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 (as of June 2021) are Emily and Evangeline (Mille Fleur Bantams) and Esther and Elsie (Light Sussex Bantams), who arrived 7th July 2018, Flo (Buff Sussex Bantam, June 2021), Flora and Freda (Wyandotte Bantams, June 2021). 

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

June 2021

No excuses … and new arrivals

There’s no excuse for not having posted for some time (literally years!) … life just gets in the way sometimes. No point trying to catch up with all the news of the flock, so let’s just start again.

June 2021 … the four girls we acquired in 2018 are the only remaining hens we have … Emily and Evangeline (Mille Fleur Bantams) and Esther and Elsie (Light Sussex Bantams). It’s been fun trying to source supplies through the pandemic, but we’ve kept going. Our supply of eggs is a little erratic, but I’ve rarely had to supplement them by buying eggs … we just go without!

In December 2020, alongside the Coronavirus pandemic, there was also an Avian Flu epidemic, and tight restrictions – much tighter than we’ve know before as we were required to keep the girls under cover. We tried. We bought a poly tunnel, but it hadn’t been up a week when it was destroyed by an overnight storm. We were unable to find a replacement cover, so OH cobbled together netting from our original run which we discovered behind the garden shed (it’s not that our garden is so big we just lose things, but that we’re untidy gardeners in the first place). It was sufficient to separate them from the wild garden birds that we feed (didn’t seem fair to stop), and just about big enough for our four girls.

Throughout that time, as an additional bio-security measure, only OH went into the enclosure … he is now the main carer for our hens – I can’t find my way round the jumble of supplies he keeps in the garage, in any case.

Restrictions ended sometime in April 2021, and once the girls had the freedom of the electric fence, it seemed quite a large space for just the four of them. so meet …

Flo – Buff Sussex Bantam
Flora (or Freda) – Wyandotte Bantam

We have two Wyandotte Bantams … but they look alike and we’ve no idea how to tell them apart – yet.

We’ve had them just over a week, and are taking things slowly .. introducing them to the brood a little at a time. They are currently in a fenced off section within the electric fence. Elsie and Esther are both broody just now, so I took the opportunity to put the fence aside to see what would happen. I scattered some corn across both sections of the run, which seemed to startle the Dots (as they are known – they are quite nervous and shy) … though Flo knew just what to do. Emily simply invaded the newbies’ patch and threw her weight around, while Evangeline concentrated on hoovering up as much corn as she could 🙂 Flo tried to carry on as normal, and was content to submit to Emily as required. The Dots simply kept out of everyone’s way.

It’s a start, but there is a long way to go with the introductions before we fully integrate them.

No eggs yet. Flo looks ready, but I’m fairly certain the Dots are younger … perhaps 12 weeks (they are considered to be point-of-lay – POL – at 16 weeks). We can wait.

Dust bath

The new girls are making themselves at home …

This is Esther in a well-established dust bath just by the Cube.

And this is Dorcas, excavating a new site by the feed station … a useful by-product of bug-hunting.

 

Eggs

We’re not totally sure who is laying … but certainly a hen, an LS bantam and a true bantam! The wind egg on the end is the tiniest little egg we’ve ever had 🙂

We took down the fence between the two broods and they are gradually adapting. Organising the pecking order was a little brutal to be honest, but it’s the hens lower down who do the damage: the top hen is secure. Although I perceive a slight adjustment even there – I suspect Dorcas, who has been top hen from the beginning, is now second to Delilah … so it’s Deanna who is throwing her weight around among the various bantams … and it’s the second Moppet that is challenging the Mille Fleur at any given opportunity. Are you following me?!

The LS bantams were the first to take themselves off to the Cube to join the older girls for the night – but only after a few evenings of removing them from the top of the shelter once they were settled. They preferred to sleep there rather than in the little coop with the MF, and were perfectly safe there, but not yet having had any experience of rain, they were clueless as to what to do if it rained overnight so we moved them.

