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)


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,


so I enticed them out with a tray of water and some frozen peas and corn!


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.


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,


The wooden ‘gate’ is across the back door to stop uninvited guests – it didn’t work and it’s now been replaced by a much taller wire panel, which frustrated the cats at first but now they’ve learned to jump over it from the bench!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!


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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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 …


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.

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.


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.


And we have discovered a new treat … coconut …


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 …


… 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 🙂



Coming into lay

We’ve had eggs from two of the Famous Five in recent days … almost certainly from Charlie and from Carey. But this morning, I also  found two soft eggs under the roosting bars of the Cube … perhaps the hens were taken short when a first egg made it’s appearance?!

If so, that’s four of the Famous Five now laying – their eggs will get stronger and larger over the next couple of weeks, as have Charlie’s. Carey’s were ‘normal’ from the beginning, but I think she was already in lay when she came to us. To help with the shells, I will add some limestone flour to the rice along with the Flubenvet for the next few days.

We started the worm treatment because of Carey’s sneezing and the appearance of a couple of droppings. I didn’t hear Carey sneeze once this morning – I wonder if it’s because it’s raining? Does she have a reaction to the dust in the woodchip? There would almost certainly have been other hens with symptoms by now if it were an infection 😕 Nor have we had a repeat of the droppings … red, but not with blood (which would be an indication of a coccidia infection which is highly contagious) … we’ve seen them before when we suspect the girls have worms.

So I’m hopeful we’ll be OK. But I’m not taking any risks until I’m certain so we’ll continue to run the three separate broods for a few weeks yet.

As for the rest of the girls’ eggs … one of the Vicarage girls is laying regularly, a lovely, firm-shelled egg. In the past few days we’ve also had a couple of thin-shelled/soft eggs, so I suspect three of the four are laying, and I’m almost certain Betsy is not laying.

In the greenhouse, we have a broody, but have still had 3 or 4 eggs most days 🙂 A couple of my regular customers have expressed a preference for bantam eggs, so for now I have enough to sell a few boxes from time to time.

But oh, the mud … it’s raining again, and the ground is almost instantly saturated once more. I’ve had to move the Moppets’ fencing again, not because of lack of grass but because the ground was sodden.  I do hope we might have a dry, warm summer this year.

Planning ahead

Everyone is very happy where they are. But we can’t continue to run three separate broods for long. It’s a lot of work each morning to clean three coops and top up three different sets of drinkers and feeders. And it wouldn’t be fair on our lovely chicken sitter.

Nor can we leave hens in the greenhouse all summer as it will get far too hot. The Moppet House isn’t water-tight, nor is the wooden coop, but it will do as a summer house for a small brood who could then over-winter in the greenhouse. But exactly which hens?

Although the Famous Five in the Hen Run, and the Vicarage girls in the Hen Garden/Moppet House are neighbours with only a mesh fence dividing them (actually there are three layers … plastic mesh plus chicken wire plus shade netting), we don’t see much by way of chest bumping, although there has been the occasional show of aggression. But one of the ex-batts continues to ail (Betsy – although her feathers are slowly returning, she isn’t showing any signs of improvement in her stance) and one of them, Babs, is severely underweight. Would that be a good combination?

The Moppets are feisty birds (and by the way, the broody season has begun o_O ) so could stand up for themselves. They would pose less of a threat to the Famous Five, but I wonder whether they’d struggle to reach the Cube to roost? There’s be plenty of space since they’d almost certainly sleep in the nest box.

As they are, the Famous Five have sufficient space in the run by themselves. But add in any more birds and we would need to allow them more space somehow. The bantams really need to be on grass, but the Hen Garden is now down to woodchip and there isn’t a lot of grass left on the other side of the path, either.

If we were to lose any of the ex-batts or bantams, we still have the Eglu we can use as housing for two or three birds, just to add to the conundrum.

And to complicate it further, Carey (the Buff Sussex) is sneezing … there’s no sign of any discharge from nasal passages or eyes, and no-one else is sneezing (so hopefully it’s not an infection or not infectious), but if you pick her up you can hear her bubbling as she breathes 😦

We have told the farm she came from, but there’s no sign of infection in their flock, either. Thankfully. But we have to be absolutely certain she isn’t ill before we even consider starting to integrate the broods (if we can ever decide what to do next!). I think the next step is to worm the Five, to see if that settles her down at all. They’ve not really had time to get used to treats yet, though they have had a bowl of porridge and natural yoghurt as a first try. But they have had some cooked rice which they loved, so a little Flubenvet sprinkled on some cooked rice might be as good a method as any …

I’ll report back.


You can tell a lot from a hen’s comb.


Camilla and Clare have pale, tiny, firm combs. These are immature birds, not yet in lay.


Charlie’s is perhaps a little larger and darker. It’s hard to be sure how much it will yet grow.


Carey is the only one of the Famous Five (yes, that’s what DH has christened them!) who looks as if she might be in lay or will soon start. Her comb is larger and brighter than the others. Perhaps she’s a week or two older?

Even when mature, a hen’s comb will change in size and shape as she goes in and out of lay according to season or health. We knew one of our bantams had heart disease because whenever she became excited/stressed, her comb would turn a dark, dusky pink.

Connie’s comb is different …


Wyandottes generally have a flat, round comb. As she grows, it should become more rose-like. All the Famous Five are classed as ‘heavy, soft-feathered’ birds, but there any likeness ends!


Hens come and hens go … especially the ex-batts who are not generally long-lived after their lives in intensive farming. This time last year we ‘inherited’ a brood of 3 ex-batts and 7 bantams, none of them young birds. We still have one of the ex-batts, Mandy (who, I noticed yesterday, appears to be moulting again) and until yesterday, six of the seven bantams.

It was clear that one of the bantams wasn’t well when she arrived, mostly from her slightly dusky comb that became quite dark when she was agitated or disturbed … a sign of heart disease. So we were delighted she continued to be fully involved in life in the Moppet House and more recently the greenhouse. A couple of days ago I noticed she stayed inside most of the day, though could be persuaded outdoors with a handful of corn. Next day she didn’t come out at all, so we took her in a piece of cooked potato, which she enjoy. Yesterday morning she was gone. She had slipped away overnight, among her brood-mates. Nice way to go.


I think she’s the one second from the left – see how much darker her hackles are? That’s nothing to do with her heart condition, but it was one way to recognise her when she was settled!

So now there are five bantams with the greenhouse all to themselves. And we have a pile of woodchip on the front drive …

How to tell when a hen is sick …


  • 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.

    July 2018 … Four new girls arrive, two LS bantams and two Mille Fleur Pekins.

    June 2018 … We had an extended heatwave, with daily temperatures in the 30s.

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