Hen party

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Nine revellers attended the hen party at Cosy Cottage. Six were human guests (including S, yes, we both survived the D. I. Y torment!) Three were the feathered V. I. Ps, who had arrived a week before and, despite a little pecking and bickering amongst themselves (mostly from Dottie), they appeared to be happily settling in.

One week earlier, me and Dad picked them up from the poultry breeder. They were so quiet in their large, sturdy cardboard box in the car, on the way to their new life, I fretted something had happened. But they were fine, perhaps apprehensive about leaving their home and friends behind.

By this stage, there was a spare coop in the garden, a plastic one (albeit a cheaper and plainer version than the more famous ones you can buy).

So for the first few days, while we worked on getting the wooden coop 100% ready for the ladies, they enjoyed living in the henhouse on the grass. A smaller B&B perhaps but one with a delicious restaurant attached, offering scrumptious sweet grass galore.

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On the first evening, while Jemima and Florence were getting ready for their beauty sleep after their busy day moving house, Dottie stood in front of their home, cackling away like a witch. ย I heard the loud harsh notes in my living room, wondering, what on earth is that sound? Is it a child crying next door?

And when I saw Dottie, proudly standing like a sentry guard, shouting her little head off, I cringed.

My mum was right, they were noisy. My neighbours will be at my door with pitchforks, demanding to know what that awful racket was, waking them up from an early evening snooze in front of Coronation Street. They will ring the environmental health, the police and the courts, I will be on the front page on the local newspaper and…

Maybe I should actually check what is actually going on?

And when I did, my fear-filled frown turned into a big smile. For there, in the nesting area was a perfect petite white egg (pictured below, in comparison to two normal size eggs). An object of beauty. It looked more like Jemima’s egg as she was white but Dottie was definitely taking the credit for it, whether it was hers or not.

And once I removed the egg, she was quiet again. Maybe she was telling me of her good deed for the day?!

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The girls moved from their summer residence to their main abode later that week. It was a test to see whether the coop which me, S and Dad laboured so long on was actually chicken-ready at all. My parents said I might have to ‘teach’ the girls to go up and down the ramp for the first few evenings. Yet, unlike guinea pigs Bugsy and Loco, who, first time they saw a ramp looked at it as if it had flown in from outer space, these clever girls took themselves to bed on the first night, no bother.

Not only that, bedtime was actually sooner than I expected. I only noticed it got dark about 8.30pm but they were all roosting by 8pm.

Two interesting observations – one, they can sense it gets dark much sooner than I can. Two, I really noticed the nights drawing in because they were going to bed earlier and earlier.

Dottie was the easiest to handle, she would squat down making it easy for this apprehensive first-time hen carer to pick her up. Jemima was confident but flighty and Florence, the youngest who didn’t have a full comb on her head as yet, was incredibly nervous and would run away as soon as anyone got near.

S decided to make friends with the hens.

First he lifted Jemima up. Jemima showed her respect by… Well, let’s just say S had to change his T-shirt!

Ladies?! Not sure about that! Mind you, I always had the feeling Jemima was a rebel with a strange sense of humour.

The ladies proved a big hit at the hen party and were on the best behaviour, except for Florence and Jemima who made an escape mid-move to the summerhouse. Fortunately, they were easily herded back into the coop. They received more fans from the Book Club, when I hosted the monthly meeting later that week.

I was hoping that with all this admiration they weren’t going to get big-headed!

 

Facts of the Day

1. The fleshy part of skin on top of the head of a chicken is called a comb.

2. The beak is made of hard keratin that continues to grow.

3. Food is ground up in the hen’s gizzard, helped by small stones which the hen will have previously eaten. Hens don’t have teeth.

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Posh ladies

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I wanted to be a heroine and save three lives from certain death, and a previous hellish existence.

Imagine being locked up in tiny A4-size cages with no natural light, no pecking order companions (not unless you count fellow prisoners crammed next to you), no kindliness, no space, not even to flap your cramped wings. You are, essentially, treated and seen as a machine.

Writing the above, makes me feel a sense of guilt, even now.

You see, I didn’t adopt three ex-battery hens.

Instead, I selected three posh bantams – Jemima (white), Dottie (speckled) and Florence (brown barred).

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I dithered for two years, unable to choose between hybrids, bantams and ex-bats. Hybrids were given short shrift as, although I heard they were perfect for beginners, I deemed them too large for my garden. If I was going to have full-size chickens, I would adopt three or four, maybe five, former battery hens.

