Happy Easter from everyone at Cosy Cottage. 🙂
Happy Easter from everyone at Cosy Cottage. 🙂
🥀 🥀 🌾
This is an earlier post I wrote, back in September 2017. I feel like I have learnt a lot about chickens since then!
By August 2017, Cosy Cottage’s garden was as chicken-ready as it was ever going to be. Drainage (whether it works or not, we will have to wait and see this winter) set in place; a proper compost heap permanently sited, ready for that delightful manure which would work wonders for the plants; a pond dug, planted (finally) and decorated with cobbles; stone borders transformed into flower beds; the side garden becoming home to a potted floral arena… And of course, the notorious coop taking centre place, proudly standing, no longer an eyesore but a prestigious abode, ready for its lady lodgers.
There was one thing bugging me though.
I didn’t have any practical experience of hens. I didn’t think I was scared of them, but I had never been in close proximity with chickens. What if they pecked? Or drew blood? Attacked me in my bright red dressing gown (apparently they are attracted to the colour red)? What if I, for some bizarre reason, was unable to lift and hold them? Was nervous of them?
This line of thinking was preposterous. I loved my family’s Jack Russells Molly and Teddy, had zero fear of rodents, and was more concerned of accidentally hurting a spider’s leg (although I do hate touching slugs, which I have done by mistake. Sorry slugs).
I had tried to enrol on a course but didn’t get very far. I must have read all the chicken books available but what I really wanted was some practical experience… Then a colleague came to the rescue.
J got chickens a year before, six months after he first started working on a coop. In fact, I modelled my coop roughly on his. Except he had a proper plan and I didn’t. Anyway, it took him months to build – which should have warned me that if someone says on a website it takes a ‘weekend’ they are, ever so slightly, exaggerating (unless Superman or Wonder Woman is building it).
Eventually, his hard work paid off and he had a fine looking coop – waiting for some inhabitants to fill it. Luckily for J, a fellow allotment-holder had four hens he no longer wanted and, once J had his coop up and running, the ladies moved into their new home.
So it was by good fortune that, when J went away, he asked if I could look after them for a week.
Sure, I said, it would be great experience.
And I would get free eggs!
Sweet Caroline, Lucy Muffin, Britney Starr and Lily Sparkles were a bluebell, marans and a white Sussex. Someone unkindly said they had names like strippers – actually it was J, but don’t blame him, it was his daughters who named them!
(The hens were moulting around the bottom area so calling them strippers wasn’t too far off the mark, wear some more feathers in public, girls please!) 🐔🐔🐔
To say I had a hundred fears (again!) is an understatement. What if they escaped? What if they died (J said to put them in a bin bag and into a bin if this occurred as they weren’t allowed to bury them on the allotment)? A fellow colleague said, how could he say that? How morbid!
But I was glad it was addressed. You know, just in case.
Thank the heavens, it was straightforward. The ladies enjoyed going out into the run when I opened the door (and no one escaped!) And were happy to wander back in when they realised I had lettuce or cabbage, or, a naughty, very seldom treat, a slice of bread. Britney and Co were hard working and supplied three eggs each day (one wasn’t pulling their weight, I’m not pointing any fingers, Lucy… Just joking, Lucy!)
No one died or got ill. Thank you very much girls.
The coop was fox-proof, so I didn’t need to visit twice a day. It was merely a case of checking they had enough food and water each day.
Of all my fears, finding a hen dead, the four running free and wild over the allotments…
There were actually three real concerns and none really related to the hens.
J showed me the hens one lunchtime at work. The next time me and my parents visited. But could we find the right allotment? Traipsing through other allotments, attracting vegetable growers’ raised eyebrows and suspicious attention, eventually I spotted the landmark sunflower at the front of the coop. Phew!
Second, the keys which appeared to go on strike when it came to opening the shed door for the hens’ feed and corn. I visualised having to go to the Superpet Warehouse for chicken feed. Thankfully my dad came with me the next time and figured out which key to use first. (There were two keys).
My last concern was leaving the keys in a safe but clear place for the next helper. I worried I had placed them somewhere too obvious for thieves or conversely, somewhere too obscure for the hen carer.
But when I went back to work a week on Monday, my fears were relieved. I had done a great job, J said, and yes the next helper had found the keys. Everything and everyone was well.
