Chickens: Spring Cleaning and Legbars

I gave the chickens a full clean last weekend. Their Eglus were taken apart and power hosed down, sprayed liberally with Smite and dusted with diatomaceous earth before being put back together. I moved two of the runs onto new ground and the big walk in run floor was cleaned and disinfected.Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 14.34.59

As we live in an area this isn’t high risk, we are allowed to now let the chickens out, as long as we follow the DEFRA guidelines above, so I created a small area along the edge of the garden, with temporary Eglu fencing for the big girls to come out of their walk in run, and the little bantams (who live in their own space) were let loose in the main garden (as they are easier to put back in and they do less damage to the flower beds).DSC_0008I got sad, though, as the big hybrid hens and their cockerel, Sergeant Bilko bully Bowie and Ave (the Light Sussex bantam, above and Bowie the boy, girl, boy cockerel) and for a while they wouldn’t let them out to play. I’ve been thinking about separating Bowie off for a bit, with his own little group, so off we went to Noddy’s Pure Breeds to pick out two new chickens (should have got three, I was miscounting in my head and included Bowie as a hen, I’d intended him and four girls together, really).DSC_0013They needed to be smaller chickens, either big bantams (like Ave) or smaller ‘big breeds’ as Bowie is a Orpington Bantam and they are chunky little things. I’ve been considering adding some Cream Crested Legbars for ages so I did have these in mind, but figured we’d end up with two bantams as I wasn’t sure how Rob had them penned up and you ideally need to take them from the same pen. I was super excited, when we arrived,  to see Legbars in the bantam pen….DSC_0008only F had obsessed the whole journey about replacing his beloved Elvis (the shoulder riding Polish frizzle) and I got persuaded (quite easily, in fact) into indulging him and we got a lovely black polish (no frizzle!) hen, and for me, a Legbar.DSC_0016I have to say, I think Crested Legbars are really pretty chickens. I saw some roaming free range, last summer, at a local National Trust house and had pretty much decided then that I’d like some. We got our first little blue egg from her today! So exciting. I love having a mixed bowl of eggs. I use the bantam ones quite a lot for when I need a half egg recipe or when Charlie wants fried eggs on toast for breakfast. I also love that I know exactly which chicken has laid which egg.DSC_0007The chickens are back inside temporarily, just whilst they get de-wormed (I use pre-mixed pellets with Flubenvet already added) but I plan to shuffle them around at the weekend to make sure they all have enough run space and can get back to free-ranging on a daily basis. I have to say, Bowie and his girls settled in amazingly well with pretty much no fuss at all.

Whilst I was in the garden I spent 10 minutes picking some of the sycamore tree saplings. This is a never-ending job, but if they aren’t pulled up whilst tiny, they are nightmare to kill off later.DSC_0021I also tidied and mulched the rhubard patch and we cut some for the first recipe of the year.DSC_0022Rhubard Crumble Cake, in this case, which was a great way of using some eggs up too, now that all the chickens are all back in lay.

Just the rest of the garden to sort out now 🙂

2017 Vegetable Planting Lists…

Really, this post is for me; sorry it’s so boring.

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Here we go with the lists for 2017:

FEBRUARY

Strawberry Mount Everest

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi, Rainbow Blend (from Thompson & Morgan)

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

MARCH

Red Onion Red Arrow

Shallots Longor

Elephant Garlic

Spinach Bordeaux

Cucumbers Tiffany, Crystal Apple

Courgettes Zephyr

Melon Orange Sherbert

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell, Rainbow Mix (from Thompson & Morgan)

Kohl Rabi F1 Hybrid

Peas Whatever I’ve got left

Sweetcorn Lark

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Beetroot Pablo, Bolthardy, Coloured Mix (Thompson & Morgan)

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Mixed seed

Turnip Snowball

Lettuce Various varieties

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Gem/Rolet, Queensland Blue, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1, Potimarron, 

AUGUST &  SEPTEMBER

Pak Choi Rubi

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)

Purslane

ANYTIME

Kale Cavolo Nero & Red Russian

Herbs Parcel, Cress (Bubbles)

