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 ‘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  :)

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 :)

Out and about

Connie is out and about again … but she has never been ‘one of the crowd’ so is often on her own somewhere, and usually runs in the opposite direction if you throw some treats in the way of the hens. Her legs look as if there might still be some scaly leg mite around, so one evening, when they’re settled in the coop, I will take them out one by one and dose them with Frontline*. I smothered Connie’s legs with Vaseline a while back, which is said to help, so I might do that as well, at the same time.

Two of the Moppets are now broody, though one isn’t as committed as the other! So when I look out into the garden, sometimes there are three and sometimes four …

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It was a very windy day … !

It’s taken a while, but the Moppets have now learned that there may be treats when I appear at the back door (and that I’m worth investigating even if I’m not calling them!). They still don’t come close, but they do come running … quite a sight.

The long-term broody bantam was a lightweight to begin with. She weighs no more than her feathers now. In the past I’ve gone to great lengths to break a brood just for that reason, but it’s not always practical, so this time we decided to let nature take it’s course. Certainly, when I lift her out, her crop seems reasonably full and is still soft, so she must be eating something.

Sadly, we had to cull our last ex-batt … she had a prolapse. So now we are five of each. The bantams are elderly, at least as far as we know – we have had them over two years and they were supposedly 3 or 4 years old when they arrived. While the hens came a year later at point of lay, about 4 months old, so must be around 19 months old now … just past the age of commercial viability. And certainly their egg quality isn’t as good as it has been.

We’ve no plans to get any more hens for a while (we had thought last year that we might be moving house and the idea of moving a dozen hens was really quite daunting). And indeed, with our regular chicken-sitter out of action, it’s been difficult to get away as often as we are used to. But DH loves his girls, so we are content. Perhaps I should investigate a house-swap with some like-minded chicken keepers somewhere … ?!

* Not licensed for hens, but effective in treating mites and lice. However, in our area, Frontline is no longer effective against cat fleas, which is it’s primary purpose. 

Still going strong …

We still have five Moppets, though some of them are now nearly 6 years old …

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One of the Moppets has been broody for over a month, though another gave up after a few days …

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Connie (Gold-laced Wyandotte) is also still going strong … must be five or six weeks now …

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The climbing frame is in use as a bird feeder …

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The Moppets’ first stop in the mornings is beneath the feeders, lots of fallen seed there makes for rich pickings …

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The hens have always loved dandelions …

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The garden has always looked lush at this time of year …

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And finally, the apple tree is as magnificent as ever …

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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 …

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

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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 …

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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 …

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… 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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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

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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!

 

 

Porridge

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!).

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

  • 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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