Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Pets

Little Ladies Part 2

It took a long time for the newbies to make friends with Ava and Mabel. Actually, no, it didn’t take long for them to become pals with Little Ava. Mabel on the other hand…

New Girls on the Block: Victoria, Eliza and Matilda

It was like fighting on two fronts, trying to integrate three young bantams with two established, older ones – something that has always needed time and patience – and trying to snap Mabel out of her increasingly irritable (for her) and irritating (for me!) broodiness. Broodiness can be fatal for hens as they can forget to eat and drink while they’re on the nest, so I had always insisted on taking her out and making sure she ate. I wasn’t too concerned about her as she was eating and drinking but it was still something to keep an eye on.

When Eliza arrived, she had her own problem, a long beak. Despite putting a brick and rock in their temporary enclosure to ensure she would rub her beak alongside it, a week and a half later her beak still looked the same. I enlisted the help of Mum, who helped me trim it with an emery board. Eventually young Eliza’s beak looked just as good as her chums’.

Eliza has an appointment for beak treatment

The introduction process continued on slowly. The chickens came into my house for a meet and greet session a few times. The first was not a success as little Ava (yes, Ava!) went for Matilda, Mabel’s lookalike.

We put the new hens in Ava and Mabel’s coop, an opportunity for them to start getting accustomed to their new abode. While this was happening, Ava and Mabel took a field trip to the youngsters’ home to (hopefully) get used to the new hens’ scent.

It was time for me to start trusting. Ava at least. And for the most part, Ava didn’t seem to mind the new girls, never getting too close to them, keeping her distance to an extent, but still close enough for them to get used to her.

Ava and Mabel (left) sit with their new friends

On the other hand, Mabel always needed a close eye as she was grumpy and unfortunately prone to bullying if she could get away with it.

Three weeks on Simon came to visit. While I was out, he supervised the girls who were all in the garden. The previous time I had let them do this Ava had been okay but keeping a distance from the new hens. Unfortunately, Simon reported that Mabel had attacked Victoria while I had been out. Looked like it was back to square one.

Eventually we got to the point where Mabel tolerated the new girls. I would find them perching on a low border in the garden, the three amigos close together while Ava and Mabel sat a little further on.

Being standoffish is much better than being a bully though. When Mabel came out of brooding, her demeanour improved and her toleration grew. And instead of two separate groups tolerating each other, the friends started mixing more and I would find the whole group together by my door looking for mealworms, led by Little Ava or Mabel. Maybe it was a co-leadership?

Thankfully the five are all one group now but we have another challenge to cope with – bird flu, which seems to be particularly bad this year. And it seems that with bird flu comes lockdowns (not for humans this time). How do I keep wild birds and chickens safe while doing my best to make sure the chickens live as enjoyable life as they can in the circumstances?

For Little Ladies, Part 1: Little Ladies Part 2
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 Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early spring flowers in my garden

It’s very pleasing to see that my budding camellia a couple of weeks ago has blossomed into the above beautiful flower. It was a housewarming present and I’ve had it since 2012 – it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! For the first few years, it did not flower but its glossy dark green leaves indicated that it was healthy. Then a couple of years ago, it presented its first flower and has never looked back. A lovely splash of colour at the bottom of my garden.

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early signs of spring in my garden

Although there is still greenery in my garden, it lacks colour (except for my vibrant sun-yellow mahonia) at this time of year. But I have noticed a few early signs of spring. My perennial lungwort has started to flower, as it does about this time every year. I have found the plant to be as popular with bees as humans.


My primroses can also always be relied upon to provide a splash of colour at this time of year.

This time of year (start of February) is a turning point in the Celtic calendar with its festival Imbolc marking the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter equinox and the spring equinox. Looks like my garden agrees and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of spring awakening from my currently sleeping perennials over the next few weeks.

The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments.
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 Crafts, Environment, Gardens, Nature

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch and making a bird feeder

Photo by Pixabay on

The Big Garden Birdwatch is on this weekend in Britain and nature lovers are being invited to watch our feathered friends for an hour, count the numbers of each species and then tell the RSPB our results. The bird watch can be in your garden, but if you don’t have one, the local park or other green space will suffice. I’m not a big ‘twitcher’ but I do like watching birds going about their business.

I have a regular robin visitor who seems to follow me around, looking for mealworms and sunflower seeds. Recently I have even seen two robins in my garden. Robins are not great fans of robins so I assume they are a pair or maybe relatives – a mother and daughter or father and son, perhaps?

Last weekend I enjoyed a close-up view of a bullfinch eating seeds in Simon’s Lincolnshire garden. I hadn’t realised how colourful bullfinches were. The below photo wasn’t taken by me but it illustrates how vivid Simon’s visitor was in its colouring.

Photo by Pixabay on

If you’re not in the UK, maybe you could do your own informal bird watch? For more info on the birdwatch and the RSPB, visit

And if you want to attract birds to your garden, here’s an idea for a recycled bird feeder…

First, we need an empty plastic milk bottle, two branches, an empty tray – in this case it’s a plastic one, two pieces of twine or string, a scoring tool and a pen knife.

The items needed to make a bird feeder
Pictures courtesy of Simon Hunter
Milk bottle and tools Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter

Score or cut four holes into the milk bottle and slide in the branches – this is for wild birds to stand on while feeding. Cut two holes near the top and slide the twine in as seen below. This is to hang up the bottle in your garden. Cut holes above the branches as an opening so the birds can access and eat the seeds.

Then fill the bottle with bird seed. The seed will scatter onto the tray rather than the ground, providing less opportunity for rats. Once the feeder is finished, the same thing can be done again meaning it will be more hygienic, especially when there are cases of bird flu in the area.

