Saturday, 27 December 2008

Cheesed Off

We've now made three batches of cheese, using 8 pints of milk for each batch (about 4.5 litres). The resulting cheese for each was between 400 and 500 grammes. Shamefully, we threw the whey away. We had thought to try making Ricotta, but it was Christmas and we had a million other things to be doing..... next time, maybe.

The first two batches were soft cheeses, one we blitzed with some garlic, the other we left and it has the taste and texture if a very mild Cheshire.

We decided to try a hard cheese for the third batch, and this one needs three months to mature so it'll be a while before I can tell you what it tastes like. DH is busy melting wax to coat it with, all good fun.





Friday, 19 December 2008

Say Cheese!

We're embarking upon our latest home-made notion, cheese.

Bought some freeze dried starter culture, and made it up last night. It's all been divided up this evening and portioned into little pots in the freezer, with one batch left in the fridge to make our first cheese.

We're going for a simple soft cheese, and will be making it tomorrow afternoon.

Can't wait!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Peter

I used to own two Dales ponies.

One of them was a really gorgeous (and cheeky) boy called Peter. He's been at a new home for some years now, and the lady who now has him very kindly sends me an update each Christmas.

He's doing sooooo well with her, and I love reading about what they've been up to. This year, in addition to the usual competitions, she's taken him to ride in the sea. He was always a complete wuss, and it sounds like she had to work really hard to get him to go into the sea ("don't like pebbles....., ......don't like sand...., ......don't like the waves" But she goes on to describe the exhilaration of galloping down the beach once she'd got him over these fears.

And she's met Peter's son! He only had the one before he was gelded. And it's amazing, they look identical!

I know it's a bit pathetic, but it made me cry. Not with regret that Peter has gone to a new home, not at all: K is exactly what Peter needs. Not with wishing him back - I so very don't.

I think it was probably a little bit of happiness for him and for her; and, perhaps, a tinge of sadness that he wasn't right for me.




Friday, 12 December 2008

Who's egg?

So, we've been lucky to have had eggs from Milly every day now.

Today, there was a brown egg in the nest, next to Milly's, and we're not sure who laid it. My first thought was that Delilah ("Leelu") had come back into lay after her 8 .5 week break for moulting... but it seemed a bit small for her. Maybe she needs to build up to big eggs again?

DH looked at it and said that he didn't think it was Leelu's. It was a bit darker than Leelu's eggs normally are, and it has tiny speckling on it.

But Jasmine (Welsummer) is going to lay mahogany coloured eggs. The colour of the speckles, but that colour all over. So it can't be hers. Can it?

Well, we don't know who's it is. So, we'll have to try and catch one of them in the act. A bit difficult as it's been so cold we've had the kitchen door shut for the last few weeks.

I'm sure the mystery will be resolved soon....

Oh, and it's been musical bars again. Tonight Jasmine was sleeping in the next box; Milly had moved over to the other side of the roosting bars; and Leelu was sleeping at right angles to everyone.



Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Home Made Brekkie

At last! This morning Milly delivered her fourth egg, so we had enough to make poached eggs for brekkie.

Home made bread for toast, home made butter, and home grown eggs. Mmmmmmmm.


Monday, 1 December 2008

Major muckout

I normally split cleaning the Cube (and the bit of Run that is part of it) and the WalkIn Run. However, the weather has been so wet lately that I kept putting off and putting off doing a deep clean. I continued to rake the Run every week and dust with Stalosan, plus changing the nestbox bedding (and of course cleaning the poo trays).

The forecast for today was "sunny intervals". As long as it wasn't raining, I had decided I would do it today. 9am, I started. I wanted to detach the Cube, take it apart, pressure wash it and all its bits, and then leave it to drip dry while I got on with the Run.

The actual cleaning of the Cube takes just a few minutes with a pressure washer, and a few more minutes to pressure wash the poo trays, roosting bars., nest box divider, back of the Cube etc.

I left all the bits on the terrace in the "sun" and raked up all the Aubiose from the Cube area. Then I sprinkled Stalosan, and started on the Run. First job, take out all the toys. Second job, pressure wash the poo of their kiddies' bench, then pressure wash all the fixed roosting bars. Next, start to rake out all the old Aubiose.

This took sometime. My compost bins are full, so I had to bag up the stuff and I put it in the trailer for use to take to the Tip. Then, fresh bedding (Hemcore this time), in the house to scrub the feeders and drinkers, put those back out.

Dry off the Cube and bits, and spray with petsafe disinfectant. Leave that to dry while reconnected the Cube to the Run, and then started to put all my tools away.

It took me 2 hours in total, which is unheard of. When I do them separately, it takes me about 30 mins for the Run, and about 45 mins for a deep clean of the Cube, including reassembly and clearing up. It only takes me this long because I have to hoik all the flower pots off the skirt, and then undo the fixings which connect the Cube's run to the main Run...and then put everything back afterwards.

Part of the problem was that the ground was wet, and I moved the Cube bits onto the paving by the compost bin to wash them., instead of washing them on the grass as I normally do. Unfortunately, I hadn't really considered the implications of using a pressure washer there, and I ended up with clean slabs, but carp all over the Cube bits.

Off to the tip, as we had a load of other stuff in the trailer already; and then on to B&Q to get some corrugated plastic roofing to put down half of one side of the Run. We currently have the Cube winter cover up to give some protectin to the Girls against the rain and wind, but it keeps a lot of light out. I noticed that they haven't been toosting on their Bench ehy didn't bother sitting on their bench so much, and I'm sure it's because they can't see out. So, we decide dto put some of the Corolux stuff down part of one side to provide protection without blocking the daylight. We didn't go all the way to the top of the panel, as we want plenty of air to circulate still.

By the time we got home and had cut the panels to size and DH had fitted them, the Girls were ready for bed. It looks much lighter in there now, I'm sure the Girls will appreciate it. So it's been a good day from a chickeny point of view, but not really as productive as I expected from my own.




Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Milly's first egg (beautiful shade of blue!)

At last!

Milly laid her first egg today. A perfect 57g egg, and the shell is an exquisite bluey green colour. DH found it and phoned me to let me know. And when I got home and saw it, I did the egg dance around the kitchen and went straight round to show C (my lovely next door neigbour).

We've been eggless since early October (Delilah stopped laying when she started moulting, and she hasn't finished yet.), so it was exciting to get an egg at all, never mind a FIRST egg, never mind a BLUE egg.

It's put my thoughts of new hens into complete confusion. I've been debating whether to stick with my three girls, or whether to go and buy a couple of new girlies from Southmead in January. I know I want a white egg layer (so that'll be a White Star), and I'd quite like a Reverse Sussex because they are gorgeous. But the Amber Stars are meant to be really friendly little girls, so I was tempted by one of those (as well? I was trying to work out how to spring three newbies on my DH, especially as it would mean increasing the Run somehow). Although tempted by a Columbine ( a hybrid version of Milly) I had ruled one out as I liked the fact that Milly was Unique. But seeing that pastel coloured egg.....

Fortunately, Tracy doesn't have any of the hens I am considering at the moment, so I can't do anything til Mid Jan (earliest) anyway.




Chicken Keeping

One of my virtual friends, Christian, was on his local TV recently, talking about keeping chickens. I didn't see the original programme as I'm not in that area, but fortunately, it's been posted on YouTube.

His Girls are so lovely, and he talks about chicken keeping with such warmth (without going all OTT).

You can see it here, if you're interested http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=J7oPN8OsHIgC

Monday, 17 November 2008

Roast Chicken

You may remember that we went on a course and learned how to dispatch and dress chickens. You may further remember that one chicken ended up in the freezer. I've been referring to this chicken (to myself) as Charlie.

We're having a Goose 3 bird roast for Christmas, and it's coming tomorrow so we needed some freezer space. Time to defrost and eat Charlie.

So. Saturday morning, Charlie comes out out the freezer in his ziplock bag, and is placed in the fridge to defrost. Sunday morning, he hasn't defrosted thoroughly, so we put him in a sink of cold water. He finishes deforsting nicely.

Sunday afternoon..... This is the first time I've prepared a whole bird for...well, probably since before I started keeping chickens. (Remember the last one from the Course was boned and rolled, so he didn't look like a chicken anymore).

This one, sitting on my worktop, looks like one of my Girls, especially when they are moulting and are a bit bald. In fact, now he's defrosted, he feels like one of my girls. Except they are warm and he's cold.

Wobble.

Weigh him to calculate cooking times. 1.4kilos, 3lb. And he was only 9 weeks old. Milly was 11 weeks old when I got her, and she only weighed 500g.

WOBBLE.

