Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The End, well sort of....

I've been debating a lot over the last few months whether to combine Bottom of the Pecking Order with The Urban Cottage. There are pros and cons to both and I've found myself writing this final post several times, only to decide that I will keep the two blogs separate and delete it again.

We've now had our hens for 1 year, and this blog has been running for almost as long. The plan was always to tell you about the learning curve involved with keeping livestock in the garden for the first time and I hope you've enjoyed the journey.

My decision has finally been made though. From now on news of our four hens will appear on The Urban Cottage along with all the other posts about patchwork, potatoes and puddings. I'm going to start a regular feature all about the mischievous chickens which I'm sure lovers of this blog will enjoy.

See you on the other side!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

She Lays!

Yes, it's the answer to that question, the one you've all been asking for months. Fizzy, our 14 month old hen, has finally laid her first egg. I must admit we're a little disbelieving but the evidence is all there. The trouble is that Frog and Fizzy eggs turn out to be remarkably similar. Tuesdays egg was put down to Frog on an off day. It was incredibly small, but Frog has been a little off colour recently laying lots of thin shelled eggs so this didn't surprise us.

We believe these are Fizzy's first two eggs (L)
with a Pepper egg for scale (R)
Wednesday however, four eggs were laid. One Pepper, one Lemon, one small egg that was too thin and smashed, and one small egg that survived. To further compound the evidence when Joe got home from work he collected the two large eggs and dealt with the thin egg and discovered Fizzy keen to spend time in the coop. He had to go out again for 30 mins, and on returning home a second time discovered the fourth egg. On reflection we think that this was probably Fizzys second egg, with Tuesdays tiny egg being the first.

So well done Fizzy for finally figuring out how this egg thing works, and here's to lots more "four egg" days!

The girl herself

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Double Yolker

In all three hundred odd eggs that our hens have so far laid we've been treated to two double yolks, both laid by Pepper.

I had always assumed that a double yolked egg would be indistinguishable from its counterparts until cracked - but so far this has not been the case. On both occasions Pepper has laid eggs that are decidedly bigger than her normal ones. Let me show you what I mean:

I know I've shown you pictures that look like this before, and they've been one bantam, one regular egg - so for a sense of scale lets bring one of Frog's eggs into the picture too:

Are you starting to get a sense of scale yet - these eggs are pretty big! Inside they look a little like this:

A great topping to pizza for two - shame about the broken yolk.


Monday, 20 May 2013

The Broody Hen

It was inevitable really. Some breeds of hen are better know for being broody than others, and our four all fit into this category. None more so than our two Orpington's and Lemon has decided that it is definitely time to live up to this stereotype.

I got home from work on Wednesday to find that we only had three hens wandering around the run. Lemon was settled in the nest box. I lifted her up to fetch any eggs that had been laid to discover that she wasn't trying to lay - but was sitting on three eggs (including one of her own). Both her tummy and the three eggs were surprisingly warm. Alarm bells went off inside my head.

From this point we started a little battle. I would take her out of the nest box and encourage her to join the others in exploring the garden. She would wander round outside for a bit and then disappear back inside again. On Thursday afternoon I shut her out of the nest box for a few hours. She didn't seem phased by this at all, but returned to her dark corner within minutes of me opening the pop hole.

So it came to drastic action. We decided to try and break her of this bout of broodiness. A hens determination to sit on some eggs can often lead to illness from refusing to leave the nest to eat or drink and we didn't want it to go this far.

As far as I can tell there are a few methods of doing this and all centre on cooling the hen down. Her hormones will raise her temperature to help keep the eggs toasty, so by cooling her down you trigger the end of this process - as if she'd left the nest of her own accord.

A popular method is to put them in a separate cage (like the sort of thing used during puppy training) and raise it off the ground so that there's a cool air flow all around. You'll probably need to do this for a week or so. We don't have such a cage, so skipped that one and moved onto an easier option.

