Sunday, 30 March 2008

An egg from Scarlett!

Let the Girls out to free range while I did some pruning. A bit later, I popped into the Run, and found a teeny egg! It's probably from Scarlett, as she's been crouching for some time now. It's only 37g, but it's beautiful.

I'm really pleased, as I had expected to get a couple of softees first.

Not really sure how we teach her to lay in the Nest though.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's a picture of Scarlett's 37g egg and one of Delilah's 59grammers, on a piece of white paper so you can see the colours

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Free at last!

Today turned into a gorgeous day weather wise. DH decided to get some extra slabs to provide a solid area in front of the Run, and we decided to let the chickens free range properly for the first time.

I busied myself pruning a large shrub; Isabelle the Huntress settled down to watch the chickens; DH started digging up turf to lay the slabs. Washburn the Hunter was asleep upstairs. The Girls progressed as a trio around the garden, obviously not quite sure of themselves. Isabelle ran at them at one point, there was a bit of sqwarking (how do you spell that?) and she stopped dead in her tracks. And then Wash got up and came downstairs.

I've not been too worried about how the chooks will cope with one or other of the cats. I am worried about how they will cope with the two of them, as they do hunt as a pair - one of themn chases the prey into the path of the other. So, I fetched the hosepipe, and got it ready - just in case.

I had to stop pruning and stand ready with the hose on several occasions as Wash prepared to pounce. In the end, he did pounce: the Girls were busy foraging and didn't notice him, and so he kind of stopped pouncing in mid pounce, and walked off. If the girls had reacted, he would have given chase.

The Girls eventually made their way back to the Run - except Lydia (of course!) who had got distracted and separated. I picked her up and took her back into the Run manually.

Bedroom antics

So, Lydia refused to go to bed.

She went up the ramp a couple of times. She got her front in the door at least once. Every time, she came back down and stood by the Run door staring into our kitchen.

Then, she was in. I slipped out to shut the pop hole, but she heard me coming and came rushing down the ramp to greet me. I went back into the house.

A while later, we had a repeat occurrence. This time I went into the Run, picked her up and then I posted her through the nest box. This wasn't a very nice thing to do really. I collected the feeders and took them back to the house and then, feeling guilty about posting her, I went straight back to the nest box to check whether she was OK.

I had to laugh. Lydia was already on the perch and dozing, and so wasn't at all bothered by being posted in through the nest box. Scarlett and Delilah, however, hadn't worked out what the Perch was for (or they preferred not to roost that way) and were sitting beak to tail.

This morning after they all came out I had a quick inspect of the poo trays to see if I could work out how they had spent the night. Looks like they slept where I last saw them.


Yesterday's promise of rain seemed to be holding off, and the forecast for the next 5 days was bleak. I decided to take the plunge, and clean the Cube.

First, I fenced off an area to let the Girls out into the garden, so I could block off their access to the Cube. Then, DH and I moved the Cube away to a fresh piece of grass and I started to take it apart, and swept all the bedding and nesting material into the compost bin. Then it was out with the hose and our high quality handset (I didn't really want to get the pressure washer out if I could avoid it), a bottle of Ecover washing up liquid (as I was on the grass), and a scrubbing brush.

The inside of the Cube scrubbed up very quickly. The roosting bars were a bit harder to clean, but the clever coat of varnish meant the poo came off quite easily. Then the ramp, the ladder, etc etc.

While it was all air drying, I tackled the "grass" underneath the house. All that Aubiose, scraped up and put in the - now full - compost bin. Liberal shaking of Stalosan disinfectant, light coating of Diatom (red mite powder), and then fresh Aubiose.

I got a towel to dry off the Cube, and started to put it back together. At this point, Delilah decided she wanted to lay her egg, and she was getting very agitated that her access to the Cube was blocked. Her screeching attracted Scarlett, and the two of them started throwing themselves at the barrier!

I had to work really fast to get the nesting box done and the Cube sort of back in place. I put in a different set of Roosting Bars (more about them later). Then I let Delilah go and Do Her Business while I tidied up. She took ages, but evenytually appeared in the doorway crowing loudly with the fanfare we affectionately call "Lo! I have Laid An Egge".

