Posted on Leave a comment

Little Owl Drops By

little owl

When we moved here two years ago, we could hear little owls and tawny owls calling in the evening and during the night.  So, I did some research and found some good quality owl boxes.  We put one tawny owl and one little owl box up.  That said, since we bought our second field, we have also got a little owl box in the orchard in that field as well.

Anyway, in that time we have seen one tawny owl sitting in the veranda of the tawny owl box, and one little owl flying out of the little owl box.

No nests so far.

Today, after lunch, Mrs D left for work and phoned me from the bottom of the drive to say there was an owl in the tawny owl box.

I nipped down with the binoculars and there it was, having a wee nap.  I went and got my camera, but even with my zoom lense, it was far away and so only tiny in the above picture.  I didn’t want to get any closer as I didn’t want to disturb it.  Besides, the sheep in the field would have been curious as to what I was up to and would have made keeping a steady hand pretty tricky.

We are delighted to see an owl using our facilities, even if it has the “wrong” box.

little owl

Posted on Leave a comment

Trouble with Hens

Little Red

In June, we got 4 ex-battery hens to complement our flock.  We also wanted more eggs and with one hen getting on a bit and one with chicks, we were down to two laying hens.  We have had ex battery hens before (we got 5 when we moved here) and it is great to give them a taste of the outside having spent their lives imprisoned indoors.

Of course, merging hens is never easy. But we have quite good facilities, about 20 square metres of foxproof runs divided into 3.  We can create one mega run of 18 square meters, but we keep the small run separate for emergencies.

Just as well!

We put the 4 ex batteries newbies into a run with the one survivor from the last batch of ex batts.  She wasn’t impressed, but with odds of 4 to 1, and the chance of company again, she soon settled.  We’d had to separate her because, after an illness, she became a target for the other hens.  She soon established herself as top of this little flock, though.  All in all, they seemed really chilled and enjoyed stretching out into the sun.

Meanwhile, next door, the 2 chicks were growing well and Hattie was proving herself an excellent mother.  I always feel it’s easier to keep the chickens in with the other hens as it saves having to merge them in later.

The setup allowed the two flocks to get to know each other but with a fence inbetween them.  As you may know, hens are not very welcoming to newcomers and will try to kill them.  So the ex batts need time to build their strength up.

Now, none of the hens were getting out.  The grey hens couldn’t come out as the chicks would have been easy targets for birds of prey and cats.  The ex batts needed to settle in.

Then, the trouble started.  One hen (Daisy) got a bit over-enthusiastic about establishing her place as number 2.  She drew blood from Little Red. Emergency!!  Hens and blood, bad mix.  They are birds of prey and once they have drawn blood, they will keep going.  It can turn into hen cannibalism.

So we removed Little Red, treated her wounds, and put her in the small run.  So far so good.  Only, then Daisy turned her attention on the next in line and so Alby was suddenly bleeding.  So Alby was removed, treated, and put in with Little Red.  Only then Little Red turned on Alby.  So finally, Daisy was isolated and the other two returned to the main run.

That was OK, but could only be a short term solution. If we kept Daisy apart too long, it would be hard to merge her back in.

ex battery hens out and aboutSo, we let them all out to free range (the newbies that is, the original flock remained in the run due to the danger to the chicks).  That helped a bit, but poor old Little Red kept getting pecked.  We treated her, sprayed her with purple dye and hoped for the best.  We separated Daisy while they were in the runs (they are only allowed out when one of us is here – foxes – we can let our big guard dog out with them to keep them safe). It worked, with the stimulation of being out, Daisy became less aggressive.

Peace, at last, only…  red mites!!!  Dealing with the other issues, we’d taken our eye off the ball and now had to treat a red mite infestation.  Thanks goodness for Smite and plastic, easy to clean hen houses.  All were stripped down, sprayed, cleaned and then dusted with anti-red mite powder.

Then, Hattie, mother of the chicks, went ape and started bullying the other adult hens, big time.  The cockerel just seemed to let her (don’t believe what you read about cockerels keeping the peace).  She drew blood!

