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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

 

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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 ūüôā The bigger girls gave up laying a long time ago … even though they are only three years old ūüė¶

So they rattle around in their run Рbut the restrictions regarding avian flu have been relaxed (depending on where you live Рsee 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 ūüėČ

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‚Äôt 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)

Relocating

I built the Moppet House in the spring of 2013 … and it’s never been totally satisfactory. Following some heavy rain at the weekend, we decided it was time to move our remaining three bantams into the Eglu. When we built the Moppet House¬†it housed¬†seven birds … so I hope the Elgu run has enough space for three!

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It was fairly easy to relocate them, as two are currently broody,

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and the third is lonely without them! In fact, she sometimes spends a few hours in the coop just for the company, although there isn’t really room for three in the corner nest box.

The larger girls have been free ranging for a few days now, but of course they noticed the changes and went to investigate. Sadly, they were quite aggressive, sensing they had the bantams at a disadvantage … so I’ve restored the fence and limited them to the Hen Garden until the Moppets are settled. I left them in the Eglu for 48¬†hours before releasing them … and they went straight back to the Moppet House. So I put them back in for another day, and this time I left both ends of the Eglu – run and coop – open, and left them to get on with it. Since¬†the Moppet House is closed up and the nest box removed, they eventually found their way back to the Eglu nest box by themselves.

It may be small, but it’s dry … it will soon feel like home and they have the advantage of being on grass. I wonder how long it takes for a single bantam to get through that much grass? We will have to move the Eglu from time to time … but while two are broody, it may take a few weeks!

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!

In the interim

We should have done it in the fine weather on Monday … but we dodged (most of) the showers on Saturday afternoon and set to clearing the greenhouse and moving the Moppet House …

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However, when we moved the Moppet Coop, we realised the wood has given way in places (it was really quite flimsy), so this is a temporary arrangement.

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I think we’ll simply manage without a coop … by turning¬†the Moppet House round against the wall to block the opening to the coop, and restoring the plastic nest boxes (cat carriers) in a sheltered spot. At the moment, the coop is closed off anyway, since at least three of the five are broody!

The big girls watched with interest, a little confused by the presence of the Eglu which is now their only shelter in the Hen Garden.

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I said the big girls were¬†watching … well, most of them were. I went to look for¬†the missing pair …

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… and found them dustbathing under the feeder!

Combs

You can tell a lot from a hen’s comb.

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

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

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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 …

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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!

Woodchip

IMG_3563 Woodchip on the drive means digging out the Hen Run of the old, muddy and decaying chippings … which is heavy work when they are wet. Fortunately, a neighbour wanted the manure, so he also helped cart some of it as I raked it out. We had laid some bamboo screening under the last load of woodchip, which made raking parts of the run fairly easy. But the edges had broken up with the hens’ scratching, leaving bits of binding wire and split bamboo all over the run, so it had to go. DH was able to give it some time and between us we finished the job in the one afternoon.

We moved the Vicarage girls to the Moppet House (the Moppets are in the greenhouse) to give us space to work, so rather than let them dig over the bare ground (which they would have loved, but which would only have created more mud than we can handle), we left them¬†there¬†overnight. So next day, still stiff, I set to with the barrow and the shovel and the pile of woodchip. We spread some Stalosan F on the bare ground, before covering it with a deep layer of chippings. I made a start on my own, but once DH joined me it went much faster … though just as he arrived, it began to hail, gently at first but the hail grew larger until it stung as it hit you¬†:o¬†Once it slowed, we carried on until my back was so stiff I could barely move … I went indoors while¬†DH carried on. He finished the job by tea time – I was truly impressed, as I thought it would take a few more hours than that. I had hoped to have time to wash down the shelters and clean out the Cube, but that will have to wait for another day.

We had enough from the load to cover the Hen Garden, too … I have tried to take it back to grass, but it just doesn’t last. Doesn’t the Hen Run look smart? The Vicarage girls think so too … but they’re staying where they are for now!

The Moppets rearranged

Having rearranged their fencing, this morning I rearranged the Moppets interior …

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The two nest boxes (more about them in a moment) are now in the back corner and the shelf rack is inside the door … hopefully that will mean the wire mesh I use as a gate will stop falling over every time we go in!

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They were very interested to see what I’d done … you can see one in the background taking a good look at the nest box on the right. Shortly after this, there was an almighty racket when two of them had a fight about who would be first to go inside!

I added a second nest box a few days ago … we had thought one of the Moppets was going broody, so I wanted to create some additional space. It didn’t last more than a day or two, but in the meanwhile they obviously had a conference and made a joint decision to use the second, smaller cat carrier as a nest box and to continue sleeping together in the cat litter tray¬†:D¬†So far they have been scrupulous about keeping the second box clean, which means we get clean eggs even if we’re a little late to muck out in the mornings.

The dog bowl is because it’s worming week … I use Flubenvet, mixed into a wet mash rather than the dry feed as per the instructions. I’m not too fussy about dosage, since you can use up to double the dose if you suspect they may have gape worm, so I’m happy with the method we use. They do love mash¬†:)¬†You need to continue for seven days, so they do get used to having mash each day and come to expect it. As do the Vicarage Girls …

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PS – the Flubenvet link is from this excellent site. Do take a look round.

The grass is greener …

The bantams are on new ground …

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It didn’t take much to move the fencing around, and there is another similar sized area we can move them onto just as easily when this grass is tired. Although it looks as if the grass where they have been has disappeared, actually I think it will grow back soon enough and be all the better for the chicken manure it’s had deposited on it! They don’t dig down the same way as the Vicarage girls, although they have cleared the previous area of weeds and I hope they are gone for good.

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Of course they made a fuss … but it didn’t take more than a few seconds to find their way onto the fresh grazing. Our next problem is to find a way of preventing the greenhouse from overheating in the sun.

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We cut the grass before we moved the Moppets as it was rather long … DH strimmed then mowed, so the grass was shredded into small pieces (long grass can get caught in their crops). The Vicarage girls were grateful for the trimmings … their grass has long gone. From the bottom, that’s Babs with Betsy in the middle, and I can’t quite see who the top hen is here in this picture.

While the sun was out, we made the most of it, and planted up some broad bean plants and some seed potatoes …

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Spring is truly here, but I’m still not convinced the grass seed will grow, as with all this sunny weather, the nights are quite chill.

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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.
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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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