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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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Feed me Seymore!

In the last blog I mentioned that our local pheasant asked nicely for his breakfast.  Well this morning he showed the other side of his character.

There was no sign of him when I went to wake up the chickens this morning.  I had put their various food dishes down, opened the pophole and watched while some came out voluntarily and others were hustled out by Fizz.   As usual, Pom-Pom and the broody Tu-Tu took no notice of him whatsoever and stayed put.

I opened the nest box lid to find the recalcitrant duo sitting there looking stubborn.  I picked Pom-Pom out and plopped her in front of her favourite food dish, then went back to collect Tu-Tu.  I had just deposited her on the ground by my feet when a series of loud, raucous squawks assaulted my ears.  It was the pheasant, marching up and down the garden wall, yelling at me to get myself out of the chicken run and sort his breakfast out.   NOW!!!!!!!!!

Well I know my place.   I grabbed a handful of layers pellets, which I know he enjoys, and flew (not literally) out to put them on the wall for him.  He didn't even say "thankyou", just got his head down and started wrapping his beak round his breakfast.

When I went back into the run, Tu-Tu was sitting exactly where I'd left her.   The bloody-minded little madam was going to be broody, come hell or high water.  If that meant staying put outside, then so be it!   But she relented when I put her in front of a dish of her favourite mash; she quickly got stuck in before anyone else tried to pinch it from her.

With everyone sorted, I trundled back to the house for a well-deserved cuppa.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Breakfast is served

So there I was in the outhouse, busy preparing breakfast for the Mucky Cluckers.  As usual, the door was wide open to let the nice, fresh morning air flush yesterday's old air out.

Hearing a soft "woohooooooo", I glanced up to see our local pheasant standing a few yards away.  He's a lovely lad, even though he did lose his tail a few months ago.  But it's growing back nicely and is about halfway to being its full length now.

If he's around when I'm sorting the chicken food out, he usually comes over for his share of breakfast.  The usual routine is that he waits near the door while I take a handful of mixed corn and put it on the ground a few yards away..  He then munches, while my cat sits at the door watching the pheasant and trying to work out whether he's too big to tackle.  Zac has been trying to work that out for the last couple of years.

This morning was a bit different though.  This time, instead of stopping near the door the pheasant decided to come right in!   That might have been a bit more than Zac would tolerate, so I quickly grabbed some corn and gently ushered him back outside.  I fed Mr Pheasant in his usual spot, Zac watched him and everything returned to normal.

Picture by David Croad

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pom-Pom's punch-up

 I don't know what Prissy said to upset Pom-Pom, but it really annoyed our little Poland.  She was so irritated, she head-butted Prissy three times!   Being walloped by a headful of feathers isn't exactly the most excruciatingly painful thing that can happen to you, but Prissy was mildly surprised that it had happened at all.   Then peace returned and the pair of them carried on mowing the lawn. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Is he or isn't he?

A friend asked me recently if Fizz was behaving liked a gentleman with the new girls.   Personally, I wouldn't use the words "Fizz" and "gentleman" in the same sentence.  Oh hang on, I just did!

Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while will know that the answer came complete with hysterical laughter from me.   If he was anything like a gentleman, he would not have jumped up on my lap, done the biggest, sloppiest poo on my trousers, then jump off again as if nothing untoward had happened.

To be fair, he does call the girls over when he finds something nice for them to eat.  You would have thought that, by now, they would have learned that he sometimes has the strangest idea of what they might enjoy munching.   On the menu yesterday was my brand new, bright red watering can!   Having rushed over to see what he'd found, the girls then stalked off in a collective huff.

As far as the newbies are concerned, Fizz can't quite make his mind up.  He's bonked Nonami once and is trying to work out how to have his way with Prissy when she's so much taller than him.  Scrat keeps a low profile in the hope that he'll mistake Nonami for her.  But he's just as likely to take a truculent run at them, when all they want is a corner of the dustbath.

