Monday, 18 February 2013

Are you sure?

Tilda has been getting perkier and perkier.   I'm not counting my chickens (pun intended), because I've seen this before - an apparent rally before dying.  But she really is  getting bolshy.

When one of us (by which, 6 out of 7 days is DH) comes down in the morning to feed the cats and make the morning drinks, she's not just out of her bedroom: she now marches into the middle of the kitchen when she sees us, and demands her breakfast, please!

When she's wolfed down her mealworms (ever regret starting something?!), she demands her yoghurt. Washburn (ginger cat) knows what yoghurt is and he can hear the sound of the tub being opened even if he's in the garden, so he comes rushing in or a spoonful as well.

And then Tilda is pacing up and down to be taken out.

This morning, she jumped out of the door herself.  Granted, she didn't go anywhere once she got outside.   I put her in her run, let the other girls out and came back in to make tea, have shower etc.

By the time I got back downstairs, there was a terrible racket coming from the garden.  It was like the scene in the Italian Job, where they are all in the big house getting ready to go, and then all of the Boys started whingeing (Me in the back with my migraines?).  Anyway. I went outside and they were all at it.  Not just Lotti and Poppy, all of them.  And then I saw that Tilda was also whingeing loudly. Actually it wasn't loudly, because I had to get quite close before I could hear her,  but I could see from her body that she was whingeing as loudly as she could.

So, I opened the gate to her run, and let her get in with the others.   Then I came back into the house, opened the kitchen door,  and the bedroom windows, so that we could hear if there was any trouble.

I should probably add that I put Tilda in with the big girls a couple of days least, I put her down on the ground as I needed two hands to do something else. This was the day after they'd let her sit under the Pampass bush without (as far as I could tell) molesting her.     However,  Custard appeared from nowhere and attacked her.  That's why I'm a little nervous.

So, she's been in there for a couple of hours.  

I've briefly allowed myself the fantasy that we might be able to reintegrate her with the flock... but I don't really believe that.  And I really don't like to count my chickens.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Taking advantage

Lotti and Poppy are friendlier than ever.  Since visiting the school, I've continued with my daily pick-up-and-give-treat routine.   Whenever I go in the hens' area,  POppy and Lotti run around my feet and want to be picked up.  If I don't pick them up,  one or other or both of them will try and fly up to land on my arm, even if my arm isn't outstretched.

Today I went in, stroked the two of them and attempted - in vain - to stroke the others.  Milly hadn't looked right this morning.  Actuallhy, she hadn't looked right last night, she hadn't come running in when I put corn in the run, and she hadn't run away when I went to pick her up.

This morning, she just didn't look right.  It's a hard thing to explain.  Her eyes looked fine, her enormous comb was bright red, she was up and about.... but she just wasn't behaving like her normal nasty self.

After breakfast I went out again with the intention of picking her up and giving her a quick check over.  I did so, and she was very esay to catch (definitely not right!).  I was holding her in my arms when I heard this frenzy of flapping and Lotti (jealous?) had landed on the back of my neck.  I slowly stood up straight dso that she could manouevre herself onto my shoulder.  As I was doing this,  Poppy flew up and landed on my arm - the arm I was holding Milly with.  With Milly clasped in my two hands,  I dropped my shoulder slightly and Poppy hopped up.

I looked like a greedy pirate - a bird on each shoulder.

Ooh ar.

Spike. Again.

Spike was one of last year's hatch.  I wanted to include a Leghorn in my Garden Girls flock, and slipped two Exchequer Leghorn eggs in with last year's table bird hatch.  Both eggs were fertile, both hatched, one being the lovely and loopy Lotti and the other being Spike. 

Being a Leghorn, Spike stood out from the dinner chicks who are all Welsh Blacks (Australorp x Indian Game).   The Other CHap (OC) who does the dinner chickens with us, quite took to Spike and his antics.  Spike has cartook comb and wattles;  he's funny; he's a character.  He wanted to keep Spike.

We had previousy decided that we would keep two flocks, one with breeding Girls and a cockerel, and the other with the small Girls (like Norman, NotNorman, Siouxsie) and the Old Ladies (like Mrs). Actually, Mrs and Norman etc are the same age, but Mrs looks her age whereas Norman and her sisters look forever young.      This would prevent any risk of injury, and would mean that the Old Ladies didn't have to suffer a cockerel attentions.

We explained that Spike wouldn't make a good cockerel for a dinner flock.  Spike continued to endear himself,  and in the end we agreed that  we could possibly keep Spike as a companion for the Old Ladies half of the flock.  He's a very lightweight bird, so at least there would be less risk of injury.

