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.

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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

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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  • 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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