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 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  :)



I put an apple in a hanging thingy a few days ago … the Famous Five showed no interest at all. I tried again today with the hanger, this time with cauliflower leaves …


… instant success! I guess they just haven’t discovered apple yet (after two days, I moved the apple to the Moppet House and the Vicarage Girls went straight for it!) :)

Connie was hovering to one side, but joined in as soon as I left the Hen Run.

Photo gallery – Famous Five

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I’m not sure the Famous Five had encountered cats on the farm … certainly, Camilla sets up an alarm (what a racket!) every time a cat passes the Hen Garden. Clare was less flustered, but was very wary of Oscar – who often comes to me when I’m outdoors, so hopefully they’ll soon get used to him.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Hen Run, the Famous Five generally pay little attention to the Vicarage girls. But when we start to integrate them (not yet sure if it will be with the Vicarage girls or the Moppets … ) feathers will fly!

See the Hen Garden 2014 link in the sidebar for more :)

Combs #2

No more soft eggs from the Famous Five … in fact, no more eggs from anyone other than Carey and Charlie. But there will be. Camilla, Clare and Connie are all showing signs of growing to maturity …


Clare’s comb still isn’t huge, but it is growing


So too is Camilla’s


It’s not easy to see, but Connie’s comb too, has grown a little.


The pecking order among the Famous Five is clearly changing … both yesterday when I gave them some rice (+ Flubenvet + Limestone flour) and today when I gave them some greens for the first time, Charlie was put in her place by Connie, so she appears to have slipped down the order a place. I think she’s my favourite (is that allowed? ;) ) … she has a lovely character, so friendly.

It took the Five a few moments to realise greens were meant as a treat …

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I gave the Vicarage girls something to distract them … it’s easier see how different their feathers are when they are side by side …


Coming into lay

We’ve had eggs from two of the Famous Five in recent days … almost certainly from Charlie and from Carey. But this morning, I also  found two soft eggs under the roosting bars of the Cube … perhaps the hens were taken short when a first egg made it’s appearance?!

If so, that’s four of the Famous Five now laying – their eggs will get stronger and larger over the next couple of weeks, as have Charlie’s. Carey’s were ‘normal’ from the beginning, but I think she was already in lay when she came to us. To help with the shells, I will add some limestone flour to the rice along with the Flubenvet for the next few days.

We started the worm treatment because of Carey’s sneezing and the appearance of a couple of droppings. I didn’t hear Carey sneeze once this morning – I wonder if it’s because it’s raining? Does she have a reaction to the dust in the woodchip? There would almost certainly have been other hens with symptoms by now if it were an infection :? Nor have we had a repeat of the droppings … red, but not with blood (which would be an indication of a coccidia infection which is highly contagious) … we’ve seen them before when we suspect the girls have worms.

So I’m hopeful we’ll be OK. But I’m not taking any risks until I’m certain so we’ll continue to run the three separate broods for a few weeks yet.

As for the rest of the girls’ eggs … one of the Vicarage girls is laying regularly, a lovely, firm-shelled egg. In the past few days we’ve also had a couple of thin-shelled/soft eggs, so I suspect three of the four are laying, and I’m almost certain Betsy is not laying.

In the greenhouse, we have a broody, but have still had 3 or 4 eggs most days :) A couple of my regular customers have expressed a preference for bantam eggs, so for now I have enough to sell a few boxes from time to time.

But oh, the mud … it’s raining again, and the ground is almost instantly saturated once more. I’ve had to move the Moppets’ fencing again, not because of lack of grass but because the ground was sodden.  I do hope we might have a dry, warm summer this year.

Planning ahead

Everyone is very happy where they are. But we can’t continue to run three separate broods for long. It’s a lot of work each morning to clean three coops and top up three different sets of drinkers and feeders. And it wouldn’t be fair on our lovely chicken sitter.

Nor can we leave hens in the greenhouse all summer as it will get far too hot. The Moppet House isn’t water-tight, nor is the wooden coop, but it will do as a summer house for a small brood who could then over-winter in the greenhouse. But exactly which hens?

Although the Famous Five in the Hen Run, and the Vicarage girls in the Hen Garden/Moppet House are neighbours with only a mesh fence dividing them (actually there are three layers … plastic mesh plus chicken wire plus shade netting), we don’t see much by way of chest bumping, although there has been the occasional show of aggression. But one of the ex-batts continues to ail (Betsy - although her feathers are slowly returning, she isn’t showing any signs of improvement in her stance) and one of them, Babs, is severely underweight. Would that be a good combination?

The Moppets are feisty birds (and by the way, the broody season has begun o_O ) so could stand up for themselves. They would pose less of a threat to the Famous Five, but I wonder whether they’d struggle to reach the Cube to roost? There’s be plenty of space since they’d almost certainly sleep in the nest box.

As they are, the Famous Five have sufficient space in the run by themselves. But add in any more birds and we would need to allow them more space somehow. The bantams really need to be on grass, but the Hen Garden is now down to woodchip and there isn’t a lot of grass left on the other side of the path, either.

If we were to lose any of the ex-batts or bantams, we still have the Eglu we can use as housing for two or three birds, just to add to the conundrum.

And to complicate it further, Carey (the Buff Sussex) is sneezing … there’s no sign of any discharge from nasal passages or eyes, and no-one else is sneezing (so hopefully it’s not an infection or not infectious), but if you pick her up you can hear her bubbling as she breathes :(

We have told the farm she came from, but there’s no sign of infection in their flock, either. Thankfully. But we have to be absolutely certain she isn’t ill before we even consider starting to integrate the broods (if we can ever decide what to do next!). I think the next step is to worm the Five, to see if that settles her down at all. They’ve not really had time to get used to treats yet, though they have had a bowl of porridge and natural yoghurt as a first try. But they have had some cooked rice which they loved, so a little Flubenvet sprinkled on some cooked rice might be as good a method as any …

I’ll report back.

