Chickens: Evolution of the Eglu

Again, this is really another post for me, a little round-up of our Eglus so sorry if it’s boring.DSC_0194Our first Eglu Go was a simple basic one with a 2-meter run and it was delivered complete with a bloke who put it together and 2 ‘Ginger Ranger’ chickens (brown hybrids, basically). I remember the delivery fella as nice but wildly patronising, he was having none of my ‘I was brought up on a farm’ banter, he clearly thought I fit perfectly into the middle-class Mum dabbling into keeping chickens category. The Eglu was a very generous Birthday gift.DSC_0019We got bitten quickly by the chicken bug and a year later I got a second Eglu Go (again partly as a gift) and our 4 ‘little’ girls (Pure Breed Bantam hens) – this photo was taken before the run extension I ordered had arrived.DSC_0147By now Mr Fox had taken Doris, and Mabel got new companions with the original Eglu being converted to a Go UP – no wheels, I notice. I remember doing each little bit in stages, when I could afford it. Eglus are eye wateringly expensive.DSC_0002Then there were chicks and a purple Eglu (at this point, both the original green Eglus were converted to Go UPs). This was actually bought for the guinea pigs but somehow ended up with chickens in it. DSC_0003Madness. I clearly had money to burn (I definitely didn’t!!!). It doesn’t feel so bad if you do it in stages. Look how shiny and clean they are. I used to buy shoes….now it’s Eglus! How things have changed.Eglu low run 2We then sucked it up and bought a low walk-in-run (again, Eglu)Eglu Walk in 1so we could sit in with the chicks. The boys were constantly trying to crawl into the Go UP runs to say ‘hello’ and it got painful watching them. It was a good move and meant we ensured the new chickens were all quite tame.DSC_0023Avian flu here and the run entirely covered for some weeks living inside. I let my chickens free-range normally, so when they have to be kept in the run I am totally soft and feel it’s important to give them as much space as possible. As I had the panels from the previous photos I just extended as much as I could giving them a comedy long run (the other chickens were in the walk-in). I was just reading River Cottage Handbook No11 ‘Chickens & Eggs’ as I found it on my shelf (didn’t know I had it) and it talks about 0.5 sq meters of run per chicken which I struggle with – I know the minimum is usually considered 1 sq meter but I prefer to give more, if possible.DSC_0052Most of the chickens are in the ‘big’ run by now, which has again been converted to full-height. This is what I love the most about Eglu, you can add and change bits as you go along. They often also have spares such as extra roosting bars as well as fancy bits like treat feeders and chicken swings. All at a price, that can’t be ignored.IMG_20180402_122156In winter it looks like a shantytown. I always keep the tops covered but come colder weather the sides get plastic too. It may not look very nice (it starts off good, but gets dusty very quickly) but with smaller chickens with feathered feet and silkies it’s really important they are kept wind-free and dry.

The run behind is the next evolution, a totally bodged job where I bought sale end panels belonging to the original Eglu Cube (MK 1) and then used my existing Go UP panels to make the run part.Eglu run3Here is the big run is in its Summer position. Eglu stormThe final thing was saying sod it to the multiple Eglu GOs and buying a Cube (last Winter). Here the run didn’t fare so well after one of the gales, having not been pinned down as it should be.

Why do I like Eglus? They are expensive but they are very versatile and they hold their value; I have just sold both Eglu GOs on Ebay and it has covered the cost of the Cube (one is still in auction, as I type). I like the fact that you can add bits a stage at time which for us and our ever-changing chickens has been great. I really like that you can search for your inner Heath Robinson and cobble different bits together to make it all work for you. They are really easy to clean and it keeps the problem of pests at a minimum. We have never had red mite (touch wood) but I can imagine it’s much easier to get rid off on the smooth plastic panels that easily come apart than by trying to get into the nooks and crannies of a traditional wooden coop. Incidentally, I take the panels off my Eglus regularly and power hose the lot down then I flea spray in between the panels before putting it all back together, I think this is a good deterrent for any little nasties.MiteOn that subject, the photo above is a garden Red Velvet Mite (Trombidiidae), not to be mistaken with a chicken mite. I write this as soooooo many well-respected websites show photos and videos of these little garden critters when talking about chicken red mite and they are not the same thing at all. Red chicken mite are teeny tiny and would not be pottering about on their own in daylight miles away from your chicken coop. Red chicken mite are shiny and a very dark red almost brown/black looking and hide during the day so you’re more likely to know you have them when your chickens start to look ill, rather than seeing an actual mite. This website has some great photos. Red velvet mite are bigger and bright red and…velvety…and quite cute really, for a bug. I write all of this because I freaked out when I spotted these in the garden and for some reason, they do love sunbathing all over my chicken coops and runs!

