Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure, Pets

The Broody Sisters

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“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. 

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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?

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Not you as well,  Mabel?

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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!

https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2018/06/23/brooding-buddies/

Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Self-sufficiency

Making friends (the chicken method)

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Florence on top, Jemima, Dottie, Mabel and Ava bottom

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!

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Posted in Chickens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Dottie’s mystery illness

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My main fear – there were a few – of having chickens was ‘what if something bad happened?’ Illness being one of those ‘something bad’ fears. And thankfully, for the past ten months, nothing untoward happened. If a hen was losing her feathers, it was because of moulting. If she was sitting down doing nothing (yes, I’m talking about you Jemima), it was because she was brooding.

But one morning, Dottie looked very poorly indeed. Lethargic and hunched down. While Florence was eager to get out of the coop, Dottie was still in the nest box, seemingly without the energy to jump/fly down. (She was on the top tier). I had to lift her out.

Whereas our bossy Dottie was previously strutting about proudly, demanding mealworm and corn, now she was sitting in one corner in the Chicken Garden. Unlike Jemima, who was obviously in a on/off broody trance, Dottie looked depressed. Had the weeks of being the sole non-broody affected her? Had she felt lonely and this was only now caught up with her? Was it a temporary state of mind?

You see how I didn’t want to admit it could be a physical illness.

Dad came round to visit and we brought her in to investigate further. Coming from a farming background, he had more of an inkling about such matters. He felt her crop, which can be felt on the chicken’s chest, and said it didn’t feel right. For the first time, I felt it and it seemed bigger than I expected.

I had a read of a couple of my chicken books.

The crop is a muscular organ that helps chickens digest their food (they are unable to chew). According to Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds and Care, food is stored and softened in the crop, which empties overnight.

An impacted crop is when there is a solid mass still in the organ first thing in the morning. The encyclopedia recommended olive oil and gently managing the crop to ‘help break up the mass’. The hen may get better on her own. If not, a vet will be needed.

So we massaged the crop and poured some olive oil in a little bowl.

We left Dottie in a box complete with olive oil and water. She appeared thirsty for the oil and kept drinking it.

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Simon came over later that evening for the weekend and we decided to call the vet and see if we could make an appointment for the next morning, hoping meanwhile she would get better. The emergency vet warned us he didn’t have much experience with chickens and it would cost £90 for an emergency appointment. But we had already decided to let her rest until the morning and see if the impacted crop (which is what we thought it was) would improve then. The vet told us he had some space free in the morning, if we rang then he would be able to fit us in.

The next day, she looked the same, lethargic and listless. I rang the vet surgery again, whose receptionist told me it was emergencies only as they were so busy. After I explained what the emergency vet said about being able to fit us in, she had a word with, I presume, the vet we spoke to the night before, and gave us a 11.30am slot, warning us there might be a delay as it was so busy.

We waited nearly an hour, among amputated hedgehogs in boxes, poorly turtle in a tray, a beautiful bear-like Newfoundland, a yappy but cute Bichon frise and various other patients coming and going.

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Finally Dottie’s name was called and we carried her in. She was a well behaved patient, both in the waiting room and at the vet’s. However, this was also an indicator of how ill she was. A chicken should want to flap its wings and try to fly out of a box and be vocal. Dottie was too tired to do anything.

The vet felt her crop but believed it felt normal. Her weight was in the right range. He checked her faeces and whether she was egg-bound. Her poo was fine and there was no egg stuck in her insides.

He couldn’t find anything physically wrong.

So he told us to come back Monday if she was still unwell and gave us a packet of high energy food and syringes. The nurse showed us how to use the syringe to feed Dottie, who was a model patient. It looked easy enough to do at the vet’s….

Using the syringe was much harder than it first looked.

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Simon held her and we tried to open her mouth. Although she was compliant at the vet’s, she was less so in my house, clamping her beak firmly shut and shaking her head away. This became more and more the case as she gained strength – and regained her old bolshy attitude.

Once her beak was prised open, we slipped the feeding tube in. Again this was tricker than it first appeared. We weren’t even sure if it was going the right way. Then, once it was in, we sucked the food solution into the syringe and then pumped it into the tube. When we saw her swallow it down, we knew she was tasting it. Then we alternated with giving her water.

20mls a day, divided into four portions a day, maximum, was recommended and this energy food powder was mixed with water to create a brown semolina-type paste. Simon referred to it as ‘gunk’. Hmm, nice!

Apart from pecking the cardboard box on the way home, Dottie remained in a very poorly state all day. We fed her a couple of times and left her on the floor, sitting on a teatowel next to the box, alongside small bowls of water, grain, grit and olive oil. When it was her bedtime (just before it got dark), she went back into the box.

