WELCOME TO THE HEN GARDEN

IMG_6644This is the continuing story of our adventures keeping hens in our urban back garden.

Hens come and go, but our current hens are three Pekin Bantams, who are quite elderly and are together known as The Moppets (they have names but as we can never tell which is which we don’t really bother) and four of ‘The Famous Five’, Connie, 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  :)

Fox attack

We left the gate open overnight …

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Charlie is gone, apart from a pile of feathers.

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Claire was lying on the ground when DD2 alerted us to the noise just after 5am. Claire wasn’t moving and seemed stiff, so I left her to check on the others (who were safe in the coop), but DD2 noticed she was watching us, and over the next hour or so she began to perk up, though she still wasn’t moving. I couldn’t find any obvious injury (though I found plenty of feathers) so lifted her back into the run, and decided to wait an hour.

Claire still wasn’t moving willingly, but when I lifted her, she struggled, and when I put her down she ran into a corner to hide before sitting down again. Sadly we then had to go out all day, and when we came back last night she had put herself into the coop, so we are hoping she will make a full recovery.

The fox had taken both of them from the coop – feathers everywhere.

Charlie was my favourite bird; she was inquisitive, she liked company and was always the first to come when I called or simply opened the back door, she was docile and loyal – she and Claire were always together. I will miss her.

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Hot weather

We’ve had a mini heat-wave – up to 30C or more in the garden – and the hens have taken shelter where they can. Under the fig tree there is dense shade and it’s quite cool, but I like to see the girls around the garden,

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so I enticed them out with a tray of water and some frozen peas and corn!

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Even the broody bantams joined in for a while – until Clare gave them the ‘eye’ and they retreated. I’ve been watching the girls to see who is top of the pecking order and I can’t quite make it out – but Clare is definitely 2IC (second in command), the top hen has no need to be so aggressive to retain her position!

Carey used to be top hen, but she isn’t so well, walking with a limp and currently moulting … so she sits a lot, taking the weight off her leg whenever she can.

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I can’t see any sign of bumblefoot. It may simply be the result of scaly leg mite, but if it’s been successfully treated it should resolve during a moult and it hasn’t. So I’m mystified. And sad.

But she still gets around. Clare and Charlie are always together,

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The wooden ‘gate’ is across the back door to stop uninvited guests – it didn’t work and it’s now been replaced by a much taller wire panel, which frustrated the cats at first but now they’ve learned to jump over it from the bench!

and Carey joins them for treats or to explore something new or a shady place – water melon is a real treat, juicy and the seeds help control gastro-intestinal worms!

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We haven’t seen Connie out and about for a while now … she’s sitting firmly in the nest box, not exactly broody – at least she’s not hissing yet – but semi-recumbent anyway. She’s never really been part of the pecking order, she keeps her distance as much as she can.

Bottom of the pecking order is definitely the un-broody bantam – not in these photos, but she’s often hanging around the big girls for company and she is tolerated, most of the time. But I noticed Carey give Charlie the eye, just the once, but that suggests she has maintained her position at the top of the order. It’s all very entertaining!

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Visitors …

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This is Charlie … Clare is right behind her, but I didn’t get a good photo of them together. Since we have been letting them free range the garden, they have been getting more and more bold🙂

Relocating

I built the Moppet House in the spring of 2013 … and it’s never been totally satisfactory. Following some heavy rain at the weekend, we decided it was time to move our remaining three bantams into the Eglu. When we built the Moppet House it housed seven birds … so I hope the Elgu run has enough space for three!

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It was fairly easy to relocate them, as two are currently broody,

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and the third is lonely without them! In fact, she sometimes spends a few hours in the coop just for the company, although there isn’t really room for three in the corner nest box.

The larger girls have been free ranging for a few days now, but of course they noticed the changes and went to investigate. Sadly, they were quite aggressive, sensing they had the bantams at a disadvantage … so I’ve restored the fence and limited them to the Hen Garden until the Moppets are settled. I left them in the Eglu for 48 hours before releasing them … and they went straight back to the Moppet House. So I put them back in for another day, and this time I left both ends of the Eglu – run and coop – open, and left them to get on with it. Since the Moppet House is closed up and the nest box removed, they eventually found their way back to the Eglu nest box by themselves.