I can’t lie, much as I love Eglu coops, for the run, if money were no option, I’d have something like this35f7f0846018e1fd49589a6750f286a7(I’ve tried really hard to find the owner of this photos on Pinterest but can’t. Sorry)

f16d06f1cf62571c69b6d4fbd7cbab02Or even this lovely run by Framebow.

I’d love something wooden with a shingle roof and beautiful planting around it.new runA couple of weeks ago a fox dug under the run and took all of my little chickens. The run wasn’t pinned down and he found a bit that lifted slightly, giving him the idea of digging under. I’d seen is was lifting and had meant to pin it down so it’s entirely my own fault. I also wasn’t closing the coop door, even though I knew foxes were about (as I’ve never had a fox get into the run before). I was gutted as the very next day we were due to move the run back to it’s ‘Winter’ spot in the garden where I had a space set-up which is framed and fully wired underneath.¬†

I created this after lots of research into the best bedding for permanent runs. The idea is the rubber clippings can be washed and disinfected twice a year and I liked that I was helping use up old car tires. It was a mistake. The little hens hated it and ‘washing’ it is easier said than done as quite a lot of chicken muck builds up amongst the chips. The hens also managed to kick quite a lot out of the run, despite the edging, so I’ve now spent ages raking rubber off the lawn that obviously won’t naturally biodegrade.IMG_20200422_102144Which brings us back to where my chickens live today. I currently have 3 new bantam Pekins (but I have more chickens coming in May – exciting!). My plan is to dig out all of the rubber and replace it with bark chips which will be on top of the dirt, which will be fully wired underneath so no animals can dig into the floor of the coop. I will then regularly rake the bark chippings out and replace them. I’d also like to plant around the run to make it more of a feature and maybe add a brick path along the front (if I can dig down enough, but I think tree roots will be a problem).

IMG_20200422_102549My big girls (2 hybrids) and Sargent Bilko live in a separate run, the one cobbled together from random run bits to make it wider. I can still wheel it about the garden on my own, it’s clumsy but it works!

Right, back to baking bread and sewing. It’s very busy around here considering we are all stuck at home!

 

Chickens: Evil Mr Fox I Hate You!!!

This post is really for me as a reminder of where we are at with the chickens so sorry, it’s rather boring.

I love my chickens. In terms of pet value, they rate highly for me and we get the added bonus of the eggs.DSC_0189We started back in 2015 with a couple of brown hybrid chickens (delivered with our first Eglu). I’m fairly certain we then had 3 brown hybrids so clearly we ‘lost’ one (fox attack, I think) and bought 2 more.

We then got a second Eglu Go in 2016 and more chickens, but mixed bantams this time (2 x Pekins, 1 x Light Sussex, 1x Polish Frizzle and our fabulous little black Silkie).DSC_0004DSC_0002DSC_0028I then hatched out 2 lots of chickens in 2016 and 2017, initially with bought eggs (Pekins and Bantam Orpingtons)

which resulted in 3 Bantam Orpington Cockerels and

dsc_00362 Pekins (Millefleur coloured) of which one died quite early on ūüė¶ From the second lot we got a crossbreed hen and the most fabulous cockerel, Ziggy, son of Bowie neither of which I have a photo of! Ziggy had eyebrows like Denis Healey – they were amazing.