I placed an order with Thompson & Morgan and below is what’s new this year (already included in the lists above):

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dsc_0044Also, just for fun, I’m growing mushrooms indoors (in the utility room at the moment) as someone on the radio said one of the best things you can eat that you’ve home-grown (and see how amazingly different they are) are mushrooms….we’ll see!

dsc_0040We can’t stop eating the Chocolate Rye Brownies from Gill Meller’s ‘Gather’…..I think I’m addicted.

dsc_0035Finally, we’re sad the snow only stayed for one night :(, but the boys did manage to get sledges out and push each other around the garden, plus make a snowman (in the dark, whilst using torches!!) but I think that the chickens are happy as the poor things keep taking it in turns to molt and are almost naked. I think the warm (so far) winter has confused them.

More snow tomorrow, for an hour or so before it turns to rain? I do hope so 🙂

 

Chickens: Congratulations, she’s a boy!!!

I’ve been busy with the chickens recently; upgrading their runs, making them clean and fun for the chickens to be in, and in the case of the little chickens, longer. Whilst working away, I couldn’t help but notice that Bowie, is, in fact, a boy after all.dsc_0034Now, I get that looking at the above photo, there is no doubt, but just so you don’t think I’m a complete lunatic for ever thinking otherwise…dsc_0047here is a quick reminder of what she (doh! – he!) looked like in November.dsc_0039Not sure how clear it is on the above photo, but his brothers-from-other-mothers where looking distinctly male, at this same point.

Looking at the photo again, I guess he was showing signs of hackle feathers, but Bowie has never shown any aggression, has never shown any interest in the girls, did have pink, small wattles and combs and skinny legs (in November, that is), so I really was genuinely surprised she became a he and especially so much later than the others. Sargent Bilko and Bowie seem fine in together; I may have to get them more girls, between them, but as long as they can live in harmony, I’ll leave it that way.dsc_0028I moved Silver (who deserves a proper name, although Silver has stuck now) out a while ago to live with the other small bantams (all the Orpingtons are bantams, but Sargent Bilko is massive and Bowie not much smaller, after the recent growth spurt, so they fit better with full size girls).dsc_0023I just gave the little’s even more run (all the others are in the big, walk-in run) and a new fancy cover from Tarpaflex who I heard about on an Omlet forum. I have a similar cover on the walk-in and have discovered that not only are they a lot cheaper than Omlet, but they stay lovely and clear and are (in my opinion) much better value for money. All the other bits of the run have black bird netting over, that I use in the garden for the berry trees. Let’s hope the avian flu scare is over soon and they can go out again. I’ve rather stupidy put them where my bluebells grow so I will need to move them, but it’s good for now.
screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-07-02-13On a slight tangent, I just discovered these (now all sold!) amazing plates and furniture knobs by Holly Frean, sold through Anthropologie.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-06-57-40I’m slightly gutted I missed the chicken plates as the boys would have loved one each,screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-06-56-49but I just bought the two remaining furniture knobs with ‘Puffles’ like black silkie style chooks on for Charlie’s room (Puffles is his chicken, as you can tell by the stupid name!).

dsc_0007I don’t actually have a decent photos of Puffles…she’s back…and a silkie…and a bantam.

So, from the eggs we hatched, we ended up with 3 boys and 1 girl. Isn’t that just the way it goes. Much as I really enjoyed the whole process, I’m too much of a wuss to do it again, as I’d never have the heart to ‘get rid of’ the boys and I’m not sure it’ll be easy to re-home them as no-one ever really wants cockerels, even handsome bantam ones that are quite tame. We’re managing as we are though; I lock them in at night and so their crow is not very loud at all, but it’ll be difficult for us to go away over summer and leave them out, as that would be very unfair on the neighbours, even though they all also keep chickens and some have cockerels too.

I’m getting my planting and seed lists together for spring, which I’m quite excited about. I’d really like to have a productive garden this year and think it can really happen, as I’ve done a lot of the never-ending jobs and feel like, for once, I’m slight ahead. Here’s to a fabulous 2017!

Chickens: My, How They’ve Grown!