We planted ice cubes in the next box. I'd love to have seen her reaction when she first discovered them. As far as we can tell she probably sat on them for most of the day, she was certainly still there that evening. The nest box was a soggy mess and we were all ready for a repeat the next day.

However, to our relief she showed no signs at all of wanting to spend the following day sitting on eggs and all was back to normal. Ice 1: Lemon 0. I hope we don't have to repeat this too many times over the summer.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

This is becoming a regular sight this summer. They seem to quite enjoy sitting on the doorstep watching us. Often they sit so close to the door that they knock against it as they preen, making me jump on more than one occasion. Tap, tap, tap.

Joe has taken to taunting them by placing different objects on our side of the glass. They found a mirror mildly confusing, but go nuts over the sight of a tin of corn that they can't reach!

I'm now waiting for the day this summer when we leave the door open and suddenly discover a chicken wandering around the kitchen. This does of course assume that the weather is sunny enough for such things....

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Urban Cottage

[Warning! One shameless plug coming right up!]

Have you enjoyed reading details of our lives with hens, but wondered what it is we're growing in our veg patch? Have you ever looked at the Egg Log but wondered what it is we use all those eggs for?

Have you ever wondered what our door bell looks like?

Then look no further than The Urban Cottage. Joe and I have started a new blog all about our garden, kitchen and crafting experiments, and if you want to know more, then it's the place to be. Maybe I'll see you over there?

Yet if all you want to know is which chicken was first in the race to get out of the coop this morning; then Bottom of the Pecking Order is still here to tell you just that!

p.s. This morning it was Frog.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Chickens and seedlings don't mix!

As much as we've loved having the hens loose in the garden, we do have one complaint. They seem completely incapable of distinguishing between an empty vegetable plot, and one covered in new plants. They scratch and dig their way through both, and given the time would happily dust bath in either. We've lost a few plants to their worm-hunting efforts, and have got rather fed up with chasing them away from certain areas of the garden. Unfortunately where one goes the rest promptly follow and the four of them can do a lot of damage in a remarkably short period of time!

Since we're starting to plant out salad crops we decided that this needing dealing with - and quickly. So I built a fence. The vegetable plots are now a completely separate, (hopefully) chicken proof part of the garden.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Aren't we missing something?

Ah, yes, that's right. A shell.

I know its hard to see from the egg in the picture, but this egg doesn't have a shell. In fact the texture resembles something like a stress ball - though I didn't poke it too much as I didn't want to break it. This is the first egg we've had that's looked something like this.

The most confusing thing about this is that we had two in the same day. One egg from Pepper, one egg from Lemon and two shell-less eggs - one of which split the moment we tried to move it. The remaining shell-less egg was the same size as the eggs from the two larger hens - rather than being bantam sized. I'm not sure on the odds of getting our first two at once - but I'm guessing they would have been slim.

My hope is that at least one of these two was Fizzy's first egg as its not uncommon for a first egg to be shell-less. The other - who knows!

I have two theories. The first is that either Pepper or Lemon got rather confused and tried to lay two eggs in one day, and therefore didn't have time to put a shell on the second (the shell is the last part of the "egg making" process). The other theory is that when a bantam egg is not constrained by a shell it looks larger than it normally would, and that the second egg is therefore Frog's.

Of course, its quite possibly for both these theories to be true, and for Fizzy to still not have laid an egg. We'll have to watch and wait, and see what happens next.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Happy Birthday Hens!

One year!

We've now had the girls for 37 weeks, and they were 15 weeks old when we got them - which by my reckoning makes today their birthday. Here are a few highlights from the last nine months:

The first few days:

Pepper looks so much younger in these early photos.

Gaining their trust:

We are now well established as "The Bringers of Food".

Learning how much they love fruit:

Having a bath:

After accidentally shutting Lemon out in the rain overnight, we brought her inside
for some pampering. 

