Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Self-sufficiency

Making friends (the chicken method)

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So it took two weeks for Mabel and Ava to meet and greet Florence, Jemima and Dottie through the fencing, first of their coop, then of the small run.

The first time Florence set eyes on the two new girls peering curiously out of the wire mesh, she launched herself aggressively onto their coop, flapping her wings.

Not what I expected from the once docile, sweet Flo.

Jemima did the same.

Not what I expected from the lazy, often broody Jemima.

And Dottie? Who was bossy and used to peck Florence when she was a youngster?

She ignored them.

To be fair, most of the time everyone ignored each other. There were curious glances but otherwise both groups of chickens got  used to the other gang being in the vicinity. As long as they were kept apart from fencing, that is.

After a week of ‘quarantine’, where Mabel and Ava got used to their new surroundings, they were allowed out in the small run. The older hens roamed free in the outer garden. I worried that the youngsters would try and sneak through the flimsy netting and (typical of my worst fears) get pecked and eaten by a three-strong gang of tough pekin bantams.

Well, maybe just the pecking although I have heard of cannibalism in chickens…

It went smoothly but, because of my concerns, I continued to keep close watch while they were out.

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They were often in full sight of the other chickens.

Then it was deemed time for them to wander the full length of the Hen Garden. I closed the other chickens in, and Dad and I cleared the garden of anything that could possibly be a danger. We also closed off any potential small areas of escape. I worried they would fly away, squeeze under a tiny hole or eat something they shouldn’t.

None of these things happened. They loved their new-found freedom.

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Then it was Meet and Greet Day. One by one, in the comfort of my living room, Ava and Mabel met Jemima, Florence and Dottie. All went well except Florence pecked Ava (where was the nice Flo?) and oddly, Mabel pecked Dottie.

Originally, they were all going to be introduced that night as I heard bedtime was the best time to introduce chickens. But after the two pecking incidents, I, well, ‘chickened out’ (!) Instead, every day for the next fortnight, all the chickens went out in their designated Hen Garden but slept in their respective coops at night.

At first, there was chasing by Jemima (well, at least it woke her from broodiness) and Florence. No harm done but it did make Mabel and Ava wary of the mean girls.

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There also seemed to be segregation, with one group at the top and the other at the bottom of their garden. And vice versa.

But gradually, over the fortnight, Mabel and Ava creeped over towards the group, little by little, step by step. Still a little chasing went on, usually by Jemima, and I caught Dottie peck Mabel (was this revenge?) but generally, they slowly, surely, accepted the two youngsters.

When Mabel and Ava wandered over to the older hens’ coop and pottered around, eating grain, there was an air of acceptance.

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I was nervous when the big moving in day arrived. At 5pm, when it was twilight, not dark for us humans but bedtime for chickens, Dad and I took out Ava and Mabel from their perches and placed them on the perch in their new home.

A couple of times I sneaked towards the coop, hovering by the door, waiting in anticipation for any noises.

All quiet on the chicken front.

The next morning, they were all as one. A little bit of bickering went on about corn (well, if you can’t argue about corn, what can you argue about?) but otherwise…

I left them in their coop, to their own devices, while I went for a walk. When I got back, I found Florence had laid an egg (good girl, Flo!) and she had been followed into the bedroom by Jemima, Dottie, Mabel and Ava.

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Florence on top, Jemima, Dottie, Mabel and Ava bottom

Over the last week, the once segregated groups have integrated into one, bigger group. It took patience, anti-pecking spray and nerves – and a few weeks – but it looks like Ava and Mabel have made themselves at home and made new friends at the same time.

Most importantly, they also learnt very quickly where they could beg for mealworms!

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Posted in Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Little Ava and Mabel

Dreams and Adventures at Cosy Cottage

IMG_20180920_113034 Little Ava and Mabel

As regular readers will know, there are three feathered inhabitants of Cosy Cottage – Jemima, Florence and Dottie.

That is, until now.

When I first got the hens, I had been thinking of adopting between three and five but, out of caution, I ended up with three bantams. This was fine until Jemima and Florence both ended up being broody and Dottie was left out, looking as if she was Dottie-no-mates. Which she probably felt as well. At that point I started thinking, would it be a good idea to get another two?

Then Dottie became ill and I contemplated the horrid possibility of losing her. Then there would just be two and if anything happened to one of them, there would be a sole bantam wandering the garden, looking and feeling glum, no doubt.