Once she was out of the way, I could finish the job. All three Girls decided to come and investigate, and the new roosting bars were causing quite a lot of bokking between them. My DH modified this set, providing a perch as part of it (thanks to someone on the Omlet forum for sharing a pic of their modification).

Anyway. It still hadn't started to rain, so I decided I'd do a complete refresh of the Run while I was at it. It had all been down for four weeks, it still looked (and smelt) fine, but, hey, I was in the mood. Hopes of putting the Aubiose in the compost bin were dashed when my husband pointed out how much space a bag of Aubiose takes up when its vacuum packed. I had to put it into bags, and we'll take it to the tip.

It didn't take too long, but there was a lot of it. Again with the Stalosan and the Diatom, then a new bag of Aubiose was raked everywhere. Finally, a refresh of the dustbath (ash, playsand,compost, stalosan, diatom, Aubiose), and everything was shiny!

The Girls celebrated by pooing in the Dustbath. As yesterday's Tree Vegetable was a red cabbage, the poo was bright blue.

Everything seemed fine, they were scratching about happily. But at dusk, Lydia refused to go to bed.


Surely not.

I had some sorry looking cherry toms lurking in my salad box; I cut them in half, and stuffed them in Monday's Swingball along with the usual spinach, white cabbage, mushrooms etc. Having hung it up in their Run, I suddenly wondered whether tomatoes might be a Bad Thing To Give To Hens.

I asked the question on the Omlet forum, and was reassured to hear stories of hens fighting over tomatoes, tomato plants being stripped, whole tomatoes being provided as football food...

So, on Tuesday I added extra tomatoes. And the Girls get into a beak frenzy over them! Today's Swingball had yet more tomatoes, and I was able to watch the Girls flicking the Swingball round until their beady eyes spotted the tomato, then the beak was in rooking it out, and then the lucky chook would make a run for a corner, trying to guzzle the morsel before one of her friends stole it from under her.

This scene was repeated many times. I suspect it is only because tomatoes are something of a novelty for them. I have enough for another few days, then I'll give them a break.

I wouldn't want them to get bored!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Wheezing: updated

On Sunday night I thought I could Scarlett was wheezing a little bit.

On Monday afternoon, I heard it again. She's bright eyed, eating well, very chirpy; but I googled "wheezing chicken" and didn't like the answers. Stories of bright, happy chooks with a little wheezing, suddenly going down hill and dying. Posts and posts on various expert forums saying that respiratoiry problems in hens get serious (for the hen) very quickly.

So today I phoned to get an appointment at the Vet. And I would choose today, when we have the rehearsals for the State Visit and the roads all around the Vet (and into Windsor) are closed.

We think we've found a route where we can get relatively close and then walk the rest of the way. On the positive side, at least its only the rehearsal. I would imagine that carrying Scarlett in a box through the crowds during the Procession proper would result in a heart attack for her!

I'll update this post later, when I get back.

Hmm. Well, not sure the trip to the Vet was that helpful. Her breathing was a little fast, chickens are difficult to diagnose, no noise in her upper respiratory tract etc etc. Anyway, we ended up with some Baytril (an antibiotic) to dose all three chickens.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Rooster Booster

I'm head Chook!

For the last few days when I've been out there with the afternoon treats, Scarlett has been crouching to let me pick her up. This is because she regards me as the Rooster.

Today, to my surprise (and delight!), head chook Delilah also adopted the crouching position when I went to pick her up.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Chicken Porridge

The weather today has been horrible. We've had wind, rain, hail and sleet; some of it coming down sideways. The Girls are like little fluffy balls at the moment, and have spent quite a lot of time sheltering under the Coop.

Having ventured into a nearby town to do some shopping, I came back freezing. I decided to make the Girls some porridge: pellets mixed with hot water and a bit of poultry spice. It smelt vile. I slopped it (they like it sloppy apparently) into three coop cups, and braved the hail to put it out in the run for them. It was ignored completely.

Dejected, I came back in to the house and wondered where I had gone wrong. Maybe I should have put it in their treat bowl and fed it to them that way.

A little later I went out to put out their Swingball, and I thought I'd try dropping a couple of corn kernels in each bowl of porridge to encourage them to eat it. The coop cups were completely empty!