Our Christmas present:

The first egg - laid on Christmas Day.

Freedom of the garden:

They love checking for dropped seed under the bird feeders.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Chicken run, mark two

For the first five months we had the hens we've had them set up in a temporary position to help us clear an overgrown area of the garden. There are a few photos of what this all looks like in my posts about gardening and the chicken coop. At the start of this year we decided it was time to finish converting this area into vegetable plots ready for the spring and the chickens were moved to their more permanent location.

Three months later and the vegetable plots were coming on nicely, but the new chicken run was looking a bit sorry for itself. The area is entirely muddy, smaller than previously, and a strange mix of holes courtesy of the previous owners of the house. The area had been covered in gravel when we moved in and it was only as we shifted this to one side (now that was a fun afternoon) that we discovered concrete, hard core and cables from days gone by.

A new plan was needed.

So here it is. Fence posts rather than sticks, meaning properly tensioned wire, five foot tall rather than three, and a door. An actual door. No more climbing over the fence, losing my balance or getting stuck in the netting for me.

There is another stage - we want to remove the hard core and replace it with wood chippings. However we want to make use of the hard core elsewhere in the garden, so the chickens will have to live with it a little longer until we're ready.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Infographical Egg Log

As a finally summary to February's egg log I have made an infographic. For those not familiar with the term try popping it into google and looking at the image results - essentially its a way of taking some dry information or statistics and representing it in a clear, and often fun manner.

Sorry about the long wait on this one. I spent a while trying to do this from scratch - but came to the conclusion that I am no graphic designer, and so turned to the web where I found infogr.am, who very kindly provided my with the tools I needed to produce a simple infographic. Here is the result:

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cranking up production

Our hens have been laying eggs like clockwork for the last couple of months. Frog lays for four consecutive days, and then has a day off, whereas Lemon favours a three days on, one day off approach. Pepper has been a little more erratic, tending to lay for six or seven days before taking a break. Fizzy, of course, has yet to lay anything.

And so imagine my surprise over the last week when my egg log looked like this:

That's right - seven consecutive days from both Frog and Lemon. Each day I went outside expecting to get no eggs, and each day there were another three waiting for me! Maybe they think spring is finally here?

Friday, 12 April 2013

A door problem

I mentioned last week that we've started to release our hens to free-range over the garden when we get home each evening. I also mentioned that they are brilliant at getting themselves back into the coop at the end of the day.

And then we confused them.

The old run, looking all crumpled.

We spent nearly all weekend building a new run for them. We wanted something sturdier and taller. We also wanted something with a door to make it easier for both us and them to get in and out - currently we climb over the fence, and they have a little door that we have to tie up with string and was rapidly showing signs of wear.

Phase one of the new run went really well. We set 5 fence posts into the ground, moved the coop sideways a little to allow them a larger space, and dug three quarters of a trench to allow us to bury the mesh six inches down. In order to get it back into a working run ready for the week we re-fitted the old mesh in the gap that we hadn't dug the trench for yet. The piece of mesh was too long, but instead of cutting it we just sat the excess to one side and used it to fill the hole that is currently the door during the day. The hole that is the door hasn't moved - but the big bundle of mesh sitting to one side does make it less clear.

The new run at the end of phase one

This, I think, is the problem. The girls can't find the door - particularly when trying to get to the coop. One night this week three hens managed to navigate to their way in, but I found Pepper wandering round and round the excess mesh trying to work it out. I gave her a helping hand.

Two nights this week our two bantams - Frog and Fizzy - have clearly just given up. They opted for the next best thing. They've decided to sleep on top of the coop instead!

Friday, 5 April 2013

BST and a new sort of freedom

Three cheers for British Summer Time!

It may not have got much above freezing yet, but the hour of extra sunlight in the evenings is still very much appreciated. It makes such a difference to the feel of the day to get home from work and have a few hours of sunlight still left to enjoy - even if I need a hat and scarf to do so!

