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!

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?!

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 🙂

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 🙂

 

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 😀

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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!

 

 

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

It’s not pretty …

… but hopefully it will do the trick …

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A length of washing line, some cable ties and pegs, and a roll of wind netting. Hopefully it won’t put too much tension on the fruit cage/Hen Run.

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There’s the culprit on the far left! There are still ways she could fly out, and I expect she will eventually find them … but for now, I trust she’s staying put.

  • 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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    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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