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Belinda Bibble-Bott and her Egg Yolk Peritonitis

the Orpingtons as chicks

Belinda Bibble-Bott (Belinda for short) is one of our big, friendly Orpington hens who came to us as eggs back in the spring of 2022.  We’ve seen Belinda and her siblings grow from tiny chicks the size of daisies into enormous hens almost twice the size and weight of our resident flock.

Last spring the Orpingtons started to lay their first eggs.  This was a cause for celebration for us!  The main reason we wanted to bring younger hens into the flock was because our resident ladies (bless their feathers, being on the elderly side) had all but stopped laying.

the chicks growing up

At first it took a while for the Orpingtons to work out what the nest boxes were for and quite often we would come across an egg lying in the grass.  They also went through a phase of only wanting to lay in one particular nest box.  This caused a few scuffles, kerfuffles and broken eggs.  But gradually the new girls got the idea, egg production went up and we were able to bake cakes and make omelettes again, hoorah!

But, as is often the way in life, after an up there is a down.  One morning in late April as I was scattering corn for the girls, I noticed Belinda’s walk looked ever so slightly off.  There was the merest hint of a waddle about her, barely noticeable and could have been easy to dismiss because hens waddle at the best of times.  But you learn to be a detective when you run a smallholding, monitoring the behaviour of animals on a daily basis, looking out for things that might be amiss.  I didn’t have a good feeling about Belinda and my gut was saying ‘Egg Yolk Peritonitis’ (internal laying).  I hoped I was wrong but I had a sinking feeling as I picked her up and checked her over.  However, she didn’t have the swelling that hens get with EYP and there was no heat which would have indicated infection, but something still felt off.

I had a think and decided to take her indoors and sit her in a bucket of warm water on the off chance that she was egg-bound.  Sometimes first time layers can lay very large eggs which can get stuck and cause discomfort.  I handled her carefully as if there was an egg stuck inside her, I didn’t want to break it as this would be fatal.  After sitting her ever so gently in a bucket of warm water for 15 mins, I gave her a blow dry and popped her in a darkened cardboard box with plenty of cosy bedding.  I had a cup of tea and half an hour or so went by when suddenly I heard a loud ‘post egg cluck’ coming from the cardboard box, Belinda had laid an egg!

My happiness was short lived however.  The following day Belinda’s walk was still off.  After some thought I decided to go to the vets and get some antibiotics to cover all bases.  If she did have EYP there was a chance it could be halted in its tracks if the infection was caught early enough.  However it was a slim chance and would only work if the internal laying was a one off.

Belinda sitting on a rock

Off to the vets I whizzed and came back armed with needles and antibiotic.  So as not to cause Belinda any discomfort we decided to treat her at night.  Hens have a funny way of giving you the eye when you administer injections so I hunted out the little ‘hen hood’ we keep for moments like this.  At dusk, we scooped her out of the hen house, placed the hood over her head and popped the needle in.

During that week we gave Belinda her course of antibiotics and kept our fingers crossed.  We closely monitored her laying, (a) to see if she was laying eggs on a daily basis which would be a good sign, and (b) to discard any of her eggs because they would contain traces of antibiotic.  It broke my heart to throw away her precious eggs but thankfully it would only be for a short period of time.

Sadly Belinda didn’t respond to the antibiotics and over the following weeks her abdomen started to show the tell-tale signs of EYP, it became red and swollen.  At this point we made the decision to step back and not give her more antibiotics or go down the hormonal implant route which some vets recommend.  Rather we would keep her comfortable and let her live out her life with the other hens without invasive medical procedures.

Belinda at the hair dresser’s

Belinda surprised us all, she lived through the summer and is still going strong.  She’s a spirited lady and despite her condition, is by far not the lowest hen in the pecking order.  Usually the smallest or weakest hens get bullied by the hens further up the pecking order, but not Belinda.

