Thursday, 11 September 2008

Happy together at last!

Smokey, Snowdrop and Dopey have been living in the divided run since my last post. We tried another attempt at getting them to live together by Dopey still chased the other two mercilessly, pulling out feathers, standing on their backs, and so we decided they would need to be separated for longer, or even permanently. Graham built a little house for Dopey on the end, and this seemed to work well.

Last week Smokey came into lay, and possibly Snowdrop too (it is hard to tell who is laying what, but Smokey has very developed comb and wattles, and Snowdrop is reddening up too.

This morning we heard squawking (I hadn't shut their popholes last night so they were up early), and Graham discovered that Snowdrop had managed to knock out one of the canes and get through to Dopey's side. But they were not fighting - they seemed happy. We took out a few more canes, and they didn't fight at all. Looking out of the window, they are all standing together, preening happily. A success story!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Moving the run, and an attempt at integration

The new run was built on the patio, and so the new chickens spent their first week living on the patio. However, I was very aware that not only did this mean that WE could hear every squawk, it also meant our long-suffering neighbours could as well. So we have moved them to the bottom of the garden, which has the added bonus of us being able to use the patio. Ever since we moved in to this house in 1999 it has housed animals - mostly rabbits, but now it is completely clear.

Having moved the house and run, I thought it would be a good time to unleash Dopey on Smokey and Snowdrop. I took the canes out, and for the first 5 minutes I thought all would be well - they eyed each other up, but didn't take too much notice. However, Dopey soon remembered that her favourite game was 'chasing new chickens', and the poor new chickens fled to the house. Dopey followed them in and booted them out again, in order to chase them.

This carried on for about an hour with lulls in the warfare. I eventually put the canes back in, as it may be normal to sort out the pecking order in this way, but I didn't think my nerves could take any more!

Part of the problem I think is that they are in an enclosed run - if our fences were up then I would let all 3 of them into the garden, where there is much more space for the new girls to escape from Dopey, so we are going to build a little house for Dopey on the end of the run, and keep the run divided. Then when the garden is secure we can have another go, or they can live together but divided. She still gets the benefit of the company, but can't chase them.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Dividing the run

Over the last few days it became clear that the run needed to be divided so that the chickens could gain confidence in the run together. So we rigged up a temporary divide out of garden canes - a piece of wood at the base with holes drilled through to hold the canes, and a bungee cord woven around the top. The first attempt was a dismal failure, as the chickens just wandered round the side...! But second try we cut a longer piece of wood that actually sat on the wooden frame, and that worked much better.

The chickens didn't seem to mind being in the run together although Smokey and Snowdrop took a little while to get enough confidence to come out with Dopey there. But by the end of the day they were much more confident together. This evening Smokey even managed to dislodge a cane and squeeze round, and Dopey didn't flap at her, and she didn't run away from Dopey. So I hope that a few days of the barrier will help a smooth transition to them all being together. I have put the food beside the barrier on both sides, so that they can get used to eating together.

I put our old children's wooden bench in the run today - they loved it! Perching on it, hiding underneath it, jumping off! It is a great plaything for them.

We had a visitor this evening - fortunately he wasn't too interested in the chickens, but this picture shows how brazen the city foxes have become. The picture is a bit blurry as it was taken through the window, but he is a very fine fox!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Hens named!

Just a quick post - I have decided on the new girls' names - the Bluebelle was always going to be Smokey, but I couldn't decide on the white chicken's name - Graham suggested Snowball, but I have decided on Snowdrop - it is a little more elegant and pretty for a very beautiful chicken. So welcome, Smokey and Snowdrop.

New hens!

Dopey has some new friends! On Wednesday I decided to go and get her 2 new friends. I first went to a bird farm which I have heard good things about. However, two things persuaded me not to buy birds there - firstly, they gave me wrong advice I think - I wanted to get 2 birds, to balance up Dopey's advantages of age/laying status/establishment in run, as otherwise I thought it would be uneven. However they said I should only get 1, as otherwise they would gang up on Dopey. Secondly, their birds seemed a little quiet, a little hunched and I just didn't feel they were as healthy as they might be.

So in the afternoon I went back to Annie Hall, whose chickens were lovely, and I bought a lovely Bluebelle, and a 'silver link hybrid' which I think is similar to the Amber Star chickens. The bluebelle is called Smokey, and I think the white chicken will be Snowball, but I'm not sure yet.

Introducing them to Dopey has been interesting; when I got them home I put them in the chicken house with the pophole shut, so they could have a rest, a drink and some food. They were fairly quiet, but later on they had a big drink and then ventured into the run (I had put Dopey in the house of the other run with the door shut). They enjoyed exploring the run. In the evening I let them all into the run together - Dopey instantly chased the new chickens indoors, and had a bit of a peck. They all slept together happily, but the new birds are obviously wary of Dopey. The first night, the new girls roosted on the perch and Dopey slept on the floor.

