Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Pets

Little Ladies: Part One (or integrating chickens when you have a grumpy hen)

The new girls – Victoria, Matilda and Eliza

Mabel was busy sulking and grumping in the nestbox – except when I lifted her out and then she would be sulking and grumping in the garden. It was broody season again when common sense would fly out of the window or, to be precise, the coop. Dottie was sadly gone, as had Jemima. And now Mabel had set up camp in the nestbox, never leaving unless I physically took her out.

So there was only really Little Ava left who would perch in the garden by herself or potter about with her deluded pal who would be obsessing about the imaginary eggs she had to sit on. I felt sorry for Ava, she must have felt very isolated, and at the same time as grieving for her two late companions, in particular Dottie who had passed recently.

Crunch time had arrived at Cosy Cottage. It wasn’t fair to keep just two hens, something could happen to one and the other would then be left on her own. And hens are not solitary creatures, they need company. So either I looked for companions for Ava and Mabel or I rehomed them, an unpleasant prospect as I was very fond of them.

Mabel and Ava with Dottie

I had earlier thought of getting more hens when Jemima died earlier in the year, but the process of integration put me off. It’s never a matter of just putting them all together, it’s a gradual procedure otherwise bullying could result. It took a few weeks for Ava and Mabel to become part of the established pecking order of Jemima, Florence and Dottie. Even then the duo kept themselves apart from the three. They weren’t really a unit until much later.

So I had to be decisive for the bantams’ sake.

Decision made – I chose to look for more chickens. Alas Pear Tree Poultry, Ava and Mabel’s childhood home and where I also got Jemima, Dottie and Florence, had closed post-Covid. I had to look elsewhere. Once again I mused on the ex-battery hens but knew that I did not have the space to keep these larger girls with bantams. The difference in sizes made me hesitate too.

A scroll down the internet took me to some pekin bantam sellers in Lancashire and after ringing one up, I ventured out to find some new pals for Mabel and Ava. In large rabbit hutch style cages were several chickens of varying sizes and ages, separated by age. I had liked the look of a lavender one but it was vital the three were all of the same age so I plumped for three 18-week-old chicks who were chirping away. A white one (like Jemima), a white with black barred neck and a black and white speckled, a little like Mabel. I joked that Mabel might think her a long-lost daughter.

Simon helped me select names for the trio. The white one with black bars around her neck had the look of a vicar wearing a dog collar so was named Victoria, the black speckled one had the appearance of Mabel’s daughter so Matilda seemed appropriate, and the all white one would be Eliza. There was no reason for this last name, only that she looked an Eliza in our eyes.

The new girls lived in my spare coop for the next two weeks. After their life in the rabbit hutch, I believed this was the first time they encountered grass, and did they make the most of this delicious new substance!

Getting to know you…

Ava would peer at the new bantams through the spare coop bars, and on the second day she perched on top of the coop. Was she sending a message to the new arrivals? When Mabel was brought out of the coop and saw the intruders on her territory, she tried to launch herself onto Matilda, luckily safe behind the bars (so much for the long-lost daughter idea!).

Ava perches above the coop – Mabel looks on (back left)

For the next week, I would keep the youngsters in their ‘nursery’ and let Ava ‘make friends’ via the bars. At least that was what I hoped she was doing. In the meantime, I would bath Mabel and try to get her out of her broody state while showing her the arrivals from a safe distance. Unfortunately Mabel’s state of mind at this time was both deluded and bad-tempered.

This was going to take some time…

Eliza pays a visit

Coming up Part Two – will the two groups of girls make friends? Will the new ladies settle in?

Posted in Chickens, Pets

Tribute to Dottie

Dottie
Everyone’s friend – Dottie

Jemima had been leader of Cosy Cottage Coop for four years before her sad passing earlier this year. Dottie, despite not being obvious leadership material, dutifully took over, gaining confidence and respect, until one morning I went outside to let the hens out and found her motionless.

It was a sad and unexpected shock and it took me a while for it to sink in. She had died peacefully in her sleep at the age of five.

The last of the original trio I had adopted back in 2017, she was a hen full of character and boasted a beautiful brunette speckled plumage.

Dottie

It was her colouring that led to her name but it suited her persona too. She could be changeable in her outlook. Friendly at times, she would squat for us human friends to pick her up. Often she was demanding, vocally calling out for mealworms or other titbits. Her loud voice often sounded as if she was grumbling, a lack of worms , perhaps? During her stint as leader, she would lead her little flock of two to my back door. “What do we want? Mealworms!” She would loudly insist. But then there were times when she was much quieter, or if I would pick her up she would flap her wings, shrieking: “Let me down!”

Dottie with all her friends

Dottie was a hen’s hen. She loved the company of other chickens, especially Jemima. Along with Jemima and Florence, Dottie arrived at Cosy Cottage in September 2017. On the first couple of days, Dottie made a few attempts of being leader by being very vocal, claiming the first egg on the first night of arriving, and being bossy and pecking the younger (by two weeks) Flo. But it was the calmer, wiser Jemima who eventually took over as top hen.