During the winter when the hens stopped laying, Belinda’s condition improved slightly but sadly didn’t clear up.  Her swelling went down but she still waddled and maintained her ‘penguin stance’.  This upright posture has an unfortunate side affect.  Orpingtons have extremely long, fluffy feathers and as we came into winter we noticed Belinda’s feathery ‘skirt’ was dragging on the ground and getting wet in all the puddles.  So to keep her comfortable and prevent her from catching a chill we decided to give her a wee hair cut.

just stepped out of the salon

We brought her into the kitchen and made her comfy on Adrian’s lap while I got to work with the scissors.  Belinda relaxed right into the salon experience.  So much so that as I worked on her tail feathers she couldn’t help herself and did some reciprocal grooming on Adrian’s arm.

As we come into spring and the hens come into lay again we’ll continue to keep an eye on Belinda, keep her feathers trim and do as much as we can to keep her comfortable.




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Cuddle training the hens – part two

Progress with the hen “cuddle training” since my last blog story has been a slow.  Mainly because I have been super busy holding the fort.  Adrian took a full-time job at the start of the year which means that I’m juggling more plates on the smallholding.  The hen cuddle training has continued but not as speedily as I had hoped when I started back in April.

Clippy getting used to people

This said, we have progressed a few things with the training;  there is now a picnic table in the hen run where we can have our elevenses with our feathered friends and not get our bottoms wet anymore with sitting on the grass.

elevenses with the hens and Chero the cockerel

More recently, Adrian has done some nifty wall work.  At the weekend he created a neat gap in the stone dyke which runs between our garden and the hen run.  He did this in 27’c heat, and if dismantling huge rocks to form a gap wasn’t sweaty enough work, digging two deep holes to take the enormous gateposts was pretty impressive, hats off to Adrian!

Now we can enter the hen run much more quickly and easily.  Previously we used a gate halfway down the orchard which meant carrying things like water and 20kg sacks of pellets etc was a right palaver.  Not to mention balancing trays with tea and scones.

new gate in position

Now we can nip in and out of the hen run carrying our cups of tea and cake without danger of spilling our tea by the time we get there.

We still haven’t managed to pick up any hens other than Becky and Babs (and Cherokee the cockerel), but now we have better access and a posh picnic table, we hope that it won’t be long before our other hens become partial to cuddles too.

rocks neatly in place
pile of rocks
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Cuddle training the hens – part one

Last year we came to the realisation that our hens had gone a little too feral for our liking.  This might not seem to be a problem on the surface of it, indeed if asked, the hens would probably say they had a lovely time with their wild camping expeditions and minimal interference from two legged creatures in wellies.

Cuddle pen

However, as smallholders we like to think our animals go some way towards paying for their keep.  After all, the reason we have hens is so we can have eggs.  Last summer though, it had got to the point where we had virtually no eggs whatsoever and were starting to question why we were spending a fortune on layers pellets and corn for a bunch of hens living out wild.

In the autumn we accidentally solved the egg mystery, we found a huge clutch nestled in a clump of sedge grass while moving the hen coops.  Sadly we had to throw them out as they’d been there for months.  The hens were not only sleeping wild in bushes, they were laying their eggs wild too and they’re very good at keeping the location of their nests secret.  We never would have found those eggs if it hadn’t been for moving the coops.

This year, happily we have eggs again.  The hens have reacquainted themselves with their coops and are laying for all they are worth, hoorah!

Nevertheless our feathered friends are still on the nervous side and prefer to keep us at arms length.  The “bibbles” (last year’s chicks) are fast learning from the older hens to keep us at a distance and they certainly don’t appreciate being picked up as we discovered recently when we had to give the chicks’ bottoms a wash.

day one of hen training

Orpingtons are rather prone to “dangle berries”, (dags).  Their long, glamourous bottom feathers can easily get messy, and dirty bottoms isn’t a good situation.  Unfortunately hens cannot reach round to preen their bottom feathers so unless we help them out, those dangle berries would get bigger and bigger and cause the hen a lot of distress, not to mention putting her at risk from fly strike.

So with frequent bottom patrols on the cards for the Orpingtons, this year we decided to schedule in daily cuddle training so that eventually we’d be able to pick up a hen without any drama.  We have kind of managed this already with Cherokee the cockerel.  He has foot problems and the frequent work we do on him means he doesn’t fly into a blind panic when we give him his pedicures.