Yesterday when I let them out, there was a fair amount of scuffling, and I spent most of the day changing the chickens round - so Dopey spent some time in the rabbit hutch, with the new girls in the run so Dopey could see them and they could see her. I will do this each day so that they have some undisturbed time in the run, to gain confidence - at the moment they are spending most of their time in the house as they feel safe in there. Last night they all roosted together - with Dopey snuggled up on the perch next to Smokey. So I'm hopeful it won't take too many days for them to be happy together! We will have to see how today goes. I'm not totally happy about leaving them out together when I'm out yet, especially as Smokey gave me a fright yesterday when I heard a squawking, went out and found what looked like a very dead Smokey, half under the ramp to get into the house. I thought Dopey must have dropped the ramp on her and squashed her. But when I lifted the ramp, she came out, which was a HUGE relief. So when I go out later, I will banish Dopey to the rabbit hutch and shut the other two in the run, so they have to acclimatise themselves.

Given how scared of Dopey they are, I am SO glad I got 2 chickens - 1 would have been a disaster as it would never have been able to stick up for itself.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A new home for Dopey

We have spent this weekend building a new run for Dopey, as it became obvious that Ginger was not going to let her back into the other run without a fight, and she has seemed to flourish away from the other hens. I bought a house from Annie Hall's Chickens (look on the arks section, and scroll down to the bottom - it is the square one on the left), and Graham bought some wood and mesh to build a run with. When he built the original chicken run, he built the house, but as Dopey was in the rabbit hutch we wanted to get her into the new run in as short a time as possible

The original chicken run.

. On Saturday, Graham built the basic frame - there are a few 'new' features on this run - it is taller, and the roof hinges - this should mean that we can walk in to clean it - when the roof is up and the door open, there is no height restriction. It will also have a roof made of coroline from B&Q. The total cost of materials for the run was just under £100, and the house cost £189, so it is not an expensive run.

The house without its roof, and making the back of the run.

End of day 1! The frame complete, and the house painted blue!

Day 2 - putting the mesh on, and finishing touches to the frame.

Finished! And painted blue!

Dopey, happy in her new home. Now for some friends!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Starting a new Run

I tried putting Dopey back in with the other hens earlier in the week, once her foot had healed. Unfortunately, Ginger REALLY didn't want her back in there, so I let them all into the garden. Ginger kept pecking Dopey and pulling at her feathers. Interestingly, Honey stuck up for Dopey, which I thought was nice. But it was obvious that Dopey, as bottom chicken, wasn't going to slot back in nicely. And in fact she is thriving in the rabbit hutch - her comb has reddened up, and grown, and she is much happier not being bullied! And the other 3 chickens do seem to like having a bit more space in their run - amazing how much space a little chicken can take up!

So, the new plan is to make a new run! I have bought a house from West Country Poultry (it is one of the bargain ones at the bottom of the 'arks' page), and Graham is going to make a new run for it. Then, Dopey plus a couple of new chickens can go in there, and hopefully Dopey can be Queen Chicken! I would like to get a White Star, which lays white eggs, and a Bluebelle, because I have always liked them. But first we have to build the run! We're going to try to put right some of the design errors from Chicken Run Mark 1 - for example, we're going to put some clear roofing on, and make the top open up to help with cleaning.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Dopey in isolation

Dopey (just for a change) is having another health problem - she cut her foot yesterday. I noticed some blood on her foot, but it didn't seem to be bothering her too much. This morning was a different story - hanging her foot, blood dripping - lovely. The other hens, being attracted to the red as hens are, were pecking her foot and making it worse, and poor Dopey was trying to hop around on one leg using her wing to balance her. She looked very pale as well. So I shut her in the henhouse for the rest of the day, with food and water.

She is now in the rabbit hutch! I had to let the other hens back into the henhouse to sleep, and I didn't want them to start attacking Dopey, so I have put her in isolation to recover. I've also ordered some wound powder and Gentian Violet Spray which should help healing, and also discourage pecking. Poor old Dopey - she is a bit crammed in there, but it's better than being pecked!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Easter Eggs

We have just been away on holiday to Scotland, leaving the chickens in the trusty care of our neighbour. They seemed happy enough when I poked my head in this evening, so I hope they have had a good week. Before we went away we had a huge number of eggs in the fridge, so having given 6 away to a friend, I put the remainder in a basket and sent the two eldest children off round the street to see if any neighbours wanted any. They seemed well received - everyone who was in took at least some eggs, so I hope they were all enjoyed. The children really enjoyed taking them round and it was lovely to see how confident they were knocking on the doors and handing out eggs.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

All quiet

I haven't updated this blog for a few weeks - only one entry in February - because the hens are very settled and happy and no dramas to report. We are getting 3-4 eggs a day, all different. I will try and photograph some to show the differences, but Speckeldy Selina lays smallish brown speckled eggs, Honey and Dopey lay light brown eggs, usually weighing about 60g, and Ginger the Black Rock lays beautiful large cream eggs which seem to have a touch of pink in them. She lays the biggest eggs - sometimes up to 80/85g.

