Chickens: Broody Hens

Last chicken post for a while….DSC_0002I have two chickens sitting on hatching eggs, which I am ridiculously excited and impatient about.  Clearly, I am new to this, but this is how it went for me:DSC_0014Gertie sat longer than usual on the nest, mostly refusing to move of it, even at night to roost, and when I went to see what was going on, she hissed and pecked at me, especially if I tried to move eggs from under her.  She also had her sweet fat little belly and feathers all flattened out over the nest (see above), covering the (totally infertile!!) eggs that were in it.  My original plan was to try to stop her brooding, so I shifted the eggs, kicked her out of the coop and shut the door so she couldn’t get back in.

DSC_0005I did also notice there were a lot of feathers in the run (I originally thought maybe one of the other chickens was being a monster, and pecking the Pekins, but once I realised she was broody, it was obvious she’d been plucking her own feathers to line the nest – bless).  DSC_0006Lastly, there was broody hen poo which looks, to me, like a mini cow pat – nice!

After about a week, when she was showing no signs of giving up, I did begin to think it might be fun to try to hatch just one set of eggs.  I was a bit stressed about the idea of them all hatching and possibly having to dispatch the boys, if I couldn’t realistically find homes for them (I knew I could manage to keep two roosters myself, more of they were happy to live together which I read sometimes Pekin Bantams can, although I hear they also often turn once they reach maturity, even if they appear OK together when younger).

DSC_0001 (1)I tried to make her a separate nest in the end of the big run, but that clearly wasn’t going to work out, plus I’d read a lot that she would have to be moved away from the other hens, so I moved her into a run of her own.  I used one of the cats plastic carriers, with a plastic box on top for her nest (it’s still quite cold in the mornings so I figured the double insulation would be best). I put some diatomaceous earth in the bottom of the cat carrier, as I figured she wont come out for her usual dust bath, then I put both sawdust and straw on top and popped in quite a few existing eggs so she might think she had enough to settle for hatching.

DSC_0003Choosing eggs.  God there are just soooooooo many.  In the end, slightly by mistake, I double ordered and got 6 mixed Pekin Bantam and 6 mixed Orpington Bantam eggs.  I was planning to only put 8, max, under her, but then Audrey turned broody too, so I made her a little house in the chicken maternity hospital, next to Greta, and put six eggs under each (I mixed them up, for insurance).

Clearly, I am a total novice so I read up lots and lots about how best to deal with posted eggs and setting them under broody hens and here are the guidelines, as far as I can work them out:

  • Unpack the egg box carefully and inspect each egg for hairline cracks etc. Discard any that are damaged (obviously).
  • Wash/do not wash the eggs (if dirty). Lots of conflicting advice here. Some say do not, under any circumstances, wash the eggs, as you wash off the protective ‘bloom’.  Others say you must, if dirty, to remove as much possible contamination before setting them under the chicken.  I went for washing on the ones that were especially dirty but then immediately wished I hadn’t.  I did heed the advice to use only very tepid water so as to not change the temperature of the egg too quickly.
  • Sit the eggs, pointy side down, in cartons, at room temperature for 12-24 hours, so the air sack can stabilise at the top of the egg (it needs to be here, apparently, for the last part of the chicks development, when the chick pierces the air sack so it can develop its lungs before breaking out of the shell…..or so I read).
  • When letting the eggs stabilise, make sure they don’t warm or cool too quickly.  Put them back in the carton they came in (once inspected and washed….or not washed!) so they gradually come up to room temperature over the 24 hours.  This bit varies, again, as some people say they need to go into super clean new cartons to cut down on possible bacteria and infection.  What is this???  Chicken World War Z…do they become zombie chickens if they touch a tiny speck of dirt?? I know, I know nothing and do bow down to those that do know best.
  • If you are storing the eggs for use later, the possible storage time, again, varies according to what you read.  Most say a week, 10 days max for a viable hatch, other places say you can go as long as three weeks.  If stored, they need to be in a room, not too warm or dry, ideally between 10-15 degrees celsius.  Some say turn the eggs regularly and store then at an angle, others say don’t touch them once stored and others still say simply flip the box they are stored in twice a day. Make your mind up people, I am a novice 😉
  • Ideally, put the ready eggs under the broody hen at night, clearly marked with pencil, so you know which are the fertile ones you’ve set and what’s what (mine came clearly labelled by both sellers, as they were a mixed batch, and I removed all the regular eggs when I put the new fertile ones under).
  • Candle them to see what’s going on at day 7 and day 18 and remove any that aren’t developing correctly.  Again, lots of conflicting advice about this one so I’m not going to even go into it all.