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Her friends came to visit briefly. But as we didn’t know what she had, this may not have been a good idea as the illness could have been contagious to the other hens. Yet the company did give her a boost. I wouldn’t recommend it though unless you know for certain the hen doesn’t have a contagious disease.

So Friday she was ill. Saturday she was just as ill, at least mentally. Sunday she started moving around more. I had bought some herbs from a local garden centre and left them on the floor. Next thing I saw Dottie wandering over to the mint, nibbling on it. She was still slow but she was showing more of an interest in life and this was surely a massive improvement.

On Monday morning, I lifted the lid of the box to see, not a sleepy, huddled, depressed looking hen bit an alert, curious, bright-eyed Dottie, obviously wanting to get out of the box and into the big wide world.

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So out she went, and when I saw her digging away in the garden, looking for worms and making her usual noises, I knew the worst was over.

So what was the illness? I suspect it may have been an impacted crop after all as I think it did feel more prominent before we took her to the vet the following day. Personally, I think Dottie was still getting over the illness on the Saturday, but the physical ailments had gone thanks to fasting, massaging the crop, water and olive oil. But I don’t know for sure. Whatever was the matter, going to the vet and giving her high energy food was the right thing to do.

So a lesson for me is to physically check my chickens more often. To feel the crop and pay more attention to their behaviour. Chickens are small but rather complicated individuals and every day is a lesson to learn.

🐔🐔🐔

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Many thanks to Mini Encyclopedia Chicken Breeds and Care by Frances Basso and The Urban Hen by Paul Peacock.

Also thanks to my dad and Simon for helping with Dottie.

Posted in Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Brooding Buddies

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All was going well with the girls in the spring. Moulting season had ended so all were looking perky and tip top, their feathered flares, bustles and bootees appearing their very best. And didn’t they know it!

They were also putting 110 per cent into their work. For the first time, all three were laying and I was getting three eggs a day. (This coincided with a time of looking after my colleague’s hens at the allotment so I was actually getting 7 eggs a day altogether! I was having to give them away!) 🥚🥚🥚

Happy days.

And then one day, Jemima went on strike. Just like that. She wouldn’t leave the nesting area, not for food or water or grit. Or even to be sociable with the other ladies. And she wasn’t laying either. She wasn’t literally on a strike (they were getting the best conditions I could give them, what more did they want?!) And she wasn’t being deliberately awkward, awkward yes, but not on purpose.

She was being broody. Our fluffy white-feathered Jemima wanted to raise a family.

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Jemima and Florence (behind) in the nesting area

Earlier, I had been concerned Florence was going to go broody as there were a couple of times when she headed to her nest box and when I tried to take her out, she opened her beak and made a shrieking sound. Not like the nice Florence I used to know. But this only happened a couple of times.

But Jemima had it bad.

I had read that brooding hens can become aggressive if you try to move them (see Florence above). But Jemima was more docile as a broody than her normal self.

Every morning, I had to pick her up and put her outside where there was food and drink. I would close the pophole door so she wouldn’t head back.

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One week later, Florence joined her. Unlike before, Florence was no longer trying to be aggressive (as much as it is possible for Florence to be aggressive!) Unfortunately, also unlike before, this was no brief foray into the world of brooding, but a fully concentrated effort. When they still laid eggs, they would sit on them, presumably waiting for them to hatch. I took the warm eggs away and they still insisted on sitting on… Nothing.

Now Dottie has also stopped laying, in solidarity with her sisters.

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One month later, I am still having to take out Florence and Jemima, closing off the nesting area so they cannot return until later on. I have separated them for short periods of time which seems to work… For a short while until we are back to square one. I have taken all the straw out of the area too. But still they persist.

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Even when outside, the broody buddies sit next to each other  in protest at not being able to go into their nesting area. They cluck, cluck, cluck and sometimes stand up, fluffing their feathers. A constant concern is their invisible chicks,waiting to be hatched from an invisible egg.

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Florence in a desperate attempt to go back to the nesting area. Her way blocked by a closed pophole door and Jemima

Pekins, along with silkies, are breeds with a greater tendency to brooding. Great if you want to hatch chicks. Not so good for ordinary back garden hen keepers like myself.

So apart from taking them away from the nest box and closing access every day, what else can be done? One book suggests removing the broody hen and putting her in a temporary run (with shelter from the sun/rain but no house) where she can still be seen by the rest of the flock, apparently a day or two later and she ‘has usually forgotten about being broody’. Obviously food and water needs to be available. A mesh floor is also recommended so the hen doesn’t think of nesting. Wetting the hen’s chest with cool water is another suggestion.

I will keep on removing the girls from the location of temptation and try out the temporary run idea (the separation I have attempted has only been for a few hours at a time) if this doesn’t improve in a week. A shame as Florence and Jemima would make excellent mothers but what else can I do?

