WELCOME TO THE HEN GARDEN

IMG_3594This is the continuing story of our adventures keeping hens in our urban back garden.

Hens come and go, but our current hens are ex-batts Mandy, Betsy, Babs and Bertha, five Pekin Bantams known as The Moppets (who have names but as we can never tell which is which we don’t really bother) and ‘The Famous Five’, Connie, Camilla, Charlie, Clare and Carey .. all different breeds who came to us at POL in March, 2014.

Keeping hens is always an adventure … I hope you enjoy following our story  :)

A Gift of Woodchip

Yesterday, a neighbour brought us three bags of woodchip. He keeps an allotment, and the council sometimes delivers fresh woodchip to the allotments free of charge … since we pay the council £60 a load, I’m really happy to take advantage of the free supply! He’ll bring more when he can. In the meanwhile, we’ve skimmed off the top layer of mud in the run, and put down what we have. The dry summer has meant the previous load lasted well, but since the weather changed, we have been deluged, and this has come at just the right time :)

All is well with the hens (no photos today – the light was really poor by the time we went out there this afternoon … but you can take my word for it, they all had a happy time sifting through the fresh topping). Connie is no longer broody … Bertha is rather poorly from time to time but is still active and engaged, so we’ll leave her be for now. The Moppets are as scatty as ever.

Sadly, we had one of our cats put down today … Jenny, the eldest moggy, has been off colour for a while. The vet knew, as soon as we described it, what the problem was – thyroid – but although she was not in any imminent danger, it would have meant daily medication and since Jenny hated to be handled, we decided not to try. Oscar makes an occasional appearance, but I suspect he thinks of us only as one among many staging posts in his territory. Though he does occasionally spend the night on my bed. So ‘The Kittens’ (as they are known … they are now 8 years old!) are our only resident cats. And that’s fine, since there are only two of us living at home now … we still have one each.

Jenny

After all this time …

We moved the Moppet House today … to fresh grass. In the process, I noticed something I’d not really seen before. We’ve always said that we can’t tell the different bantams apart, except that we’ve been aware that some are darker than others … today while we moved their house, we had them penned in a small space for a while and I realised that actually, we have two very different feather patterns … seen from above, it’s quite obvious:

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One variety has very delicately laced feathers, while the other has a single vein down the centre of each feather.

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Seeing their photos like this makes it appear very obvious … but it isn’t! They are such flighty creatures. We have three of the laced, and two of the dark.

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I’ve not been able to identify the specific breeds as yet, but I’ll keep working on it!

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They’ve been with us since March 2013 and I’ve finally discovered a difference between them!

ETA (edited to add, not estimated time of arrival!) … the darker feathering is known as Gold Partridge … but I still can’t identify the paler feathering.

Empty Nest?

I may not be posting, but you are never far from my mind.

It’s been a busy few weeks, no months, getting DD2 ready to go to University. And now she’s gone! However, unlike DD1 from whom we hear rarely, DD2 is in constant contact … and the few days since she arrived have seen a flurry of texts, emails and Skype chats as we sort out various crises.

You see, DD2 has Aspergers, dylexia, and probably dyspraxia, too. She’s a loving, compassionate, intelligent girl who gets lost in a fog of anxiety and stress from time to time, and these past few days have been hard – for her, and for us at a distance trying to assess the scale of the crisis each time. DD2 has little moderation, so one crisis is a good as another, even if one is simply that her pen has run out while another is that her computer has conked out.

Someone once told me that we are always first time parents … the first time they go to school, the first time they take exams, the first time they bring home the boy/girl friend … and the first time they go to University. Two girls, same parents, such different characters.

So while my nest may be empty … the nest boxes are full … four Moppets in one, and a Wyandotte in the other. The cold weather passed and we have had a glorious end to the summer. Nights are getting longer, and colder, but the for a few weeks now it’s been dry and warm. So why not try one more time this year?!