Well. Am I an omnivore or a vegetarian? Make my mind up time. Omnivore. But I still give Charlie to my DH to put an onion in, and to put butter under the breast skin. Charlie goes in the oven.

Dinner time. Now he's cooked, Charlie looks like a roast chicken, and doesn't resemble one of my Girls. DH carves. We try to get three pairs of meals out of a chicken, starting with breast meat with the roast. Breast meat is very dark. I eat some roast potato, some roast veg, working my way around Charlie. Then I try some. A bit dry, we overcooked him really, but really packed with flavour. Very strong chicken flavour. Finished dinner.

Now the rest of him is sitting on the side, waiting to be turned into meals 2 and 3. 2 will probably be a curry; 3 might be risotto.

Slight Wobble. More of a Wob that a Wobble.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Chicken Hunter

Now that winter is here and the grass isn't growing anymore, I've been letting the Girls range freely in the whole of the back garden, in the vain hope that they won't stay in one place long enough to destroy the grass.

The Cats are not too impressed by this, as it means they keep bumping into chickens. My ginger cat, Washburn, often gives me that "Good Grief Charlie Brown!" look, when he has to stop to let a chicken cross the path. Wash and Milly have faced up to each other a number of times now.

The other day I looked out of my bedroom window to see Milly and Wash together. Wash was peering intently into one of the flower beds in the middle of the garden, and Milly was standing next to him, also peering intently. The other two Girls were milling around, not taking much notice. I realised that they must be watching a mouse or something.

Nothing happened for a while, and I decided to get my camera. Of course, by the time I got back things had moved on. I saw Milly running into the Run, with Wash chasing. Wash wouldn't go into the Run. Milly dropped the mouse, for that's what they were after, and the mouse scampered around the run, hiding under a log.

I went outside at this point, and found Wash running around the outside of the Run but not going in. I called him, and we went into the Run together. He settled into a crouch position by the log, waiting for the mouse to appear. Milly settled beside him, also watching the log. The other Girls were running around bokking loudly, obvisouly trying to make me aware that there was a strange Cat in the Run.

This was so funny. I got my camera ready, and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a picture of what happened when the mouse appeared. He scampered from the log to the underneath the Cube, purseued by a streak of ginger (Wash) and a streak of chicken (Milly). Then the mouse popped outside the Cube run, and looked at me.

At that point, I couldn't continue assisting, nor could I stand by and take pictures. So I went outside the Run, and tried to catch him. I was hampered by the flower troughs, and Ikept seeing a ginger paw poking through. Wash and Milly then realised that the mouse was outside, so they came out too.

There were now three of us trying to catch the little mousey, all staring intently at the troughs.

I realised that I couldn't catch him. As soon as I lifted a trough, Wash and Milly were there trying to grab him. So, reader, I left them to it. They didn't get him though, I think he snuck quietly through the other side of the Cube run and out to freedom.


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Musical Chairs, continued

OK, so tonight they are all in the nest box.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Musical Chairs

Went out this evening to shut the Cube door, and took a peep inside the Cube to see how the Girls were arranged.

Before Scarlett died, we always had Delilah & Scarlett on the roosting bars, and Jasmine & Milly in the nest box. I wondered whether Delilah might have let the Littlees on the roosting bars, or whether she might have joined them in the nest box.

Neither.

I found Milly on the roosting bars, and Delilah and Jasmine in the nest box.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out over the coming evenings.

After Scarlett

This morning I watched the behaviour of the Girls in their Run, as I can see it from my bedroom window.

I believe that they will "miss" Scarlett for only a very short time, then they will forget. The reason I believe this is that I know if you take a chicken away and then try and reintroduce it a few days later, she is not recognised and is treated as any new chicken is treated.

Delilah will feel the loss more than the Littlees, as she no longer has anyone to range closely with. In the Run she keeps trying to be with the Littlees; if they fly onto one of the perches, she flies up there tool if they are in a corner, she wants to be in the corner too. The problem is that Delilah has taught the Littlees to Get Out Of Her Way, so now whenever she gets close to them, they move away.

I'm going to let them out to free range shortly, and it will be interesting to see how they behave.



Monday, 3 November 2008

Goodbye Scarlett

Scarklett -my gorgeous,quirky, Transylvanian Naked Neck, died during the night. She was just over a year old.

Last Wednesday I found that she had an impacted crop. I started to treat her with olive oil and maggots, switching to liquid paraffin and warm water when I read that too much olive oil is hard for them to process.

The crop massaging worked well, and she was able to eat. I treated her three times on Thursday, as her crop was hardening up again during the day. Friday, I took her to the vets, although by the time the only-available-appointment time arrived, her crop was much better, smaller and softer.

The Vet gave me a liquid qhich contained antibiotic, probiotic and something else, as it was possible that my impacted crop mught develop into sour crop. Treatment continued over the weekend, with us seeing some improvement in Scarlett herself, but still a fairly full crop each morning.

Yesterday she was wandering around the garden with the others, quite happily. This morning though, when I opened up the Cube at 7am to let them all out, she was dead.

I have been going through everything wondering if I did something wrong. Maybe I got water in her lungs? Why didn't I spot the problem sooner? etc etc. I don't think I did get fluid in her lungs, I guess it's just part of my grief that it making me question everything.

I'm consoling myself by being grateful for small mercies. She had a happy day yesterday, she was scratching about in the pen with her friends before bedtime, she went to bed without any trouble, she died in her sleep rather than suffering over a few days. I took her to a chicken specialist vet, so I don't have to question whether the treatment was right. She was very much loved, and I believe she had a happy life.


I am grief stricken. I don't really have a favourite hen, as all my girls have something unique and lovely going for them; but treating a hen three times a day creates a strong bond. She was also the first chicken that I bathed and blow dried.

Goodnight little girl
.



Saturday, 1 November 2008

Four Musketeers (at last!)

It's official. The Girls are now free ranging as a flock instead of in two pairs.

They had done this from time to time before;each time, Delilah would realise what was going on and would chase the Littlees away with a sharp peck. The other day we noticed they were all together, but thought it might be justa fluke, especially as they sleep in pairs, in separate "rooms ", in the Cube.

It's bitterly cold outside,and quite windy. I've done my weekly rake and disinfect of the pen, washed and refilled the Glugs, and cleaned out the poo trays in the Cube. The Girls have been wandering as a group round the back garden during this time, popping back to inspect my handiwork when I finished the Run.

I've just been out to check they are OK (it's too cold to have the back door open, so I know I'm taking a Fox risk), and I couldn't find them. Then I heard a gentle bokking, and found them snuggled together under a shrub. Yes.Together. All four of them.

Hooray!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Poor Scarlett

My poor little baby isn't very well. She has an impacted crop.

This happens when they eat something which gets stuck in their crop and causes a blockage. As more food is eaten, it just adds to the blockage, and the poor chicken can't actually get food from the crop to her gizzard. This results in a very hard ball on her chest.

I noticed it around lunchtime on Wednesday, but she'd probably had it for a couple of days by then. I started the recommended treatment of feeding her live white maggots (which, in theory, should then eat the blockage), and some liquid paraffin. A few cc's of this, then massage the crop to try and break up the lump.

Today it looks a bit smaller, but it still isn't right. As it's Friday today, I don't want to risk leaving it over the weekend, so I'll try phoning the Vet to see if I can get an appointment today.

Update: the only appointment available was late this evening, so I've booked that. During the day I've had Scarlett in twice for drops and massage. One of my chicken books recommends warm water, so I switched to that.

It's looking less bad now, but I think I'll still take her to the Vet this evening, just in case.






Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Solar water heating, step 2

At last, the new water cylinder for the solar water heating has been installed. Our friendly plumber spent yesterday and today,withDHas his lackey,removing the old tank and fitting the new one.

Out back bedroom now has a bit more room in, but the airing cupboard sadly does not. The new tank is much taller than the old one. Although it's not as deep, it does have a few extra pipes coming out of the front, and a couple of extra bits for safety (in case the sun is too hot for too long) so we're struggling to find space to put replacement shelves.

I use - well, I used to - one not very deep shelf to prove my dough. Hopefully we'll be able to squeeze a narrow shelf in for that, even if it means that we don't have anywhere to air towels. Or bed linen.

I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Feather frenzy

Delilah is moulting.

She stopped laying about 10 days ago. First couple of days, I thought she was having a rest. Then I wondered if she was egg bound. Then I found her bluey grey feathers everywhere. All in the poo trays, across the run floor, and - best of all - stuck to Scarlett's beak.

I had a good look at her just now, and she's very naked underneath. She's a good layer, so hopefully that will mean she'll moult and refeather quickly. A bit of extra protein is called for I think, so I'll give the girls some cat food later.