Evangeline, the more confident MF, eventually took herself off to the Cube overnight (hence the confusion as to who exactly is laying where – we were still getting one bantam egg in the little coop). Emily only joined her after we removed the little coop – in reality a hutch, and once the weather broke, we didn’t think it that durable out in the open. I am a little concerned about Emily – she’s very quiet in general, would rather be left alone than go about with the others, and as a result is almost certainly destined to be at the bottom of the pecking order for good … but she has her wits about her even so and has found a way to keep out of reach …

Almost another year …

My last post was written just after my mother came to live with us, and there’s been little time for blogging since. However, Mum had a stroke and passed away very peacefully a while back now, and while I can’t promise to write here regularly, I do want to update you with the goings on in the Hen Garden.

Connie became egg bound earlier this year, and eventually we had her put to sleep. We still have two of the elderly bantams, who lay eggs occasionally and go broody at every opportunity. We get one or two hen eggs a day, and the occasional softie, though we’ve been too distracted to observe who is in lay and who is in retirement.

Our plan was to leave things as they were this year, and invest in a new coop and some new bantams next year, but of course we changed our minds. We’re not replacing the Cube, but the old Eglu Go had split so we have no spare to use for introductions or as a broody coop or hospital. Once we decided to bring in some new girls, we cobbled together a nest box and mini-coop with the run from the defunct Eglu Go, and fenced them off from the other hens within the electric fence. Not ideal, but sufficient. And a new coop will now be our Christmas present to each other.

I like bantams for their eggs, while DH prefers hens, particularly Light Sussex. So we settled on a compromise and found some Light Sussex Bantams … to our surprise, they are rather bigger than true bantams*, more like 3/4 sized hens really.

And because they are pretty, we also have two Mille Fleur Bantams, who, like our elderly bantams probably won’t lay that often, but they are so attractive to have around the garden.

So meet Esther and Elsie – the LS Bantams, and Evangeline and Emily, our Mille Fleur Bantams 🙂

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I think I can tell which MF is which, as one has slightly darker feathers with more white spots around her neck, but I’m not yet certain of which LS is Elsie and which is Esther! Though of course, because of their size, the LS girls will be top of the internal pecking order. It will be interesting to see how that changes when we introduce them to the older girls.

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*By definition, true bantams do not have a larg fowl counterpart, see https://poultrykeeper.com/chicken-breeds/

It’s been a while …

… since I last posted; there’s been a lot going on. But while I’ve not had time to blog about the hens, they’ve not been neglected!

Now that the building work is finished, we are able to let the hens out to free range … it took a while for the Three Amigos to find their way out of the open gate, but soon after that they made themselves right at home.

Connie and one of the Moppets are currently broody, but we didn’t want them to miss the fun so lifted them down … they could see the others through the fence, but showed no signs of wanting to join them.

It’s not so long since I put them on fresh grass, but it soon went … I have resown where they left it so bare, which is now growing nicely, and Connie and bantam #1 were content with some of the grass cuttings.

Meanwhile, Deanna and Dorcas continued to explore.

I did eventually persuade the others to join them … the non-broody bantam enjoyed the company – she is often alone, not one of the Three Amigos, nor content to sit in the nest box keeping company with the broody girls.

The Three Amigos have now thoroughly explored the garden and decided on their favourite patch – among the rhubarb – which is where they are usually to be found, tails up, heads hidden.

Who’s the King of the Castle?

We had a bit of a move round to give us access the one last raised bed I still need to empty. The girls are now in a much more open space on some fresh grass – but I’m still reseeding much of that side of the garden after moving the other beds, so we will continue to move them around for a while yet.

Dorcas has escaped via the roof of the toolstore/feed station a couple of times … but the distance now is just too far, and having enjoyed the view, Deanna found a way down only to realise she was still in the enclosure. They had a taste of freedom when we let down the fence to move the Cube, but they feel safe in their space so it wasn’t too much hassle to relocate them back inside the run.

Both bantams are actually in this picture, but one of them spends most of her time brooding in the Cube, and the other often keeps her company: she’s not herself broody as yet, but she might soon become so … hormones are contagious, aren’t they?

🙂

Integration

That was easy!

As the new girls began to show signs of laying – their comb getting brighter, and crouching – we began to take the back off the Eglu Go, so they had to go and share the nest box in the Cube when they wanted to lay … there were a few spats, and one bloody comb (never did work out whose), but it didn’t take long before we were having an extra egg or two a day.