Connie the Wyandotte isn’t as impractical as the Moppets … she doesn’t often sit on an empty nest. But as soon as there is an egg, splat, she flattens herself over it. When I lift her out, to retrieve the egg and change the nest box, she stays flat on the woodchip for a while, before getting up with a sigh and meandering over to the feeder or drinker to top up. And then for a while she seems like any normal hen … or at least her version of normal which is a little eccentric at the best of times … until once again she notices another hen heading for the nest box. A couple of days ago, I disturbed her stealing an egg out from under one of the ex-batts (couldn’t see which one), who was squished up into the corner by the sheer bulk of a broody Connie on a mission. They were both so distracted they didn’t notice me remove the egg and were therefore rather puzzled when they realised it had gone :)

I can’t remove or block off the nest box in the Cube … it wouldn’t be fair on the laying hens (3 or 4 still, though I’m not totally sure who). But with only one bantam left laying only occasionally, I was happy to take away their nest box, hoping that the colder nights will dissuade them from continuing. It hasn’t worked yet, at least for two of them … but it’s only been one night. The other two are disconsolate, but not very determined and are happy to hang out with the fifth bantam, allowing the remaining two get on with the business of settling into an improbable niche where they hope to remain undisturbed sitting on … nothing. You think you understand hens and then …

Bridget is clearly better from whatever was ailing her. There are feathers flying around both coops though it’s not clear who or how many girls may be losing them (other than Connie who has plucked her own breast bare in order to keep the eggs warm). So all is well in the realm of the Hen Garden for now xx

Nearly 2 months …

It’s nearly two months since I last posted … not for want of material, but simply because family matters are full on this summer. We knew at the start of the year that this year would be unlike any other … the end of school days, uncertainty about where next, the anxiety of waiting for results etc. And it will continue long into the new term.

However, today is a Bank Holiday, it’s raining, the girls and DH are going to play board games (I absolutely refuse to play Monopoly if DH is playing, so it’s become the special activity that they do with Dad – long may it continue) and I have nothing to contribute (apart from lunch).

So here I am …

In the intervening 10 weeks, Betsy finally died, having been unwell for some weeks, but never ill enough for me to think her time was at an end. She settled on the woodchip one night, rather than going into the Cube, and simply didn’t wake up in the morning. So now we are seven (and five Moppets – more of them later). We’ve had a good laying season, one softie and four or five eggs from the hens every day for weeks. But now the weather has turned unseasonably cool and the autumn moult has begun. So eggs numbers are slowing, but they have all done so well this year.

I suspect it may be Bertha’s turn next, however. She has odd days when she clearly isn’t well … and then she perks up. Perhaps because she’s laying softies? I wondered at one point if Charlie was going broody, and then again, Connie spent a few days in the nest box. But neither seem serious about it. Carey is still top hen, but I suspect feels rather insecure about it since she tends to throw her weight around … especially against the broodies when they emerge. She has also been moulting most of the summer and I wonder if she’s laying at all?

We restored the compost bin in the Hen Garden and it’s now their favourite place to hang out … it’s the first place they go in the mornings.

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And we have discovered a new treat … coconut …

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As for the Moppets … there are still five … they still fight … they occasionally lay eggs … they still go broody. I had a hunch a couple of them were thinking of sitting, then one morning I opened the nest box to find this …

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… leaving one poor little bantam all on her own in the run! Once we took the nest box away, only two have persisted, and even they have little resistance when it comes to corn … but after a few weeks of three or four eggs a day, we now have one on a good day, with the occasional softie (a soft but rubbery shell that deflates like a balloon when you touch it). Still, as far as we know, they are quite elderly now, none can be less than four years old, so it’s not too surprising.

It’s been a good year in the garden … plenty of runner beans, courgettes, chard and kale, among other things. A neighbour passed me some veg seedlings just as I had decided we wouldn’t do a lot in the garden this year! We even had a cauliflower – a first for us. And there are still celeriac to come. Of course the girls have benefitted – the snails shredded most of the cabbages before we could eat them … and some of the chard bolted in the warm weather. So nothing goes to waste, if it isn’t eaten (by us or the hens) it goes in the compost … the warm weather had also been good composting weather of course.

I think that brings us up-to-date … I’ll try to return sooner this time, but don’t hold your breath! Life may be unsettled for a while yet, but the daily routine of the hens keeps our feet on the ground, whatever the weather :)

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In the undergrowth

I moved some fencing around today, to give the hens access to some plantlife …

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They are alongside the Moppet House, but have paid no attention at all to the diminutive birds. Too busy exploring!