It's a gorgeous Autumn day outside, so I've given the Girls the run of the garden; they are, of course, all up at the house end where the sun is. I've got the kitchen door open, and I'm sitting at my 'puter right by the door. It's a bit chilly willy, but M. Reynard will be very hungry and more likely to take risks at this time of year.


Saturday, 18 October 2008

My Girls

Let the girls out to wander the whole garden this morning. DH not amused.

The Girls are very happy though.








Friday, 17 October 2008

Pastry

I haven't made shortcrust pastry since I was a kid. Even then, my mum made it and I just rolled it out.

After much thought, I decided to buy a new food processor. I needed one which manages small quantities (like one egg yolk for foaming hollandaise sauce, ultimate luxury with my poached eggs) as well as large quantities. Anyway. the cashback site I used told me that a department store had increased their cashback, said department store was having a sale, my processor was in the sale.... you can see where this is going, can't you?

First thing I decided to make was "Caramelised Apple Tart". I used the processor to make the pastry, and I couldn't believe it. Shortcrust pastry in a few seconds! I also used it to process the apples. The result: what a tart!

Yesterday was a busy cooking day. I was making Pumpkin Marmalade (using Butternut Squashes), and the processor grated my huge pumpkin in seconds. And sliced the oranges and lemons. And grated the ginger. While the marmalde was cooking, I started on dinner.

More pastry, home made pasties this time. Then it chopped the onions, grated the carrot and potato and mushroom (yes, I know that isn't traditional, I don't care.) It was fantastic.

I'm really happy that I've discovered pastry. Shame it's so fattening really.

And I feel a bit sheepish for getting so excited over a piece of kitchen equipment. Now that we make so much of our food ourselves though, it's really great to find things that make a difference.

Free for all

Although they have free access to a whole area of garden, lately the Girls have preferred to stay in their covered Hen Pen. I don't blame them really, it's a bit damp at the far end at the moment. I'm having to limit where they can go because the grass is getting destroyed beyond recovery, so I move the fencing every day or two to give them fresh grass.

Today I was doing my weekly rake-and-disinfect of the Palace, so I decided to give the Girls free access to the entire garden while I was working. I also took out the Eglu, which we've been using as a sin bin, as we haven't used it for a couple of weeks and I wanted to pressure wash it and put it away.

The pressure washer isn't working. It's not the fuse, it's not the extension. Never mind, I'll leave the Eglu on the terrace for now.

The Girls were having a grand time exploring the whole garden. I had to fence off the veggie patch, but they did manage to get to some lettuces on the paved area by the side of the house. I got the camera out as I've been trying to get a photo of all four of them together to use on my egg boxes, but they don't tend to range as a group yet. Never mind, I have several hundred digital snaps to sort through, I'm sure there will be some good ones amongst them.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Pumpkins

Our Butternut Squash harvest has been poor this year. We've had a couple of teenies, and a couple of good sized ones.

Our friend had a bumper harvest, "a wheelbarrow full", only to discover that he doesn't like them! He kindly gave us a load, and I'm about to turn some into Pumpkin Marmalade.

Except it's a gorgeous day outside. And the Eglu needs washing and putting away, the Cube could do with a proper clean, and the leaves need raking. But I need the marmalade to take with me as we're going to friends for dinner, and K is always asking for Pumpkin Marmalade. (I made some ages ago, and he really liked it; i've never been able to make it the same since, despite following the same recipe!).

Weatherforecast for today AND tomorrow is "Sunny", so I'll be good and do the marmalade today and then I'll do my chicken cleaning tomorrow.



Sunday, 12 October 2008

Chicken for dinner

My Girls have a lovely life, and I started to wonder whether I could have a couple of chickens for meat. Obviously I would go for a meat breed, and they would be kept separately from my Girls but still have a lovely free range life. Having the Eglu vacant makes this more of a possibility now.

But I'm a wuss. Would I be able to do the deed, and deal with the chicken afterwards?

Well, Alison from Hook Farm (who supplied Milly and Jasmine) was running a course on how to kill and prepare chickens, so DH and I signed up.

It was an interesting few hours. Both DH and I killed a chicken each, which I did find difficult but I'm really pleased that I now know how to do it humanely (having discovered recently that so called "humane dispatchers" are anything but!).

Then we had to pluck. DH and I shared a chicken to pluck. He did 2/3rds or so, I found it harder to do than I anticipated.

Then we put those birds away for later in the week and Alison produced some she had killed and plucked earlier for us to deal with. This is because you need to leave your dead chicken in tact for a few days before attempting to gut.

I would have been happy to take gut the bird and take it home for roasting. Or maybe to quarter it. However, the plan was to completely debone it. DH did this, I couldn't do it. I could have quartered it and deboned the quarters, but I couldn't cope with this deboning. It was, however, a really good learning exercise. The deboned chicken looked a bit like a babygro.

So, we took the "Blue Peter" chicken home and stuffed and rolled it for dinner. The chicken that I had killed we took home, left it out of the bag to cool down and dry out, then put it back in the bag in the fridge to mature. Unfortunately rigormortis set in, and we'd left the legs elongated, so we ended up putting it in our large salad box.

It was a very educational day. I haven't decided yet whether I could raise my own meat birds, I'll think about that some more after we've gutted this one later in the week.




Saturday, 11 October 2008

Apples Identified

We've lived here for 11 years, and today we finally got round to taking some of our apples to be identified.

First up, our "left hand tree", turns out to be a cooking apple. That explains the many pulled faces trying to ascertain whether it was ripe! These "Snow White" apples are apparently "Crawley Beauty".

Next, our "middle tree", which we already knew was a dual purpose: "Golden Noble"; books tell us that this is one of the best tasting cookers, and I'm really pleased. Shame I've missed them all - but there's always next year.

Finally, our "right hand tree", which is a russet. I mistakenly thought it to be an Egremont Russet, but yesterday was put right on this, as Egremeonts are russetty all over whereas ours is russetty in patches. Anyway, the Expert today (who said it was delicious, by the wat) says it's a "Duke of Devonshire". Being a late apple, and being a russett, they are good keepers so, as there are still plenty on the tree, we might try packing some away.


There were lots of apples to try at Waterperry Garden's apple day. I bought a kilo of one really unusual variety, "Pitmaston Pineapple". The texture is wonderfully crisp, but the flavour isn't appley at all. I was racking my brains (and tastebuds) trying to work out what it tasted of. Then I realised. Then I laughed at my stupidity. I bet you know what it is, don't you?

Friday, 10 October 2008

Still more apples

Very tired now.

We processed 75kG of apples today into 6.5 litres of apple juice, and 7 demijohns (4.5 litres each) of cider. One of our friends came over with apples from his tree to add to the crates of apples DH picked yesterday. It took about 5 hours or so - with the chaps disappearing to the pub for an hour ar lunchtime - plus a further half an hour cleaning up ready to put all the equipment away til next year. The juice has all been pasteurised, so it'll last for a couple of months or so.

And then we went on to make sausages. 1 kilo of Gloucester Old Spot belly pork, 1 kilo Gloucester Old Spot shoulder, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices and some water. Sausages for dinner tomorrow (they have to chill for 24 hours before using), and the rest are divided up into small packets for the freezer. And the fat off the belly pork is in the oven now making crackling!


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Bring me Sunshine

What a fabulous day!

I took advantage of the unexpected daytime warmth by opening the doors and windows and giving the house a really good airing.

I also raked leaves off the grass. I started by trying to clear the chicken's ranging area, but I just carried on. And on. And on.

As it was stil gorgeous, and I was nicely warmed up, I decided to do a complete empty of the Hen Pen. It's not quite 8 weeks and the flooring actually still looked reasonably OK... but I decided to make hay while the sun shines. The Girls were not too impressed though, as new Aubiose doesn't have any interesting bits of mixed corn or discarded vegetables in it.

After getting myself cleaned up I fed my Christmas cakes, and then did a bit more on DsD's wedding invitations. I'm really pleased with them.

Our borough council has launched a new green waste scheme, whereby residents can pay £29 a year to have a green wheelie bin, and to have it collected every 2 weeks. I've signed up for it. The collections start w/c 3 November, and the bin should be here by then. Hope it arrives soon, as I already have a couple of bags of garden debris in the trailer!




Friday, 3 October 2008

An apple a day...

Our first two batches of cider (the ones we made on our course using Discovery apples) have now finished fermenting and have been racked off into clean demijohns. The first batch of cider made from our own apples is busy fermenting in the back bedroom, and DH has been busy picking apples to start the next batch. We have 5 crates full of apples so far!