He's a right little oddball, but you just can't help loving the lad.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Have hen; will travel

Chickens can be so naughty.  They get into all sorts of places that they really shouldn't be;  I've seen pictures of them in kitchens, lounges - one even made herself comfortable in the bathroom sink!  But a couple of my Facebook friends have had their hens go on shopping trips!  Here are their stories.

A Welsh friend's hen went off to the local co-op in the back of a workman's car.  He was operating a digger at her home, and come lunchtime he drove off in his car to the shop to get something to eat.  He had made the mistake of leaving all the windows of his car open when it was parked at her home - a clear invitation to passing chickens to check inside.   When he came out of the shop, he turned to put his lunch on the back seat and there was a hen!  She had laid an egg and was sitting tight enjoying the outing.

A New Zealand friend's hen hitched an even longer ride.   Her husband drove 20 km to the shop to pick up the pig veg.   Before he leaves on any trip, he always checks the back of the truck because there are invariably chickens in the crate that's kept there. He shooshes them out and then if any hop back on they usually hop out again pdq and go on their way.   Not this time though.

When he arrived at the veggie shop there was a "bok bok" coming from the crate!   There, tucked up in the corner of it, was a very pretty hen.  He put her under his arm, went into the shop to ask if he could have a box and popped her in that for the return journey.

She'd been down windy back roads and then along the motorway at 90 km an hour, huddled down in the crate.   What an adventure!   Not that she appreciated it;  when he got home and opened up the box, she hopped out, shouted at him and went and had something to eat!   That hen has no idea how lucky she is!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Do as you're told

I have a battle on my hands.   Nonami has only been laying eggs for 5 weeks and the little madam has decided to go broody!  Well she's thinking hard about it anyway.

At first we thought she was simply taking ages to lay her egg, as she spent forever in the nest box.  But on reflection, we realised that she didn't do that for the first 4 weeks, this was something new.  Then two things happened on Sunday. 

We went to check how she was doing, after she had been sitting for half an hour.   She gave a quiet growl when we opened the nest box lid and looked most displeased when No. 1 Son felt underneath her to see if she had laid yet.   Not only had she produced an egg herself, she had snaffled those laid by Tu-Tu and Punk and was pancaked across the three of them!   Worse was to come.  We hoiked her out of the nest box, and discovered that she had begun to pull her chest feathers out.  Fortunately there were only a dozen or so in her little den, but her intention was crystal clear.

There was nothing for it;  I had to have a mother to chicken chat with her.   I explained the drawbacks of being a very young mother in graphic detail.  All that responsibility, no more time to yourself, all that sort of stuff.  Then came the clincher.  I looked her in the eye and told her very firmly that I would decide if I needed more chickens, not some pint-sized Silver Sussex!

Seems to have worked, as she hasn't set foot in the nest box today.   Or has she gone on strike?

Prissy and Scrat waiting patiently for Nonami to get her egg laid

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Introducing the new additions

The very first two hens who came to live with us were Queen B and Tu-Tu.  We got them from the Home Farm of a lovely early 16th century mansion near Leeds, so we returned there when we wanted some more bantams.  We were not disappointed.  We came home with a white Croad Langshan and two Silver Sussex girls.

Initially we thought the Langshan would be the trio's leader.  When we put the three of them in the carrier, she had ooched the two Sussex hens along until they were crammed up against the back wall, and she had the luxury of plenty of room left over for herself.  But that's been the only time she's shown any leadership qualities.   The oldest of the new lot is one of the Silver Sussex ladies (on the right of the picture), who was born in November 2013 - the other two were December chicks. Where she goes, they quickly follow.  

We kept them apart from the others for nearly three weeks.  They could all see each other, but were separated by fencing, both in the run and when they were out in the garden.  It was during garden time that the older Sussex really showed her mettle.  The full story of this period will appear in my regular column of June's "Practical Poultry" magazine; just suffice it to say she took on all-comers.

Once we let both groups mingle, the biggest problem was Fizz.  Wouldn't you think he'd be delighted to welcome more ladies to his harem?  But no!   He saw them as aliens from another planet and kept right on attacking them.  The water squirter worked overtime, I can tell you.