Settling in

Our previous girls came from a variety of situations … some from the cages of a battery farm, some as POL birds kept in a shed surrounded by mud, the Welsummers arrived as 9 week old chicks, while others came from the new ‘enhanced’ cages. They have all reacted very differently once they arrived at the Vicarage.

The Famous Five came from a lovely farm where they had access to grass and open spaces. Bought in as day old chicks, they were reared indoors under heat, then in barns, until they were old enough to be outdoors. Our five were taken from two separate flocks of some 50 or 60 birds (?) so when they arrived there was no pecking order in place, and their surroundings were completely new to them all. Rather than grass, they are on woodchip in an uncovered run 4m x 4m.

And the difference in their behaviour has been remarkable.

The pecking order was settled with little fuss (though we’ve yet to decide how to integrate them … or who with), and they took only one night to find their way to the coop at dusk. They are curious and, if not all friendly, at least approachable. And as they’re not wasting energy being scared, they are quickly learning that we often carry treats and will come to us to see what we have or are doing. Connie and Carey will eat from our hand … the others would love to, but are intimidated by the two top hens – which is as it should be in chicken society (but I will find a way of handing the others sometime soon).

In other words, their background has made all the difference.

When we started keeping hens we had, for many years, been buying free-range eggs. Keeping our own girls was one way of expanding our relatively minor protest against the system of commercial egg production. We started with ex-batts on principle, though we added various breeds over the next few months to maintain our egg supplies as we soon discovered others who appreciated the difference in the quality of a home-grown egg who were happy to buy any excess.

We haven’t always had much choice over the hens we’ve cared for – else we’d never have chosen to include bantams in our plans. And that’s fine … on principle, we’re happy to give a home to any that need it (hens and cats alike) as long as we have the space (and we’re now full … both indoors and out!). But the difference in the Famous Five confirms just how important it is that we also consider their origin and support the suppliers that take good care of their animals. Hopefully it will be some time before we want to add to our numbers (though hens come and hens go … ) but we’d certainly be happy to go back to the same farm for more.

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There are an infinite variety of feathers … and even within breeds, each hen has a unique pattern, though we’d be hard pressed to spot some of their differences!


Gold-laced Wyandotte … buff coloured feathers with a black edge. (The Silver-laced Wyandotte has white feathers with a black edge and looks very striking indeed … perhaps another time?)


The CouCou (Cuckoo) Maran has barred feathers … rather like the Cuckoo after which it’s named, or the breast feathers of a Sparrowhawk.


The Blue Maran has these delicately laced grey feathers with a darker edge, and see how the buff/brown develops in the ruff feathers.


The Sussex has dark feathers on ruff, tail and wing tips … Carey’s are quite striking, while Clare’s are less marked …


There is also a Speckled Sussex which has a different colouring altogether … and which I should love to see in the garden one day.

But even the run-of-the-mill brown ex-batt has a vast range of feathering …


I noticed Betsy has these beautiful white-laced gold-edged feathers in her ruff, and that her new feathers (still not fully grown) are mottled dark and light …


I do hope that once her feathers are fully through she will perk up, as she’s clearly still not feeling 100%. Any hen, even ex-batts, can change colour after a moult … the same but with these subtle differences.


I have always struggled to tell our bantams apart … we had one (that we recently lost) with a golden ruff that was easily identifiable. But of our remaining bantams, there are three with quite pale ruff feathers, and two with darker and I have no idea which is which!

I’m not sure I could tell the Vicarage girls apart without the leg rings …


… though on careful study their combs are all slightly different.


But there are other ways to tell who is who … if you spend time with hens, you soon realise that they each have their own individual characters. So hopefully the rain will hold off a little longer and I can sit a while with the girls and a pocket full of corn :)

Bertha's distinctive feathering

Now which hen is this?!



Pecking order established

I’ve not noticed any sparring but it’s clear that the pecking order is being established among the new girls.  It’s a bit like one of those logic puzzles: if A pecks B but not C, and A pecks C but not D, who is top hen?!

I spent some time in the run this afternoon with a pocket full of corn and this is what I observed … Camilla is clearly bottom hen – she stays back, hardly daring to come close even for corn (though I was careful to make sure she had chance by throwing some to her in the corner while the others were busy elsewhere). Charlie is happy to peck corn from my hand. I’ve not seen her peck at any of the others, and for a while she and Carey ate happily side by side. No one tried to join them and Connie had a good hiding from Carey for trying to gate crash the party. Clare pecks at Camilla but is pecked by Connie. Eventually, as the corn ran out,  I noticed Carey give Charlie a hard peck.

So for now, though this might change, the pecking order appears to be Carey as top hen, then Charlie, Connie, Clare (who appears to be the youngest) with Camilla at the bottom.

And we’ve had our first egg! It’s white, so has to be a Sussex, and I’m convinced Clare is too immature so it must belong to Carey. I thought her comb signalled she was ready to lay :)

  • 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 good stories to read, photos to share, and information about keeping hens to be found.

    March 27th ... the Famous Five arrive!

    March 26th ... one of the Moppets passes on. We clear out the Hen Garden and lay new woodchip.

    March ... the rain finally stops and we have a heatwave! But the ground is still saturated and the slightest precipitation means more mud.

    February ... the rain continues well into February.

    January 27th ... defeated by the mud (it's still raining), we move the Moppets to the greenhouse.

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