My pasteuriser has arrived at last, so I'm keen to try making apple juice as well. Reading about it, I've learned that some apples have a delicate flavour, and these don't tend to make a good juice. I suspect that's what we'll find with ours. I also learned that you need to do your blending at the crushing stage; as I don't know what proportions will produce a good juice, it's a bit late. So, we've decided to produce 2 Litres of each of the three varieties. I can then experiment with blending, and then next time I'll know what proportions to try and use.

I really need to get to an apple day to get my varieties identified. I know that one is a dual purpose apple, one is a russet, and the other is just an eater; I know that all of them are fairly high acidity (we had to measure the pH when we were making them into cider). There aren't many apple days near us, but I might make the effort and go to one a bit further afield.

They look wonderful in their crates:

It continues

Last night, same old routine.

Went out to check on the Girls. The Littlees were huddled in the nestbox. As (has now become) usual, I gently posted them on to the roosting bars. There was a lot of grumbling from the Bigees, and Delilah got up. This time, I growled at her, and warned her that if I saw even ONE attempt, she'd be in the Eglu as fast as my arms could carry her.

She glared (yes, chickens can glare) at the Littlees, then she moved so that Scarlett was between her and the Littlees. Then Scarlet stood up and glared at the Littlees. I gave her the same warning.

All four girls settled down, although I wasn't sure it would last.

A couple of hours later I went out, and found that Jasmine had gone back into the nesting box. I gently popped her back on the roosting bars.

Just before (my) bedtime, I went out again, and all four were still on the bars. "Yay!"

I'll try the same thing again tonight...but the Eglu is staying put, just as a reminder.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Drastic action.

Tonight there was trouble.

Not only were the Bigees making it difficult for the girls to enter the Cube, this time there was squawking (how do you spell that word) going on, and the Littlees were being chased out.

So, DH and I got out the Eglu, put it in the run, scooped up the Bigees and shut them in it.

Tomorrow, if there is any sign of the Bigees not letting the Littlees in, we'll repeat it. And if it continues, we'll simply move the Bigees into it every night before the trouble starts.

I'll need to get up early to let the Bigees out, and I'll have to keep the Eglu door shut during the day as I don't want to risk the Littlees using it.


Friday, 26 September 2008

Milly's new toy?

The Littlees stopped cheeping a few weeks ago, and startedmaking a really bizarre sound, a bit like the Raptors made in the film, Jurassic Park. A few days ago they had both developed very distinguished screeches, so that we could easily tell from insude the house who was making the noise.

Today I went out, shiting the girls in the run first. I came back a couple of hours later and let them out; three ran out into freedom, Milly stayed in the Run. I left her to it, but after a couple of seconds she was screeching as if in a panic. I rushed out, expecting to find a fox - nothing. She stopped. I went in, she started, I went out, no fox. I told her off for crying "fox" too often.

When I was back in the house, she started again. It went on for some time, and then suddenly in the middle of a sqwark he voice changed from a screech to a bok. She seemed to have scared herself, as she then continued to bok furiously, interspersed with mini crows, a bit like the egg laying announcement.

And it went on. And on. And on. She was like a kid with a new toy.

I had to mow the grass, and the noise of the lawnmower stopped her noise. I'm not sorry. It's lovely (although a little sad) to hear her new voice, but you can have too much of a good thing, can't you?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Oh! Oh! Oh!

So. Last night we got back very late, and went straight outside to check whether the poor Littlees had been forced to roost on the perches in the run. My torchlight didn't pick up any birds, so I shone it into the Cube. I could see Delilah and Scarlett, sitting in the doorway as usual, but I couldn't see Jasmine or Milly.

I went round and opened up the egg port door, and there they were - sitting in the nest box.


Tonight, I went out to check the status at about 8.30pm. No lost chickens, so I shone my torch into the Cube...and I nearly dropped it in shock.

Not only were Jasmine and Milly in the Cube.... not only were they actually on the roosting bars instead of the nest box..... but they were the ones sitting at the front with their heads poking out of the door.

I snapped off the torch and rushed away in case I disturbed them and upset things.

Oooh! Is this just a fluke, or is it a good sign??

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Grumpy old women

I tried.

Two nights ago, same old hassle with the Bigees not letting the Littlees in. So, I went and sorted it out, and then later tried moving the Littlees manually onto the roosting bars. It was not succesful. Jasmine didn't like it, and ran back to the nest area.

Last night it was pitch black, and the Littlees gave up and tried roosting on a perch outside. I went out to hoik the Bigees out, but they were very sleepy and didn't want to move AT ALL;it was a bit undignified.

Tonight I thought maybe I was overcomplicating things and decided I'd use the torch method if the Littlees got stuck outside. I was busy looking at embellishments for wedding invitations (thank you, Ebay!), so my DH went out with the torch. But he didn't use it, and we had another undignified ejection.

I'll try the torch tomorrow (and the next night if necessary), and if it doesn't work then I will get the Eglu out and put the Bigees in that at night for a few nights.

Chickens!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Cranky ladies

For goodness sake!

Last night Delilah and Scarlett went to bed first, and then refused entry to Jasmine and Milly. Each time one of the poor Littlees waited outside the door, one of the Bigees gave them a big **peck** on the back. The Littlees tried and tried, without success.

Then Delilah got up, came downstairs and started to eat. Jasmine seized the opportunity and managed to get in to the Cube. Milly was about to make an attempt when there was a sqwark from the Cube, and Jasmine came down the ramp at speed.

Delilah marched upstairs, and we were back to square one.

We decided to intercede at this point. DH opened the eggport door, and shooshed the Biggees out of the Cube and into the Run. Jamine and Milly ran straight up the ramp, and the Bigees followed a few moments later.

When I checked later with atorch they were all in their usual places.

Tonights the last night. If they all go in, and the Littlees are still in the nestbox, I'm going to manually transplant them on to the roosting bars. If the Bigees go in and refuse to let the Littlees in, then I'm getting the Eglu back out and the Bigees will find themselves being put to bed in there, with the door shut, until the Littlees feel more comfortable in the Cube.

Friday, 19 September 2008

A pressing matter

Yesterday our new apple crusher arrived, and so we set about processing our own apples for the first time this year.

We had many kilos of two varieties. The third tree's apples are still not ready, and my eyes water at the memory of my having to sample it. We found we still had to at least halve the apples before crushing them, but it was OK. Having washed, cut and milled the 10 or 11 kilos, we were ready to move on to pressing.

In previous years we've used my multifunction Bosch food machine thingy. I have the fruit press attachment for it (along with numerous other useful attachments, most of which I have had to import from Germany or the US, as the machine is no longer sold in the UK.) We even used it last year, when we processed 120Kg of apples. This year we decided to dig out DH's ancient wine press to use.

It was easy to use, and quicker than the electric pulper, but it didn't do a good job of extracting the juice. We ran the pressed pulp through the Bosch, and got loads more out so we decided to stick with the Bosch.

And part way through the second 10 kilos, it packed up. Horrible smell, worse sound. Likely the motor or the gearing, both of which are uneconomical to replace. We thought about buying a new base from Germany, which was more cost effective than buying the spare parts from Bosch in England. Maybe. Not sure it's really worth it...apart from the numerous attachments I have in various cupboards.

So we went back to the wine press, as I'd already washed and cut the third ten-kilos of apples.

Later, we checked out the Boswch again, and it seems that it might be OK. I'll see what it's like next time I need to use it (which will be next time I make butter). We decided that it's probably pushing our luck trying to use it for apple processing again, so we decided to invest in a proper, decent sized, apple press.

Once again, www.art-of-brewing.co.uk came up trumps. We found them yesterday when we needed to get some bits and pieces (that failed to turn up from another supplier). Although AoB do Next Day Delivery, we want to finish the apples over the weekend if possible, so we drove over there again today to collect the press.

It's all been washed and sterilised; DH is up a ladder collecting a few more crates of apples; and we'll crack on with it tomorrow.





Open Plan

Yesterday I decided to remove the partition that separates the nest box from the roosting bars.

The Littlees went to bed, followed later by the Bigees. I presume the Bigees didn't really liike the new open plan arrangement as they came down the steps again whinging loudly. After a few minutes, the Littlees also got up and came downstairs.

I ignored them. When I checked later, everyone seemed to have gone to bed. Much later, I took a torch and had a peep inside and saw the Littlees were cuddled up in the nesting area, and the Bigees were spread out over the roosting bars. I mean really spread out. "This is MY space" spread out.

This morning there were no cuts or anything, so I assume everything was OK. I'll leave the partition out for the next few days and see what happens. Next step will be to try manually transplanting again, which I'm hoping will be more successfull as they are all in sight of each other anyway. I'm also going to make sure it is pitch black when I do it. I thought it was dark last time, but it might not have been dead of night.