Things have sort of settled down now, but they all stay in two quite separate groups.  The two younger newbies even gather beneath the coop to wait for the oldest Sussex while she lays her egg (she laid her first one at the farm, only an hour or so before we collected her).

The new girls have quite distinct personalities.  The Langshan was obviously a model in a previous life, judging by the amount of time she spends preening and making sure she looks good at all times.  When she's not preening, she's eating.  Perhaps she's making up for all the times she had to diet during her modelling career.  She's a very docile hen, but stunningly beautiful.

The oldest Sussex has proved herself to be a feisty madam, but she has also quickly accepted our need to cuddle her.   The younger one, however, has not.   This morning she took one look at me, decided she wasn't taking any chances that I might want cuddles and, from a standing start, flew 20ft (6 metres) into the field behind the garden!   When a sheep started to wander across to take a closer look at her, she ran up and down wondering how to get back where she belonged.  Luckily No. 1 Son was on hand to jump into the field and rescue her.

I think we're in for a lot of fun with our new feathery friends.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Yet another visit to the vet!

I'm beginning to think I should rent a cottage in the extensive grounds attached to the vet's practice that I use.   We go for years without any need for a vet at all, then it's been a succession of visits over the past few months.  At least this time there was a happier ending.

We noticed that Rebecca wasn't looking so good.  She was spending an awful lot of time wandering off to stand by herself.  She had her feathers all puffed out and was looking distinctly unhappy.   She seemed to be eating and drinking OK and her tail was up.  But this was unusual behaviour, even for a little odd-ball like her.   Then she went off to the nest box and when she emerged, we went to collect her egg.  There wasn't one, but Rebecca was standing by herself again.

When we checked her over, we noticed a white, sticky substance dribbling from her vent.  Worried that an egg had shunted itself the wrong way and ended up in her tummy area (which could lead to egg yolk peritonitis), we rushed her off to the vet.   He thought it could indeed be EYP as her tummy area was swollen.  

The prognosis for a hen with this problem is not good, but we all felt we should try and treat her. She responded well ... until a couple of days ago.  Then she looked distinctly poorly, so off we went to the vet again.

Now Rebecca doesn't cluck, she squeaks - it's a really weird sound for a chicken to make.  But as I said earlier, she is an odd-ball.  She was making a quiet little squeak all the way to the vet, but it sounded as if she was in a lot of pain.  I steeled myself for the fact that we might be coming back without her.

As we pulled into the car park she gave a yell, which was followed by a thump.   She had laid an egg!

When the vet examined her, we were delighted to learn that the swelling in her tummy had disappeared.  He thought the painful egg laying process may have been as a result of a residual inflammation somewhere along her reproductive system.   He advised an injection that will stop her laying any eggs at all for around 5 months, so she won't have any more pain and her little body can recuperate.

I can't tell you how happy I was to be bringing her back home with me.  I know the Araucanas and Polands are 4 now and they won't go on forever.  But I'm really not ready to lose any more of my little flock just yet.

Rebecca on a good day

Monday, 7 April 2014

Yesterday started off well.   We were having a cup of tea in the garden when we were treated to a parade of sheep through the field next door.  They'd all been away for a few days and had now arrived back with their new-born lambs in tow.  Wonderful sight!   We knew the youngsters were due any time now and were so pleased to be able to see their first foray into the big, wide world.

We still haven't found any young bantams to add to our depleted flock - it's a bit early yet, if I'm honest.  We really miss having Mad Irene, Maggie and Titian around.  As No. 1 Son says, they were big personalities as well as being big hens.

We suspect that Punk is laying her egg and then eating it.   We haven't actually caught her at it, but we've only been getting one Araucana egg of late, instead of the usual two.   Added to that, some of the bedding in the nest box often looks discoloured, a very similar hue to egg yolk, although there's never any shell lying around.   We also noticed that Punk had some desiccated gunk round her beak.   Call me cynical, but I did wonder if it was the remains of that morning's eggy breakfast.   The other day I put two newly laid eggs in a plant pot for safety while I sat nearby and chatted to the chickens.  Fizz spotted them and did his "there's food here" call to the girls.   Hmmmmmm.

