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, 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!