For the hens this means a change of routine too. Giving them the freedom of the garden under close supervision at the weekends has given us the confidence to decide that we will do so more often. It gets them out of the mud bath that is their run and gives them access to greens, bugs, dry soil and a bit of space to run and flap.

We'd also noticed that the last few times we'd released them that they would happily wander back into the run to get to water, or to the nest boxes which convinced us that they were settled and that they knew where home was which makes the whole thing a lot easier.

So, from now on the plan is to let them out when we get home from work until they decide that it's bed time. We've done this each night this week and it's worked like a treat. We let them out at about six, they enjoy themselves greatly and then at about eight go back to their coop and settle down for the night. Bingo.

Checking out the odds I have corn hidden behind my camera...

Everyone enjoying preening in the late evening sun

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A tale of two pests

Sorry for my absence last week: A relatively sunny bank holiday weekend seemed to take me away from my computer for the most part. A most pleasant experience. Did everyone else have a good long weekend?

I must admit though, I have a confession to make. Well, two confessions really. Deep breaths and here we go:

Confession number one
The first concerns last weeks worming. For a while now we've noticed that Fizzy has seemed a little under the weather. She seemed to be eating fine which is one thing to check, and she's never laid an egg which makes it hard to notice that she might have stopped laying, yet she stopped being her normal boisterous self. We'd assumed that this was because she'd slipped down a place or two in the pecking order. As each of the other hens has started to lay that seems to have given them a higher status, leaving poor Fizzy as a bit of an outsider.

However, a week after giving them wormer and she seems to have perked up again. She's still not really part of the group with the others but she's seeming a bit more full of life, and has started to tell us off again if we dare not give her a treat when we go out into the garden.

This is really good to see, but makes me feel bad that we hadn't spotted the problems earlier - and reminds me that at the end of the day we're still novices at this. We'll continue to keep an eye on her (and the others) to make sure that she doesn't pick them up again - and maybe she'll start laying soon if she's feeling better.

Confession number two
We were spending some time with them on Saturday and noticed that Pepper was looking a bit scragglier than normal. Digging around under her wings into the softer downier feathers I spotted a louse scurrying for cover. I only ever saw the one no matter how hard I looked, so we're hoping this isn't a bad infestation, but we gave all four hens a hefty dose of lice powder and disinfected the coop. Again, this is going to be one to keep an eye on and make sure that we've sorted now.

I'll tell you one thing though - I'm so glad that we've make a point of learning how to handle our hens, and getting them used to regular handling. They certainly don't come to us voluntarily, but the process of catching each hen and administering the lice powder was so much simpler than it would have been six months ago. The hens stayed fairly calm, and the whole fiasco was done in a matter of minutes. Phew!

p.s. Sorry for the lack of photos for this one, we acted first and thought about photos second!

Friday, 22 March 2013

What's a worm do?

Its that time again. Lots of pets need regular worming and chickens are no different. In the case of our feathered friends, they need to be wormed every 6 months. We did them when we first got them, and time has flown.

We use Flubenvet. You can buy it at places like Countrywide and then its just a case of spiking their feed with it for a week or so. Since our enormous feeder holds over a weeks food for our flock anyway its a case of taking what we'd normally put in each weekend and adding the requisite amount of drug - in this case about a scoop. Simple.

Monday, 18 March 2013

What a palaver!

Our hens are very good at laying their eggs in the next boxes. Once they get the hang of egg laying they don't lay them anywhere else - which is great for us - it means we don't end up scrabbling around trying to work out where they've put them now.

There is one exception to this good news and that is when we need to clean out the coop. This weekend we were due a lot of rain, so I decided to take advantage of a couple of sunny hours on Saturday morning to get the coop all clean and tidy and ship shape ready for another week. We let the hens loose in the garden which is usually quite enough distraction and took apart the hen house.