We put the back on at night, so the newbies still had a safe place to sleep, until one morning we realised they hadn’t slept in the Go at all. So now the back is off altogether and the Go is simply a shelter and feed station.

I suspect there are still a few shuffles going on in the pecking order (PO), primarily between Dorcas (new girl, Cou-Cou Maran) and Carey (old guard, Buff Sussex). But generally it’s gentle in the hen garden, that is until they see me coming.

The new girls associate me with treats and come running. Carey, with the wisdom of age, waits to see if I’ve actually brought something with me, before disturbing herself – she’s clearly feeling her age as she is usually settled somewhere quietly, rather than actively engaged in foraging etc.

But they will all feed from my hand – I’ve taken to wearing gardening gloves since six hens coming at you from all angles is rather daunting and one or two of them peck hard (Dorcas among others)! Even the Moppets get stuck in … as does Delilah (new girl, Light Sussex) though she is towards the bottom of the PO, perhaps even below the Moppets.

All, that is, apart from Connie, who runs the other way when treats are thrown and never challenges anyone over anything. We have long suspected she is simply not part of the PO and lives a separate, distinct existence – which may be a good thing as she is a huge bird by comparison to the others 🙂

We have finally moved one more raised veg bed. Once the frame was moved, it was a race against time to move the soil before the hens spread it everywhere by digging into the freshly exposed tilth … the photo is Delilah working away at a hole she dig all by herself – it was eventually almost as deep as she is tall!

I’ve taken the risk of raking the space over and sowing grass seed … it’s covered with mesh, but the girls can still pick at the seed if they choose, although they can’t scratch it up. Some of the seed will germinate … as I discovered when I moved the Go … so it will be worth it even if we only get a sparse covering. Once the run is pitched on one of it’s permanent sites, any new growth can continue undisturbed for a few months until the electric fencing is moved again.

I hope to have at least two if not three ‘pitches’ we can use, to give the ground a rest from time to time and to be able to keep the hens on grass most of the year. It’s much better for them than wood chip. I’m also hoping to give the girls some cover by planting some shrubs they can root around and where they can find some shade, as well as splitting one of the raised beds into smaller units for use as a dust bath.

The long term plan is to open up the garden, so that the hens can move to fresh ground from time to time as well as being more visible from the house. We’ll still have the toolstore in view which is a bit of an eyesore, and which will kill off the grass … but that’s a small price to pay for the benefits – not least the exercise we are getting with all the digging and weightlifting we are doing to make it happen!

The old girls all together, just before we moved the raised bed. 
Five down, one to go!

Photos

Three weeks in, and the girls are all socialising happily together – with the occasional fracas to reinforce the pecking order (which was fairly quickly sorted, along expected lines). But they still choose to sleep separately, new girls together in the Eglu Go, and the others in the Cube.

It’s interesting, though, that one of the bantams is throwing her weight around, just between the two of them – the disruption must have unsettled her, and she is emphasising her superiority at every opportunity!

Dorcas is crouching, and both she and Deanna have grown combs, so we’re looking forward to having extra eggs any time now. Delilah however, shows little sign of coming in to lay, neither growing a comb or crouching … she may be younger, or it may be her breed – previous Light Sussex hens we’ve had did not start laying for some months. Both Moppets are laying now … and you can see in the photo above how bright their combs are.

We are enjoying the fair weather and blue skies … spring has sprung, even if the forecast is for cooler weather this week 🙂

7 days later

7 days later and the new girls are still … new! They are taking their time to settle in, though we are seeing progress. At night they are shut into the Eglu run, while during the day, the run is left open inside the electric fence. However, only Deanna and Dorcas venture out onto the grass … Delilah refuses to leave the run for more than a few seconds, so getting a photograph of her is tricky.

Yet they have apparently settled the pecking order already … and surprisingly, Dorcas is top hen. Deanna is clearly the adventurous one, but one glance from Dorcas and she backs quickly away 🙂

A few photos … click on any individual image for a slide show of them all … or hover over each for a caption.

First outing

  • The Hen House Archive

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