We'll see.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Same Old, Same Old

The "bullying" continues. Mostly it happens when a Littlee crosses Delilah's path, but we have seen her seek out the Littlees for a spot of bullying on several occasions. There is only a bit of pecking going on - that we see, anyway - but the chasing away is not pleasant.

I already have three feeders in the Run and now, when I put extra stuff out in the Run for them - pellet porridge when it's cold, for example, I use three bowls. Scarlett and Delilah can only man(hen?) two bowls at once, so it ensures the Littlees get their share, even if they are being moved on from bowl to bowl. I'm used to this sort of behaviour; I had horses, and horses do it all the time with piles of hay, and that's where I learned the "one extra" trick.

The Littlees are continuing to sleep in the Nestbox area. I tried moving them in the dark into the roosting area, but Scarlett attacked Jasmine immediately, so I had to abandon it. I've been reluctant to force anything, as I don't want to add to the pressure. However, I do wonder whether the separate sleeping is re-enforcing the difference and therefore contributing to the problem. I think I'll give them until the weekend, and then maybe try blocking up the nextbox at night. Or I could remove the divider I suppose.




Friday, 12 September 2008

Oven-ready chicken

Scarlett has had a scatty botty for a few days, but it's been too cold to risk bathing her. This morning the weather forecast was reasonable, so I filled my sink with lukewarm water, and went to collect her. Scarlett seems to quite like being bathed, and she is quite happy to stand and be hairdryed, so I wasn't expecting any problems.

As I washed her bottom, I found a big bald patch underneath a chickeny equivalent to a combover. When I got her out of the bath and investgated further, I found she was "oven ready" in many places.

Poor little love.


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

At last!

After the Littlees had put themselves to bed in the Cube last night, we had a bit of a soap opera from the Bigees. They went to bed, then came down bokking furiously, Then they went up, and then they came down and went out into the garden.

Then Milly came down, Then the Bigees started bokking at her. She went back up the ladder. The Bigees tried again.

Eventually, everyone was in bed.

This morning, I found poo in the nest box, so at least one of the Littlees decided to sleep there. I don't mind that, I can try and persuade them out of it later. The great news is that we can remove the Eglu from the run.

So in the pouring rain this morning, that's what I did. It's sitting on my terrace at the moment, waiting to be pressure washed.

The Run needs rearranging now to make better use of the space, but I've decided to make one change at a time, and removing the Eglu was today's change. I did rake up the Ausbiose, put down some Stalosan, and put the Aubiose back down, but that's really housekeeping rather than a major change. I hope.

Delilah still being horrible to the LIttlees, but she hasn't been pecking them (that I have seen), so that's progress too. Right?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Clever Girls!

I'm so excited!

Just popped out to see what the Girls were doing. They've been very vocal for the last couple of hours, mainly because we have a load of green parakeets roosting in our garden.

The Bigees came running over to see what was going on, the Littlees didn't. I thought they might have gone to bed, so I opened the egg port on the Eglu to find..nothing. It was empty. Then I peeped through the ventilation slot on the Cube....and they were in there!! CLever girls!

Not sure if they'll stay in when the Bigees go to bed, but what a result anyway! Only two nights of being moved in there after dark, and they know what to do.

Clever, clever, clever girls!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Morning After

Wide awake at 5am - me, I mean - waiting to hear what was going on in the Cube. I'm fortunate that my Walk in Run means that I can happily leave the pop hole on the Cube open, so the Girls can get themselves up whenever they want. Otherwise, I would have had to get up then and go and pull the Littlees out before they all woke up, as if there was trouble, the Littlees wouldn't be able to get away.

At 6.30, I heard them bouncing down the ladder, and then they were all rather vocal. I got up and went to see what was what.

There was no blood, but the Littlees were keeping away from the Bigees. I watched for a couple of minutes, and saw that wherever the Bigees went, the Littlees scuttled away. So, I hoiked Milly over onto her side of the Run. Jasmine wouldn't come close enough to be hoiked, and, thanks to my fencing across the middle, I had to walk out of the run, down the side, and in the other end. Honestly, it's not much fun when it's that early on a Sunday morning and it's pouring with rain.

I then went back to bed for a couple of hours, before getting up properly and letting them out to free range.

It seems to have gone well, so we'll carry on like this - manually moving the Littlees when it's dark - until it's time to take the next step. And of course I'm secretly hoping that they'll get the idea, and put themselves to bed in the Cube anyway. We'll see.

Cider Making

We have 3 very old, very productive apple trees in the garden. When we first moved in, we arranged for a tree surgeon to come and prune them for us, but unfortunately we didn't really know what he should be doing, and he didn't do a very good job. We ended up with few reachable branches, and lots of fruit that even with a ladder and a huge pole cannot be reached.

We are besieged each year by a flock of green parakeets, plus starlings, pigeons, and Cyril the Squirrel. The pests munch part of an apple, and then it rots on the tree, falling down onto our grass eventually. Every day I pick up a small tubtrug of rotten half eaten apples.

In spite of this, for the last two years we've made our own cider. Last year, we processed about 120Kilos of apples, and it was hard work on my hands. We wash and cut the apples, then put them in a bucket and use a blade to cut them; then we pass them through the fruit press attachment on my food processor.

The cider last year was more successful than the previous year, thanks to us investing in a book. However, the quality was still a bit variable, so this year I decided to book us onto a one day cider making course. http://www.cider-academy.co.uk/uk_scheduled_courses.shtml. I picked the September course, as I estimated that would be when our apples would be ripe.

The course was really useful. We'd been using the right technique, but we learned some really great tips, and how to measure and control the process. We also used a proper apple mill, which was fantastic, and we came home determined to buy one second hand. No chance. We did, however, invest in a hand mill, which we're hoping will make the apple preparation process significantly easier than in previous years. We're waiting for it to arrive, and I'm getting impatient.

I also invested in a small pasteuriser, so I can preserve apple juice for later consumption. I normally use a jam pan (or asparagus steamer) to do my pasteurising, but this is very limiting in terms of the size of bottle or jar that can be used. The proper pasteuriser will mean I can pasteurise large bottles of stuff, so it will be great for next year's cordials as well.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this once the Mill has arrived and we've started processing.



FOr ther l

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Tonight's the Night?

We've planned for Tonight to be The Night we put the Girls together. I'm nervous.

We've been out all day. I left the Girls shut in their respective halves of the Run. As well as a full Grub of pellets, lenty of grit and oyster shell, and water, each half had a whole iceberg lettuce, half a white cabbage, two corn cobs, and a bowl of pellet porridge fortified with yoghurt and Poultry Spice.

We got home at about 6.30, to find Jasmine was in with the Bigees.

We let them out for a bit of a range, and while they did so we took down one row of the dividing fencing, in anticipation of tonight. The idea is that if it goes wrong and the Littlees need to get away, the middle fence will be low enough for them to get over relatively easily, whilst being a bit big for the Bigees (who are much heavier) to manage.

I went out at 7.30 to find they had all put themselves to bed, and in the correct places. Jasmine's sojourn with the Bigees was presumably a bit of an accident then.

Anyway, it's dark dark dark now. In about 15 mins we'll go and transfer the Littlees into the Bigees bedroom for the night.

Fingers crossed.

UPDATE 9pm:
Well, we've done The Deed. They are all in together.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Weighing in (upd 10Sep)

We're only weighing Milly at the moment. She's still very small compared to the others, and she gets picked on the most.

Milly was 20 weeks old on Fri 29 Aug
Wed 10th Sept: Milly 1260g (+150g, =15%); Jasmine 1365g
Wed 3rd Sept: Milly 1106g (+100g, =10%)
Wed 27 Aug: Milly 1006g (+52g, =5%)

I'll have to weigh Jasmine at some point, just so I can compare the two of them. Maybe next week.

Previous weigh-ins:
Tue 22 July: Milly 559g; Jasmine 810g
Tue 29 July: Milly 620g (+61g=+11% on prev week); Jasmine 892g (+82g =10%)
Tue 05 Aug: Milly 715g (+95g=+15% on prev week); Jasmine 987g (+95g = 11%)
Tue 12 Aug: Milly 825g (+110g=+15%); Jasmine 1084g (+97g = 10%)
Tue 19 Aug: Milly 954g (+129g=+16%);Jasmine 1145g* (+61g=+6%)

Note: Milly was 18.5 and Jasmine 19.5 weeks old on the 19th August



All I Need to Know In Life I Learned From My Chickens

This was posted on the Omlet forum some time ago, and I know it's been doing the rounds within the chicken keeping communities. Thought i'd share it here.