There is a joke among chicken keepers called Chicken Maths where…

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Posted in Chickens, Self-sufficiency

Little Ava and Mabel

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Little Ava and Mabel

As regular readers will know, there are three feathered inhabitants of Cosy Cottage – Jemima, Florence and Dottie.

That is, until now.

When I first got the hens, I had been thinking of adopting between three and five but, out of caution, I ended up with three bantams. This was fine until Jemima and Florence both ended up being broody and Dottie was left out, looking as if she was Dottie-no-mates. Which she probably felt as well. At that point I started thinking, would it be a good idea to get another two?

Then Dottie became ill and I contemplated the horrid possibility of losing her. Then there would just be two and if anything happened to one of them, there would be a sole bantam wandering the garden, looking and feeling glum, no doubt.

There is a joke among chicken keepers called Chicken Maths where one and one hen will eventually end up… Well, whatever the chicken keeper chooses! Ultimately, the saying is that no matter how many hens you begin with, you will end up wanting more.

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Dottie and Florence meet Ava and Mabel

I didn’t think that I would feel like that as I was restricted for space, living in the suburbs. But the above issues this year did make me think…

And as summer turned into autumn, I realised that if I were to get any more, now was the time, rather than winter with the risk of bird flu, freezing nights and darker days.

So I returned to the birth place of Florence et al, and as luck would have it, the poultry farm had two colours remaining – black and black speckled. (Before you think I am vain or superficial, any colour would do but I liked the idea of telling the girls apart). Of course if I had one or more Jemima or Florence lookalikes, I would have bought leg rings so I could differentiate between them.

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Little Ava and Mabel

So Ava (nicknamed Little Ava) is 14 weeks old, all-black and the smaller of the two. Mabel is 12 weeks old, black speckled, has a much paler comb and is a larger lady. They are currently living in a CosyCoop, a cheaper version of the more famous plastic Eglu, and is actually where the older girls once lived for a week, when they first arrived a year ago.

Most of the time, the bantams have ignored the young girls as they free range around them. However, unfortunately both Jemima and Florence have been less than welcoming, trying to peck the young hens through the barrier.

To say I am dreading the integration process proper, where all hens will mix freely and reestablish their pecking order, is an understatement.

Wish us all luck!

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Jemima with Mabel
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Dottie and Florence meet Ava and Mabel

Facts of the Day

1. Introducing a new bird can upset the pecking order. It’s suggested two or more hens should be introduced at a time to minimise bullying.

2. The flock of established hens will resent newcomers until the pecking order is re-established.

3. Allowing the two groups to meet through wire mesh during the first introductions is a good idea.

Information courtesy of Mini Encyclopedia Chicken Breeds and Care by Frances Bassom

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Flashback: A wildlife garden in August

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Simon’s garden is the opposite of neat and manicured – and this is all for the better as it is a shared garden, used by both locals and residents living further away. And these users – birds, insects, reptiles, butterflies and mammals – appreciate his garden, coming back to feed and drink, or living there quite happily. I’m rather envious of this as my garden doesn’t attract quite as many different species as Simon’s. Woodpeckers, blackcaps, wood warblers, goldfinches, greenfinches, frogs, blackbirds … these are just an example. So he took me on a garden tour and gave me tips along the way. We did this in August so a lot of colour had unfortunately gone, but there were still many good ideas.

The front garden

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Sink pond in the front garden, which is often used by garden birds having a ‘bath’.
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Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece. It is usually used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

 

 

The back garden

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Verbena. According to the Wildlife Trust, there are around 250 species of verbena. They are very useful plants providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
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Sink garden. At the top there is a gap caused by a plant dying in the 2018 summer drought, (even rock gardens need watering but due to the high drainage it’s difficult). There is also thrift, small leaves of thyme and a red campion seedling (weed that can be moved). Middle right, are stonecrop and thrift. Dominating slightly are the silvery leaves of dianthus (Latin name) in the middle bottom. There are a few ox eye daisies dotted around.
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Water butts capture rain water which can then be used to water plants. Very handy, especially in a drought. A water butt is something I keep meaning to buy.
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Buddleia, echinacea, crocosmia and evening primrose
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Crocosmia, valerian and red campion
Above left, black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle prevents rats, mice and squirrels from climbing up. Above right, a plant pot collects leftovers from peanuts. Often birds can be found in the plant pot, enjoying their breakfast leftovers!
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The main pond, with frogbit on the surface and wormwood in the foreground. At the back, behind the stone turtle, is a frog hideaway. Simon has three ponds altogether – two in the back garden and a small sink pond in the front, often used by birds for washing.
A visitor and probable resident – woodpecker and frog. Simon has rescued tadpoles from elsewhere on a couple of occasions, when the water levels have dropped because of the weather or the pond has become stagnant. They lived in a second hand aquarium in his house until ready to move into the garden pond.
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Nest boxes in an old tree. Several birds have lived – and reared their young here – over the years.