Jemima was her best friend. I remember they had a spa day in their garden, when a large bag of woodchip was scattered on the ground. While Jemima enjoyed her dust baths, Dottie would insist on pushing underneath her.

Ava wonders just what exactly is Dottie doing?

A few years ago, in 2018, Dottie was ill. She wasn’t moving, eating or drinking and so we took her to the vet who gave her high energy food. A few days of keeping her inside my living room and giving her this food via a syringe, she seemed to start getting a bit perkier. From sad experience since then I realise that Dottie was one of the luckier hens to recover from an illness and it’s not always inevitable that they’ll survive. I do not know what the reason was behind the illness. I had wondered if it was because she was eggbound but the vet examined her with his hands and didn’t think she was. Although she made a full recovery, she was never a prolific layer of eggs, certainly not of edible eggs.

Dottie and eggs were never a perfect match. Often her eggs were soft and this led to the undesirable trait of egg eating, helped by her friends who, no doubt, thought this a grand treat.

When she was laying (soft eggs or otherwise), her comb was red and she was assertive and vocal. But there were times when she seemed perturbed about the softness or the lack of eggs and this seemed to diminish her confidence. I tried to encourage her to eat more grit in case this was the issue. Thankfully, for the most part, she was more often happy, pottering about with her pals.

Dottie with Jemima and Florence

In the early days, when it was just the three of them and Jemima and Florence went through their broody phase, poor Dottie would be wandering the garden by herself while the others would be queuing up at the coop door, waiting to be let in to continue their brooding.

When Mabel and Ava arrived, she found herself a faithful companion in Ava (although sometimes the independent Ava did her own thing). Ava didn’t lay eggs, except for a couple of tiny ones at the beginning. But Ava didn’t care about this, she didn’t let it worry her. Ava also didn’t take part in the brooding season so when Mabel joined in the broodiness, Dottie and Ava could often be found together.

She may have been bossy and liked to peck her friends (Ava, Florence and Mabel, never Jemima, who was top hen), but Dottie was pals with everyone. There was no malice behind her pecks. While Jemima and (surprisingly) the usually mild-mannered Florence showed aggression towards Mabel and Ava when they first arrived, Dottie was mild in her approach. She saved her pecks as friendly reminders – Jemima is boss and I am second-in-command.

There are only two left now, brooding Mabel and Little Ava, who wanders the garden, looking lost and perturbed by the loss of her friend and leader. They will miss their scatty but kind-hearted friend, as will I.

Posted in Chickens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Queen of the Pecking Order

Dottie is the new leader

Cosy Cottage Garden now has a new boss – her name is Dottie.

The bantams’ previous head of state, Jemima, was an assertive and sensible leader. She took her duties seriously, whether it was telling Mabel off for brooding or alerting the others when a threat, such as a cat, appeared. After her sad illness and death earlier this year, for a while it looked like there was no new Queen of the Pecking Order, or even a pecking order.

The old days – former boss Jemima holds a conference

So the girls did their own thing. Ava would dreamily wander around before perching somewhere to meditate and ponder the mysteries of life, Mabel foraged for tasty greens, destroying honesty and other flowers in the process, Dottie dug away – usually in the tubs where I was trying to grow onions.

“No need for these little things, not sure what they are, but they’re not worms. Keep getting in the way of my worms, toss them out, that’s what I’ll do. They’re only in the way here. Hmm, I’m sure I spotted a worm here… Dig, dig, dig away, merrily into the dirt…”

But hens need someone in charge, so gradually Dottie took control of the situation. She proved a different type of leader to Jemima, more laissez-faire and easygoing. In a different world, she would not have made mother hen with her hands-off approach to the role. But Ava had no interest, Mabel was inclined to be more concerned about food than social affairs and Dottie may be dizzy but she was the eldest of the three.

Dottie complains about a lack of mealworms

She is no natural boss and does suit her name ‘Dottie’ in her character, as well as her appearance. She is not particularly interested in important security issues such as cats and hawks. Instead I see her outside my patio doors, alongside her compatriots, demanding sunflower seeds and mealworms. She will never gain a reputation for wisdom but she has excellent negotiation skills when it comes to titbits. However, unlike Jemima, who would call the others over whenever mealworms were handed out, Dottie keeps news of such treats to herself.

She is no autocrat. Instead of rebuking Mabel, who is starting to go through the broody process again, Dottie sits alongside her companionably, Ava next to her.

When asked about being a leader, Dottie replies: “We all do what we like but I’m the boss of course.”

Posted in Chickens, Pets

Tribute to Jemima

It is rare to find a genuinely good leader – but that is what Jemima was. Her fluffy white plumage hid a sensible, fair and assertive personality, which won her the place of Mother Hen of the pecking order.

She never became tame in the way Mabel was (always in the hope of titbits) or Florence or Dottie when in the egg laying mood. Even when she laid eggs, she disdained human contact. Saying that, she did make friends with my godson Noah, eight at the time, who, on a visit, often brought her into my house.