All I Need To Know In Life I Learned From My Chickens
by Michaele Oleson

Wake up early, stay busy
Rest when you need to, but always stay alert
Visit your favourite places every day
Scratch out a living
Routine is good Plump is good

Don't ponder your purpose in life - your brain is too small
Accept the pecking order and know your enemies
Weed your garden

Look after your children
- Sit on them if necessary-
Take them for walks, show them the little things and talk constantly
Make a nice nest - share it with friends
Brag on your accomplishments
Protect your nest egg

Test your wings once
in a while
Squawk when necessary
As you age, demand respect
Leave a little something for those who care about you

Chase butterflies

Blog Merging

I've decided it's too confusing keeping two Blogs.

I had one just for my hens, and another for other bits and pieces. I've decided to merge them, but I've only moved the stuff from this month (al three days) from my general blog into here.

I might rename the blog here, but I guess I'll keep the URL the same.

Corn on the Cob

This year we grew Corn on the Cob for the first time. My DH loves to grow veggies, but there are very few that he actually eats. Corn isn't one of them, so I get them all to myself.

The Corn has been wonderful! Following a tip from Bob Flowerdew (Gardeners' Question Time) I tried eating some raw. It was delicious! You can only do this within a few minutes of picking the cob, because the sugar starts turning to starch immediately. After about twenty minutes, it's still edible raw, but not so great.

I can't understand why anyone would boil them, it does nothing for the flavour and texture. I always grill my Corn. Years ago I started off by barbecuing them but, even with a gas bbq, it became a bit of a faff to get the bbq out every time I wanted corn cobs. Then I read somewhere - Delia's Summer Collection I expect - that you can do a very passable job with a really hot grill.

The grill is put on at full heat 10 to 15 mins before you want to cook the cobs. Move the rack so that the cobs will be just a whisker or two away from the heat. Brush the corn with oil (I pour oil onto a piece of kitchen towel, and then use this on the cobs. Then grill until brown or slighlt blackened. Turn slightly. Grill. Turn, grill. Until all sides are browned or slightly blackened.

I often eat them just like that. Sometimes I put on a tiny bit of butter. Yum!

After several weeks of corn feasts, we harvested the last few cobs two days ago. I've now eaten all the reasonably sized ones, and I have a few half-ripe ones which I'm giving to the chickens. They go mad for corn cobs.

DH has already dug the old plants out of the bed, it looks really empty there now.

Definitely a crop to continue next year.

Chicken Gardening

Chickens make excellent gardeners.

True, they tend to prune the flowers - sometimes to extinction - but they clear beds brilliantly. I love watching them do that chicken salsa, as they use their feet to clear debris and look for tasty morsels.

My girls have recently had access to or Pampas grass bed, and they have done a wonderful job of clearing the surrounding bed of weeds, dead plants etc.

The only downside is that when they clear it, they tend to clear it on to the grass. Yesterday I raked up 5 tub trugs worth of dead stuff they had removed: plants, dead grass, and leaves. Obviously this wasn't just from the Pampas bed, it was from the entire chicken "paddock".


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Getting married!

My one and only lovely stepdaughter, "C", is getting married.

I'm really happy for her. Her partner is a great guy; when I first met him and I was telling my close friends about him, I said "he's practically perfect", and so I would refer to him as "Mary Poppins".

There's lots more I'd like to write, but I don't want to invade their privacy by talking about it all on my blog here, so I'll stick to writing about the bits which relate more directly to me.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Solar water heating: the beginning

The hallway is full of stuff. But not as full as I had expected. I thought the hall would be full of panels, tubes, boxes.

After a few months investigations into solar energy, and considering the ins- and outs- of the various options, Darling Husband (DH) recently placed an order for the necessary equipment to use solar power to heat our water.

It was a few years ago that DH first expressed interest in doing something. We were having a second storey put on our kitchen extension, and we were wondering whether to do solar panels at the same time. We decided to wait and see whether the Government would get its act together, and time passed.

We had come back to the idea several times in the intervening years. Should we heat water? Or should we go the whole hog and generate electricity, supplying the extra back to the Grid? What was available? What was the cost? Would it work?

Then we had a period of uncertainty where we were seriously thinking about moving house. We spent money having a fence put up, as it was cheaper than moving. Then I concentrated on my chickens. Then we thought again about moving, getting as far as deciding which area of the country we wanted to move to, getting our house valued, and then visiting the new area to see exactly which villages we would consider.

Anyway, life moved on, things happened, and we decided we weren't going to move after all. So solar was back on the agenda. DH did a lot of detailed research and decided that we would go for the water heating option (rather than the full generation option). And to cut a not very long story even shorter, he ordered the stuff we needed a week or so ago.

I have to confess here that, up to this point, I've left the decisions to DH. Now it's actually going to happen though, I want to make sure I understand it all.

The new hot water tank, which is a necessary part of the process as it has coils in to heat the water by solar and to heat it up by gas central heating, is taller and narrower than I was expecting. I was adamant that we had to have a tank that had at least the same capacity as our existing tank, so this is what we've ended up with. This new tank will have the pipes all on the same side, which we hadn't really been expecting, so we could have had a shorter fatter tank. Never mind, it's here now.

We installed a water softener a couple of years ago, and I'm expecting that the new tank will be much more efficient than the old one, even without the solar heating. The old one is about 11 years old, and for 9 of those years we had that very hard water typical of our part of the country. I don't know if I'm right, but I would expect that the old tank to have a thick inner coating of limescale build up, much worse than the washing machine in the Calgon ad.

I wonder what we'll do with the old tank? Will we cut it open so I can see inside?

On a practical note, we'll have to reorganise the airing cupboard completely to accomodate the new tank, because I don't just use the shelves for spare bedding and towels, I also have a shelf in there which I use for proving dough, and I wonder how we'll fit that in. Maybe at the side? Mind you,the new tnk has a smaller girth, so we might be able to put shelves in front of it, which we can't currently do.

The airing cupboard walls are the only walls we haven't had replastered (we renovated this house from foundation to roof), and I know the plaster in ther is shot to pieces. Taking the old tank out will give us an opportunity to fix that too.

Apparently, fitting the tank is the first task. That's probably not going to happen for a little while, as DH just happens to have a lot of work on for the next couple of weeks. I have a cousin who is a CORGI registered plumber, I was going to ask him to come and service my central heating boiler so I might see how much he would charge to fit the new tank.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Number Two

I was pondering the nature of the hen pecking that's been going on.

Whilst we've had two Bigees, we've always thought that Delilah was top chook. They actually always share things, they eat happily head to head, they don't squabble over corn, no one seems to be in charge, but we've thought that if there was a top chook, it was Delilah. She's a big bird, she seems more confident than Scarlett... it's really hard to articulate what I mean.

With the Littlees, there doesn't seem to be a top chook. They share things, they eat happily head to head, they don't squabble over corn.

In a pair, there doesn't need to be a pecking order, because they "know" which one of them is in charge.

When you have three or more hens, there is an Order. If you put new hens together, they have to squabble until the Order is established. Then everyone eats happily head to head, they "know" their places.

Delilah keeps chasing the Littlees, Scarlett does it only occasionally.

Now, If you were top chook, wouldn't you know you are top chook? Wouldn't the other birds realise it very quickly? Would you need to keep reminding them?

I would have thought that it would be Number 2 who would be more worried about losing their place in the Order. Wouldn't it be Number 2 who would keep on and on and on reminding the other birds?

So is Delilah really number 2?


Two steps forward, one step back

Delilah kept chasing the Littlees. Mostly when their paths crossed, but in the Run they were crossing quite often.

So, I decided a bit more drastic action was needed: we would divide the Run. To shake things up, I decided that the Littlees should have the end nearest the house. We moved the Eglu, moved some furniture around, swapped the dust baths, and then we built a fence between the two halves. Instead of my makeshift fence, we used garden fencing, like chain link but softer, which we connected to the sides with clips. We built it so it reached almost to the top.

The first evening, Jasmine decided to roost on the top of the fencing!

During the day, they are all free ranging together, and any hen can get into any part of the Run and both the Eglu and the Cube. At night, they are shut in their separate halves, where they can still see each other, but can't get to each other.

This arrangement seems to work well, and I'll carry on with this for a while, before I try letting them mix again. I'm not in a particular hurry to complete the integration, the only milestone really is that I want the Littlees to be integrated and in the Cube by the time they start laying.

I noticed while giving them some corn (while they were all together), that the Littlees are fairly happy feeding near Scarlett's head, and she only occasionally goes for them. This gave me an idea for a backup plan, if Delilah doesn't settle down: I'll move Scarlett in with the Littlees and leave Delilah on her own for a bit. This might sound unfair, but if it means that it shakes things up and stops Delilah then it might be worth doing.

Let's see what happens over the next few days.



