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.


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


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


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.

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.

Baby Steps

A couple of days ago we moved the netting so there was no no-hens-land between them.

Today, we've gone down to one piece of netting (albeit the reinforced one), and we've rearranged the Littlees ranging area so that there is a really long shared border.

Doing this has necessitated using unreinforced fencing for the rest of the Littlees ranging area. Milly#sbody weight had increased by 50% in the two weeks to Tuesday, so we're hoping that she'll be too big to get through the holes now.

So far, so good.

Milly, who has no sense of fear at all decided to go and rook around the border. The Bigees came over to rook on their side of the perimeter fence. Milly was oblivious to them. She is, however, absolutely *tiny* in comparison to them. I need to wait until she's bigger before we let them free range together.

Sunday 3 August 2008

Over the top

Jasmine managed to get out of the enclosure. We heard a fluttering of wings, and there she was: in thePampas, on the wrong side of the netting.

We don't know whether she flew over from the ground, or whether she jumped on to the Eglu and then from there over the fence.

Anyway, we managed to catch her and put her back in. A few seconds later, another fluttering of wings, and Milly! was out too. She's easy to catch, so it wasn't a problem. We don't know what method she used, either.

We're waiting for them to do it again so we can see how they do it, and that will help us decide our next course of action.

It looks like I need to find a pair of sharp scissors, as wing clipping may be the best option. I don't know why i'm so reluctant to do it, many (most?) people do it as a matter of course. I think I don't like it for my Girls because it means they can't fly up out of harm's way, should that ever be necessary.

Mind you, I suppose they are potentially flying into Harm's Way if I don't clip.

Saturday 2 August 2008


Jasmine, a Welsummer, has the most gorgeous colouring. If I was going to be ginger, I'd want to be her sort of ginger. Sadly, I can't get a photo which does justice to the amazing sheen on her feathers. Anyway, here's a close-up so you can see how her comb and wattles are developing.

Every hen's comb is unique, like a fingerprint. I might take some photos of the 4 girls combs (well, 3, as Milly doesn't have a comb to speak of yet). But in the meantime, here's Jasmine.

Closing the gap

Last night, we moved everyone.

The Big Girls' ranginng area was moved to the back of the garden, so they can range under the lovely shrubs there. The Littlees were moved off the "lawn", and into an area between the Big Girls latest free ranging area and their old one. They are still separate, with a no-hens-land (NHL) in between the two bits of fencing, but we've reduced the size of the gap. We believe that no hen can reach into the other hens' area, but they can easily reach a head stuck into NHL.

The Big Girls are very aware of the newbies. Jasmine is very aware of the Big Girls and has been running up and down The Border. She's also been lunging around stretching her wings, and has shown off by jumping up on top of her Run. Milly seems oblivious to it all; she really has no sense of danger!

We'll move the fences closer still over the next week or so, and then we'll go down to just one piece of netting between them. One step at a time.