The day wore on, the weather worsened. When we had a minor snow storm I decided that I would give them a second helping of porridge at about 4; this would give them time to eat it and digest it before going to bed.

They guzzled it down. Another one for the chicken recipe book then!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Treat Bowl

I've been feeding treats from a bowl and not using my fingers, as I don't want to teach the Girls that fingers=food. The bowl I've been using is a coop cup, and sometimes the girls peck my finger by mistake.

I saw a lovely orange melamine bowl on Ebay the other day and it arrived this morning. It's perfect!

Firstly, it's orange and so matches my Cube and other chicken paraphernalia. Secondly, it has a little cut out bit which means I can hold it and hide my fingers at the same time; Thirdly, all three girls can fit their heads in at once... I've just done a test run!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Catching and holding

Even more progress to report!

Friends (S&K) came over for afternoon tea, and to meet the Girls. I managed to catch and hold first Delilah, then Lydia, with no fuss. I didn't try and catch the ever nervous Scarlett. K was mildly interested to see the Girls, but that was all. After he'd met them, he decided they were more interesting (and prettier) than he had expected. Haven't converted him to wanting hens, but I think the Girls have converted him from disliking hens to being mildly interested in them.

Later on, about 5.00, I went out with a small amount of leftover Tuna in their Treats bowl. The price for having access to the tuna was being picked up and held. Each girl, including Scarlett, was caught and held three times! They loved the Tuna and were queuing up for more!

I'm definitely finding it easier to catch them now, I don't feel at all nervous, and I don't end up chasing them round and round the Run.

The weather forecast for the next few days isn't very good, so I can't let them out of the Run just yet, although I do feel ready to give them some outdoor time. I'll do some more work (work?) on catching and holding them in preparation.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

"Pleasantly Surprised"

Went out to dinner last night to our friends S&K (S is the friend who came to Wernlas etc etc). When asked about his feelings towards chooks now, my DH was his usual non commital self. "They're alright".

We had to leave earlier than we would have liked, because we hadn't been able to shut the chooks in before we left home. On our way home I commented on my DH's lack of enthusiasm, as I had genuinely thought he was starting to like the hens.

Then he said it.

He was "pleasantly surprised" to find that the hens were much more interesting than he had expected.

Monday, 17 March 2008

A major milestone achieved!

Every day I go into the Run and feed the Girls treats, from a treat pot. Gradually, and demonstrating much more patience than I actually felt, I got the Girls used to being stroked while feeding. Except Scarlett, who was far too nervous.

With Delilah, I was able to pick her up, and she would happily feed (snatch) from my hands at the same time. With Lydia, she would eventually let me pick her up, but not feed from my hands. And Scarlett, well, it took many days before I could even stroke her.

Today I managed to pick up each Girl in turn AND have them eat from my hand whilst being held. Even Scarlett!!

It probably doesn't sound like much, but it really is a major achievement!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Fresh grass

Decided to give the girls access to some fresh grass; just a couple of square feet, right outside the Run. We're not ready to let them free range yet: the weather needs to be better and the chooks need to be a bit tamer first, as there is a fox around and I need to be sure I can get them to safety in an emergency.

This meant I had to unpack the Omlet netting and then cut some off. I don't want to end up with lots of small pieces so, after discussions with DH, I cut 7m (which is about 5m too much for this particular job). We then had to work out how to make it all secure around the Run door. Good job we started this the night before we wanted to use it! Still, it's done now.

I used the door at the other end of the Run, so the Girls wouldn't assume they could leap out every time I came in the normal entrance. Having distracted them so we could get the door open and secure the fencing, we stood back to watch them rush with delight to freedom.

They didn't. In fact, they ignored the open door completely.

So, I picked up Delilah and physically put her in the new space. Within seconds she was joined by the other two, and they had an hour's access while DH was in the greenhouse and was able to supervise.

The Cats could hardly contain their excitement, but they made no attempt to get over the fencing. I'm sure that, in Cat to Hen combat, the Hen will win... but I think she needs space to spread her wings, take a run and stand upright in that aggressive way they sometimes have.