Thursday, 28 August 2008

Changing Rooms

We've had a couple of days of the Girls all being shut in the Big Run when we go out. There's a bit of pecking, but I don't think it's going to get better until they are all in together, all the time.

We're taking my lovely grandson, Callum, back home one day over the weekend, which means being away for a few hours, so we had to make a decision on whether to keep on as we are until next week, or make the move now so they had time to "settle down" before we leave them.

We decided to take the plunge.

So, after lunch, we moved the Eglu into the big Run. We've left the Eglu Run intact, outside, just in case we need it in a hurry. We then had to find space to put the additional feeder and drinker in the Big Run, somewhere which wouldn't leave the Littlees boxed in if they were using it, and somewhere where it wouldn't be under a perch (chicken poo!).

Then finally we popped the Littles in the Eglu and shut the door, and left them for half an hour; the reason for this is to help imprint on them where "home" now is.



I'm not sure when we'll take the final step of putting them in the Cube together to sleep. I suppose, deep down, I'm hoping that they will make the decision for themselves and we'll find them all sleeping together. I'm not really confident that will happen though.

Anyway. We're not going to rush this stage. Let's see what happens for the next few nights.



Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Joint lock up

Things are much the same, not better, not worse, so it's time to take another small step.

I was taking my grandson, Callum, over to the park behind our house. I've been taking a big risk by not shuttting the girls away when I go, mainly because it's a nuisance trying to make sure the Littlees go in their Run, and the Bigees go in the Big Run.

So today, I decided to try shutting them all in the Big Run while we were out. It's only a risk because it means that if (for example) Delilah starts pecking one of the Littlees, there is a limit to where they can run. Outside, worst case, they could fly over the netting. Inside, they can run away, fly up on to perches, but if Delilah decide to be really nasty and not let then alone, they can't escape. Not that I really think Delilah would do that, but one has to be prepared.

Anyway. I put two lettuce quarters in the run, a little bit of corn, and I sprinkled pellets over the floor, all designed to keep them occupied. Then we shut them in, watched them from the kitchen for a few minutes while we got ready, then we went out and left them.

When we got back, they seemed OK. Obviously I can't tell what they were up to while we weren't here, but there were no obvious signs of distress.

So, we'll try that again next time they need to be shut in; and I'll probably try shutting them in while we're here so we can observe from inside.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

No news

Well, they say "no news" is "good news".

The Girls are still free ranging all day together. Well, not exactly together, but in the same fenced off area IYSWIM. Both Bigees still chase the Littlees; sometimes it's a sort of threat to chase which causes the Litlees to run off, other times its a proper chase. There hasn't been too much pecking (not that I have seen, anyway).

Next step is to move the Eglu, minus it's run, into the main run for a couple of days and nights before integrating the girls fully. I'd like to get on and do it, but Milly is still so small. Honestly, if I didn't know her age (19 weeks last Friday), I'd say she was only 16 or 17 weeks now. That's what's holding me back. It's taken me 8 weeks to get to this point, I don't want to waste all that patience by rushing the last steps.

I'm going to be away for a day in a couple of weeks, which means no free ranging for the girls that day. If I'm going to put them all together it needs to be done well before that so that I can be sure they will be OK shut in together for a day; or I need to leave it until after then to take the step.

I've just re-read that and started to laugh. When I talk about being "shut in" I mean that the girls will be in their extremely large Run, complete with perches all round; a bench and logs to climb on, under and over; two dust baths; hanging feeder; peckablock......

I guess I'll see how it goes for the next few days, and maybe make a decision on Wednesday or so.




Thursday, 21 August 2008

That Milly!

That Milly!

I like all my hens, very much, but I am always aware that they are hens. I feel a rush of warmth and affection for them, but I wouldn't say I feel a rush of love. It's not the same as I feel about my cats, for example.

Except sometimes I do feel it a bit with Milly.

It isn't that I like her any more than the others; I've pondered on this, as I don't agree with playing favourites, and I'm really sure that I don't like her more than the others. The more I get to know them, the more I really like them.

I love the way they come running to see me whenever I go in the garden. Yes, I do know it's cupboard love.

Delilah, despite being such a witch at the moment, is such a lovely big Girl. She is really clever, a bu**er to catch, and surprisingly lithe and nippy. She looks at me, sideways on, with those beady little eyes, and she always makes me smile. It doesn't matter how grumpy I am, she cheers me up.

Scarlett is a such a sqwarker, and she irritates me when she goes on and on and on and on and on and ON AND ON AND ON AND.... But she is so special, with that little naked neck of hers. She still reminds me of Audrey Hepburn, and when I pick her up and see that little neck pulsating, I realise I like her in spite of the nuisance she is. And I had to wait a long time for her.

Jasmine... well, it's a bit soon to be able to read Jasmine's character. I like the way she runs around in the morning with her wings out behind her, pretending to be superman. I like her yellow legs, and her beautiful feathering. Her voice - it's a very deep baritone quack at the moment - is amazing. Very un-henlike.

And that Milly! Well, she doesn't stand still waiting to be picked up anymore, but she's really content to be held once I've got her. She's always willing to try new foods, and she's still got that funky hair do. She pulls on my heartstrings. I think it's because she was so willing to be held, right from the beginning. And we were always having to pick her up because she kept escaping from everything. I wonder if she'll stop being so content as she gets older?


Boss chicken

It's been mostly OK. The Littlees tend to dart away as soon as either of the Bigees comes near. I have occasionally seen Delilah move away from wherever she is to charge at the Littlees, which isn't very nice. Normal. Natural. But not "nice".

So today I decided to remind Delilah who was actually top chook: me. When I'm out there she generally behaves, so I only had a few opportunities to boss her. And she moved so quickly that, of those few opportunities, there were only a couple where I managed it.

I'll keep it up for a while, and see whether things improve.

On a positive note, the Littlees were happily eating from the Bigees' feeder (well, until the Bigees came home of course). The Bigees were happily eating from the Littlees' feeder and drinking from their Glug, but that's to be be expected rather than something to be celebrated.

I took down the collapsible trellis that divides the run, and replaced it with the movable netting. This provides a physical barrier, but it's much lighter and less imposing. I toyed with the idea of taking it out completely but, as one of the last steps before complete integrationp will be to move the Eglu into the main Run, Ithought it best to keep it divided for the time being. I have sneakily fixed the netting so that Milly can squeeze through the side, as a few days ago I saw both Bigees try to corner her in there.




Tuesday, 19 August 2008

My little girl is growing up

This evening, when I picked up Milly to weigh her, I saw that her comb has started to turn pink. It wasn't that pink this morning, it was more sort of...anaemic flesh colour.

It brought a lump to my throat.

Especially as she's had such a tough day.

Painful

Oh god, this is so stressful.

I was out for much longer than I thought this morning, so when I got back I decided to get on with rearranging the netting before letting them all out to range.

They've all been out together for a couple of hours or so now, and Jasmine is definitely abandoning Milly. I went out with some leftover pasta, and Milly stayed out of the way. Of course I wentr and gave her some of her own.

Both Big Girls have lunged at both Littlees. They aren't really pecking, but it is still horrible to watch. Jasmine runs away and then gradually creeps back; Milly runs away and tends to stay away. it's horrible, horrible, horrible.

Sorry to repeat myself but... I know this is the natural way of things, I know it will pass, but I can't believe how tortous it is. At times like this I almost wish I was a "let 'em get on with it" person, but I'm not. I do know they are hens...only hens. I don't feel the same way about them as I do about my cats. But I don't like to see nastiness in nature.


Next step...

Over the last few days I've let the Girls free range "together" under supervision. It started off with 15 mins once a day; yesterday, it was blocks of half an hour, several times a day, and ended with me going into the kitchen and keeping an eye on them from there.

I suspect we're now at the stage where it's better to let them free range together as much as possible, rather than chopping and changing. I let them all have about half an hour in their separate areas first, and now they are all in together.

For the last couple of days they have mostly been ranging in their pairs, and then there is a kerfuffle when the two pairs' paths meet. Mostly, the Littlees have run away, so there has been little real violence, just threats of violence. Of course in the real world, that's just as bad - but not in the chicken world.

This morning, I noticed that Jasmine keeps trying to range with the Bigees. Mostly she's with Milly. But when the four of them are close, I see her edgind towards the Bigees. She tries to eat on the periphery of their "flock" (if you can call two chickens a flock). Then she inches closer, and eventually one of the Bigees will go and chase her away.

It's natural that she's looking for acceptance, but the part of me that wants them to behave like people feels that she's letting Milly down.

I'll leave them out there, kitchen door open, until I have to go out a bit later. I'll let them out together again when I get back, and if the rest of the day goes OK with them, I'll rearrange the netting so it is less complicated, and they have one simple, big, area to range in together. with netting around the perimeter.

