Saturday, 24 November 2012

Theres a chicken in my bath!

Yesterday we were late home, and as such forgot to check on our feathered friends before bed. It turns out that this was a mistake. This morning we discovered that Lemon had escaped their pen and was wandering the lawn. Given how wet she was we suspect that the escape had happened yesterday, goodness knows how we'd have got on if we'd discovered this in the dark! It turns out that some of the netting used as a roof to their run was loose which would allow a chicken to fly over.

She was swiftly caught and returned to the others, yet as the day went on the rain continued to come down. Due to their habit of refusing to shelter all four of them were looking fairly wet, but Lemon looked particularly bedraggled and cold. In the end we took pity on her and brought her inside to have a chance to warm up after a night of being outside. Pepper was also brought in to keep her company. This was the result:

 We had great fun listening to the noises the pair of them made while drying off, preening and generally standing around in the bath. A whole plethora of clucks, squawks and what can only be described as purrs.

After a couple of hours we guiltily put them back out in the rain, but at least now it was their choice to be cold and wet rather than our lack of care and attention!

Photos courtesy of Joe

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A little bit of Pepper

Pepper has an issue. To be more specific: Pepper has a limp. We've checked her foot, and her leg. We've poked and prodded her to see when she reacts, and she doesn't. We've watched her behaviour and she seems to be herself; she's eating happily, squabbling with the others over any treats and running around like normal. Yet she is definitely reluctant to put weight on her right leg. We're leaving her for the time being to see if she can sort herself out, but it's worrying to see her hobbling so much.

One advantage of this is that we've been spending more time with her and she seems to be responding well to regular handling. I've said before that we'd had some problems as we've tried to tame our hens, but Pepper is now in no hurry to get away from us. She seems to be happy to spend time sitting on my knee once placed there, and I even persuaded her to voluntarily climb on to my leg the other day (with the help of a handful of corn of course). This makes me happy!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Home, Sweet Home

I recently realised that I hadn't yet given you a tour of our chicken accommodation. When we bought our hens we went looking for a multi-purpose hen house. Our checklist included a secure area with roosts and nest boxes, something easy to clean and an outside area - preferably offering some shelter - that would be big enough for the hens to spend short periods of time in when needed. We decided a sussex coop, or something like it, would suit our needs best and promptly ordered one from the friendly people at To treat the coop for outside use we attacked it with some blue paint too.

Our plan to keep the girls in the permanent part of the run for the first few days was foiled when we realised our feeder took up about half the available space! Fortunately, to supplement the coop we'd bought a large roll of fine mesh chicken wire with which to construct any sort of run we liked. We quickly assembled a small run to start with, that has since been expanded considerably.

Our girls are currently in a temporary position helping us to weed and fertilise an area that we'd like to use for veg and seem happy with the run we've made out of mesh, sticks and fruit netting.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Theres one in every family

When I started this blog I promised you the ups and the downs of chicken keeping. So far the experience has been mainly a positive one, and if you'd like to maintain this illusion then you might want to skip this post!

As with all pets, hens sometimes need some T.L.C. To cut a long story short, Fizzy seems to have an issue with cleanliness around her bottom. This doesn't seem to be an uncommon problem and everyone has a different suggestion as to the cause. It could be a sign of illness (usually due to diarrhoea - not a problem here) or mites or lice (no signs that we can see). It could also be because the hen is sleeping on the floor rather than on a perch (if any of ours are guilty of this it would be Pepper), or just because they have lots of fluffy feathers. As Fizzy is an Orpington (a classically fluffy breed), we think that general fluff might be the problem. Fortunately Lemon (also a very fluffy hen) has avoided this so far - one bird at a time is quite enough!

The first time this happened we kept an eye on her for a while to see if it would improve, but made a final decision that we would need to step in one sunny Saturday while the girls were all free ranging in the garden. Twenty minutes of chaos later we had four very flustered hens and one very unhappy Fizzy! Having caught her, we covered her with a towel to keep her calm, and carefully cleaned everything with a bowl of warm water and a lot of patience. Fizzy was well rewarded with grapes and everything went back to normal.

Six weeks later and we're back where we started - but a little wiser this time. We plucked Fizzy from the coop with a lot less fuss and took her inside as the weather is now much colder. Having cleaned everything again we also trimmed the feathers in that region. We checked for any signs as to why this is happening, but can't see anything, so we have to assume that it might just be a perpetual problem.

I have heard rumour that this sort of thing can improve as they get older, and that other chickens in the flock will help with grooming hard to reach areas. Until such time though I think we'll have to try to maintain a preventative approach and keep things well-trimmed. This certainly wasn't something I bargained on when getting chickens!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Eat your greens!

As the weather gets colder, wetter and windier, the amount of greenery available for our chickens to eat and play in has reduced considerably. They've been starting to look bored. I'd heard that a good way to keep chickens occupied is to hang up a cabbage in the run that can swing freely for them to peck at. One Tesco Basics cabbage, some screws, wire, string and sticks later and Joe had set up a contraption to do just that.

Unfortunately, it turns out that we have fussy hens. On our return from holiday the cabbage was untouched and being resolutely ignored by the girls. A few torn-off bits that we'd tried to encourage them with were still sitting on the mud. All in all, an unmitigated failure!

In an attempt to see if the swinging food idea would work, we removed the cabbage and replaced it with an apple. We know the girls love apple - in fact they will wolf down any fruit. It took them a day or two to work it out, but once they did they loved it. It provided us with great amusement to see them bobbing their heads back and forth in an attempt to judge the movement of the fruit before making a jab. All four of them were crowded around it making the apple twist and swing - hopefully they were enjoying it as much as we were! It should have been only a matter of time before one of them got an apple to the face - but it turns out they are better at ducking than I gave them credit for. In no time at all the apple was demolished.

The following day we were amazed to see that they were starting to peck at the cabbage. In a fit of laziness we had left the whole cabbage on the run floor, and slowly each bird was giving it a go and finding it wasn't so bad after all. We hung it up again and this time they're going for it, although with less enthusiasm than the apple caused. Typical!