We will make sure we are very close and have a hosepipe handy for the first few proper free ranging sessions. I know the Hen will win in a one-on-one match, but my Cats hunt as a pair.... and they are very good at it.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


The chooks have been less work and effort than I had expected.

This is how the routine has panned out so far:

Daily (2 mins)
  • put feed containers in run
  • Open pop hole to let chickens out
  • Check for eggs
  • shut pop hole
  • bring feed containers in and top up ready for the next day
  • Check for eggs
Three times a week (5 mins)
  • Brush roosting bars, and then empty poop trays into compost
  • Fresh newspaper and Aubiose in poo trays, top up Aubiose in nesting box
  • Dust bars and corners with Diatom powder (to prevent Red Mites)
  • Top up water if necessary
Once a week (10 mins - or more if I stop to play with the chooks as part of it)
  • Rake Aubiose from Run floor into the centre of the run, picking out dead vegetation and any obvious poos (if any)
  • Sprinke Stalosan (disinfectant) powder on Run floor
  • Rake back down the Aubiose
  • Dust perches with Diatom
  • Check over dustbath, top up if necessary, mix in some Stalosan and Diatom
  • Empty water container, rinse out, put fresh water and cider apple vinegar in
Once a month (don't know how long yet)
  • Detatch Cube from run
  • Rake area underneath, put down Stalosan
  • Wash inside of Cube with hose
  • Dry with old towel
  • Wash roosting bars, and put in shed to dry; replace with second set of roosting bars
  • Dust Cube iwth Stalosan and Diatom
  • Puff birds with Red MIte powder
Of course, I also spend about 15 mins a day in the run giving thew chooks treats and getting them used to being handled.

And I pop out and hang up something for them to peck at, plus put out a stuffed swingball.

And, if I see Delilah emerge from the nest box, I run down and see if she's laid; warm eggs are just wonderful!

Thursday, 13 March 2008


Gosh, I can't believe how much this has unsettled me.

This morning I was getting dressed when Isabelle (cat 1), who was on the windowsill, suddenly got all hunched up. I looked out of the window and saw the tail of what I thought was a ginger cat, running along our back fence.

I did a double take; our ginger boy (Washburn), was sleeping on the bed. Then the "cat" did a right turn by the Coop and I could see it was a fox.

I was fixed to the spot. What should I do? Stand and see where it went? RUn down and scare it? I thought that seeing where it went might be a better prospect, as it was heading away from the Girls. But it disappeared. I charged downstairs but, by the time I had unlocked the kitchen door, it has gone.

It seems that the Foxwatch is working, as the fox definitely turned away from the Girls where the foxwatch is. Or is that a coincidence?

Obviously the Girls are fine. They are in their Run, we used foxproof wire etc. But I had been considering letting them free range. Clearly it's true that we can only do that when we are in the garden with them.

The only thing I am certain of, is that Mr Fox will be back.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Squash, part 2

Well, they didn't try the Squash.

So, when I went in to give them their afternoon treats, I took it down and wedged it into the shrub. Some time later, I looked out of the kitchen window and was rewarded by seeing them all standing in a line greedily devouring the orangey goodness.

Later still, I looked again to see that it had gone, and the girls were wandering around forlornly. I can see, from my vantage point in the kitchen, that it has fallen out of the shrub and landed face down in the Run. Obviously they can't turn it over, so I'll go out later and do it for them. If I cut that half lengthways in half again then it won't matter how it falls there will always be one edge that they can get to.

UPDATE 6.30pm
I went out and cut the squash after writing my Blog earlier.
I've just been out to tuck them up for the night and to bring their feed in... and pcked up the limp, empty, squash skins. Amazing job they did on them, especially ast the only took they had was beak shaped!


Apparently, chickens like squashes and pumpkins. I heard stories of leaving half a squash in the run, and it being devoured by grateful chooks, so I decided to try it with my Girls.

Half a butternut squash was delivered to their run and placed, invitingly, on one of the branches.

The Girls turned their beaks up at it.

I filled a Swingball ball with some white cabbage, and put a few slivers of squash (from the other half). Hung it in the Run, and the Girls immediately started squabbling over the squash pieces.

I pushed a hole in the forlorn half squash, and hung it up near the Swingball. They ignored it completely.

