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)
Tom had a quiff in his black hair and strutted around as a teddy boy. Tim was an out and out punk, with streaks of red, white and black.
And they had attitude.
Yes, they may have been small but they had mountains of attitude.
‘Make my day, punk’, Tim would growl at Tom, as he rumblestrutted around.
Showing off like a John Wayne-style cowboy.
Since Loco’s death, back in February, I had been pondering whether my guinea pig Blaze needed – or wanted – another companion. He seemed happy enough, eating and drinking. But everyone I spoke to and everything I read gave the same message – guinea pigs are social animals.
I posted a lonely hearts advert on social media, a friend replied with a link to a guinea pig rescue centre.
There was no luck there so I went back to where I adopted Loco and Bugsy (pictured below).
I found those two at the Pets at Home adoption section, where the ‘preloved’ small animals stayed, looking for a second chance of a good new home.
This time, there were four pigs in two cages – Poppy and Pepper and Tom and Tim.
Now, if Blaze was there, he would have requested the girls, I have no doubt.
And although he was getting on in years (six to be precise), how would I know if he was still capable of being a father? I have heard of the multiplication of guinea pigs, you start off with two and end up with… Hundreds!
No. I did not have the room to keep hundreds of guinea pigs.
That was on a Thursday. On the Sunday, Tom and Tim came home, and for the next few weeks lived in a spare cage, next door to Blaze.
I was told they were under a year old and were given away for rehoming for ‘change of circumstance’ reasons.
There were meet and greet sessions. Blaze studiously ignored them. Tim made his ‘motorboat’ sound and wagged his bottom (my previous pig Bugsy used to do the same). Worryingly, Tom tried to mount Blaze every time he saw him.
I knew this was standard boar behaviour in meeting new males but I was aware of Blaze’s grand age. He didn’t want this sort of aggro at his time of life.
Had I made a mistake? Would he be better off on his own after all?
I opted for two in the end as I didn’t want to be in the situation of having to look for a new partner for the bereaved male when their friend passed on.
But now I was fretting….
In the meantime I had bought a c&c cage. It seemed a good idea at the time, especially as I now had three pigs rather than the two, but when I put it together, at first it seemed cumbersome for my little living room.
Then I couldn’t figure out how to sort the roof out. I think most people who have these go roofless, but with the family jack russells Molly and Teddy visiting on a regular basis, it would be highly dangerous.
But I figured it out. I think.
And then it was moving in day. The trio packed their bags (well, food bowls, water bottles and ‘dens’ /beds/houses) and into their new home they went.
Blaze made a beeline for the cosy soft bed, not budging when the youngsters wanted to get in.
Tom had an unhealthy obsession with trying to climb onto Blaze while Tim ‘brrr-ed’ around the new vicinity.
But they settled down…
… Or so I thought.
Tim and Blaze got on but Tom kept coming over, making a nuisance of himself with Blaze. Tim would then chase him away, as if to say, ‘stop bothering my friend’.
Maybe Tom was jealous of their friendship?
Then Tim was in a real mood one day and was starting to take it out on his new friend Blaze by trying to mount him.
I realised that although Tim seemed to like Blaze, he also had a temperamental personality. One that, in my eyes, was incompatible with elderly boars (male guinea pigs).
So Blaze moved out, back to his bachelor pad, where he lived for another month before he sadly passed on due to old age.
Oddly, the two youngsters seemed to miss old Blaze when he left, looking for him and even whistling at one point.
They now quarrelled a lot. So much that I thought they had scars from fighting.
Or was it ringworm?
When Blaze went to the vet for his bumblefoot, the boys went too. The vet gave them an injection for ringworm and the scabs eventually healed.
I’m still not sure if it was ringworm or fighting scars but it got to the point that Tom seemed scared of Tim, hiding in the ‘attic’ of their abode.
Were they fighting over Blaze? Blaming each other for his absence or was it something else? More importantly, will I need to separate them as well?!
But eventually, they settled down, and now they get on better, except for the odd tiff when one thinks the other has something past him.