Around this time Spike started escaping from the Dinner half of the allotment into the Old Ladies half of the allotment.  Every day we would catch him and move him back.   We clipped his wings.  He carried on getting out.   In the end, we left him in there,and he's been a very proud boy ever since.

I'm not sure that the Girls Old Ladies really appreciate having a cockerel around.   

DH came back from the Allotment on Friday, chuckling away to himself.  He'd arrived at the allotment to find that Spike and 5 of his 7 ladies were all sitting on top of the Coop.    Now, our coops are very high.  They are on legs so that we don't have to bend down to clean them out,  and the top is waaay abpve my head height.     The Girls don't get up on the roof - ever - and the thought of Spike and his harem sitting in a line up there made me laugh out loud.   They must like him really then.

Sadly Mrs wasn't part of the roof party,  she's too stiff to be able to get up there.  Not sure why Norah (or Batty, DH wasn't sure which of them) wasn't there too, maybe she was busy laying an egg.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Into the lions den

Whilst DH was doing the Run I was busy doing those horrible garden tasks that are best done in sunshine.   Emptying buckets which had a bit of something gardeny in, but had been left out all winter and were now full of stinking water, that sort of thing. Then scrubbing said buckets. 

I fenced off an area by the fence where there was a newly pruned bed, and put Tilda in there for a bit of a treat.   She stood by the fencing looking out,  like a prisoner, wistfully.

I got her out and let her wander round the un-netted garden.  She spent a bit of time under my feet until she decided that she didn't really like all the water.  Then she went and stood by the other Girls' area, looking in through the fencing.

Against my better judgement, I picked her up and put her in there, and she scurried under the Pampas grass.   I kept an eye on her as I was working in the garden.  Custard, one of her two main persecutors, ambled past and espied her.  She waked deliberately into the Pampas.  I stayed where I was, lifted up my arm with a brish in my hand, ready to throw.    Nothing happened.

Later, Milly (the most spiteful hen I've ever met, and Tildas number one persecutor) emerged from laying an egg,  and saw.  She sat next to Custard.  Both of them were close to Tilda, but there was no physical contact.    I carried on working,  but keeping one eye on Tilda.

Much later,  all 6 of the other Girls were round one side of the Pampas, and Tilda was on her own round the other side (where she had been all the time).

Even though I'm now inside, I'm watching throught the kitchen window to make sure everything is OK.  

Goodness knows what will happen at shutting-in time.   I guess I'll have to see what Tilda thinks she wants to do.  I hope she doesn't have any plans of going in the Run with the others.....


DH built a walk in run for me years ago.    It's fantastic.  

The Cube run, which joins the side, has been extended over the years,  and then we added the chick cube, making an F shape.  Tilda currently uses the Chick's cube and run during the day, which is fine until we hatch chicks later in the year.

Over the years, the flooring level has gradually got lower and lower as the various Girls have rooked and scratched and dustbathed in it, and I have cleaned out and put in fresh Aubiose.   It has now reached breaking point - so low that I was reluctant to clean it out.

We discussed various options - including, of course, paving it.  We had tried rubber chippings in one of the Cube runs.  They were OK, but I think are better suited to an unroofed area.   We talked about getting some of that car parking hexagonal stuff, but in the end we tried something else.

So, today, everything came out of the run, and DH set to work levelling it, barrowing insoil from the rest of the garden, and then putting some mesh on the floor, compacting as he went.  A final layer of fresh soil, more compacting... and it looks fabulous.    I sprinkled some horse bedding over it,  but wasn't sure whether I was better off going gor a little or a lot.  I opted for a little, time will tell if that was the wrong choice. 

Everything back in... wonder what the Girls will think?

Thursday, 14 February 2013


I took Lotti and Poppy into a local Primary school today.

My great-niece's class were having a sort of animal "show & tell" week, and she'd asked me via her Nanna (my aunt) if I would take a chicken in.

No problem.  A year or so ago someone else on a Chicken Forum I frequent had been asked to go in to a school, so there was a thread of ideas.    I have happily stood up and trained and/or presented to large groups before, so I wasn't too worried about that side of things. The main problem would be not talking too much and at too high a level. 

Tilda,  the Girl I would normally choose for introducing anyone to hens, isn't herself and we thought that taking her into a school might be a bit stressful.  So, for the last two weeks (since I agreed to do it), I've been out every day to get Poppy and Lotti more used to being picked up. Rain, snow, wind... every day without fail.