She arrived with Dottie and the slightly younger Florence back in September 2017. A white egg arrived the next day. I never knew who laid it, although Dottie claimed credit by proclaiming to all and sundry. But it could have been Jemima. She was a quiet girl, not chatting for the sake of it and never boasting about her achievements, even after laying an egg.

Soon after she arrived, Simon called her wise. She always had that air of knowing more than the others.

Jemima with her best friend Dottie

Jemima and Dottie became good pals but she was always respected by all the hens.

Jemima leads a meeting

Jemima took her duties seriously. She was quiet but if she thought there was danger she would alert the others with an alarm call. On these occasions, Mabel was second in command, joining in the chorus. Whether it was a cat, a sparrow hawk or a false alarm, the pair would loudly tell the others to ‘Be safe, be alert. There’s danger about’…

Broody Buddies – Jemima with Florence

Every summer was broody time, a special occasion she celebrated with Florence and Mabel. Last year, she outgrew it and focused on laying eggs. How angry she was that Mabel was still taking part! She would go over to Mabel and give her an angry peck. I had to step in and make sure it didn’t become bullying. Jemima was mostly fair but you still wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.

Recently Jemima became ill and although she apparently got better, she went downhill again before passing away.

That day Dottie looked around her as if to say, “Where’s Jemima?”

They will miss her, as will I.

Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Nature, Pets

Storm Eunice

A wintry scene

Just after telling another blogger that I haven’t seen any snow this year, along came Eunice. Or Storm Eunice to give it its full name.

Simon’s parents had to find somewhere else to stay as their Cheshire hotel had a power cut. A slate fell off my parents’ house because of the wind. Trees were blown down and people even died.

The wind did little damage to my gardens thankfully, apart from the compost bin losing its lid (it was found elsewhere in the garden). But the next day was Eunice’s encore – a sleet shower which turned into snow.

Keeping warm and dry
Dottie thinks about going back to bed
Spring is still on its way
Posted in Chickens, Pets

Chickens at the back door…

Jemima looks in

I saw a little feathered face peering in at me through the window. It was Jemima, head chicken and spokeshen for the bantams.

“Hello, we would like to come in. It’s rather chilly out here today and I remember that the last time we came in, it was nice and toasty. So, yes, we have had our morning conference and have all agreed we would like to visit your ‘Big House’ and eat mealworms, thank you very much.”

Morning conference outside my back door
Mabel investigates

Posted in Chickens, Pets

The broody season

Mabel with her friends

It’s broody time again and, like last year, Mabel is the lone candidate for ‘Mother of the Year’ at Cosy Cottage Coop.

To be fair, she deserves a rest after a hard-working spring and summer, supplying delicious eggs nearly every day.

But head girl Jemima does not approve (despite going through the same process herself a couple of years ago).

When I take Mabel out, Jemima saunters over to give her a sharp peck to tell her off or maybe it’s to try and snap her out of her grumpy dreaminess.

“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” responds Mabel.

Back in the coop, she is accompanied by Ava and Dottie, two ladies who have never felt maternal in this way. They have sympathy for her plight though.

Not so Jemima, who keeps a beady eye on proceedings. She does not want the rest of her flock to go the same way…

Jemima keeps an eye on the situation
Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Chickens’ day trips to Buttercup Meadow

A day out to Buttercup Meadow

This spring the chickens have had several day trips to Buttercup Meadow, aka my back garden.

Buttercup Meadow’s main arena is fenced off to avoid escapes but that didn’t deter Dottie who kept insisting she wanted to dig for worms outside. The fact that I may not have wanted holes in that part of the lawn didn’t enter her head.

Mabel somehow managed to sneak out, the grass being greener on the other side, being her motto. In particular the goldenrod she spotted en route …

And Little Ava, a former teacher’s pet, usually so quiet and meek, was surprisingly the worst for squeezing through the hole of the fence. She didn’t like Buttercup Meadow. Oh yes, she loved the delicious food it offered, but not the confines. She was, she said, happier to be on the outside, mooching about the flower beds, nibbling away at the grass. She wouldn’t go far, she promised. And Ava being a good girl, I believed her.

Ava does her own thing

Jemima was often the last one to leave despite being leader. It must have irked her to see her usually good flock doing their own thing and not following her, as always, excellent example.

Jemima looks on

Once they sampled the delights of Buttercup Meadow on lazy hot summer days, they presumed they would be able to enter this chickens’ theme park at any time of their choosing. They would make their way confidently from their garden, through their gate, towards Buttercup Meadow.

Jemima and Dottie make their way back from Buttercup Meadow

“But ladies,” I would explain, “the grass is wet, it’s been raining, you’ll be covered with mud…”

“It’s alright, we will keep ourselves as clean as we can,” Mabel would cluck distractedly as she would veer away from Buttercup Meadow towards Goldenrod Corner, the tall plants beckoning her over each and every time.