From a broader perspective, we’ve always maintained that to get the most out of livestock and build a good relationship, the best thing is to spend quality time with your animals on a daily basis.  There are no shortcuts because it takes time and consistency to build up trust.  But once you’ve got to the point where your animals allow you into their space, it’s really special.  It also makes life a lot easier if you have to help them out of pickles (frequently in the case of sheep), or give them medication, usually this is an injection.  It can be quite distressing for example if your sheep tenses up whilst giving it a jag.  Their energy feeds off our energy and creates a negative feedback loop.  Coming into the pen for any sort of treatment, let alone an injection becomes a negative experience.  Far better to help out an animal who’s already used to our presence and relaxed in our company.  It makes handling livestock a million times better for everyone involved.

hens getting more confident

So we have made space in our day to cuddle-train the hens.  The plan is to have a cup of tea with our feathered friends at 11am daily and allow their natural curiosity to overcome their shyness.  Hens are very inquisitive, and they’re also experts at sniffing out snacks.  We make sure we bring them raisins and other little treats and sprinkle these around whilst enjoying our cuppas.  We’ve hurdled off an area where we can sit with them and have even ordered a picnic bench to make the cuddle corner extra comfy.  The hurdles will make things easier when we start picking them up.

selfie with the hens

We’ve thought carefully about our strategy and decided to start off working on one hen, the more confident of the Orpingtons, Becky McPecky.   She’s a natural born leader and one day she’ll probably rule the roost when our current lady boss Clippy decides to retire.  Working with a naturally confident hen will bring the others in, they’ll watch and learn (well that’s the idea anyway).

So far the cuddle training has gone well and I’ve written up a little diary of the milestones so far:

7th April:  Started training.  Brought out a tray out with a cup of tea and toast for me and treats for the girls (and Cherokee).  Most of the hens came into the pen and hoovered up the treats around my feet.  Some of the shy girls stayed on the outside but seemed more curious than nervous.  Threw some treats to the shy girls to build their confidence.

15th April:  Picked up Becky McPecky.  She was a bit non-plussed but I rewarded her with a raisin.  Kept my hand on her back to prevent her from flapping and let her know not to worry.  (A hand on the back done the right way helps to calm a flappy hen).

Babs looking non plussed

19th April:  Picked up Becky McPecky again, this time I could take my hand off her back and she stayed on my lap.  Rewarded her with 3 raisins and some corn.  Let her hop off in her own time.

23rd April:  Thought I had picked up Becky McPecky but realised it was Babs Bikini Bottom.  Realised this when said hen was more flappy than usual.  On putting her down I noticed her neatly trimmed bottom feathers.  (I have started trimming the Orpington’s bottom feathers and have so far got round to doing two; Babs and Belinda).  On a side note, since my blog story about washing hens’ bottoms, I’ve read that it’s fine to trim the bottom feathers rather than wash them and this is actually advisable because once trimmed, the feathers will stay short all through the summer).

So far all’s going well and I’ll continue to record my progress.   By the end of the summer I hope all our hens will be happy to be picked up and cuddled.  I hope to find their individual tickle spots and learn more about their unique personalities and characters.












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Cherokee the cockerel and his foot problems

For the past few months we’ve been bringing our friendly cockerel Cherokee into the kitchen to perform a minor procedure on his feet.

It all started one day last summer when we noticed him looking a bit down.  On inspection, we discovered a nodule on each foot between his toes.

We suspected these might be “dirt pockets” on the soles of his feet which had pushed up and formed bumps, but we would need a closer look.

Now Cherokee is a laid back sort of a chap, but he does have rather large spurs.  As we hadn’t handled him very often, we decided it would be wise to collect him from the coop at night so he’d be sleepy.  With a bit of luck he wouldn’t mind us prodding and poking his feet.