Poppy and Lotti are very happy to be handled by me but they are used to flying on to my outstretched arm, bird of prey style, and perchng  calmly with their claws round my forearm making them feel secure.

I thought this was possibly not the best approach with a classroom of small people, so I've been trying to get them used to actually being held.   It's OK.   I wouldn't say they are ecstatic about it, but they put up with it.    Food is a great training aid.

I prepared a few things to say, put some pics on my laptop, ad got some additional stuff ready to take. I had been warned that I would have to park in the local car park and walk from there,  so I packed a rucksack with the ancillary stuff, leaving my arms free to carry the crate.

My rucksack was bulging with a large laptop,  tubs containing examples of pellets, corn, oyster shell, grapes, meal worms; a roll of kitchen towel, toilet roll, gloves and Dettox in case of accidents; an apron (in case the girls had pooey feet by the time I came to extract them); wet wipes.....   The dog crate (Tilda's evening pen) was covered in an old tablecloth held on by pegs.  And four different coloured eggs, one brown, one dark brown, one white, one greeny blue.  This was actually a bit of a cheat as my blue egg layer isn't laying yet, and Lotti has only just started laying so her eggs are very small.     I had asked for help on a chicken forum and a lovely lady called Patricia was able to help, and I collected three of the four eggs from her yesterday. (Thank you again Patricia).

The Girls behaved impeccably (or perhaps I should say impeckably), and sat (one at a time) in my arms without any accidents.   When I went to put Poppy back she decided she didn't really want to go back, thank you,  and decided to jump on to an easel, much to the delight of the children.

The children were really well behaved too,  and their teacher was really lovely.   Fabulous methods they use in Primary schools these days,  including junior versions of techniques that I've used myself in my trainer roles.  Shame these techniques aren't carried on through secondary school. But I digress, sorry.  Every class had a smartboard and laptop, so all I had really needed was a USB stick, I didn't need my laptop after all.

We stopped at a second class on the way out so that the children there could look at the chickens,  and in the end I got Lotti out again so that they could stroke her.

I think it went well enough... I'd like to have had more opportunity for the children to stroke the hens,  but due to circumstances out of our control, the time couldn't be flexible.   I'm keen to find out what my great-niece (T)  thought of it, and what her teacher really thought of it.  I've asked T's mum to see if she can find out.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Then there were two

Am absolutely shattered this morning.   Had a strange dream, where I was being embalmed and buried (alive).  I was slowly suffocating, the coffin had been mostly filled with soil as well so there wasn't much oxygen to start with.   I was saved by the phone ringing at 1.55am, which woke me up.

It was a relatively early start today, as DH and OC (Other Chap) were going to cull 3 dinner cockerels, leaving us with 2 potential breeding cockerels.    The 3 that are going were never really in the running for breeding cockerel.   The two that are, Grey Ring and Indiana, are the two boys who were friendliest as chicks, and had their cards marked from very early on.     Really we should probably have Made The Decision and culled 4 cockerels today, but it's just too difficult.

On the one hand we have Indiana  (yellow ring),  whoseplus points are that he was the original friendly chick, and the fact that he isn't brother to any of the Girls.   He is an Indian Game x Welsh Black, and we only had one of those hatch which is him.

On the other hand we have Grey Ring, whose plus points are that he was the second friendly chick,  he's a strapping lad, and is top chook.   He may or may  not be brother to some or all of the Girls, we just don't know. There were two other strains that hatched,  some Australorp x Welsh Black and some Welsh Black x Welsh Black.   We have no idea which batch he is from, and we have no idea which batch(es) the Girls are from.

We haven't spent time handling either boy, so I have no idea what their temperaments are like now.  Ideally, I'd like to keep them both until the breeding season starts and we can see how they behave. I have a soft spot for them both.  And common sense tells me that the unrelated Indiana is a good choice.  But Grey is gorgeous and currently top Chook, and I just can't bring myself to send him for the chop.

There are currently 6 girls between them, so we'll see what happens over the next week or two.

Saturday, 2 February 2013


It was an egg!

A small, white, egg.

And yes, I did do the egg dance.

About to Lay or About to Brood?

Lotti, my exchequer Leghorn, has been crouching for me for weeks, interrupted by the snow.  No eggs yet.  

But then we haven't had any eggs from the Garden Girls at all for some time.  Not that many of them are young enough to still be in regular lay anyway. And  I am overfeeding corn (in the evenings because of the cold), so I'm not entirely surprised.