It’s not pretty …

… but hopefully it will do the trick …

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A length of washing line, some cable ties and pegs, and a roll of wind netting. Hopefully it won’t put too much tension on the fruit cage/Hen Run.

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There’s the culprit on the far left! There are still ways she could fly out, and I expect she will eventually find them … but for now, I trust she’s staying put.

Roaming free

Now Charlie has the taste for the good life, she flies out of the Hen Garden and Moppet Pen whenever she wants … short of replacing the fencing, what can we do?!

When she’s in the Hen Garden, she simply flies over the fence. When in the Moppet Pen, she has a two-stage strategy … this morning, we watched her fly up onto the Moppet House and then out over the fence. We tried putting her back and she did it again. We put her back again, and then watched from the dining room window as she patiently climbed the climbing frame and jumped over the fence from there! Not only two stages, but two different two-stage routes … she is an intelligent hen who knows what she wants and knows how to get it!

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The Moppets don’t seem to notice her once she’s in the air -
they clearly have no interest in copying her.

Charlie … again

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Charlie continues to fly the Hen Garden … though she rarely ventures far (she’s never made it into the house for example, even though the back door is often left open) and is easily recaptured. More than once we have not returned her to the Hen Garden but simply dropped her in with the Moppets where she seems content there on the grass, although she will also fly out of there too from time to time. She’s slept with the the Moppets more than once (it’s more bother than it’s worth to separate them) but always on her own in the larger nest box, with all five Moppets stuffed into the smaller one. And in the morning, she is desperate to return to ‘her’ coop to lay …

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We’re all a bit confused by it .. look at that question mark of a tail on the cat!

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Double Yolkers

DD2 had a surprise while baking a cake at the weekend …

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… since then, I’ve used at least three eggs with double yolks and I’m certain there are a couple more in the egg rack!

It is said that,

(Double yolkers) are common in young, laying hens, especially from hens that are from highly productive strains. A double yolk egg is formed when two ovulations take place almost at the same time and go down the oviduct together and both get encased in shell. (see here)

I have no way of knowing which hen is laying them … although I am sure they are all from the same hen. They are lightly tinted, not white (so neither of the Sussex hens) but other than that I don’t have a clue … especially since the Maran eggs are light in colour, rather than the dark brown I’d hoped for. I don’t think it’s one of the ex-batts from the shell.

So we may never know, but I do hope they continue for a while yet … as long as they don’t cause their hen any trouble, that is!

Thanks to DD2 for the photo!

Rats and foxes …

… both on the one day!

5am this morning, DD2 woke us up with a shout … FoxWe were up out of bed in no time … but of course, by the time we arrived in the garden it had long gone … her shout had probably scared it off and woken half the street! Her bedroom overlooks the garden and she heard the hens’ alarm calls … it had already been light for over an hour by then so they were well into their daily routines.

They were still jittery when we got up (again) a couple of hours later. I spent some time in the garden (see below) and they settled … but we’re all rather nervous today.

While I was out there, I moved out the decrepit Moppet Coop and moved the Moppet House around …

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It gives us easier access, and the bantams more grass, and we have the flexibility to move it around the open space from time to time, although up against the back wall it has some shelter on one side.

But I was down the garden taking some pictures when two of the Moppets, who were exploring the base of the back wall for bugs, leapt into the air and started squawking, creating a flurry of alarm calls from all five (the hens didn’t appear to pay much attention to their diminutive cousins). And from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of grey, scurrying along the wall to the raised area on the right … a rat!

We have a couple of rat bait boxes down, along the run of the wall, so I am reassured they are in the right place, but with the Moppet House against the wall, it is very vulnerable to rats getting into the nest boxes and stealing eggs. So either we move the house out from the wall, or we block up the space behind the run to stop the rat run altogether.

Both foxes and rats are a worry to henkeepers, but to have them both in view within a matter of hours is rather alarming …

  • The Hen House Archive

    Our original hen keeping adventure came to an end in January 2013, when a fox took our entire brood of hens. But don’t let that put you off … you can find the story at The Hen House Archive where there are still lots of stories, photos, and information about keeping hens I hope you'll find useful.
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