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Fig tree
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Flower of Kent apple tree. This is the variety of apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground in 1666 – and inspired his theory of gravity.

Facts of the Day

1. The single easiest way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond. It doesn’t matter how small. Consider adding a plank of wood to help any wildlife that might fall in.
2. If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to stop using chemical pesticides. These upset the natural balance and can be lethal for wildlife (and not just the ‘pests’. 
3. A compost heap is an essential for a wildlife garden. It cuts down the waste sent to landfill and provides a habitat for a number of insects – which can be a good food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
(Facts from The Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening)
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

When I went to jail

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I have been to prison twice in my life and very interesting and educational experiences they have been too. They have also been thought-provoking, raising questions about crime and punishment.

The first was Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, some years ago. The second was Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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What did I do wrong to land in jail? Well, nothing. For those readers who don’t know, these two former prisons are open to the public and if you are in either of those cities, and are curious about Irish social and political history, they are worth a visit.

Work on Crumlin Road Gaol was started in 1843, after being designed by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in 1841. It was ready for the first inhabitants in 1846. 106 men, women – and children – were marched on foot in chains from Carrickfergus Gaol in 1846. The prison finally closed in 1996.

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On our tour, we were given glimpses into the reception area, where prisoners first arrived, holding cells and the fascinating tunnel which went under the, now busy, road to the courthouse. Unfortunately the courthouse is currently an empty building but our guide told us that a hotel company has bought it and is hoping to redevelop it.

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The tunnel was creepy. I would hate to be there by myself and it is no surprise there are paranormal events there. Our guide told us a tale of a previous tour when a little boy asked who the man was at the bottom of the tunnel. The guide looked where the child was pointing and said there was no man (and neither should there have been). The child remained adamant.

Spooky.

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We also saw the governor’s office and the cell block. There were five blocks leading off from the main section. In one block, which they have opened for the public, we saw snapshots of what the cells may have been like in the 1800s – and the 1970s.

 

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We learnt of the different punishments, such as the Crank, a device where a prisoner had to push down a lever to turn it. If it seemed too easy, the screw got tightened, hence the term ‘screws’.

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And then we saw the ‘death row cell’. This room was very different to the others and being there and hearing about it made me feel very cold. Three members of the famous Pierrepont family were executioners. What a horrific job.

Perhaps not a place for the overly sensitive, but it is such a fascinating place and it does show how our prisons and other punishments in Ireland and Britain have changed over the years.

Facts of the Day

1. During the Irish Famine (1845 to 1851), the number of crimes was nearly 3 times the number reported just before the disaster. It is thought that starving people were committing crimes such as theft so they could be sentenced to prison and therefore be able to eat the sparse prison diet. 

2. Eamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic during the 1919-22 Troubles, was imprisoned for one month in 1924. He had breached an order excluding him from Northern Ireland.

3. Suffragettes were imprisoned during the campaign for women’s right to vote before the first World War. 

Information from Souvenir Guidebook to Crumlin Road Gaol. http://www.crumlinroadgaol.com

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Originally posted on Life & Soul Magazine: Greenpeace has hit out at big brands including Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez for their role in deforestation for palm oil, by launching a powerful animation that shows how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction due to the palm oil crisis. The short animation, voiced by English…

via Rang-Tan: Greenpeace launch animated story to raise awareness of the story of dirty palm oil — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

I know that the above was posted nearly two months ago but unfortunately the topic is still relevant. I’ll write about my own personal thoughts on this worrying issue at a later date, but for now, here’s an article about the Greenpeace campaign earlier this year.

Dreams and Adventures 

 

Rang-Tan: Greenpeace launch animated story to raise awareness of the story of dirty palm oil — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog