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.
Perhaps my dream of a self-sufficient smallholding isn’t really for me if my reaction at a farming event, when meeting and greeting the animals, is “Oh, how cute” and “Hello, if I had a bigger garden, you could come and live in it and help cut my grass”. No wonder Simon had a wry smile on his face!
Perhaps I should stick with my pigs * and chickens!
We were visiting Masham after a morning at Ripon and Thornborough in Yorkshire. We had no expectations of any type of event but it so happened that it was the day of Masham Sheep Fair.
Who knew there were so many different type of goats or sheep? Or that a very clever collie could successfully herd a group of gaggling geese?
We bought some tasty goat and sheep cheeses at a stall and watched a very entertaining sheep show, learning about the different breeds.
The craft stalls were inspiring and I felt so motivated, I bought myself a knitting pack, with wools and needles.
During the winter nights, I could knit some gloves – that’s the aim anyway. I haven’t knitted since I was about 10!
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.
As I have earlier mentioned, plants and hens sometimes – often – don’t go together. Either the plants don’t like the chickens and end up poisoning them (Thankfully I think my bantams are too canny to eat poison, touch wood) or the hens like the plants – too much, unfortunately, as it can often be a case of a nibble here, a nibble there, and suddenly the greenery has vanished into thin air.
One solution is to get a fruit tree. The tree leaves should be too high for hungry hens to forage and a tree bearing fruit is always a useful plant for a garden.
So here’s a big welcome to Cosy Cottage’s conference pear tree.
No, Mabel, it’s not for you to eat.
Facts of the Day
1. The conference is ‘reliable and self-fertile… It has long, pale green fruit.’
2. Other varieties of pear are Jargonelle, Beurre Hardy and Marguerite Marillat.
3. The pear’s ‘natural home is in the countries around the Mediterranean – it needs more warmth and sunshine than an apple tree’ if it is to fruit well.
Information courtesy of Growing Food by Anna Pavord
Parsley is a delightful savoury treat – for humans, guinea pigs and even for chickens. The girls had been proudly presenting me and my family with freshly laid eggs so it was my turn to treat them. I bought three reasonably priced parsley plants in a supermarket and planted them in the side garden, otherwise known as Hen Garden.
The ladies headed straight for the herbs. In the space of less than two hours, the parsley was no longer to be seen. It had been eaten, trampled on, demolished and vandalised.
(I call them ladies but that sort of behaviour is not very ladylike really. Is it Dottie?).
And it did make me think, my back garden is pretty much green with many plants (unfortunately many weeds and unidentifiable ones too) – Hen Corner in contrast is brown and barren except for a few lonely specimens such as an apple tree.
It wasn’t always such a forlorn desert.
Where has all the greenery gone?
Then I spotted Mabel gobbling up yet another leaf from one of the lucky plants still standing.
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.
Dottie and Florence meet Mabel and Ava
Jemima meets the new girls, Mabel and Ava
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!