There are lots of amazing online sources for info on all of this, written by people who know what they are talking about, some good ones are:

https://mbasic.facebook.com/notes/friends-with-fowl/hatching-shipped-eggs-by-elizabeth-white-via-cheryl-shires/548615281826504/

http://www.sagehenfarmlodi.com/chooks/chicks.html

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/guide-to-letting-broody-hens-hatch-and-raise-chicks

http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/p/hatching.html

Hatching Chicks Nature’s Way

and this site for candling the eggs is just awesome:

http://www.raising-happy-chickens.com/hatching-chicken-eggs.html

DSC_0001The girls started off a bit crap, to be honest, they weren’t great at keeping the eggs covered, I ended up giving Greta 7 and Audrey only 4 (one got chucked out, at this stage, as it’d been left out for too long and was freezing cold when I checked). Interestingly, I read on a forum from someone very experienced (sorry, can’t remember who) that they believe you can ‘re-set’ incubating eggs once in the process, as long as it’s before day 15.  They reckon that the eggs go into a kind of stasis so they can get cold for quite a long while, but then be put under another broody hen (a more reliable one) and will still hatch, just a little later than the original hatch date.  It’s a thought, anyway.  They also both managed to poo in their nest and walk it all over the eggs, which I decided to gently and quickly try to wipe off.  Could be a mistake, but there was just too much chicken muck to leave it.  They have settled right down now, though, and are both doing a great job, they’ve also been moved into an Eglu that I’ve split with cardboard so they get half each.

I’d planned to wait until day 9 to check the eggs, but as I’m rubbish, and couldn’t wait, I candled them on day 7 instead. I used my trusty torch with a bit of foam taped around the top and sat in the dark, in the cupboard under the stairs, as you do.  I really thought only half were likely to have started to develop but was surprised to see veins in 8 of the eggs, with 2 maybes and 1 doing not a lot (that got removed). I’ll check the 2 maybes tomorrow (day 12) then all of them, for the last time, on day 16 (you normally do day 18, before ‘lock down’), as I’ve read that Bantam eggs sometimes pip early, on day 18 or 19, not day 21 as for regular chicken eggs, so they shouldn’t be moved after 16 days. I’m also going to move the Bantam eggs all under Audrey and the rest under Greta, so if they do hatch early, it doesn’t prompt the chicken to abandon the other eggs too soon.

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On the gardening front, the kitchen table has been turned into a greenhouse ,so I can get everything started indoors. I’m a bit behind on my list, but I’ll get there 🙂

 

Chickens: The Bantams

Having established that chickens, with the exceptions of cats, are the best pets EVER and you get the eggs (bonus!) I wasn’t content with my three hybrid girls, lovely though they are, and I longed for some purely fun chucks.

DSC_0010I pretty much scoured the internet for weeks, trying to decide what to get and where from.  It was very early in the season, so little was around and if there’s one thing I have noticed, there is a total lack of local, decent, chicken ‘selling’ websites.  I do like a good website, I like photos, descriptions and an accurate showing of availability (or a good guesstimate) etc.  I am not very good with sites that just have lists of chickens, with no images and no indication of what is currently in stock.chickens rowLuckily, I found a place in Kent that updates its site weekly and shows well what they have, so we pottered over one weekend (after calling ahead) to pick up some Bantams.DSC_0015My plan was to get four, and I really wanted it to include a Light Sussex and a Lavender Pekin, I didn’t want Silkies and the others would be down to what was there when we visited.