My heart would plead for me to sign up for one of the various rehoming programmes that would occur on a regular basis. Charities such as The British Hen Welfare Trust would advertise, and I would be thinking, I’m sure the coop would be ready in a month’s time. Yes, I could sign up today for the rehoming date next month…

But my head would impatiently nudge my heart aside and urge me to look at the facts. Despite my rural smallholding fantasies, I had a small garden in the suburbs. The coop outside area was large enough for two or three full-size hens, just about, but the interior – the bedding quarters, nest boxes, perch – may be a tight squeeze for three.

Although they would probably class it as luxury compared to their previous miserable cell.

Perhaps most importantly, my head sternly reminded me I had zero experience of chickens. What if one was ill or died? It was more likely to happen with girls who had a traumatic beginning in life than youngsters who were born and brought up in the best circumstances. So I went for the ‘easier’ option.

I don’t regret getting the genteel pekin ladies, with their flamboyant bustles, flares and bootees.

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But I have not turned my back on the battery girls. Some time in the future, three or four will find a home at Cosy Cottage.

In the meantime, sponsoring a hen for ยฃ4 a month is always the next best thing… ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”

Facts of the Day

1. Do you have a home for ex-battery hens? Call the British Hen Welfare Trust on 01884 860084 or visit http://www.bhwt.org.uk for information.

2. JB of boyband JLS fame has three ex-bats on his farm and the 600,000th rescue hen has found a home at Kensington Gardens no less!

3. If you can’t rehome, why not sponsor a hen for ยฃ4 a month? Email info@bhwt.co.uk for details.

 

All Cooped Up – Chapter 3

 

May

I once thought the coop would have been completed by March, let alone May. But by late spring, the coop was still looking like a half-finished art project for the Tate Modern (or an eyesore, take your pick). Time to get a move on…

The ramp was next. Something I thought would be easy turned out to be trickier than expected (always the case in D. I. Y!) ๐Ÿ˜•

I found a long plank of wood that was just right. That was the easy part.

The idea is for hens to walk up and down the ramp so they can take themselves to bed at night and go out at daybreak.

My colleague who had the allotment suggested small branches as rungs which the hens could grip onto with their feet but these twigs kept breaking off so I found little rectangular slices of wood. Well, I tried glueing them (not advised, they fall off), screwing and nailing them onto the plank. Nothing seemed to work. The wood panels were too small, the screws and nails too big. Then S spotted a pack of tiny nails, tacks, for sale at a car boot sale. He sawed small wood segments of equal size and nailed these mini tacks in. It took longer than we expected but, most importantly, it worked. ย ๐Ÿ™‚

The old shed in my garden, demolished when I first arrived at Cosy Cottage, came in handy as Dad realised the old door could be the outside door. He sawed off the rotten section and cut it to size. It looked like it would work.

We started attaching the weld mesh along the coop, making sure there was an apron which could be tucked underneath the stones. This would make it difficult for foxes to enter. First we attached the wire mesh with cable ties as a temporary measure, before later nailing in staples.

June

A much needed rest from coop building as holidays (Isle of Man) and gardening took priority.

July

I had been struggling trying to figure out how to fix a perch inside the coop. Too high and the birds will hit their heads on the nest boxes (or was the perch supposed to be higher than the nest boxes? I was getting confused with everything I had ever read about chickens). Too low and the hens may as well be sitting on the ground and from what I read, they liked to perch high. And another thing, how were they to reach the nest boxes and would the perch be in the way?

Eventually we opted for a simple lean to perch, which, it was hoped, could also act as a ladder.

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August

My deadline was end of August. It was the date for both the hens’ arrival and a welcoming party (hen party, get it?!).

By fortunate coincidence, my colleague asked me to look after his hens at the allotment while he was on holiday. This gave me a free practical course in chicken keeping.

The interior door was originally opened upwards, over my head, but this would be a hassle, especially when cleaning. So a month ago, it was taken off and now was screwed back on. It could now be opened sideways, much easier! ๐Ÿ˜Š

The outside door was attached. Dad bought padlock, door handles and bolts for the interior and outside doors. Now, it really was looking like a coop! Goodbye eyesore, hello hen house! ๐Ÿ™‚

A last minute flooding emergency on the weekend of the collection of the hens had to be resolved. Rain was getting into the bedding area, this was fixed by a plastic sheet. The wooden back of the roosting area had become warped over the last six months which meant the original egg collection flap idea had to be scrapped. The plastic sheet covered what would have been the egg collection flap. The collector (me!) would just have to enter the coop itself to collect eggs, which is what tends to happen anyway for cleaning, feeding and supplying water.

