WELCOME TO THE HEN GARDEN

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  :)

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 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 …

http://www.meerkatfilms.co.uk/portfolio/hens/

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.

Cat

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

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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.

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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.

Jenny

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:

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

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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.

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

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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

Nearly 2 months …

It’s nearly two months since I last posted … not for want of material, but simply because family matters are full on this summer. We knew at the start of the year that this year would be unlike any other … the end of school days, uncertainty about where next, the anxiety of waiting for results etc. And it will continue long into the new term.

However, today is a Bank Holiday, it’s raining, the girls and DH are going to play board games (I absolutely refuse to play Monopoly if DH is playing, so it’s become the special activity that they do with Dad – long may it continue) and I have nothing to contribute (apart from lunch).

So here I am …

In the intervening 10 weeks, Betsy finally died, having been unwell for some weeks, but never ill enough for me to think her time was at an end. She settled on the woodchip one night, rather than going into the Cube, and simply didn’t wake up in the morning. So now we are seven (and five Moppets – more of them later). We’ve had a good laying season, one softie and four or five eggs from the hens every day for weeks. But now the weather has turned unseasonably cool and the autumn moult has begun. So eggs numbers are slowing, but they have all done so well this year.

I suspect it may be Bertha’s turn next, however. She has odd days when she clearly isn’t well … and then she perks up. Perhaps because she’s laying softies? I wondered at one point if Charlie was going broody, and then again, Connie spent a few days in the nest box. But neither seem serious about it. Carey is still top hen, but I suspect feels rather insecure about it since she tends to throw her weight around … especially against the broodies when they emerge. She has also been moulting most of the summer and I wonder if she’s laying at all?

We restored the compost bin in the Hen Garden and it’s now their favourite place to hang out … it’s the first place they go in the mornings.

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And we have discovered a new treat … coconut …

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As for the Moppets … there are still five … they still fight … they occasionally lay eggs … they still go broody. I had a hunch a couple of them were thinking of sitting, then one morning I opened the nest box to find this …

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… leaving one poor little bantam all on her own in the run! Once we took the nest box away, only two have persisted, and even they have little resistance when it comes to corn … but after a few weeks of three or four eggs a day, we now have one on a good day, with the occasional softie (a soft but rubbery shell that deflates like a balloon when you touch it). Still, as far as we know, they are quite elderly now, none can be less than four years old, so it’s not too surprising.

It’s been a good year in the garden … plenty of runner beans, courgettes, chard and kale, among other things. A neighbour passed me some veg seedlings just as I had decided we wouldn’t do a lot in the garden this year! We even had a cauliflower – a first for us. And there are still celeriac to come. Of course the girls have benefitted – the snails shredded most of the cabbages before we could eat them … and some of the chard bolted in the warm weather. So nothing goes to waste, if it isn’t eaten (by us or the hens) it goes in the compost … the warm weather had also been good composting weather of course.

I think that brings us up-to-date … I’ll try to return sooner this time, but don’t hold your breath! Life may be unsettled for a while yet, but the daily routine of the hens keeps our feet on the ground, whatever the weather :)

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  • 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

    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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