This morning when I woke up  I could hear Lotti complaining. Non stop. Not very loud, but certainly very constant.   It was her usual "why don't you come and let us out" whinge.   The doorbell made me finally get out of bed at 8.30 and, once up, I didn't go back to bed.

I put the kettle on,  opened the back door, and suggested to Tilda that she might like to go out now. Tilda had other ideas though, and instead of letting me shuffle her to the door, she hobbled back into her pen.  I left her there - no point in giving a chook a choice if you then ignore her decision.

The Garden Girls had seen me open the back door though and were quite excited. I went out to give them their freedom, and was surprised to see that Lotti was missing..  Ha! Laying an egg perhaps?

I went round to the Cube and opened the egg port. No Lotti.

I looked under the Cube, into the Egg which acts as a spare nesting box.  No Lotti.

I stuck my head in the Cube and saw Lotti on the roosting bars.  She looked OK. No sign of injury.  She moved towards me, and then started picking up bits of Aubiose from the nestbox, tossing them over her back. I've seen that behaviour before, and it's usually a forewarning of a broody spell.  I remember Lily (my White Ranger, a Leghorn hybrid) used to do it.

But surely she can't be broody when she hasn't laid any eggs?

Or maybe there is a secret stash of eggs somewhere  in the garden?

I picked her up and gave ger a cuddle, and then put her backin the nestbox to carry on.

Ill check again later.  If she's in there "sitting", I'll have to do a thorough garden check.  I'm hoping that there might be a egg instead though.

All these years, and I still get excited.

Friday, 1 February 2013


So. Yesterday got the fire going in the stove, and moved Spike (in Tilda's pen, a metal dog crate) in front of it.  Eventually he perked up a bit. Not a lot, but a bit.   He started to drink from the syringe, and eventually he even drank from the water pot.   he wasn't interested in food, but I did manage to get a bit of yoghurt into him.   

Isobel, cat, was most upset that one of those things had now encroached on her living room territory.

At 4pm it was time to put the Girls away and bring Tilda in.  I transferred Spike into a cardboard box, into which I'd cut air holes and slits to hold plastic coop cups.  It was a fairly tall box, one in which he could stand up completely even if i shut the lid.   I decided a cardboard box in front of the woodburning stove was possibly a recipe for disaster, so I put it in the kitchen,

Wash, our nosey ginger cat who loves boxes, got a bit of a shock when he put his paws on to the edge of the new box in the kitchen.   Fortunately for everyone, he hadn't just jumped straight in.     An oven shelf over the top of Spike's box prevented any further problems on that front.

We borrowed the bedside reading light and shone it into Spike's box so he could see the food and water. I put some grapes and mealworms into the food container, and eventually we heard him pecking at it.

By the time we went to bed, Spike no longer looked like he was in shock.


This morning, I heard a cracked cockadoodle doo.  Followed by several more.  It was about 7am, and I had a headache and couldn't face getting up.  DH was fast asleep.  After about half a dozen attempts, he stopped (Spike, crowing, that is).

A little while later, a stronger series of cockadoodle doo.

And then some more. Eventually, DH woke up.    Neither of us had work this morning, so we were trying to doze.   Both cats were on the bed, and had started to stomp around, presumably wondering where in the hell breakfast had got to.

DH got up, fed cats, and took the oven rack off Spike's box.  This meant that not only could Spike stand up, but he could stretch his head and neck right out of the box.... and that meant he could really COCK A DOODLE DOOOOOOOOO.   He was so pleased that he could do it properly that he made up for the weaker earlier attempts.

By the time I got downstairs, he had climbed out of the box and was perching on the side, crowing happily.    Tilda had come out of her pen, was standing by his box with her wings over her ears, telling him to shut the heck up.  

Apart from the bloody blobs on his comb and wattles, and the crispy bits of feather where the blood had splattered yesterday and I hadn't been able to get it off,  he looks like his normal self.   We briefly discussed whether I should bath him but, as this would have meant he would have to stay here today to dry off, we decided not to.

I sent a text to my lovely next door  neighbour to apologise, and to reassure her that he was going back home shortly.

 DH got the purple spray, and sprayed his comb and wattles (and the bench outside, and anything nearby).  We then popped him into Tilda's pen, and had something to eat while we waited for it to dry. I wondered whether he would be any more kindly disposed towards me, after I had taken such care of him.  I suspect not.

DH is taking him back to the allotment as I type. Fingers crossed it's all OK.