Tom has become nearly as cheeky as Loco, demanding tasties when he hears rustling. He’s getting rather chubby as well. The more reserved Tim has started to join in the begging.
Their home now looks a little frayed along the edges – or more obviously, up in the attic – apparently the walls taste good!
Whoever says Guinea pigs don’t have personalities have never met the residents of Cosy Cottage! 🐹
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!
Recently Cosy Cottage suffered another bereavement when well-loved Blaze passed away. He was the eldest of the residents here, between six and seven years of age, and had been feeling various ailments of old age – stiff legs (arthritis probably), blindness in one eye and general slowness.
Blaze previously lived at my Book Club friend Liz’s house. He arrived at Cosy Cottage as an elderly widower a year ago, after losing his friend Fury.
At the same time, Cosy Cottage’s Loco had lost his partner Bugsy.
My book club friend Liz and I decided to try and matchmake these two lonely old men so they would have companionship in their old age.
It worked a treat and, for a year, Loco and Blaze got on very well. Blaze nibbled on his hay contentedly while Loco continued his lucrative career as a professional beggar. Blaze happily helping himself to the profits of Loco’s begging schemes.
When Loco died, I started to search for a pal for Blaze. He seemed to be happy enough, eating and drinking, but still… They do say Guinea pigs prefer to be with others.
So that was when Tom and Tim, pictured below, arrived. Again, like Loco and Bugsy, they came from the adoption section from Pets at Home. Three pigs meant a bigger cage was needed – so I bought a c&c cage with an attic. I went through the same routine as last time, when introducing Loco to Blaze. This included separate cages next to each other and quick, fleeting ‘getting to know you’ sessions.
And then D-day arrived and the the three moved into the large c&c cage – a palace for Blaze, who had been living in a cottage by comparison. But this was when I found that, even though most experts say male guinea pigs need company, it does have to be the right companion, especially for someone of Blaze’s age.
Tim and Blaze got on well until one day Tim started trying to mount Blaze. This is actually natural in the boar world, and is a way of asserting dominance.
But I was concerned about Blaze and any potential stress this may cause at his elder years, so Blaze moved out of the palace and back into his little cottage. The new boys were too young and too boisterous.Blaze really needed an older companion like himself.
I moved him next to my settee so he was closer to human company, if not pig, although he may well have heard the bickering of his quarrelling neighbours from across the room!
Blaze was a quiet, well-mannered boar of simple tastes. As long as he had his hay and his muesli, he did not ask for much. Never complaining and always polite, he was a little gem among pigs.
He was very popular with my godchildren, especially two-year-old Wilfred. I think Wilfred would have loved to have taken Blaze back home with him in his pocket.
Blaze came across as a wise old boar. Rather than demanding treats, he seemed to be meditating on the meaning of life. Saying that, he never turned down anything tasty that came his way.
But he had his health issues. About to cut his nails one day, I noticed there was something wrong with his foot. Was it dried mud? No, it was bumble foot. This is a horrible condition where pigs’ feet get scabs. It can spread to the bones so a visit to the vet was essential.
After a visit to the vet, he was given antibiotic, foot wash and painkiller for this, but sadly, a few days on, he passed on.
I like to think of him going to Dandelion Heaven, where Loco, Fury and all his other pals will have waited for him… And where there will be many fields of dandelion and hay to munch on.
My assumptions that all dogs were ready and eager for a walk (based on my own experiences with canines) were dashed after I encountered the lovely residents of Animal Care. Staffie-cross Cleo was an overweight old lady who waddled along at her own pace, plump jack russell Della wanted to be bribed to walk an extra five steps (no delicious titbits for you, Della, you’re meant to be on a diet!) Emma was a beautiful, gentle lurcher who preferred to sniff the fascinating smells at her leisure and chow chow Millie was too hot in her fur coat on a summer’s day to venture far. There were, of course, the younger boys and girls who reminded me more of my own two rascals (sorry, Molly and Teddy, I mean jack russells!) Bouncy Roxy, a black lab-type; well-named Bullet, a lurcher who wanted to run; amiable jacks Nelson and Bella; and…