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 two Pekin Bantams, who are quite elderly and are together known as The Moppets (we once had seven, but as we could never tell them apart we never bothered with individual names!); Connie (Gold-laced Wyandotte) and Carey (Buff Sussex) who came to us at POL in March, 2014; and the new arrivals, Deanna (Blue Maran), Dorcas (Cou-cou Maran) and Delilah (Light Sussex) who arrived in March 2017.

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

March 25th 2017

First outing

All Change

It’s 24 days since my last post, and in that time we have …

Installed electric fencing (including installing an outside power source and a waterproof box for the transformer/adaptor)

Relocated the Cube …

… and cleared the run.

Purchased and built a plastic toolstore to use as a feed station – which survived the storms that followed shortly afterwards, keeping the feed dry as we had hoped.

Removed the fruit cage we used as a run, relocated some of the raised veg beds, and levelled and seeded over the remaining soil (which are covered with various shelters and other garden leftovers to stop the cats digging them up)

Introduced the girls to their new surroundings … as far as I know, we’ve only had one incident of a hen encountering the power of the fence … I hope they have a sixth sense and don’t all have to learn by experience!

And finally, visited a farm …

… to purchase some POL hens 🙂

Meet Dorcas,

Delilah

and Deanna

It’s early days – they’ve been with us less than 24 hours – so they are still confined to quarters, despite the glorious spring day we’re having. It’s hard to determine their characters as yet, although Deanna seems fairly confident, while Dorcas and Delilah retreat to the coop whenever I approach.

Connie, Carey and the Moppets have paid little attention to the newcomers so far … the old girls can hear but not see them. In a day or two we’ll let the new girls out into a separate area of the run, and see what happens. In the meanwhile, the old girls are making the best of their new surroundings and the sunshine …

And we are getting one or two eggs a day 🙂

 

Adjustments

We lost a bantam this morning – she’s clearly been ailing for a few days but we decided to let nature takes it’s course. The two remaining bantams must be around seven years old (we had them as rescue hens, so aren’t totally sure of their age) … and we are still getting an egg most days (I think from just one of the bantams as the eggs are so regular in size). I love bantam eggs 🙂 The bigger girls gave up laying a long time ago … even though they are only three years old 😦

So they rattle around in their run – but the restrictions regarding avian flu have been relaxed (depending on where you live – see current DEFRA guidelines ), so we have restored their privileges in part. They are still required not to come in contact with wild birds, so we have replaced the fence of the Hen Garden and they can roam under the fig tree and back wall, but not under the bird feeders, or on the grass.

We have long been thinking about how to get them on to new ground … so are looking into electric fencing. We think we might swap garden sides … moving the veg patches to the current hen run (which should be wonderfully fertile!)… and fencing off the current veg patches for the girls. Using netting, we could then move them around the garden from time to time. The current hen run will need a long rest, and planting it up will help, too. It’s rather costly, and we have other expenses in the offing, but it seems the only solution.

I don’t really have much to do with the hens these days – DH likes to go out to them mid-morning, as part of his routine, a break from his desk, so I let him. It’s still lovely to have them around … and once we get their space sorted, we might just be tempted to add a couple more 😉

Avian flu outbreak

With the latest outbreak of avian (bird) flu, the government’s Chief Vet has put long term restrictions in place: even backyard poultry keepers are required to …

  • minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and wild birds
  • make sure that feed and water can’t be accessed by wild birds
  • take all reasonable precautions to avoid the transfer of contamination between premises, including cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and footwear
  • reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry or captive birds are kept

and this ban has now been extended to February 28th 2017. It’s hard on our girls (and on any birds) that are used to free ranging … not least because our run is woodchip, not grass. We do what we can to avoid boredom, but it’s sad to see them restricted like this.

We are unable to cover our run – it’s too big (it’s not that they don’t have enough space), but at least keeping them in means they are not sharing the overspill from the wild bird feeders, or free ranging on ground shared with the garden birds.

 

See more here (BHWT link)

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?!

  • 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.
  • HEN NEWS LATEST

    March 2017 ... All change in the hen garden as the fruit cage run is retired in favour of an electric fence, the veg beds are relocated to put the hens on fresh ground, and the new girls arrive, Dorcas, Delilah and Deanna.

    January 2017 ... Bird flu outbreak and all domestic foul are quarantined until the end of February.

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