DSC_0008We also bought two new chickens in 2017, a Crested Legbar (that laid beautiful blue eggs) and another Polish called Prescilla.DSC_0008IMG_20160317_115805Our favourite chickens by far have been Elvis (actually a girl) my oldest son’s Polish Frizzle because she was such character as well as being a shoulder riding crazy chicken.IMG_20170607_104033IMG_20160829_163206Bowie, one of the cockerels I hatched who I adored as he was big and fluffy and from being a chick would hop up on your lap for a cuddle.

AudreyAudrey my porcelain Pekin bantam and finally, my youngest son’s chicken, DSC_0008Puffles, the silkie, as she was also very friendly and just too cute.

From reading up, pretty much all of these chickens were our favourite because of common character traits of their breeds but in some cases, it is also why I wouldn’t have them again.DSC_0007The Polish chickens were great – shoulder riding is quite common for Polish hens, as it goes, but bloody hell they are noisy! They squawk and squawk all day long and I understand don’t like free-ranging in large areas as they can’t see very well. We did clip their feathers around their eyes and that helped. Polish hens can also get picked on as the other hens like to ‘helpfully’ try and peck the feathers off their heads, mistaking them for something that needs pecking off (this wasn’t really a problem for us). They like to be high up and will often roost in trees – Prescilla this did every night and I often had to lift her out of a tree to put her back in the run at the end of the day if I had not remembered to get the chickens back in early. We won’t get more, no matter how fun they are.

IMG_20170721_085653Silkies are really adorable and fluffy and generally very friendly but as they are a flightless bird they shouldn’t really be in a run and coop set up with ladders as they can find it difficult to climb up at night. They also like to be kept undercover and out of the wind which wasn’t a problem for us as I keep my coop well covered. We have ladders so no more silkies unless I put on of the Eglu’s back on the ground. (The photo is of Greta our Pekin bantam not Puffles as I can’t find one of her).

DSC_0056Pretty much all of our other chickens I’d have again, including our Legbar, which is supposedly a flighty bird; Cleo was fine, we had no problems with her but she wasn’t the friendliest of chickens.

Over the years we’ve lost a number of chickens for many reasons. Elvis and both the Millfleur Bantams died some months/years apart (I suspect respiratory illness). Doris, our hybrid, Greta my grey birchen Bantam, Ziggy (son of Bowie) and my beloved white bantam Audrey were all taken by foxes whilst they were free-ranging during the day (Bowie died last year, I was a little heartbroken, I’m not sure why but he was ill for a while). So come a few weeks ago, we had 2 ‘new’ hybrids (that are about 2 years old) living with Sargeant Bilko, my remaining cockerel, and then 8 mixed bantams in my large walk-in run, compete with new posh Eglu Cube.

New Chicken8 because I bought 3 new bantams for myself as a birthday gift, including this pretty girl, was because a bloody fox came and ate them all one night. I was truly gutted. He managed to dig under the skirt of the Eglu run and patiently took his time to take all the hens one by one (I have video cameras on the garden so replayed the horror as punishment for not locking the door of the coop).

Needless to say, the coop doors on both the Eglus are firmly shut every night and I’ve moved my big walk-in run back into it’s ‘Winter’ spot which is fully wired underneath, but more on that later. We also got 3 new bantams delivered last week which I am utterly grateful for as chickens are incredibly difficult to get hold of at the moment and the boys were so upset to lose the little chickens; photos to follow when I finally get around to taking them.

That’s it. As I said this post is really for me so apologies it’s long and boring but I wanted a quite documented round-up of where we are for the future.

 

2017 Vegetable Planting Lists…

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

dsc_0043

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):

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-12-46-12screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-12-46-31screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-12-46-42

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 ūüôā

 

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 ūüė¶ 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 ūüôā

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 ūüė¶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 ūüôā

 

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 ūüėČ
  • 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.

DSC_0010

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 ūüôā

 

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 ūüėČ )…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 ūüė¶ 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 ūüė¶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 ūüôābantam 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 ūüôā

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….