I have grown fonder of Ginger - she is the least friendly of the hens but she is also very characterful. When we try to put the hens away after some time in the garden she is always the hardest to catch, and she is the only one who really resists being picked up. But she is friendly enough with the other hens. She is also very beautiful, with a real 'petrol green' sheen to her black feathers, and a rich ginger breast. The published literature about Black Rocks (which come from Muirfield Hatchery in Scotland) describes them as being very hardy, and weather resistent - this is certainly the case, as she is the only one of the four not to look terribly bedraggled in the rain. The Black Rock is a cross between a Rhode Island Red cockerel and a Barred Plymouth Rock hen, and it is definitely a cross that works well. It is described as a 'dual purpose' bird, but I don't think we will be eating Ginger anytime soon! Her eggs are delicious enough.

Friday, 8 February 2008

26th January pictures

I tried taking some more pictures of the chickens - they are getting easier to photograph, but their heads usually come out blurred, as they move their heads so fast. Here are some of the better pictures.
Honey and Dopey are very similar, but these two photos of Honey really show her white 'collar', and her comb which is much bigger than Dopey's. They are both extremely greedy chickens and often have very full and wobbly crops!

Ginger is a beautiful chicken, very hardy in the wet weather - her feathers seem very resilient to the water, whereas the other three can get a bit bedraggled. She is the most vicious of the chickens, although will limit herself to pecking your foot if she thinks you have something tasty!
As you can see, Dopey is much recovered, and is back to her old self. Her comb is nowhere near as developed as Honey's, but she doesn't seem to mind. I haven't worked out the pecking order of our flock, but I wonder if Dopey is low down on it, as she is the quietest of the hens. But very loveable - when we went to get Honey and Dopey, she came right up to say hello, whereas Honey had to be caught with a net!

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Some pictures of Dopey

I have written lots about Dopey this last week. She seems to be completely over her little episode last week. But I realised there aren't any good photos of her on this blog, so I have found a couple from August.

She has always been a very friendly hen - even when I went to choose the Bovan Goldlines at Cotswold Chickens, she came straight up to say hello, and wasn't at all bothered about being caught. I'm glad she seems better.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Giant eggs

When I let the chickens out this morning, I checked the nestbox as usual, and found 2 very big eggs. Not quite ostrich size, but certainly bigger than usual. Judging from the colour, they were from Honey and Dopey (although Dopey did randomly lay a white egg earlier in the week, so who knows?). Their eggs are normally bang on 60g, occasionally 65. These were 75g, which is a quarter bigger again. It must be all the extra protein I've been giving them as part of Dopey's recuperation.

This afternoon I have made ice cream using their eggs, and it is delicious. Bearing in mind the 'Chicken Out' campaign by Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall (I'm sure that isn't right, but you know who I mean), I feel very smug about using our own happy eggs! I hope his campaign will improve conditions for both battery and broiler hens.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Dopey a lot better!

I was really expecting to find Dopey dead this morning. But when Graham opened the door to the coop, she shot out! She really does look better - her tail is back up, her comb is redder, she is holding her head up, fighting for food. She also shot out into the garden when I tried to give them some broccoli, and then flew about 6 feet up in the air! So hopefully that means she is better. She certainly seems on the mend - fingers crossed it continues!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Dopey still not well

Dopey is still ill - she is standing hunched in the corner of the run, tail down, wings drooping, pale comb. We are going to put her in isolation in a rabbit hutch and give her some 'rescue food' - hardboiled egg, cat food, poultry spice. She doesn't look very good today, so I'm not very hopeful, but she is still pecking around occasionally. It is tough being a chicken - they hide when they are off colour until they think they are going to die, and then seem to just give up. But sometimes they are mistaken!

Friday, 4 January 2008

Update on Dopey

About 4.00 I went out to the chickens to check on them as it got dark - in the nest box was a very warm egg - I think Dopey had JUST laid it. She certainly did look a bit perkier, and was having some food and drink, so I hope tomorrow will see her well again. It wasn't a particularly big egg - perhaps a little bigger than usual, and a little longer, so maybe the cold weather blocked her up a bit? Whatever the reason, I hope she is back to her usual self tomorrow.

Dopey is not feeling well

Dopey is very quiet at the moment. Yesterday she was standing looking very uninterested in everything. Today she came out with the other chickens, and had a huge drink of water, before going in to the nest box, presumably to lay. She has been there a while - I went to check on her and she seems ok, so hopefully she is just trying to lay a big egg. I hope there is nothing more serious wrong with her. One thought was that she may be egg bound - I think the cure for this is to stand the chicken in a tub of warm water which helps them to lay. I will try this if she doesn't improve.

I think I will also give them a 'protein boost' this evening with some cat food, hard boiled eggs and poultry spice. But I hope Dopey will have picked up by then.