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  :)

All happening at once …

Today is the Spring Equnox, a partial eclipse of the sun (85%), the Queen is in town, and my daughter is coming home from Uni for the holidays!

First, the eclipse … we have a local park that would have given us a good view of the spectacle, but we decided to stay at home in the garden with the hens, not least to see their reaction. It was a lovely sunny morning … at least until the eclipse was under way and the clouds came across …


We did manage to see the crescent using a colander and some white card … just. But take a look at the following photo …


Can you see the crescent? The prism effect is because I was using a piece of white cloth as a filter … and actually, I’m quite pleased with it. At least you can clearly see the shape!

Meanwhile, the birds in the garden went quiet, and settled into the trees as the light and the temperature fell. And as for the hens? Well, they appeared to be gathering as if it was dusk … but it takes them so long to negotiate bedtime, that it was all over before they could get themselves organised :)

The eclipse passed, the sun came out again (from behind moon and cloud both) and we have had another, lovely, sunny day. Spring is here.

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So frustrated the wallflowers are all yellow! I planted a mixed pack last Autumn – I love wallflowers and their scent – but only the yellow appear to have germinated. I really enjoy watching the birds in the branches, but once the leaves come, it’s a lot harder to spot them!

I went back into the garden later in the day, and it was so warm :) I noticed a face peeping out of the bantams’ nest box, so went back for a camera …


I hope she is only laying and not sitting … it’s a bit early in the year just yet.

All the big girls are now fully feathered … well, almost. Carey (Buff Sussex and top hen) went through a sudden moult a couple of weeks ago and still looks rather unkempt …


… but the other six all look glorious. Especially Connie (Gold-laced Wyandotte) …

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Just look at those glossy feathers!

Today was also the first time I cut the grass this year … I threw a handful of cut grass in the girls’ compost bin …


They were a happy bunch!

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But when I looked round after cutting the grass, I couldn’t see a bantam anywhere! They had fled to the far corner of the garden and slowly emerged over the next few minutes …

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Our ex-batts and Moppets are really quite elderly now, but the only one that concerns me is Bertha … she looks beautiful with a full set of feathers, but there’s nothing more to her, and she often looks under the weather. I’ve noticed before that sometimes when an ex-batt goes through a moult she never quite recovers … but I shall leave Bertha be, as long as she is active and enjoying the occasional treat or two.

I never did get a good picture of Charlie (Cuckoo Maran) … she is always on the move and never in focus! I’ll keep trying :)


Garden Hens

I took the camera out with me today, as I changed nest boxes etc. I also took some cooked veg from Sunday lunch and some sprats from tea!

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The vegetables, roast potatoes and fish disappeared in a flash … of course!

Winter Hens

We’ve not had any snow this far south, just hail storms. But it’s cold and blowing a gale … the wind is coming directly from the North Pole. The hens don’t mind … they wear a feather coat. So providing they can keep dry, they’ll cope with the temperatures. Over the winter months, we’ve been letting the Moppets out into the garden … they don’t stray far from their run, and haven’t yet done any real damage, although the veg patches still have a few greens growing. Thankfully, they’ve shown little interest in the snowdrops or daffodils, or even the wallflowers, which are looking really bushy – I love wallflowers in bloom :)

But the hens remain confined to the Hen Garden. Why? This is why …


The wind took the gate to the Hen Garden and Run … and out they came! I was surprised they made straight for the rhubarb patch, not least because rhubarb is poisonous to hens. But they weren’t after the rhubarb shoots (though they destroyed a fair few in the process) … they were digging out worms from the compost!

Well, not all of them. We’ve realised that one hen is a little short of brains …


Connie simply couldn’t find her way out of the run! So DH made sure she had some corn when he shepherded the hens back to their rightful place – they’ll follow the corn bucket anywhere! But not before they’d done quite a big of excavating around the rhubarb … in the process spreading the compost to the gooseberry bush. Thanks girls – that’s useful :D


Actually, the corn bucket also drew the attention of the Moppets, though only one was brave enough to follow the big girls, and even she failed to summon up the courage to follow into their territory! I though we might have to find a way to round them all up and remove a few diminutive hens, but it didn’t come to that in the end. I’m glad about that, not least because we were about to eat our lunch when we noticed the problem!




There’s nothing like a bowl of porridge on a cold, frosty morning …

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OK … so the porridge is spread out on the stones, but then it’s easier for them all to get some!

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Actually, I did put the Moppets’ share in a bowl, but none of the photos were any good!

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It lasted only a matter of moments … weetabix and porridge oats mixed with warm water and limestone flour … yum! We’ve had a couple of softies from an ex-bat (I assume) coming back into lay, and one of the Moppets is laying thin shelled eggs, hence the limestone. It may not make any difference as they are both rather elderly, but it’s worth a try. We’ve had a steady stream of eggs over the winter … 2 or 3 hen eggs a day, and 2 bantam eggs every other day … just enough for the two of us now that we’re empty nesters, with left overs to sell (or bake cakes for the church coffee mornings!).



From the left, Camilla, Clare, Charlie, Bertha, Babs, Carey and Connie

The Hen Men

I’m not sure how to embed this, but do click on the link for a delightful film about the difference hen keeping can make …


We follow Alan, Owen and Ozzy – three older men grappling with the challenges of growing old in a modern world. They expose the seldom explored issues of loneliness, depression and dementia but find comfort and company in the new hens at their quirky supported living scheme. This documentary tackles the sometimes difficult reality for ageing individuals and the transition to life in supported living schemes. Thousands of older residents are silently and stoically battling chronic loneliness, clinical depression and undiagnosed dementia while having to adapt to a rapidly changing world. We lift the lid on this delicate topic and draw the viewers into the day to day lives of three older men.


Still no hen pics … but here’s Oscar to keep your interest :D


Winter Quarters

Although the grass is still growing … at least it was until our first frost yesterday … the ground where the Moppets were housed most recently is still bare. We just don’t have enough grass to keep them happy all through the winter, so today I moved the fencing around to give them access to a wider area … not grass, but bare ground and shrubs.




They do have some grass for now … alongside the greenhouse in the background … but I’m sure it won’t last for long. They may be small, but they just love to eat grass and it will soon be gone.

Sorry, still no pictures of the hens … the light isn’t too good today (I’m waiting for it to rain) and they simply don’t keep still long enough for a decent, sharp photo!

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.


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:


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


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.


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


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

  • 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.

    February ... The Moppets have been roaming the garden, and apart from dismantling a pile of manure over the rhubarb patch have done very little damage so far!

    January ... The weather is so mild for the time of year.

    New Year 2015 ... so much happening elsewhere, this blog has been neglected ... but all the hens are well, and happy.

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