The coop we bought is really useful as the floor of the main coop removes completely, as do the perches, but it means that once we start cleaning the nest boxes are inaccessible. Lemon decided that this was the moment that she needed to lay an egg. Now. When Pepper or Frog is in this position they tend to hover near the coop with their legs crossed until they can get inside again. Lemon is not this subtle about life. She made a racket and a half. Initially I ignored her, egg laying is not as quick as you'd think and I wanted to get the coop sorted before the rain came. But she kept squawking and squawking and squawking. In the end we quickly sorted the nest boxes and reassembled the not-yet-clean coop to allow her access.

To be fair to her, she did pop straight inside, was quiet, and came out again a couple of minutes later. But she hadn't laid an egg. A moment later she was back inside, and then back out again, and she still hadn't laid an egg. This went on for 20 minutes. In the end it took midwife Pepper to pop in and talk her through it. Finally I thought. Except that they didn't then come back out to enjoy the grass, but decided to both sit in the same nest box on top of the egg. I really hope that this isn't the early sign of a broody hen.

In the end I chucked the two of them out, collected the egg and finally got the rest of the coop clean. What a palaver!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Most of the time of late the chicken run has been a rather squelchy affair. Our soil could sometimes pass for clay fit for sculptors to use and certainly isn't well drained. We have grand plans to change this in the near future by building them a run with several inches of wood chip flooring as this will be better all round, but for the mean time we have to put up with the mud.

Given the sort of winter we've had, I would anticipate our hens having muddy feet - and possibly even slightly muddy feathers. What I didn't realise is that they would end up caked in the stuff. Pepper has not been a pure white bird for many months, and while Frog's chocolate brown feathers can hide the full extent of the muck she too can build up a good layer.

Fizzy however, tops them all. Maybe she's not so good at preening as the others but I can only assume she regularly drags her belly through the muddiest puddles she can find - just for the fun of it.

Fizzy sporting this years fashion of "muddy tummy"

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Just one more minute. Please?

Checking that Joe's new vegetable plot is
in the right place before he starts to dig.
It's becoming a bit of a habit to let the hens loose in the garden for some time each weekend. It's great fun to see them enjoying freedom from their muddy enclosure. The first time we tried it, they barely took in how much garden was available to them but now they're much more familiar with the space and tend to go straight for the grass under the bird feeders which gets covered with seed. Yum yum yum.

Getting the girls back into their run after such an excursion isn't as hard as you'd think due to their great weakness for corn. They're well trained to come running at the rattle of the corn tin and so we can lead them across the garden like the pied piper. A few handfuls of corn thrown into the run area and they're straight inside to get their beaks on such goodies. Easy.

This Saturday however I had no such luck. They'd been loose all morning, but we wanted to go out for the afternoon. I went out armed with the tin of corn and gave it a good shake. Three chickens came running. I led them across the garden planning to round up the stray later and threw a handful of corn into the run. Two chickens went in to investigate. Typical.

So, with Lemon and Pepper busy stuffing their faces, I turned my attention to Frog. Frog seemed to have twigged that this whole corn malarkey was a trick, and much as she wanted to have her share there was no way she was going through the door to get at it! We're starting to get well practised at herding hens and the trick is to keep your arms outstretched - they will run away from both hands at once and so by bringing one hand or the other closer in you can direct them where you want to go. A couple of runs back and forth with little Frog and I finally persuaded her to join the larger two. Now, where had Fizzy got to?

Fizzy was having a bath - a dust bath to be precise - and wanted to finish it before going home if I didn't mind. I did mind. I wanted my lunch and I wasn't going to wait around for Fizzy to finish her bath. Knowing that Fizzy can be the most flighty of the flock I started to move slowly towards her hoping she'd get up and start to run away from me and towards the coop. She ignored me completely.