So, they are big chickens now……really quite massive,  in the boys’ case.dsc_0051Sergeant Bilko is ‘King Chicken’ and has turned out to be quite magnificent. As he’s a Orpington bantam, he’s about the size of a regular hen. Gosh he’s handsome.dsc_0039His brother-from-another-mother (not named…..can’t believe we haven’t actually named them all yet) is equally big and so far they seem to be getting along quite well. I do keep an eye on them both, and if they start to fight, I could either put one of them in with the brown hybrid chicks, or try to re-home one. As long as they seem happy, I’ll just keep both.dsc_0047Bowie, the only girl Orpington is still one of my favourite chickens from the ones we hatched. I’ve spent less time recently handling them and I’m amazed at how quickly they’ve gone shy. They are happy to be around my legs, will always come running to me (in the hope of a treat) but are less likely to hop up on to my lap for a cuddle. Shame. dsc_0036I think when I last posted….ahem…in July..we had three Pekins. Sadly, I came down one morning to find the cage door open, the chickens were all out and two were missing 😦 I think Mr Fox (who drops by nightly, leaving his little calling card on the lawn) had managed to work the door open by jumping repeatedly on it (I looked at night footage once, from the security cameras in the garden and was amazed at how much the foxes jump all over the cages, trying to get in). If the door latch isn’t pushed down hard, it can work its way lose. Bogart and the chicken with no name were both munched, I assume, as there wasn’t even a trace of feather. We now only have Lana (Turner) left (middle chick in the above photo).dsc_0052As I now have quite a little flock I’ve had to be a bit inventive with my Eglu. They really need a Cube version, but I cannot afford that, so I have put the guinea pigs’ summer house (they are indoors at the moment) up against the original ‘Up and Go’ so they have more room. When I peak indoors at night, I see that they are still mostly all crammed into one coop, and weirdly, there seems to be quite a reasonable amount of room around them, so if they continue to do that, I’ll revert back to just the one (as it’s loads easier to empty the tray that way, for cleaning).

They’re still ‘free range’ during the day. After Mabel (one of my original hybrids) got eaten by a fox in the middle of a sunny Saturday, I was a bit worried about a repeat visit, but I think it’s more important that they have a nice quality of life and so as long as I’m at home (which is most days), I let them out and leave them to it.  I have to say, I do love having chickens, they do make me happy 🙂

Chickens: Little Boys or Little Girls?

We played the game of all amateur chicken keepers and played guess the gender and quite frankly, failed.DSC_0026I did try to photograph the chicks at various stages, but they aren’t very good at sitting still and often present me with a rear view.  I did get some images though, so here’s the little chickies as they were, and now.

The Orpington Bantams

Bowie – named because I was sure she was a boy, when younger.  Oops.DSC_0033DSC_0017Definitely a girl.

Silver or Birch (?!!! Must stop letting my kids name chickens!)DSC_0036DSC_0021Boy. Sadly.

Nameless Chicken (the ‘ugly’ one that I saved from near death when little)DSC_0038DSC_0020Also a boy.DSC_0034They’ve grown a lot, even since the above photos and the boys have started to square up to each other, which is interesting to watch. I’m waiting for them to feather out a bit more, so they look a little more handsome, then I’ll try to find them new homes.DSC_0027The Pekins

(Humphrey) Bogart ‘Bogie’DSC_0016DSC_0008I was positive, a boy….still am, I think…but he’s showing no characteristics of a boy and is the softest drip of a chicken, loves a sit and cuddle. He’s one of my favourites.

Chick One (yet to be named)DSC_0011DSC_0023DSC_0011 (1)Girl – hurrah!

Chick Two (also waiting to be named)DSC_0024DSC_0013Another girl.

So, three girls and three boys. The fourth Orpington died at a few weeks old, sadly.

It’s been a fun process hatching the eggs, but the dihlema of what to do with the boys is a problem. I did know it would be, so I am ready for it, but as we are now at our chicken maximum it’s not a process we’ll repeat again, at least, not for some years.

Chickens: The Hatch

I had planned a garden post before any more chicken ones, but despite my garden being tended to better than it has been in years, I just keep forgetting to take photos.  As it is, the chicks are 5 weeks old this weekend, so I figured I’d better get on with writing about the hatch.