All the hens’ cleaning equipment was placed in one bucket, which was then stored in the shed – washing up gloves, brush and shovel, scraper and a washing up brush. Well organised for once!

The side garden was once a boring mass of stones and pebbles. But by placing a path and some plant containers on the way to the coop, it was starting to look almost like a, well, real garden. Now it was time to fetch the girls… ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒท

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Our beautiful planet

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Often at Cosy Cottage, I watch the blue and great tits fluttering over to the bird feeder to nibble fat ball snacks. (Yes, Cosy Cottage also operates as a cafรฉ for my feathered chums).

And while I do, I brood upon the state of the world.

Is it me or do labels divide us?

Who are you? Are you male, female, transgender, intersex, gay, ย straight, bisexual, black, white, brown, mixed race, Christian, Catholic, CofE, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, Tory, Labour, Lib Democrats, Green, Remainer, Leaver, poor, rich, comfortable, British, English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish…?

And so on… And so on…

Of course, we are this and that, that and the other. I am some of these descriptions too. Of course I am. They form part of each and everyone’s identity and certainly I am proud of my Celtic heritage.

But what if we focus on these labels to the extent that other issues are forgotten?

Like the planet. Endangered species. Pollution.

Would things be better if, instead of thinking of ourselves and each other in terms of our gender/race/sexuality/religion (etc etc) identities, we look at each other primarily as

1. Humans

2. Humans who live on a beautiful planet – which we really should start looking after as it is our home!

3. Humans who share our home (planet) with our fellow beings (other species) who have just the same right to live here as we do.

For any religious readers, I do believe that, if there is a God, He would want us to look after the planet given to us … And care for each other, humans and animals.

And for non-religious readers, even without a God, why would we want to mess up the home we all live in? Why arrogantly assume we are the only species which matters? Or leave our planet in a polluted, disease-ridden, barren state for the next generation?

Facts of the Day

1. Elephants face serious threats including illegal killing for ivory and habitat destruction. In 1900, there were 10 million elephants. In 2014, there were only 420,000. (www.bornfree.org.uk)

2. It takes plastic 400 years to degrade in water.

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3. Chemicals such as pesticides, found in polluted water, can contaminate food chains through affected marine life. This can lead to nervous system damage, hormonal problems amongst others. (www.plasticoceans.org)

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All Cooped Up – Chapter 2

 

 

The long weekend turned into a long five months as me, S and my dad gradually worked on the coop. Other garden priorities got in the way – creating a herb patch (another story), working on drainage (ditto), making a new fence… Perhaps the herb patch could have played second fiddle to the coop but as you may already have guessed, my old pal Procrastination (aka Do it Tomorrow, Not Today) had come to visit. Again. ๐Ÿ˜•

S lived 150 miles away and I did not want to pester my dad, a pensioner, to do too much so I would potter out in the garden, stand and gaze at the skeleton of the coop and, hand on chin, muse on what to do next. ๐Ÿค”

March

I sawed (a new skill I learnt, albeit with a small lightweight saw) and screwed the four base planks along the bottom of the coop. Dad helped… ย or did I help him as he did most of the work? Although electric screwdrivers lost power and screws got stuck where we didn’t want them to, finally we got it done.

Painted the coop a lovely duck egg blue. At least the girls’ home will be nicely decorated if nothing else!

Me and Dad tried to lift the coop as we thought it would be nice to have it in the back garden so I could see the hens and they could see me. We tried… And we failed. Too heavy.

It was going to stay where it was.

April

The nest boxes were not fully secure, the wood partitions kept sliding out with just flimsy wooden blocks – which were already breaking apart – holding them in. So I screwed in white plastic blocks to keep them in place.

A week later, the next boxes were adjusted. They were too low. They had been too high originally. Now they were too low. I placed them higher up, checking it would still be possible to collect the eggs from the ‘egg door’ at the rear of the coop, a flap which S had made and was nailed on for now.

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Picture: The original nest boxes. February 2017

It was no use. Even with the white blocks, the partitions were still unsteady. ๐Ÿ™ A better ‘handywoman’ than I would have solved the dilemma by adjusting screws and blocks but I was too impatient for that and researched books and online for nest box ideas. Experiments followed – holes in plastic tubs… Plastic buckets with no holes … Eureka! The egg collector would still be able to get the eggs from outside, simply by putting their hand in and moving the bucket so it was facing them.