I passed the practical test. Now I could get my own hens. 🐤🐤🐤
Facts of the Day
1. Hybrids are commercial crossbreeds, developed for the battery egg industry in the 1950s.
2. Hybrids include black rock, white star, bluebelle, calder ranger, warrens, isa browns and hy-lines.
3. Popular pure breeds – which are light or heavy, bantam or full-size – include the Buff Orpington (the Queen Mum’s favourite), Sussex and Rhode Island Red.
Apart from a deluxe dust bath, there’s nothing like a good rummage through freshly turned over compost. One never knows what one might find – worms, grubs… There’s a whole treasure trove in the compost, waiting to be discovered and devoured.
Unfortunately, as my dad was digging out the compost, he spotted two rats, feasting themselves. So when we put the bin back in place, we placed some wire netting underneath to deter these intruders. Fingers crossed, this will work!
Over the last couple of months, the hens have sometimes looked as if they are moping around, complaining about the rain, wind and cold. The soil is too compacted for them to dig into properly (even though I keep forking and digging it). They cluster together under the pear tree, moaning about the season of winter and wishing for spring – their favourite time – to arrive.
And then, one day, it was as if Santa had arrived (this was before Christmas) with a big bag of goodies. It was actually Simon with woodchip, but when this simple substance was scattered on top of the damp, slightly sticky earth, the ladies came over curiously, with mounting excitement.
This needs investigating, they pondered.
Then Jemima revealed all.
‘It’s a day at the spa!’ she proclaimed.
At that, the hens got stuck in, quite literally. Rubbing and rolling themselves into the woodchip, having a luxurious dust bath.
They often have these baths in spring and summer, when the earth is dry, but don’t have this opportunity so much in the winter.
For some reason, Dottie kept appearing under Jemima, which caused her friend and pecking order leader some frustration, understandably.
All in all, it was the height of luxury and this day at the spa was just what they needed to cheer themselves up during the cold, dark winter months.
In one of my chicken books, there is guidance on making a permanent dust bath for hens which I think would be much appreciated by Jemima and co.
Fact of the Day
Dustbathing helps to keep chickens free of parasites.
The Cosy Cottage citizens are lucky in that we live in a relatively temperate climate (usually), even in the winter. But life can still get very chilly, especially for these chickens who live out in the garden coop. Thankfully, they have a lovely fluffy thick plumage so that helps. But the more heating aids, the better…
Every morning these days I scatter porridge on the ground. It used to be leftovers from the pot but the stickiness was not pleasing to my hands or the ladies’ beaks! So now I buy porridge that’s reasonably priced and scatter it from the packet. The foraging helps stop them getting bored too.
Corn is given in the afternoon, a couple of hours before bedtime (although these days, bedtime seems to be about 3pm and getting earlier and earlier). To avoid rats, it is given in the coop when the girls go in for the night.
Plenty of straw is always needed for bedtime. Although I’m sure half of it seems to get kicked ‘downstairs’ when the ladies get ready for bed.
Keeping an eye on the water supply is always vital. No one can drink frozen water after all!
Making adjustments to the coop to make it warmer is useful to do during these cold months.
And lastly, a tip from the ladies themselves – early bed and snuggling together helps fight against Jack Frost.
Summer has been over for a long while and the weather is proving this fact in brutal honesty. The Cosy Cottage gang are facing up to facts – winter is coming. Jemima and Mabel have stopped their never-ending brooding and are venturing out again. Florence, ever the hard worker, is the only girl producing eggs but even she will soon stop when the nights get longer and longer.
And the biggest change for the chickens? It’s how the nights get darker earlier and earlier and stay dark for later in the morning. The guinea pigs may prance and frolic about at odd hours during the day and night but the hens are concerned about nightly intruders, namely Mr Fox. At night, they whisper horror stories about this handsome red-headed bogey man of wit and charm but with deadly intent. And, taught by their mothers since they were chicks themselves, they head to bed the minute they sense a change in the light.
“Time for bed girls,” proclaims head hen Jemima. Now rightfully regained her chief post after her brooding break in the summer. And they trot in after her. Some taking a little longer than others but all will be safely tucked up by the time it gets properly dark.
“Goodnight all,” they chorus to each other, before dreaming of worms, corn and digging…
Fact of the Day
Decreasing daylight hours will ’cause a slow down in egg production. On average a hen needs 14 to 16 hours of light on a regular basis to stay in lay’. This can be natural or a combination of natural and artificial light.