I got a little closer. She gave me a reproachful look and then continued her bath. This must be a really good bit of dust I thought as I took another step closer. Still she just watched me. So I picked her up to a very disgruntled squawk, carried her across the garden, popped her into the run, and shut the door quickly before they got any clever ideas of escaping again.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Task complete!

Today is the last day of my 'Egg Log'. Throughout February I have logged which hens laid each day, what time of day we found the eggs, and how we used them. I've found it an interesting process. There have been a few pleasant surprises - such as Lemon laying her first eggs - and I've started to spot a few patterns in what was going on which pleases me greatly.

At its peak we had 16 eggs sitting on our kitchen side waiting to be used (and with three hens laying it seems this is going to be a more common sight).

I'm going to leave the raw data on the Egg Log for a while (probably until I think of a better use for the space), but I have also decided to have a go at distilling all the information into info-graphic format. I've never done anything like this before - so watch this space. I'm going to need some time to think of different ways to represent the stats - and then even more time to acheive what I have in my head on paper!

In the mean time, I'm going to celebrate the end of the egg logging process with a little challenge for each of you readers. You have a whole stack of available data to analyse, extrapolate, stare at or ignore at your peril! The question is this:

How many eggs will be laid on the 4th March, and by which hens?

Answers below by midnight on 3rd March, and I'll contemplate the concept of prizes. Have fun :)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Spring has sprung?

I always love this time of year. Not particularly because of the weather which can still be quite wintery, but because the amount of daylight we receive is getting noticeably larger by the day. At the lowest point of the year we get a sunrise at about 8.15 and sunset at 16.00. This means that I spend pretty much every hour of sunshine at the office - not very inspiring.

Fortunately, this doesn't last forever. We've now reached that lovely point where the sun gets up before I do, and still hasn't completely set when I get home in the evening. I could sing for joy!

This reawakens me to the fun we had trying to put the chickens to bed last summer (check out my day-in-the-life post to read all about it). Over the last few months I've nipped over to the chicken coop when I've got home from work to find the girls snuggled up in bed. This has made shutting the coop door a doddle.

However, this week I've got home and found that they've only just gone inside for the night, and are wide awake really. I went to shut the coop door on Monday and discovered a face peering back at me - Frog had decided to have a look at what I was doing. Not very helpful! On this occasion me checking the nest boxes for eggs was long enough for her to decide that she did want to go to sleep really and I was able to slide the door home. Soon we'll have to start sneaking up on the coop again so that they don't all come running out to see whats happening. Let the games begin!

Friday, 15 February 2013

You want me to do WHAT?

On Tuesday this week three eggs were laid. That's right, you heard me, three. Two in the nest box where any sensible hen would lay them, and one out in the open. The third egg is similar in size to those we've been collecting from Pepper and, therefore, I do declare Lemon has started to lay eggs. What a nice hen.

Two days later I was getting ready for work and heard a commotion outside. Pepper was making quite a lot of noise, which isn't unheard of but is normally for a reason. We'd already collected a Pepper egg that morning, so these couldn't be celebratory clucks. I went to investigate.

It turns out that Pepper was only making a small portion of the noise. Lemon, on the other hand was in the coop making what I can only describe as "what the hell is my body doing to me" sorts of clucks. Think woman in labour and you wouldn't be far wrong. I left her to it, hoping that I was correct in thinking she was laying an egg, rather than anything more sinister.

Thursdays eggs.
Top to bottom: Lemon, Frog, Pepper
We've noticed before the distinct difference in how noisy the different breeds of chicken are. Frog, quiet and placid, rarely clucks at all, Pepper can be a little noisy at times. Fizzy and Lemon however, are both Orpingtons, and this turns out to be a much more vocal breed of chicken. Whether they are nervous, scared, excited, being bossy, or just letting you know the news from the coop, these two don't shut up. The variety of noises they make is great but hopefully once they get used to laying their daily eggs we won't be treated to the melodramatic squawks we had that morning too often.

When I checked for eggs again that evening there were two more waiting for me. Add them to the one egg collected in the morning, and I'd call that success.

Do you have any melodramatic pets? I'd love to hear your stories.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Fizzing Whizzbee

I have recently been posting video introductions of our clan. Last but not least in our flock we have Fizzy. Fizzy is everything the others were not. She was the first and the bravest of our hens to eat from our hands, and will always pay most attention to what we're doing in the garden - just in case there's something interesting happening. She is the first out of the coop every morning, and was the clever one that sussed out the feeder weeks before the others.

If you missed my earlier posts, have a peek at my introductions to Pepper, Frog and Lemon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

And they're out....

I don't know about you, but this weekend we had a lovely sunny (if a little chilly) Saturday - perfect for doing all sorts of jobs in the garden. As the hens currently have no greenery in their run we made a little door in the side of the mesh and let them loose to free-range for the morning.

Pepper, in her wisdom and boldness, decided that pecking at everything that came her way was a plan - whether it be wire cutters as we created a door, or the string we used to lace it back up again. Clearly poking edible things through the bars of their run has been bad training!

Once the door was open they needed no persuasion at all. Off they went across the lawn to sample the delights of fresh grass, leaves, berries, dropped bird food and any thing else they could find. They supervised Joe turning the compost heap and tried to sneak a nibble on the new vegetable shoots while he wasn't looking.

Fizzy particularly enjoyed the autumn berries left on a few shrubs round the garden. We were worried that they might not do her any good, and kept trying to persuade her away from them, but she is a determined little hen. We even pruned away all the branches at pecking height, but she was still jumping to reach berries on higher branches. We still seem to have four healthy chickens however, so perhaps she knew what she was doing. I certainly shan't worry so much next time.

(A few pictures of the dust bath - but I'm afraid its hard to capture anything more than "bundle of feathers" in such scenarios!)

Their favourite pastime during the course of the morning was a dust bath. After months of wallowing in mud they found themselves a nice dry dusty piece of earth under our large hedge and dug themselves in for about an hour. Well, Pepper, Lemon and Frog did anyway, Fizzy mostly seemed to hover nervously round the edge and watch the other three bathe themselves. Since Pepper and Frog have started laying they have gained in confidence - and in pecking order position. Poor Fizzy has been seriously demoted and no longer pushes her way to the front of every queue. I'm sure she'll be back to herself when she starts laying eggs of her own though.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Keeping track

In order to satisfy the geek in me I have decided to make a note of which hen lays each day, and what we use the eggs for - for one month. I'm also slightly hopeful that over the month we might start getting eggs from more than just two hens too, for bonus points.

You'll be able to keep track with me by clicking on the Egg Log tab up at the top there ^. Maybe once I'm done I'll try and draw some "scientific" conclusions. I hope that someone else might find interest in this, but completely understand if its just me!

So for now all there is to say is that I'm starting this process off with 9 eggs on the rack and 1 egg collected this morning.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Squeeze of Lemon

Third on my list of introductions is Lemon. Lemon is large and fluffy and relatively tame, but nowhere near as calm as Frog or Pepper. It took a while for Lemon to trust us, but she is now happy to come and eat from our hands - and she'll never miss an opportunity to raid an unguarded corn pot (see footage of Pepper for a prime example). She also particularly loves fruit (even more so than the other three), and is quite willing to beg, borrow and steal in an attempt to get a mouthful of something sweet.

Why not also watch my introductions to Pepper and Frog?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Mash 'em up

About a month ago I regaled you with my thoughts on looking after our hens in frosty weather. I mentioned that one way to help them stay warm is to mix their food with hot water, and promised that once we had tried it I would come back and tell you all about it. Following that post the weather became increasingly mild, which rather put the idea on the back-burner for a while.

This week, however, all has changed. We had 6 inches of snow on Friday and another inch on Tuesday and the temperature hasn't been higher than 1C for many days. The time had come to put the plan into action.