Maybe they will "discover" it later?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Chicken knickers

Yesterday Delilah (Bluebelle) bent over to peck at something on the floor of the Run, and shoved her bottom in the air. There seemed to be a bald patch, which shocked me. Then she squirted out a big p**, and the bald patch disappeared. It was like she pulled her drawers up.

Do chickens have chicken knickers??

Monday, 10 March 2008

Grapes. the foolproof way of worming.

Chickens need to be wormed twice a year. More often if they don't get fresh ground to peck at.

Lydia and Scarlett don't need worming for another 6 months, but Delilah is due for worming now. Flubenvet is the wormer of choice because (a) there is no egg withdrawal period and (b) it's very difficult to overdose your chicken.

The Flubenvet instructions are for keepers of large flocks, and tell you to put in so much per 4kg of food and feed for seven days. My chickens eat about 200g of food between them. Anyway, the upshot is that it works out at about 1g of powder over the seven days, per chicken,

Recommendation is to dip a half grape in the powder, and give it to your chook. Chickens are greedy, love grapes, and gobble them up. The only tricky bit is meant to be making sure the grapes are shared equally (assuming you are worming all your hens at once).

Only Delilah needs worming. As she is top chook, abnd very greedy, it would be a piece of cake. I cut up some grapes, put wormer on two halves and left the others. Went out at treat time, and gave them each half a grape. Delilah got the Flubenvet one.

Chickens love grapes. It's the law. Except, it turns out, mine don't. Not yet anyway. The grapes were abandoned on the floor of the run, and Delilah was on tiptoe trying to see if I had anything more interesting in the treat pot.

I gave up, and stuffed the grapes into the Swingball along with last night's leftover cabbage.

Did I mention that you need 1g per hen and that the smallest size available is 240g? This means I have a 30 year supply.

I'll try grapes again tomorrow... but I'll lace the sweetcorn kernels with the Flubenvet.


Whenever the girls hear the backdoor being unlocked they all race to the front of their Run and watch to see if it means Treats. If I go into the Run, they are all over me looking for treats. And when I ring the Bell, they know that it really IS treat time.

Everyday I come out of the run laughing at their antics. Yesterday, Delilah (Bluebelle) was being her usually greedy self, and while she was busy digging in the treat pot looking for the cunningly hidden sweetcorn kernels, I threw an apple core down for Scarlett and Lydia. Lydia grabbed it and ran off with it. She put it down to start pecking at it, and Scarlett rushed up and stole it. She ran off with it, chased by an irate Lydia. The trouble was that they couldn't hold on to it and eat it, and this to-ing and froi-ng went on for some time.

i've also been filling the holey dog ball, the one suspended from a high perch, with vegetables. When I look out of my kitchen window I can see it spinning furiously as the girls take it in turn to peck it. It reminds me of that Swingball game.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Blue poo

I bought a couple of holey dog balls to stuff with chicken treats. I packed them full of white cabbage, red cabbage, a little broccoli, some mushrooms, etc etc, and hung one from a perch and rolled the other on the floor.

The chickens went mad for them, but on the first day they hoiked out the red cabbage and left it all over the Run floor. But then they ate it.

Today, the run has lots of piles of bright blue poo, which is due to the red cabbage. Good job I was expecting it, think I would have panicked otherwise!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

It's the Wrong Trousers, Gromit

Sometimes I feel like I'm in "Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers" (This is the one with the villainous penguin who disguises himself as a chicken by putting a rubber glove on his head).

I was in my kitchen this morning eating my porridge, and I looked out to where the chicken run is. All three girls were at "this end" of the run, dead still, and staring straight at me. When I got off my stool and moved, their heads followed my movements.

They look so much like Aardman's chickens (the penguin, and the chickens in the Chicken Run) that I just started to giggle. I'm hiding in a different part of the kitchen and they can't see me.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

A bit corny

So, for today's afternoon treat I tried tinned sweetcorn kernels.

This was sooooooo funny. The Girls went bananas for it. Scarlett wasn't getting a look in. She'd bend down and look at her kernel and then, before she had time to eat it, one of the others (usually Lydia) appeared from nowhere and stole it.