WARNING! Despite taking loads of photos of the chicks throughout this process, the images are mainly crap.  Sorry.  It has a lot to do with my impatience twinned with not using my camera properly and also to do with the fact that chicks don’t like to sit still, so I mostly get photos of chickens’ bums.DSC_0004I was so incredibly impatient in the early stages, much more so than I’d expected to be.  The urge to candle eggs more than I should and then going to listen at the coop for signs of a cheep around hatch day were quite compelling.  The chicks didn’t start to hatch until day 22 and most arrived day 24!!  So much for Pekin eggs hatching early.  I assume it was the cold weather and the girls not sitting well.DSC_0002In the end, I did move all the Pekin Bantam eggs under Audrey (Hepburn, white chuck above).  There were originally 2 x Lavender, 2 x Millefleur and 2 x Frizzled/Cuckoo eggs (bought from Haylor Reach Rare Poultry). One Lavender egg was neglected at the start, so that was binned; then at 10 days, a Cuckoo hadn’t developed so that went and finally, the last Cuckoo egg went bad at 21 days, which you could see as it started to ooze, and had to be taken out before it exploded over the other eggs (it was very nasty, even put into two zip freezer bags it still smelt when I smashed it to see inside, because I am nosy and couldn’t resist – it was pure yellow bacteria filled liquid BTW, no sign of anything else even though it had developed at the 16 day check).  The last three eggs did hatch – hurrah! DSC_0005Greta (Garbo, above) hatched the Orpington Bantam eggs that came from Keith’s Orpington Poultry.  Greta was a much more stable brooder and hatched 4 of the eggs.  One hadn’t developed in the early 7 day check and another egg was binned at 10 days.DSC_0002 (1)Sadly, two of the Orpington chicks tried to mysteriously die early on.  It was after a night of horrific rain and thunder and I suspect that Greta had freaked out and they had been left in the cold.  I managed to save them both by bringing them indoors, warming them up (I genuinely thought they were dead as they were stone cold and stiff, but on closer inspection saw some signs of life) and making a makeshift chick A&E in a basket with my seed warmer mat underneath. DSC_0021But the little grey one then did die a couple of weeks later.  I didn’t try so hard to save it this time, I figured it just wasn’t meant to be.  He/she was F’s favourite 😦DSC_0008F has generally been brilliant with the chicks.  He loves them and spends ages in their cages, it’s been really nice to see him so involved, but then he’s always been great with animals.  DSC_0001I eventually bought a small, low, Omlet Walk in run so he could get inside more easily, as he kept trying to crawl on his belly into the old run to say ‘hello’, which didn’t really work.  It’s ugly, but practical, and I don’t have a lot of money to spend and didn’t have the time or know how to knock up a quick run.  I can move this around on my own and I will, likely, extend it for winter and tuck it under the trees for all the Bantams to live in together, when I’m more organised and can save up the money.  I really like the appeal that it can be easily dismantled, moved, or extended, all of which work well for me.

It’s not easy to see in the photo, but there is a very temporary fence as well, made from just some old rabbit fencing stuck into the ground with garden canes that runs right up to the big glass doors of our kitchen.  It means I can let the chicks and chickens out each day so we can handle them as much as possible, as I’d really like them to be tame.   DSC_0002 (2)This is my new favourite place to sit, I really enjoy chick watching whilst I’m laptop working (lots of shop photos to edit and things to list at the moment) and we often open the doors right up when the sun is shining and the brave chicks come into the house.DSC_0028It’s been a joy hatching out our own eggs.  Hearing the first cheeps and then seeing little heads pop out from between Mum’s feathers is great fun and I really am getting a lot of mileage out of watching them learn life’s lessons from the older chickens.  The big question of what to do with the boys is still looming, but I do have possible homes lined up and I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  I can see how these things become addictive, but we’re done for now as this will be my chicken maximum.

The weather over these school holidays has been rather grim, mostly, but we’re due sunshine and high’s tomorrow, so it’ll be all chickens out and all doors open and, hopefully, a BBQ.  Something to look forward too 🙂

 

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 🙂