The boys had other plans.DSC_0007 (1)First to be chosen was a Frizzle Poland now named ‘Elvis(seena)’.  Felix fell in love and I was swayed, despite her costing more than any of the other chickens and looking rather daft.  Daft in a kind of fab way, I should add.DSC_0008 (1)Charlie then sulked because he wanted to choose so we ended up with a little black Silkie called ‘Puffles’ (I should know better than to let my kids name animals).DSC_0003I did get to choose the last two, so I did get my Light Sussex Bantam ‘Ava’ (Gardner) (top photo) and a very pretty Silver Birchen Pekin, called ‘Greta’ (Garbo).DSC_0007I, basically, was sad not to have got my Lavender Pekin, so I went back the next day….and came back with a Porcelain Pekin, ‘Audrey’ (Hepburn…I am so much better at naming things than my kids 😉 )…because she was soooo pretty and friendly and I got swayed, as you do.DSC_0002Poor Audrey got a respiratory sickness shortly after she arrived 😦 She was absolutely 100% healthy when we got her, as where all the other chickens the was penned with, I assume the move had simply stressed her out and brought out mycoplasma but she was a sick little thing, breathing like Darth  Vader and sneezing.  I separated her out (lucky I kept the old guinea pig cage) and she spent two weeks indoors getting well on antibiotics.  Oh yes, sick chicken on table whilst children eat, bet that’s freaking a few people out!Elvis SickShe recovered just in time for Elvis to get sick.  I was pretty convinced that Elvis wouldn’t make it, actually.  One thing that worked amazingly well was steaming the chickens.  I had boiling water creating steam, that was directed into the cage and each time, afterwards, the chickens really perked up and then ate, which they clearly struggled to do when they were all bunged up. With Elvis, I had to syringe water into her (which contained the antibiotics) as she refused to eat, drink or move.  Again, each time, after she’d had water, she perked up and then went on to eat a little. I know most people would have just culled her, but I had the time to nurse her and just couldn’t bring myself to do it and we did win in the end.IMG_20160317_115805The big bonus of her having been indoors for a couple of weeks, is that Elvis became even more tame then she originally was.  She loves sitting in knees and being petted.Elvis ShoulderShe also loves to ride on shoulders, like some kind of crazy hen parrot.DSC_0008article-2310437-1959E822000005DC-279_634x450Prompting a Face Book post of one boy and his chicken….which weirdly, I posted on the day it was later announced that Barry Hines had died.  Sad 😦DSC_0004The Bantams are just the very best.  They are all very, very tame and the little Silkie, Elvis and Audrey, especially, like to be handled.  I love how all the chickens follow us around the garden when we’re outside or try to come indoors for a nose around.  I can totally understand why they are recommended as pets for people with young children, and as the Pekin Bantams have feathered feet they really don’t do much damage to the garden.DSC_0003 (1)DSC_0005There is, of course, the egg bonus.  All of my Bantams lay daily too, which is just fab. They must be happy 🙂bantam eggsThe Light Sussex lays bigger eggs, as you’d imagine (bottom, right) but I do have a soft spot for the little white eggs we get from the others.  The boys have a regular 5 egg fry up from them which always makes me laugh!DSC_0001But the boys are away at the moment (and have been for over a week) and I’m struggling to keep up on my own.  I’ve already made two batches of ice cream, various omelettes and a big Quiche in the last week and it’s not making much of a dent…that’s the down side of all my neighbours also having chickens, there is no-one directly around to give the eggs to 🙂

Chickens: Eglu Go Up

Sorry in advance as this post is a tiny bit ranty.