Yesterday also finished badly for Punk.  All of a sudden she started flinging herself headfirst at the new bit of fence!  We picked her up and calmed her down, but her little heart was racing like mad.  She did this once before, last year.  Then, as now, we could see nothing obviously wrong; no insect bites or wounds.  We think she may simply have eaten something that stung her as payback.

Monday, 10 March 2014

RIP Mad Irene

When you have pets of any kind, you know that the time will come when you have to say goodbye to them.  They have a certain lifespan, just as we do.   We recently had to say our farewells to our lovely Mad Irene.   She has generously left us with some terrific memories, all of which bring us laughter and smiles.  What a legacy!

She had two passions in her life - digging and stealing.  She had a formidable talent for excavating the deepest holes, often in the most awkward places.  Last year she gouged out a series of deep chasms just inside the entrance to the main run.  She carefully placed them in two rows, leaving a narrow path in the middle for our use.  "Walking the straight and narrow" took on a whole new meaning.  Stray off the path and stumble into one of Irene's craters, and you might never be seen again!

You also took a chance if you stood behind her when she was in quarrying mode.  She had a very forceful kick.   We've seen her send earth and stones arcing across the garden, to land yards away from where it started.  And if digging was precluded for some reason, she would get what she wanted some other way.  For instance we had stacked some wooden blocks on a concrete ledge that runs along the bottom of our fence.  Irene was convinced there was corn hidden beneath them, but the ledge was too narrow for her to stand on and kick the blocks off.  So she hooked them off with her beak and then kicked them across the lawn.

Irene considers the apple Tu-Tu has is rightfully hers!
She spent a lot of time rushing around checking that the rest of the flock didn't have something that was rightfully hers.  Many a poor worm has been yanked out of another chicken's beak, only to find itself in Irene's crop.  As she considered us fully paid up members of the chicken run, we also found ourselves relieved of sandwiches, toast and cake at various times.

We shall miss Mad Irene enormously, but what joy and laughter she brought into our lives.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

What a surprise!

Thanks to her big crest, Pom-Pom would have us believe that she can't see the world very well. And up until now, we've believed her.  We've seen with our own eyes how she struggles to jump down from her favourite perch on the fence behind the smoking shelter roof to grab her share of the afternoon treats.  It's all of 12" high and she leans down towards the ground, struggling to see a  landing spot on the ground below.

It's the same in the garden.  Because of her restricted vision, I've taken to placing her next to a tasty piece of something or other and picking her up when she's eaten her fill.  When I let her roam around, she quite often bumps into things.  I watch her like a hawk and she also spends quite a lot of her time on my lap.

Pom-Pom surveying the world from her favourite spot

So as you can imagine, it came as quite a surprise to discover that she can see much, much better than we realised.

No. 1 Son had volunteered to go out in the pouring rain to give the Cluckers their late afternoon wheat. We give it to them as a Winter warmer before they retire for the night.   As usual, Irene and Rebecca rushed to the run gate hoping to make a break for the garden when it was opened.   But No. 1 Son isn't daft; he thwarted them by throwing a handful of wheat behind them.  While they were busy with the wheat, he quickly slipped into the run, closing the gate behind him.

Knowing there would be further supplies, Irene and Rebecca followed him back to the cage beneath the coop where everyone was sheltering from the rain.   The wheat was duly thrown in for them and 5 beaks got busy pecking it up.

The sixth beak belonged to Pom-Pom, and she had a better idea.   She trotted outside and headed straight for the now-forgotten treasure trove of wheat which had been thrown in earlier as a distraction.  She had the lot to herself.