So, a careful operation, totally unplanned, was put into place and somehow, with the minimum of fuss, Hattie and her two chicks were placed in the small run and Daisy returned to the main run.

Calm descended.

The good news is that we can now let the original flock (minus Hattie) out so they will be very pleased.

And this weekend, we may go for the big merge.  Watch this space!!!


Posted on Leave a comment

Sheep moved to new field

bluemli coloured ryeland sheep in new field

Last year, we purchased a field around 3.25 acres in size.  We planted about an acre or so of natural woodland and a blackthorn hedge down one side.

The rest remains as orchard and meadow. Now that we have 11 sheep, our original field is a little small and so the grass was getting shorter and shorter, and shorter.

We had to act. We put in a new stock fence. The existing one was just a couple of strips of barbed wire, OK for cows but easy for sheep to get past. We mowed the meadow so as to get young, sweet grass growing and we cleared away all the hawthorn hedge trimmings. We cleaned up the water trough which looked as though it had been stagnant for centuries.  We also installed an electric fence to protect the young hedge (they do like a bit of bark, our sheep) and tested that it worked (ouch – it does!)  We also spread 5 tons of hard core under the gate as it was high off the ground and we want to keep the sheep in and dogs out (except our own, of course).

helma coloured ryeland in new fieldThen, yesterday evening, we gathered them and sprayed them to protect them from fly strike.  Then we attempted to herd them again, but this time they were less keen to be gathered.  Nevertheless, we eventually rounded them up and loaded the first batch of 5 into the trailer.  This took a bit longer than it should have as they are nippy and strong and somewhat reluctant to go into the trailer.

Now, the field may only be 3 or 4 hundred yards away so you’d think it might be easier just to walk them along the road.  Well, with three roads, two gates and a playing field entrance to pass not forgetting our questionable herding abilities, the trailer seemed the easier option.

We took the first 5 up to the new field and let them out. Normally, when split, there’s a lot of bleating goes on.  But our 5 trotted out of the trailer, took one look around and almost skipped into the field.  5 heads were down investigated all this new grass.  Not a single ‘meh’ to be heard!

So, we nipped back for the other 6.  We set up the trailer, funnelled them into the race and they trotted up into the trailer without any intervention.  It was as though they already knew where they were going and couldn’t wait. Perhaps the others had sent a sheepmail, not as silly as it sounds because I have read many stories about animals communicating at a distance.

We drove them the short journey to the field.  They, too, were delighted with their new pasture and all 11 settled in really quickly.  They are really happy and this makes us happy.

coloured ryeland flock new field

Posted on Leave a comment

New Batch of Rescue Hens

new rescue hens

Today, we collected 4 rescue hens from the BWHT.  We last got rescue hens 2 years ago when we moved here.  Last year, we added some young hens along with our cockerel.

Sadly, some of the original rescue hens have passed on, so we decided to get some more.  We drove over to North Somerset (via B&Q, as you do) and collected 4 hens.  This was their first day out of a barn, their first taste of fresh air and the first time they had seem the outdoors.

So what did we do, put them in a box and drove them home.

They were not keen on this and were especially miffed when we went round roundabouts!  One of them laid an egg en route which survived the journey intact!  We were soon home and quickly we took them to their run.  We have two runs that are side by side and the new arrivals were put in with our one remaining rescue hen, Scrawny.  They will be kept separate from the others (for now) otherwise the feathers would be flying.

The new arrivals were pretty calm, all things considered.  Scrawny was a bit put out (hens do not like meeting new hens), but fortunately did not turn violent – just a peck here and there.  The new arrivals didn’t seem to care, I expect they are used to constant pecking in the crowded conditions they have come from.

So, now we’ll let them build their strength up and get to know each other and also new our other hens (through the divide).  Hopefully, they’ll do a bit of pecking order sorting out so that when we merge them all in a few weeks, there will not be too many feathers flying.