As per my last post, we started our chicken journey with a basic Eglu Go and two meter run, as below (in this case a temporary set-up for some bantam chickens whilst I made up their real home).  I immediately extended the run by an extra meter, so the two hybrids chucks had a secure home and a three meter run.  The blurb for Eglus says that you can keep up to four smaller chickens (like the hybrid rangers I have) or three larger variety (like Buff Orpingtons) in the Go, but the problem then is the run size.  Everything I read says a minimum of one square meter per regular sized chicken and so I felt happier with three square meters for my two, and that was knowing they would be outside most of the day.  I just prefer to give them as much room as I can.DSC_0019One of the reasons I went for a Go, apart from asking lots of friends who have them and reading a load of reviews, was that I wanted to keep moving it around so the chucks could be on fresh grass when they were contained in the run.  With three meters, it is very possible to move, but it’s quite hard work.  The grass tends to grow through the fox proof skirt (in my case, probably because I don’t mow the lawn enough!) and it becomes quite difficult to drag it around.  In fairness, it was much easier with the two meters.Eglu-Go-Up-Dimensions_new.jpg

After Mabel was munched (in January, this year) I decided that when I got the new chickens, I’d also upgrade the coop to a Go Up, as above, with an extra one meter extension.  This meant buying all the component bits separately (run, run extension, frame and wheels). DSC_0141Boy, did I have problems!  To cut a VERY long story short, I realised that the wheel handle wasn’t correct.  It didn’t look anything like the promo photos and there wasn’t enough sticking out to get a good grip on to push the handle down and hook under the brackets.  I took lots of photos, wrote emails and made many phone calls to Omlet over the next week.  First, they sent me a new frame…..er no, that wont solve it (but I politely went through the motions and waited another day for the re-delivery before calling them to point out it was, in fact, the same frame as the one I already had).  Then it was agreed that the wheels were wrong, turns out they were an old design sent out by mistake.  On opening the box, the ‘new’ replacement wheels, were the same as the existing wrong ones.  As with the originals, they were in the correct box, but had the wrong handles inside.  Grumpy, much, me? Noooooo.DSC_0001Eventually, after lots of deliveries back and forth, I got the correct wheels.  (I hope you appreciate that I ran out in the rain to take this photo).  Not sure how clear it is, but there is a turn in the handles that makes it much easier to  grip and maneuver. DSC_0009(storm Katie, which wasn’t forecast to be all that windy here, turned out to be much worse than expected and the poor hens went for a ride during the night!)

For my birthday again this year, my lovely sister bought me a second Eglu Go to use with the old run, sitting sad, lonely and unused in the corner of the garden and because I am now a chicken addict.  After struggling to drag it around, I again decided to ‘upgrade’ it to a Go Up and guess what…..yes, WRONG bloody wheels delivered again.  This time I got a bit grumpy on the phone.  The girls I have dealt with at Omlet have always been so polite and as helpful as they can be, so total respect there, but I thought not being offered any compensation was poor and it strikes me that lots of people must have the wrong old style wheels, as each package I get has been previously opened and re-taped and I think when they get returned (as with mine) they just end up back in the system and go out again to another customer…at least that’s my theory, anyway.

Would I buy from Omlet again?  Absolutely, because the design is bloody genius and I appreciate I was possibly just unlucky with my wheel order and, as above, the customer service girls were lovely, it just took a lot of effort on my part to sort the problems out and that irks me.  Also the foxes around here are a big problem, they are in the garden every night and I’m confident that my chickens are safe in their runs, even if I’m away overnight and the doors to the coop can’t be closed.DSC_0003  This is my current set-up.  I have two Eglu Gos and (as of recently) both have whopping three meters of run on the front, which with the one meter underneath the Eglu makes four meters in all.  I didn’t know if they would still be easy to move around the garden but they are perfectly fine, if a tiny bit wobbly.  I’m really happy.  Doris lives with her new hybrid pals, Edna and Beryl and the other Eglu has the Bantams (next post!).  They all free range together, but I don’t think they could have lived together, for instance in a Eglu Cube (which I do LOVE) as the big chucks can be a bit mean to the small ones when they are all out together if I don’t watch them.