I tried lobbing kernels to the other end of the run so that Lydia and Delilah ran after them, to give Scarlett enough time to eat hers. But the girls were so quick. They dashed over to the far end of the run (and that in itself is a sight to bring a smile), gobbled the corn, dashed back, and STILL managed to steal it from poor old Scarlett. On one occasion, Lydia stole a kernel from Scarlett's beak!

I wish I could describe the way they run after something. It's a bit I know: imagine a large boned woman with a big bosom. Now imagine her trying to race another, similarly statured woman, for something withough looking like she's racing. SO she's standing upright, with her bosom stuck out, and running. Sorry, I can't describe it anymore, the tears are running down my face.

It's so tempting to keep chucking the corn down to get them to do it again, but they must only have small amounts otherwise their crops will get full and impacted.

But I might try again later.

Pics of the girls

Here they are, "on TV"

They take after my DH

Everyone (who knows chickens) knows that chickens love Broccoli. Hanging broccoli in the run is a great way to give the chooks something to do, and something they love.

Except mine don't.

I made a broccoli tree by wedging broccoli florets in the branches of a shrub in their Run. A few hours later, DH went out to measure up for a ramp to go over their ladder, and reported back that there was broccoli all over the floor of the run. Seems they prefer to kick it about rather than eat it.

They do, however, go mad for cooked rice and cooked pasta.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


We didn't eatyesterday's egg: we thought we'd wait for today's and then we could have one each.

Let the Girls out this morning, round to the egg!

Decided to go back to bed for an hour to catch up on some sleep. When we got up, we decided to eat "The Egg". Popped out to check the Eggport again just in case, and there it was. Egg number two.

The only secret to successful poached eggs is to use really fresh eggs. Boil the water, put some salt in, then crack the eggs straight into the saucepan. Turn the heat down, cook for two mins, then drain and serve on toast.


Saturday, 1 March 2008

More tears before bedtime

So. Each night it's been a palaver getting them to go to bed. Scarlett goes to bed herself, but much earlier than the other two. She then keeps sticking her head out and hectoring the others to come to bed. Then she won't let Delilah in for ages, they have a stand off. And then Lydia runs around getting stressed because she's on her own.

Last couple of nights we've left her for a bit, and then gone and shone the torch through the eggport so she can find her way in. Tonight, we decided she really had to learn to get on with it. We had a very stressful time watching her, as she was obviously a bit stressed. Quelled the urge to go out with the torch for a bit longer, and eventually she went up the ladder and to bed.

Let's hope it gets a bit quicker from now on. Either that or I'll have to go out somewhere so I'm not tempted to watch.

Communal Bathing

All three girls were dustbathing together this afternoon! I managed to catch them with the camera from outside the Run.

By the time I'd unlocked the Run, got in, and put the safety catch on the door, Scarlett had scarpered to safety, leaving just Lydia and Delilah having a bathe.

ABout fifteen minutes later, Lydia was back in the bath, showering herself with the contents (a mix of playpit sand, wood ash, potting compost, normal compost, and a bit of Aubiose). I didn't catch it on camera though.

It's still a miracle

No eggs yesterday. Didn't have time to watch the hens very much, as our ginger cat went missing and we were out looking for him.

The usual palaver at bedtime, with Delilah being admitted to the coop second, and Lydia still running around hopelessly outside. We went out and did the torch through the eggport thing, and Lydia managed to get to bed.

Last nights wind storm was dreadful. I was worried about what the poor Girls must be thinking in their coop. Went out this morning with breakfast for them, and took a quick look in the Nest to see if I needed to poo pick. And there was an egg.

So, I'm in the garden, in my dressing gown, doing the egg dance. And then I'm egg dancing back to the house singing "I'm doing the Egg Dance, I'm doing the Egg dance!". Rushed through the kitchen, up the stairs, in to the bedroom, shouting, "An Egg, an egg, we've got an egg".

Poor DH was fast asleep. He managed to wake up and look admiringly at Delilah's beautiful, perfect, 60 gram egg. But he didn't do the egg dance.

Although every day millions of eggs are laid by millions of chickens, that first egg is still a miracle. I'd never thought much about how amazing eggs are. I mean, I know that technically they are an engineering marvel, and incredibly strong blah blah blah....

... but our first egg...

a real miracle!