Looking at the size and shape of a bird’s bill provides a good clue to its diet. Starlings, blackbirds and gulls have ‘general purpose’ bills that enable them to take advantage of a wide variety of foods.

RSPB Birdfeeder Handbook, Robert Burton
Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees and Shrubs: Mahonia (Oregon Grape)

My mahonia – pictured in January!

When I moved into my house 10 years ago (I can’t believe it was that long ago!), my garden was very sparsely planted indeed. A bamboo on the left (which Simon very kindly volunteered to take it out, a difficult task), a laburnum further down, a rhododendron on the right…

The bamboo and rhododendron may be long gone but the bold and dramatic mahonia – a spiky looking shrub with large dark green leaves, displaying yellow flowers in winter and blue-black berries to follow in spring – is still here and I hope for a long time yet. I believe it is a mahonia japonica as it’s about 7ft in height and doesn’t look like it will grow much more. When I was reading about this particular species, it was described as a very hardy shrub (just right for me) and will grow well in most soil types including heavy clay. Heavy clay? I have plenty of that in my garden!

When I learnt about the benefits of the mahonia to me (as well as being a striking plant, it provides plenty of colour in winter) and to wildlife (offering berries, flowers and shelter), I was pleased that this complementary gift came with the house. I noted my parents liked it too, so one Christmas a few years ago I bought them one. It’s not as big as mine yet but it’s growing healthy and strong.

The genus name, Mahonia, derives from Bernard McMahon, one of the stewards of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition (USA expedition from August 31, 1803, to September 25, 1806, to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country)


Here are five facts about this dramatic looking tree:

  1. It’s also known as the Oregon Grape and comes from the Berberidaceae family.
  2. It’s an evergreen, upright shrub.
  3. There are around 70 species of Mahonia. The charity variety can grow to 10ft while the Mahonia aquifolium only grows to 100-200cm tall (3-6ft).
  4. As well as being a striking, colourful beauty in the garden, it’s a productive shrub. Its flowers provides nectar to bees; its berries can be eaten by birds; and its evergreen leaves can shelter birds, especially in winter.
  5. The plant is originally from Asia and America.

Posted in Gardens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Guinea pigs try out the great parsley experiment

Tim and Tom sample the parsley

Last year I grew herbs in my kitchen – basil, parsley and chive. This was a success so I tried again using more parsley seeds which I already had. Happily, the parsley grew and my guinea pigs were, once again, eager to take part in another experiment.


According to Rosemary Hemphill (an apt name!), in her book Herbs for All Seasons, parsley is originally from Sardinia and is a biennial which often lasts for two years in the garden. Despite this, she says it is best treated as an annual, with seed being sown each year.

She adds: “All parts of the herb contain medicinal substances; the root, leaves and seeds are sources of apiol, which is beneficial for the kidneys. The leaves are rich in vitamins A, B and C, and in iron, and assist in the assimilation of food. Parsley tea made from the leaves is good for rheumatism, kidneys and gall bladder, assists digestion and encourages circulation.”

Maybe I should have asked Tom and Tim to leave me some parsley although it looks like I was too late…

  • I started having a look on the internet about the benefits of parsley and it looks like there might be possible side-effects too if too much is eaten. So like everything, moderation is key.

Posted in Gardens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Going… Going…. Gone – Guinea pigs Tom and Tim volunteer for the great basil experiment

Thanks to free basil seeds handed out by a kindly group of Network Rail staff, I grew three seedlings. (I’m not sure what the connection was between a safety campaign of ‘Don’t trespass on the tracks’ and a goody bag of basil seeds among other freebies, but I never asked and was certainly very grateful for the basil seeds). Two of my seedlings were too weak but I was pleased with how my last one was progressing (see above photo).

One morning, I decided it was time to test out the basil. Now, who will volunteer to be my ‘guinea pigs ‘ in this experiment? Aha, Tom and Tim, eager volunteers who would give me an honest review.

Well, that was a quick experiment. Anyway, a thumbs up by Tom and Tim and a polite request for more homegrown local produce.

Thankfully I have more basil seeds…

(Note on photos: Tom and Tim don’t really have red eyes, it’s just my not-particularly high-tech camera!)

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Gardens, Nature

Learning about trees and shrubs: The Butterfly Bush/Buddleia

Why is the buddleia also called the butterfly bush? Answer? Well, see the above photo of a buddleia in my garden – butterflies love it! I have four of these, two in my back garden, one in my side (the chickens’ territory) and the fourth in my driveway.

This summer, the same as every year, butterflies were drawn to every buddleia I have. If you want to attract these beautiful insects to your garden, this hardy shrub is a must-have.

Butterfly Bush

The type I have is the fragrant and popular buddleia davidii which can have white, mauve or purple flowers. It can grow to 8ft or more if not pruned and ‘bears tiny honey-scented flowers in cone-shaped spikes’ (Dr D G Hessayon, The Tree and Shrub Expert). It flowers between July to September so a very welcome flowering hotspot for butterflies during summer. According to Dr Hessayon, buddleias prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. Not sure how well-drained my soil is but none of the four shrubs seem to mind and flower each year.

Other varieties include buddleia alternifolia and buddleia globosa.

The buddleia is actually originally from China (and named after an English botanist called Rev Adam Buddle). It’s often found in the wild in Britain, on derelict sites and along railway lines. It could be classed as ‘invasive’ which usually has negative connotations for nature but in this case it looks like the benefits outweigh the drawbacks to this useful and beautiful plant.

The butterflies certainly seem to appreciate it anyway.