In the meantime, I'm dashing to the door every few mins as I hear - or think I hear - a commotion.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Ouch!

Yet another rearranging of the Eglu. The idea this time is that the Eglu run is very close to the Big Run, with the respectve feed stations as close as possible.




The resultant Netting arrangements are a bit complicated, but it means that almost wherever they are, they are adjacent. Each pair has one small area where they are out if sight of the other pair. The idea is that they will get used to the other pair being ever-present.

They've had a few minutes each day of supervised joint free ranging, butduring these periods each pair has mostly kept to themselves.

Today, Milly managed to get into the Big Girls enclosure, and Delilah took exception. Fortunately I was in the kitchen, with the door open, so I heard the kerfuffle. Delilah was attacking Milly, mercilessly. Milly made no attempt to fight back, but she was trying to get away. I rescued her of course, and she's OK.

Now, this is perfectly normal chicken behaviour. I know that. Introducing new birds is stressful, and there *will* be henpecking. It is usually quite vicious and unpleasant. I know this.

But, I suspect like many other people, I secretly had hoped that my lovely well behaved girls would be different, and would just accept it. Maybe just a bit of stand-offishness at first. The odd motherly peck.

But it's not to be.

I'll increase the frequency of the supervised free ranging this week, if weather permits.




Sunday, 17 August 2008

Bless!

The Big Girls make me smile.

Occasionally when I let them out to range, they manage to find a way out; usually because I've forgotten to close one of the "gates" on the netting.

Instead of making merry when they do this, they come to the kitchen door and bok loudly to get attention. And, of course, this means that we then go chicken wrangling to get them back into their allocated area. Each time they do it, I wonder why they don't just keep quiet about it.

It happened again this morning. I let the Bigees out; the Littlees hadn't been up very long and have grass in their enclosure anyway, so I decided to let the Bigees range in both areas. Half an hour later I heard that tell tale "Bok bok?" outside the kitchen door, and there was Delilah.

I went out to shepherd her home, but she wanted to explore the pampas. So I let her. I shut the escape route so that Scarlett couldn't get out, and I let Delilah have 10 mins rooking in the pampas before I went wrangling.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Share and share alike

This morning I decided to let Scarlett out of the Broody cage. It was a bit of a risk: if she's still broody, then letting her out puts us back at square one. She had a mooch around, then ran up into the Cube...but then came down again. Although it was only 7.30 I opened up the gate so she could free range - I thought it might keep her mind off things.

While she was out, I decided it was time to clean the big Run. Unlike my weekly clean, this one involves removing everything disposing of all the old flooring material, and spraying all the wooden surfaces for red mite. It didn't take too long to do, and I decided that I would divide the living space while it was all fresh bedding.

Because Milly is such a clever escape artist, I ended up with a Heath Robinson affair. I may have to go and buy some more expanding trellis, but I'm quite pleased with my home made effort.
The picture makes it look like there is a gap at one side. There isn't, I had to use netting to cover it, and it doesn't show up in the photo.

The Littlees only have about a third of the floor space. I might need to put the broody cage back in the Biggees' part!


Thursday, 14 August 2008

Out of sight...

...means constant trips to check they are OK.

Scarlett is now in the broody cage and making a real racket. I hope she calms down quickly; we have new next door neighbours moving in tomorrow, and I'd hate for this to be their introduction to our Girls!

At lunchtime today we did a major relocation of the Littlees' Eglu and fencing. They are now at the back of the garden, very near to the Biggees' Cube. The Biggees run area has been curtailed somewhat, and the Littlees Run area now surrounds it almost all the way. The Biggees can get away from the LIttlees under a couple of huge shrubs, and they have a 15foot perimeter which does not adjoin the other Run.

We'll move the Eglu within this new area every few days, and I'm hoping that we can start some form of shared free ranging very soon.

The downside of this is that I can't see the Littlees from the kitchen window now, unless they choose to come into view. Their Eglu is completely hidden from me. Given that they are both quite flighty, and they now have a pear tree in their enclosure, I'm very nervous that they will escape.

I've been outside more times than I care to count.

Broody again?

Scarlett's going broody again.

I found an egg - hers - in the Run this morning. I found her in the nestbox, sitting on one of Delilah's. I retrieved the egg, gave Scarlett a cuddle, and put her outside. She ran round, up the ladder, and into the nestbox again. I hoiked her out, put her on the ground, and shut the nest box door.

She's laid every day for the last 10 days (and has laid 13 eggs in the last 15), so she thinks she has a clutch that needs incubating.

Although we've spotted it early, I'm not sure gentle pressure (like blocking access to the nestbox) will work. She's already tried to fly on top of the Cube today. Looks like we'll have to di out the broody cage.


Tuesday, 12 August 2008

What a whopper!

Bit of a commotion outside this afternoon. Delilah was crowing like mad, and Scarlett was going bananas. Assuming Delilah was announcing an egg, I went outside to find....

...her attacking Milly, who had got into the Bigees area.

I separated them, and rescued Milly. She looks OK, no obvious cuts or anything. Then I went to check the nest box to see if Delilah has laid. And she had. The biggest egg I've ever seen. I brought it in to weigh it (94g) and went to register it on the Omlet Egg Leader Board...but found that the smallest big egg there is 100g.

Anyway, it is still **ENORMOUS**

Here's a pic. For comparison I've included one of Delilah's usual eggs which, at 62g, is classed as "large".


Monday, 11 August 2008

Make yourselves at home!

The Litlees keep staring into the Big Girls' Run; they seem fascinated by it.

So, whilst the Big Girls were out rooking underneath a shrub, I closed them off from their Run. Tehy can still get into their Cube, and under their Cube. Then I opened one of the Run doors so that the Littlees could get in.

And they did. They had a really good explore; they tried out the perches, the branches, the bench; they rooked around in the Aubiose. And then they tried the Dust bath. They've been in there for ages.

Meanwhile, I diverted the Bigees with a corn cob and a nectarine!

While everyone was occuped I swapped the reinforced netting, which has formed the barrier between the two areas, keeping the Littlees from the Bigees, for normal netting. So they are still separate, but their heads can easily extend into each other's areas now.

Moving the Eglu today we found a pile of pellets, which explains why the Grub was empty last night! The ground is looking really sad now. I need to relocate the Eglu completely in the next couple of days: I'm just not sure where to put it, or how to arrange it.

EDITED TO ADD:
After their bath, the Littlees relaxed on the Bench...


Sunday, 10 August 2008

Part Exchange

Jasmine is showing signs of being very ready to mix with the Big Girls.

When the Biggies are in their Run, Jas stands outside watching them, or making a noise, can't describe it. The Biggies stare back at her and start bokking or growling. Jasmine also puffs herself up so she looks a similar size to them. Her comb is developing really well. Milly is still small. Age wise,she's only a week younger - but she seems 2 or 3 weeks younger in terms of her size and development of her Comb.

Today I thought I'd take advantage of a sunny spell, and I dismantled the Cube and cleaned it. As I had the pressure washer out, I did the Eglu as well. Then I thought I'd try swapping the girls over for a few mins.

So, the Littlees had the Run and Cube, and the Bigees has the Eglu. They all seemed very interested in having a look round, but no one visited the sleeping quarters, so I ended up picking them up and putting them in. Scarlett was mostly interested in eating the Littlees' food.

After about 15 minutes, I swapped them back again.

Tomorrow, the Littlees are having Layers Pellets for the first time. Their food will be made up of 1/3rd Layers Pellets, and 2/3rds Growers. If the weather is fine, I might try swapping them around for half an hour again.




Friday, 8 August 2008

Lovely neighbour

My Neighbour is lovely.

When she is going away for a few days she empties her fridge of veggies and brings them round for the Girls. Today's treat for them is a lovely melon - lucky girls!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Weighing In (upd 19 Aug)

We didn't weigh the Littlees until we had had them several weeks.

Tue 22 July: Milly 559g; Jasmine 810g
Tue 29 July: Milly 620g (+61g=+11% on prev week); Jasmine 892g (+82g =10%)
Tue 05 Aug: Milly 715g (+95g=+15% on prev week); Jasmine 987g (+95g = 11%)


We've been weighing their feed consumption, and it's really erratic. It's been between 80g and 260g each day, between them. And it's not constantly increasing, it's up and down. Of course, I'm not able to weigh how much grass and insect they eat!

Edited to Add:
Tue 12 Aug: Milly 825g (+110g=+15%); Jasmine 1084g (+97g = 10%)
Tue 19 Aug: Milly 954g (+129g=+16%);Jasmine 1045g* (+61g=+6%)
*weighed very late in the evening, so assume that crop was less full than Milly's.


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