a field on the far side of the river.   Hopefully, they will settle down nicely over there.

Yesterday the snow had gone and the chickens had once again been allowed to roam freely round their run.   At dusk No. 1 Son baited the trap with a bit of cat food and some chicken food, a combination the rats seem to enjoy enormously.   He even made a trail of layers pellets which led into the trap, just in case a bit of encouragement was needed.

Most of the flock had retired for the night, but Irene was still up and about.   Not much gets past that girl's eagle eye where food is concerned, and needless to say it took no time at all for her to spot the trail of pellets.   It took even less time for her to eat them.  She pecked her way along, reached the trap and looked distinctly disappointed to discover that she couldn't reach the rest of them.

She gave the matter a bit of thought, couldn't come up with any bright ideas, so she tootled off to join the others in the coop.

*Antoinette van Kleef

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Back again!

I'm relieved to say that my carpal tunnel has now sorted itself out; I had a brief spell of RSI in the other arm, but that's now OK too.

So a quick update on Fizz and the girls.

To be honest, I haven't seen much of them over the past few days.  The snow has been thick on the ground, it's been very cold, so they've spent most of their time snuggled up in the coop.   They reluctantly come down for a mid-afternoon snack, then shoot back inside to keep warm.

Very late in the Autumn,  most of the chickens decided to moult.   Titian did the same thing as last year and went for the "oven ready" look.   Unfortunately, just as she lost the last few feathers the temperature plunged.  After a day and a half of it being really, really cold she began to look quite unwell, so we decided to bring her inside until she feathered up a bit.   So she spent a week in a huge box in our kitchen.   I knew she was beginning to feel better when she demanded sunflower seeds every time she saw me.   We kept them on our dining room table and as soon as I appeared, she would go and stand in the corner of her box nearest the table and stare up at it, then at me, then back to the table, chuntering all the time.   After a week, her feathers had regrown to the point where we felt she would be well able to cope with low temperatures again, so we put her back with the others.

It was absolutely fascinating watching her feathers grow.  I know from observing them all in past years that chicken feathers grow fast.   But being able to see progress at close quarters and from one hour to the next was amazing.   In the morning there would simply be quills sticking out, by lunchtime I'd notice that some of them were darker at the ends.  Come the evening, and you could see just a tiny line of what looked like the very tip of an auburn paintbrush.  

Chickens never cease to amaze me!   More news soon.