The thing is, it lay at least 4 feet away from where she had been standing when it was thrown.  Would she normally be able to spot something that far away?  No, she would not.   At least, that is what she has always led us to believe.  Her path to the goodies led her past the ramp up to the coop, past the food dish, out through the cage door, along the outer side of the cage and round the corner to just below the nest box.   Did she bump into anything at all on her journey?  No, she did not!   Did she get what she wanted without mishap?  Yes she did!

It appears that she has a far better field of vision than we have given her credit for.   So it seems that the scheming little madam has been taking advantage of us all this time.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

What a brave bantam!

According to No. 1 Son, our little flock are the least adventurous chickens in poultry history.  I think he may be right.   As a treat (so we thought) we hung a pecking block in the cage part of their run; the weather has been miserable lately and therefore so have the Cluckers.  The pecking block would occupy them for a while and give them a bit of pleasure.  

Did it hell!   They were afraid of it and avoided it like the plague!   When they realised it was refusing to leave, they took to ignoring it and looked away when they walked past it.  That should teach it!  But it didn't, so Punk decided to take action.   I didn't actually hear her swearing at it, but knowing Punk she probably did - she swears at everyone and everything at the least provocation.  But I have seen her attacking it.   

She started off by giving it a few hard pecks and discovered that actually, it tasted rather nice.  Now she gives it a few pecks whenever she walks past.   But none of the others go near it, if they can avoid it.   

My theory is that Punk has let it be known that she's happy to keep the pecking block under control all by herself.  The others needn't worry, she'll do the job alone because she's a courageous, community-spirited girl.  The Cluckers can see for themselves that it is wasting away day by day, so plucky Punk is obviously doing a good job.

Hmmmmm.  Is that just the hint of a smirk I see playing around the edges of Punk's beak?

If you mess with Punk, expect trouble

Friday, 3 January 2014

Off with the old, on with the new

Thank goodness the big Autumn moult is finally over and done with.   The Cluckers all start and finish at different times and progress at different rates.  I think they do it just to make my life that bit more difficult.

Chickens lose their feathers in a very specific order ...  allegedly.  That order is supposed to be the head, then the neck, followed by the breast, body, wings and finally their tail.  That's what the books say.

My lot haven't bothered to read the books and, furthermore, they don't seem to care.  They just fling their feathers off in any order and to hell with the rules.

Both the Polands discarded their tail feathers first.  They slowly grew them back, then got rid of some crest and neck feathers.  After that, Fizz lost a few of his larger flight feathers, and then decided that enough was enough.   Meanwhile while Pom-Pom discarded a few crest and body feathers that were surplus to her requirements, and left it at that.

Tu-Tu was annoyed that feet feathers weren't mentioned anywhere.   So she went overboard and grew new ones that were bigger, better and more abundant than she'd ever had before.  She trips over them now and again, but that doesn't seem to bother her unduly.  She also looked a lot slimmer after shedding no end of body feathers, but managed still to keep her basic shape.

For the last couple of years Rebecca has favoured the vulture look, by losing most of her head feathers.  This year she went for "the skeleton".  She managed to retain her big flight feather shafts, but not the feathery bits attached to them.  So she wandered round for ages looking as if she had ribs showing through her down.  Punk couldn't be bothered with all this palaver, so she just settled for a trio of feathers sticking up on the crown of her head for ages and left it at that.

Maggie also thought a change would be good.  She usually discards all the feathers along her spine in a sort of reverse Mohican, but not this year.  Like Tu-Tu, she had a general all over loss, but couldn't bring herself to lose all her tail feathers.  She kept the outside circle of feathers and got rid of the inner bunch.  Consequently she walked round looking as if she had a sideways halo round her vent.

Some sad news about Maggie - we recently had to have her put to sleep.  One morning she didn't come out when we opened up.  We checked and she looked dreadful.  There had been no sign of illness, in fact the previous day she had been happily scratching round in the garden.  Our vet advised that nothing could be done for her and we should give her a comfortable end to her life, rather than let her suffer.

There's only two of our original girls left now, Mad Irene and Tu-Tu, and they are pensioners.  Luckily, they seem fit and happy.   But getting used to a flock without Titian and now without Maggie is proving very, very difficult.