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?

🙂

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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!

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 🙂

 

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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🙂

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 🙂

 

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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Making plans

With the big hens now together in the Hen Run, we have to decide what to do about the bantams. They are currently in the greenhouse,  which is water tight but which will be altogether too warm in sunny weather. Neither the Moppet House nor the wooden coop are truly weather proof, but the only other alternative is the Eglu, which would be too small for five bantams (of which three are now broody – it’s that time of year).

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The only realistic location for the Moppet House is our recently flattened area near the back wall which is now down to grass but isn’t yet able to cope with grazing …

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(The bare patch is where we removed the raised vegetable bed and it has only just been sown with grass) But I think that is the only practical option … hopefully the wall will provide some protection for the coop, and we can be creative with the fencing to allow some of the new grass to get established.

New year in the garden …

We have been considering the possibility of having some more (full sized) hens … thinking Sussex (various colours) or Marans etc. Only this week we’ve been offered some ‘second hand’ utility hens, POL last spring. Are we getting a reputation for taking on other people’s hens when they are no longer able to keep them?!

Anyway, whatever we decide, the garden needs some work doing … not only to cater for the hens, but also in preparation for a new growing season. I used to grow a lot of veg, but the hens have slowly taken over most of my growing space, so I now have seven raised beds, one down to strawberries and another to raspberries, leaving five for whatever veg we decide to grow each year. However, we’ve now decided to take out the raspberry bed, thus making more space for grass for hens …

We also gained some space by the removal of the bank at the top of the garden, since we discovered it concealed a manhole cover. So today we’ve been out in the sunshine (I don’t believe we won’t yet have a cold spell … ), raking and sowing grass seed. The ground is fairly compacted, so all I did by way of preparation was to lightly rake the surface. Hopefully that means the cats won’t be tempted to use it as a latrine. But we do still need to provide some protection from the birds …

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Meet Janet, our scarecrow. She’s looking rather underweight, since I didn’t bother to stuff her body, but it does mean she swings freely in the breeze, and the CD I’ve given her as a pendant (not in view) catches the light which is also supposed to be a deterrent.

I’m not too optimistic that the grass will grow this early in the year … but we’ll see.

In the meanwhile, we also need to refresh the woodchip in the Hen Run, so have spoken to the tree surgeon and await news of a suitable load. It will be a lot of work to dig out the old stuff, not least because we laid bamboo screening to try and protect the ground. It didn’t really work and there are loosed pieces of split bamboo all over the place!

Elsewhere in the garden, the Moppets are feeling the heat in the greenhouse. We will try and shade them, but they certainly can’t stay in there all summer … so we’ll have to bring the Moppet House back into use, probably up against the back wall on the new grass (which won’t therefore last very long) :doh: Until then, we get them out as often as we can. They’ve cleared the bed of vegetation, tossing all the woodchip that we had used as a mulch onto the now thinning grass. So we will have to rearrange their fencing onto some new grass at some point … we are destined never to have the entire garden down to grass at any one time, as there will always be bare patches where the hens have been!

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A few good hens

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I’ve thrown in a few random pictures for your entertainment … !

Only four left …

We lost another of the Vicarage Girls today … Milly came through the moult a completely different looking hen … but yesterday DH thought she wasn’t too good, and this morning, we found her at the foot of the ladder to the Cube. It looks as if she never made it up the steps last night :( I had thought that Betsy might be next … but she’s still going strong.

So we are down to four hens. The question now is, do we add in a couple of pullets this spring? There are a number of reasons not to … but the Hen Run does feel rather empty, and the girls must rattle around the Cube at night – it’s supposed to take  up to ten hens. The temptation is to get some pure breds … DH misses having Light Sussex around the place … and we’d be sure of the quality of their eggs, since some of our current layers are rather elderly and their whites are watery and sometimes quite opaque.

Watch this space! We do have a contact who may have some pullets available in a few weeks …

In the meanwhile, four hens do not need all the space we’d originally set aside for ten+ hens. So we’ve taken the decision to restrict them to the Run by and large, and have just spent the afternoon moving things around (it’s a nice, sunny day for once!). The Moppet House is now in the Hen Garden and we’ve reclaimed the space under the apple tree …

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We cut the raspberries back in order to lift the Moppet House across the bed. We had to remove all the fencing too, but now both Hen Houses are on the same side of the garden, and the patch of snowdrops under the tree can grow on undisturbed.

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The area is now raked and cleared … and where the Eglu now is, was once the ‘back bank’ … it was levelled when we had to have some work done on the drains. So we have loads more space. There’s still a mound in front of the bamboo, which shields our dumping ground from view, but we can live with that … we still have some hellebores in there and have rediscovered some cyclamen we’ve not seen for a few years, but I expect we’ll seed it with grass in the spring, at least until we decide if we’re going to do anything with the space. We may remove the raspberry bed altogether, to give us the flexibility of having hens on the grass from time to time.

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These are the Moppets in their temporary enclosure while we moved their house and run. A handful of corn kept them happy, at least until it was time to handle them … they really are not used to being picked up. But they soon settled, especially once they found the grass …

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The Moppet House is now on the patch of ground we had fenced off to keep the grass though the winter. We’ve covered the bare ground with stones, to try and prevent them getting too muddy, but for now we’ve left them the grass to enjoy. And they are enjoying it a lot!

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It seems a bit unfair that the Vicarage Girls are restricted to woodchip, but we have moved the fencing so they can get out onto grass from time to time. But at this time of year, it won’t last, so it will only be from time to time. The sun was too low and my view too restricted to show you exactly where the Moppet House is in relation to the Hen Run, but they are quite close by.

I was concerned that the one Moppet might not handle well. She’s not moving around so much these days, although she still comes waddling along for corn.

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But for now she is well and content.

  • 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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