🐤🐤🐤

 

Posted in Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Dottie – the little red hen

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Written by guest writer Dottie Bantam

‘What do we want? Worms! When do we want them? Now!’

I’m leading the other two girls in one of our many informal protests on the picket line. I tell them this is what Jeremy Corbyn would want. For the masses to rise up against our capitalist masters and mistresses. For us to demand our rights, our freedom and our worms.

 

Waiting for fellow unionists… And meetings in progress
Successful results from protests…

Jemima is a member of the elite, she tells us.

I scoff, she is just as much a worker as me and Flo. All three of us. True, we do have better, much better conditions (thanks to being union members, I tell Jemima) than those poor slave girls we hear about, kept in tiny prisons. But we still do our fair share. We are labourers (sorry Jemima), we manufacture and produce beautiful, delicious (so I’ve been told, no less than by Jemima who had a sneaky taste) petite eggs. Our accommodation and food is supplied, true, but we should always demand more. What would our boss eat if not our perfect eggs?

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An important union meeting in the boss’ office

We have our own private gravel garden, with some herb pots for us to jump onto, dig into and nibble. But we are sometimes allowed access to the communal gardens where there is a pond and apple tree. Our boss who looks after our accommodation for us and supplies our food, nicknames it the hens’ garden.

I ask the other union members for a ballot on demanding access every day.

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On our way to a union meeting. Florence takes the lead

‘She doesn’t like us going in when it’s wet’, says Florence. In my view, Flo can be a bit wet behind the ears herself at times.

Florence continues, ‘Our human says our feet get muddy and wet and then they’ll have to get washed.’

We have fashionable feathers on our feet, top trend-setters we are. Even we reds need to look the part. Think flares in the 70s, that’s us, but up to date. Jemima thinks our feathers are more akin to Victorian pantaloons but that’s Jemima for you. Stuck in some upper class fantasy from the 1800s. She thinks Jacob Rees-Mogg is marvellous and that she ought to be living the life of luxury. Poor Jemima. At least she has the union to look after her.

And Flo. I’ve tried to boost her assertiveness, she’s appeared rather weedy to me in the past. But now, sometimes I wonder if Florence is going too far in the other direction.

‘****’ She screams at times. I’m not sure swearing at odd moments for no apparent reason will work. The boss just smiles at her fondly as if she’s eccentric.

No, it won’t do.

Reasoning has to be behind all our demands.

In our latest union meeting, held behind our house, I go through our list of demands for future protests. Access to communal garden, extra mealworms, extra corn, cabbage and lettuce, bread (as a now-and-again treat, Jemima says it’s not good for us and is fattening) …

Flo pipes up. ‘No more baths for muddy feet’.

Good point, I agree.

And if we don’t get what we want, we can always go on strike. See how the boss lives without our beautiful eggs! I cackle loudly to myself. My comrades look at me suddenly. For leadership I reckon.

Okay, I say, here our boss arrives with the red bucket. (She’s also our personal cleaner). We’re ready for action.

‘What do we want? Worms. When do we want them? Now.’

Intimidation is the key. And sticking together, backing each other up.

We follow her to the door of the shed, home of treats galore.

Our union protest is in full swing. And as I see her hand go towards the packet of worms, I know it can’t fail…

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Posted in Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Bantams versus the ‘Beast’

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Many of you British residents will remember the so-called Beast from the East from earlier this year, who came, saw and conquered our land for a period of time. Like the Snow Queen in Narnia, the ‘Beast’ seemed intent on transforming our familiar landscape into an often beautiful but also a potentially dangerous one.

At Cosy Cottage, the temperatures dropped. The pigs (guinea pigs, plural, as it was at the time) were provided with more hay, the hens with more straw. Every morning I had to pour freshly boiled water onto the chickens’ drink container – which had frozen over. And at lunchtime, the same again. How could it get frozen so fast? Dottie and Co were not impressed by the snow. Apart from being freezing cold, how could they step out onto such peculiar, alien surroundings? And of course, wild birds might find it hard to find a drink in these Arctic conditions, so I gave them a bowl of water too.

 

One day, the ‘Beast’ finally left and our land was turned green again.

The conditions provoked much debate, was the extreme weather caused by climate change or was this all an over-reaction? What is clear to me is that Cosy Cottage is often lucky when it comes to the weather. This cold spell was much worse in other areas of the country and sadly, people even died because of the frozen, slippery conditions.

Facts of the Day

1. On February 24, Britain and Ireland were affected by a cold wave and this was combined with Storm Emma. This cold spell was repeated on March 17 and 18.

2. According to Wikipedia, there were 16 winter-related deaths in the UK during that period.

3. When it’s bad weather, keep any outdoor animals warm and make sure they have enough water to drink (and it hasn’t frozen over). Remember wild birds need to eat and drink too. A container for water can help them, as will fat balls or other bird food.