Problem solved! I think? ๐Ÿ™‚

S came up for the weekend and started working on the pophole. This consisted of taking the door off the coop, measuring and sawing a 30cm x 30cm (roughly) hole, screwing two small wooden pieces at the side – which would keep the vertical sliding cover in place when closed – and the pophole T-shaped door itself.

It was now the start of May and there was still wire mesh to be attached onto the coop, a ramps and perches to be made, an exterior door to be found…

I’d like to say I channelled my inner Angela Rice (remember how she worked miracles in a short space of time? Or was that a different TV programme?) but I fear it was more a case of the Chuckle Brothers – from me to you. ๐Ÿ˜•

As long as my inner Frank Spencer doesn’t make an appearance, the project is confusing enough without any disasters!

(To be continued)

 

All cooped up

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(Picture: How the coop looked in February 2017)

We began the epic Coop Adventure in February, the days leading up to S’s birthday, possibly not one he would particularly like to repeat… We both took three days off work so had a maximum of five days to start and (so we thought!) finish.

SATURDAY – DAY ONEย 

Although we had already gathered wood which would be used and recycled, and I had already purchased the weld mesh, there were still many items needed.

First was a visit to Homebase where we ordered wood posts/ joists, two corrugated plastic panels for the roof, plywood panels, nails, screws, fencing staples and bolts. We queried about a blueish tinge to the joists and were told it was copper sulphate. ย A check on my mobile phone’s internet reassured us it wasn’t poisonous to hens.

I naively assumed we would be able to place these materials in our Hyundai i10 or Skoda but, of course, everything was much larger than I presumed. My fault. I wanted a walk-in coop didn’t I? Happily, they would be able to deliver the goods Monday morning.

Actually, I mused that evening, making a coop is rather enjoyable. Just a case of writing lists, pottering around a D. I. Y store, buying materials and tools, and crossing off items on a list. I love lists. ๐Ÿ˜€

SUNDAY – DAY TWO

Today we dug out the stones in the side garden to make room for the coop and laid the bricks down in place for the foundation.

I think I know what we’re doing. ๐Ÿค”

 

 

 

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Picture: Slideshow of various stages of coop construction, February 2017

MONDAY – DAY THREE

The delivery arrived! The joy! Now we can really get moving with the project.

Today was a day of measuring and sawing, tantrums and swearing.

No! Well, actually yes… But what I meant to say was, today was a day of measuring and sawing, drilling and screwing – we made the frame using the timber beams.

Above is a simple sentence which hides a lot of hard work and frustration. ๐Ÿ˜•

TUESDAY – Day four

Today the wooden frame began to resemble a rough outline of a coop. The roof was joined to the frame. We laid out the two corrugated plastic sheets on top of each other so they would cover the run/coop, and very carefully drilled holes for the bolts. Building the interior coop, as in the hens’ sleeping quarters, required the use of the plywood sheets we bought. Again, a measuring tape and pencil was required. We decided to have the coop three feet off the floor, and two feet height. It was attached to the frame, there was a top, bottom, and three sides. And a door which became a problem when I found it was tricky to lift open. Hmm, a problem to solve later.

The other issue was the egg door. The hens would lay their eggs in nest boxes at the back of the sleeping area. That was the plan. I had heard a flap or door at the back would provide easy access to collect those eggs. So S constructed a flap which looked like it would do the trick.

Another job to cross off the list.

Wednesday – Day Five

We finished the nest boxes on the morning of day five. ย A simple design of a open-sided box and two wooded partitions, we felt it would work. It would have to. We were too tired and exasperated to do much else even though there were still the ramp, nest boxes, exterior door, wire mesh, perches to do…

And, quite frankly, we were fed up of being, if you will, cooped up with this seemingly gigantic task. It was beginning to feel like an episode of TV’s Grand Designs, where a masochist/s decides to build a house from scratch. I was beginning to think we could go on that. Kevin Mccloud would be fascinated at what we were hoping to achieve.

‘I’ve seen individuals and couples build houses from scratch’, he will say in ย amazement, ‘but never, ever, have I seen such a big project as this one. Do you think you will ever finish it?’

‘To be honest, I don’t know,’ I will say.

As the Smiths sang, have I Started Something I’ll Never finish? ๐Ÿ˜

(To be continued)

(Note: This post is dedicated to S. Thank you).

Facts of the Day

1. Chicken wire is more flexible but not as strong as weld mesh, which is advised to keep foxes out

2. The first electric drill was invented in 1889 by William Blanch Brain and Arthur James Arnold in Australia

3. The first portable handheld drill was created in 1895 by Wilhelm Carl Fein in Germany