(Information courtesy of Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds and Care by Frances Bassom)
The Cosy Cottage chickens took advantage of the good weather in September to lazily bask and bathe in the sun.
“When are you expecting your babies?”
“Soon, I hope, Jemima. I’m expecting five, you?”
“Six, I believe. Not long to go now, Flo.”
At this point, Dottie shakes her head in impatience. It is the silly season again and there are no eggs, no chicks, no pregnancies, no potential fathers in the vicinity and yet three of her friends have, once again, gone ‘broody’, sitting around all day in the nesting area, clucking about nothing except their invisible pregnancies.
If you read my blog last year, you would have encountered a post called Brooding Buddies. I was hoping that situation would be a one-off but no, once again, we have a similar scenario.
For one day and one night earlier this year, Dottie was showing signs of broodiness.
Then she snapped out of it.
But Florence, after a hard-working spring, laying eggs every day, decided that she would like to become a mother.
So she sat down all day, every day – or she would do if her cruel leader of the pecking order – i.e me – didn’t keep taking her out and putting her next to water and food.
That’s the thing with broody chickens, all sense flies (pardon the pun!) out the window and they don’t eat or drink unless they’re taken out of their broody spot.
I separated Florence, put her in a hutch for a few hours, gave her a bath – none of these worked. Closing the pophole meant she would look for somewhere else to brood – like a plant pot.
And Florence hogged the nesting area unless I closed the pophole. Yes, there are other places to lay eggs but hens being hens, they like things just-so and just-right. That particular nesting area was for all of them and Florence’s behaviour was beginning to irk them.
Jemima started giving her little ‘I am the boss and you should behave yourself’ pecks.
Mabel started giving her dirty looks – which escalated to pecks when she came near her.
And then Jemima started ignoring Flo, and seemed to be more easy-going but actually it was only a precursor to having maternal feelings herself.
And you guessed it, the next morning she was huddled next to Florence in the nesting area.
Jemima had it bad last year so I was not surprised by this change from ‘head hen’ to ‘mother hen’.
So instead of Florence being given a ‘behave yourself’ or ‘snap out of it’ peck by Jemima, the two of them would now comfortably nestled together under the tree (after being ousted from their broody area).
So now there were three sensible girls – Dottie, Ava and Mabel.
Mabel was still angry at Florence but, oddly, ignored Jemima, who she still respected.
And then one day, I went to the coop to let/take the bantams out and Mabel, up on the top as always, fluffed her feathers up and made an angry sound at me. She even moved her head around to see where my hand was, was Mabel going to peck me?
Not you as well, Mabel?
I have resigned myself to a summer of lifting the three broodies out and keeping an eye on them to make sure they are eating and drinking. Little Ava and Dottie are, so far, behaving themselves … so far!
Florence was very privileged to be interviewed a couple of months ago by Doodlepip of A Guy Called Bloke’s blog. She gained permission from Head Hen Jemima to be spokeshen for the other Bantam Girls.
To see her interview, visit:
(And if you know of any furry/feathered etc pals who would like to be interviewed, visit the above website) 🙂 🐔
A few months ago, I came across a tiny egg. Now bantam eggs are small compared to the average hen’s egg (maybe about half the size) but this was a tinier than tiny egg. Was it laid by a quail? Or a leprechaun’s hen? Pictured above is the pixie egg next to a bantam egg. The bantam egg is half the size of a full-size egg so can you imagine how petite this one was?
I had never seen the like.
Just to make sure no fairy chickens had infiltrated my hens’ coop I looked for a rational explanation in my library.
And in Frances Bassom’s Chicken Breeds and Care, Frances reasoned why this may have happened.
She said, ‘When a hen is just starting out on her laying career, she occasionally lays very tiny ‘wind eggs’. They can frequently be as small as a marble and usually have no yolk’.
Why this happens is because of ‘a small leak of albumen into the oviduct’. A shell covers this albumen, thanks to the response of the ‘egg-producing mechanism’.
Once the chicken starts laying regularly, wind eggs are infrequent, concludes Frances.
So who was the culprit of this wind egg?
I reckon Ava, as, along with Mabel, she is the youngest of the girls and had previously only laid a few eggs before this cute but remarkable one appeared.
And no, I never ate it.