First things first though - the fruit netting that we use as a roof to the run was bending dangerously under the weight of the snow and threatening to drag the whole run down with it (sorry, no pictures). We removed it. We'd have to take the risk for a few days, and hope that chickens wouldn't get out and foxes wouldn't get in (so far, so good).

Now we could get in and out, we mixed up some layers mash (a finely ground mix of chicken food for adult hens) with some hot water to make a porridge like mixture and popped it in an old bowl. They have tucked in with gusto, and have done so each morning. It has been a massive hit. Hurrah!

Unfortunately its been about the only thing they have enjoyed this week. The girls have not been impressed with all this cold weather. They've been tending to spend most of their time tucked up in the coop to keep warm and have avoided walking on snow if they can help it.
In contrast, we've been having great fun and turned a large portion of the snow in our garden into a snow chicken. I mean, why not?

How has everyone else been finding the snow? 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Ribbit, Ribbit

The next in my series of chicken introductions brings you the quiet and unassuming Frog. She is the little'un of the group - shyer than the others and less likely to fight to the front in an attempt to get corn. In a British "love of the underdog" way she has a special place in the group - but she's also quite capable of standing up for herself, and it makes us smile whenever she forces Lemon or Pepper (easily twice her size) to back down.

Wondering what Pepper is like? Catch up on her introduction here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

St Clements Curd

Now we have two hens that are regularly laying eggs I find myself wondering about all sorts of imaginative ways to use them. We've had spaghetti carbonara, Yorkshire puddings, poached eggs and omelettes but we'd probably have done all of those anyway. I fear that in a very short time we'll be fed up of poached/boiled/fried/scrambled eggs if we don't quickly expand our egg recipe repertoire . Joe has recently been learning to make crème patisserie and eggs seems to disappear by the dozen when he gets going on a cooking spree which definitely helps the cause!

What I'm really looking for are recipes that use eggs in a way that doesn't leave them looking like eggs. Cakes of all kinds are a great example of this, and one of my favourites at the moment is this spiced apple cake. I found this recipe on a website called Tastespotting. I enjoy baking and often find myself browsing the brilliant site that is Tastespotting for inspiration. Tastespotting brings together recipes from food bloggers around the world and they're picky in what they allow to appear, so you can guarantee that recipes that tickle your fancy will be clearly laid out and accompanied by photos that lure you into just having to give them a go.

Another recent find was this recipe for St Clements Curd. It seemed fairly simple to make, we had all the ingredients in the house and it used six eggs for a win! As it didn't seem to last too long (two weeks in a cupboard, or four in a fridge according to the recipe) I decided to just make a half batch to see how it came out - if it proved moreish and disappeared quickly then, I reasoned, I could always make more.

As it happens, it is very tasty and has a good zinginess to it. Being orange and lemon curd I keep veering between whether I would rather it was more lemony or not, but I will definitely be making something like this again. Its just a question of whether I go hunting for similar recipes - or start to tweak this one.

What are your favourite egg based recipes?

Friday, 11 January 2013

A Peppery Post

I have had requests for some video footage on this blog. As one particular request specified that I should be attempting to catch a chicken I suspect that the person in question was looking for a good laugh. However, I decided I would oblige. Not once, mind you, but four times.

I am going to give you a chance to see our girls in the flesh, and this week it's the turn of the lovely Pepper. Pepper is one of the easiest to catch and one of the calmest too. So without further ado I'll let me do the rest of the talking:

Friday, 4 January 2013

Mystery egg-layer number two

Good things all come at once right? Not only did we have a Christmas day egg from the lovely Pepper, who has continued to lay an egg about once a day ever since, but we have also had a couple of eggs that are certainly not Pepper's. These are much smaller and are almost certainly laid by one of the two bantams, but which - we do not know!

Will the mystery egg-layer please step forward...
Frog or Fizzy? Any guesses?