It may be small, but it’s dry … it will soon feel like home and they have the advantage of being on grass. I wonder how long it takes for a single bantam to get through that much grass? We will have to move the Eglu from time to time … but while two are broody, it may take a few weeks!

Free range …

We’re down to four hens and three bantams – and one bantam is fixed firmly in the nest box on imaginary eggs. We recently fenced off the veg patches now they’ve been planted for the summer, so DH suggested that the rest of the garden could cope with two (or three) bantams and four hens … apart from the gooseberries, there’s nothing much they can eat or damage that we want, so out they came …

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It didn’t take long for them to make the most of the grass … and since the bantams have often sat beside the hens on either side of the wire, there was no friction between the two broods at all … our quickest integration ever!

The hens ranged the garden together at first (once Connie worked out how to get out of the run … )

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Since then, they’ve explored more widely, and we can’t always locate them among the undergrowth. But they are often simply to be found back in the hen garden, under the fig tree … while the bantams make the most of rooting through the woodchip in the run itself, undisturbed by the big girls.

But the changes haven’t gone unnoticed …

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The cats aren’t really bothered, they simply like to know what’s going on. Oscar has been around recently too … really quite friendly for once. But while in the past he has made a show at going for a bantam … the hens are another matter, so he keeps his distance, and leaves a wide margin even around the diminutive bantams.

And the bantams? Well, they don’t seem to mind being around the hens … they give way quickly if challenged, but you can often see them together, busy at some treat or other.

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🙂

Dust bath

The Moppets have the run of the garden most days … and have been making a dustbath in the ruins of a collapsed raised bed. This week we replaced the boards … but one Moppet continued to dust bathe in the same old spot …

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Eventually, she discovered the freedom of the raised bed proper … but with 3 square metres of room, the other bantams wanted to be in exactly the same spot …

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This picture doesn’t really show the goings on … the middle bird is desperately trying to burrow under the first hen, whose rear end is almost vertical as a result!

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Just how many Moppets can you fit in a small space?!

It’s been a while …

… and we’re all a little older. The bantams must be 6 years old by now … we’re down to three as of last week … still getting an egg every now and then (I do so love bantam eggs). The big girls are coming into their second winter … but there’s a but … they’re not as healthy as I would like. Only Clare is still laying, regularly every day. It’s nothing specific, though we’re still battling scaly leg mite (brought in with the bantams, I suspect, when they arrived 3 years ago). I’m just concerned that we’re had hens on the same ground for six years now, and while we replace the woodchip once or twice a year, it would be better to move them around*. Not practical. And have them under cover. Again, not practical.

Our dearest chicken sitter isn’t always in the best of health, though she loves to look after them … so we’re pondering, just pondering re-homing them – but I’m not sure that’s practical either.

In the meanwhile, Camilla and Charlie had a partial moult this autumn … so they’re now two-tone hens …

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I didn’t get a good picture of Charlie, but it’s similar – the older feathers are faded while the new ones stand out more brightly coloured as a result! Connie and Carey have moulted little by little, and simply appear rather unkempt, while I’ve not see Clare moult at all.

I bake cakes for a coffee morning, regularly once a month – I’ve not yet had to buy eggs though!

*Fortunately, there’s no evidence they are carrying any worm or parasite load.

Note to self …

Wells Poultry is now trading as Green Valley Poultry supplies at chicken-house.co.uk …

http://www.chicken-house.co.uk/ 🙂

A few photos

Sorry, no time to post, but I am still taking pics …

Free range nest

Look what I found when pulling some rhubarb …

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I tested all the eggs – there were nine – and none floated, so they are fresh enough to eat🙂

  • 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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    September 2016 ... We left the door open overnight, only to be woken by a fox attack - we were able to interupt. Charlie is gone, Claire injured :(

    July 2016 ... We have four hens and three bantams remaining ... all rather elderly. We still get one lovely bantam egg and a good hen egg every day, with the occasional soft-shelled/broken egg every now and then.

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