In short, buy and Eglu, it’s worth it, but check the wheels you are sent if you’re buying them at a later date as an add-on!!

Chickens: The Beginning

This post is well overdue, as I’ve been a chicken owner now for over a year.  I think I was waiting to take good photos of the living set-up, but that has changed quite a bit since, so best to just get on with the writing.

I’ve always wanted chickens but I generally stick to animals that can be left on their own, for at least a weekend (hence the cats) and ideally a week (with the neighbours keeping an eye out for me). But after the arrival of the guinea pigs, which can’t be abandoned for long, it didn’t seem to make much difference to add chickens to the mix and the big bonus is that three of my immediate neighbours are chicken keepers and so are wonderfully helpful when I do need to go away.

I remember now why I didn’t write this post earlier, as I only had crap photos to share…DSC_0191like this, for instance!DSC_0194and this not very good photo of our original set-up,DSC_0019which you can see better in this later photo (different chickens, more in that later).

This is an Eglu Go, from Omlet, which is an eye wateringly expensive but totally brilliant chicken house.  I’m not going to do a massive review as quite frankly, I’m not qualified to do so and there are already so many good ones online.  I asked my lovely Sister to add to the cost for my birthday gift (this was back in early 2015) and I paid the rest.  It is brilliant.  Really no hassle to keep clean, looks good and I just couldn’t add any more wood that needed preserving to my home, as I already can’t keep up with the decking, fence, window and greenhouse maintenance.  I figure that it will eventually earn its price in longevity and if I ever need to sell it, the Eglus sell well on Ebay at not much of a loss.  My only regret?  I debated for some time over the Go or the Go Up and should have got the Go Up straight off, but more on that in the next post.

DSC_0189I paid to have the Omlet set-up (a chap in a van who comes and puts the entire thing together for you) complete with two chickens, regular hybrid Ginger Rangers, aptly named Doris and Mabel.DSC_0158Doris and Mabel were (past tense, do you see where this might be going??) ridiculously tame.  They partly came that way, but I do like to think the time and effort we put into interacting with the pets in this house helps.DSC_0136We had eggs the very next day, which I was stupidly excited about.DSC_0149DSC_0154(Obligatory cute child holding eggs pose).DSC_0139The whole thing is a winner for me.  Yes, the initial money outlay for the Eglu is rather frightening and if you split that out on the eggs you get, versus some good quality organic eggs from the shops, you realise that your eggs are coming in at quite a high price, but there really is nothing like fresh eggs from the garden and given time (OK, so a LOT of time) I think the Eglu will eventually pay for itself.DSC_0157.jpgI also just love watching the chickens.  Ours were free range, I let them out every day and they would potter about the garden causing havoc in the flower beds (they are quite damaging, even just two chickens, if you’re very garden proud you might want to fence them into an area).DSC_0162Would I have done anything differently?  Yes.  As above, I’d have bought a Go Up immediately.  I might also have gone for ‘prettier’ chickens.  Hybrids are a must, for my needs; they lay eggs nearly every day (in our case all through winter too), they don’t go broody, they are vaccinated and super hardy and don’t mind the weather and very importantly for me, they are friendly.  But, there is a wide range of hybrid chickens and given the choice again, I’d go to a local breeder (there are so many here in Kent) and probably have got three different coloured hybrids, just because.

So why all the past tense?  Well the inevitable happened, and I should have known better and poor Mabel was munched by a passing fox.  We got to watch the entire thing on video (there is a camera on that part of the garden, due to a garage break in some years ago) and Mr Fox just ran into the garden and stole her whilst she was having a nice dust bath.  I had clipped the wings of both chickens, to keep them in the garden, and if I haven’t I think she would have made it as she did try to fly up and away.  The end was quick and thankfully, the fox didn’t kill Doris too.  I should add, the fox came by at 11 in the morning on a busy Saturday when we had all our doors open and the kids were in and out of the garden so it’s not like it happened at dusk of when there weren’t humans about.  Shame.  Nasty fox.

I’m splitting these up, so more in the next post….