That evening, we waited till it got dark and the hens had gone to bed, then we tiptoed out with our head torches set to to the red light (which isn’t so intrusive).  We carefully removed the roof from the coop whilst trying not to drop any of the little clips in the grass.  After a bit of kerfuffle, I had Cherokee under my arm and we were able to bring him indoors.

Cherokee before having his feet done

Once in the kitchen, we popped a little hood on his head so he wouldn’t wake up and got to work inspecting his feet.

dirt pockets

Sure enough, Cherokee had two dirt pockets, one on each foot.  These  “pockets” can appear on chickens for no apparent reason (in our experience at least), we’ve only had one other case of “dirt pockets” all the while we’ve kept chickens.  The pockets form over time by dirt settling into small creases in the webbing between the toes and then compacting to form “pockets”.  These pockets need to be emptied regularly otherwise they can cause discomfort and possibly become infected,  it’s one of those things you need to keep an eye on.

Since then, we’ve brought Cherokee in regularly to empty his dirt pockets.  He’s become so used to it that we no longer have to wait until night time which makes life a lot easier.

Cherokee post op
Cherokee outside again with clean feet

We pick him from wherever he happens to be and whisk him in.  These days we no longer have to put his little hood on and we’ve noticed that he likes to watch what we’re doing which is a little unnerving and cute at the same time.  He keeps his beady eye on us, stretches his feet out and looks at me intently as I push the pockets inside out and ease the dirt out.  It’s very satisfying work, especially if the clod pings out in one go.  Then, I clean the pockets with a cotton bud dipped in diluted cider vinegar and carry him outside again to join his ladies.



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Hen spa in the kitchen

Our chicks who hatched last summer have grown into big, beautiful hens.  It sounds cliche, but it’s hard to imagine they were once inside eggs.

When we collected our box of fertile eggs from a local farm last May we were told they were “Black Orpingtons”.  I confess, we’re not too clued up on hen breeds, we just wanted to give our broody lady (MMJ) some chicks.

As the chicks grew and developed, we realised they were quite different from our resident flock.  For starters, they never seemed to stop growing and although we still call them “the bibbles”,  they are huge compared to the other hens.  They are almost as big as Cherokee the cockerel, not that he seems to mind.

Having subsequently looked up the breed, we discovered that Orpingtons are broad and heavy with a low stance, have extremely fluffy feathers and are naturally friendly.  Our “bibbles” are definitely all of this, particularly with regard to the fluffiness.  In fact, their feathers are so fluffy (particularly in the bottom area) that we have noticed they can be prone to “dags”.

I should point out at this point that taking an interest in our livestock’s droppings is a bit of a favourite subject of mine.  A animal’s bottom can say a lot about its state of health.  A “daggy bottom” is usually a red flag because it can signify worms or a digestive issue.  So, after initially panicking a little, I soon realised that in the case of our Orpingtons, the dags were not diarreah based, they were normal droppings which had over time left a residue on their fluffier than fluffy tail feathers.

Having sheep we are familiar with dags, we are frequently trimming bottoms and keeping the teddy bears clean.  But dagging hens needs to be approached a little differently.

Hen feathers have veins running through them (well, up to the first inch or so), so snipping them needs to be done with caution.  But anyway,  “dags” lurk around the base of the feathers so snipping wouldn’t really help.  The best thing to do is to pop the hen in a bath and give her bottom a wash.

We had planned to do this a couple of weeks ago, dags have to be dealt with quickly because as you can imagine they can make a hen feel pretty uncomfortable.  But more importantly, dags attract flies, the dreaded greenbottle (Blowfly) is just as happy to lay its eggs on a sheep or a hen’s bottom, it is not fussy.  Left untreated, death can swiftly result as the maggots start burrowing into its host.  It’s not a pleasant way to go.

Just as soon as we had booked our hens into the diary for a spa morning, (a bucket of warm water in the kitchen followed by a blowdry), we were hit by a freezing weather front.  Not ideal weather for bathing chickens.  Admittedly, even though we were washing them in the kitchen and following up with a blowdry, we weren’t too happy about carrying out this operation in freezing weather.  We weighed things up over a cup of tea and decided to go ahead anyway.  The cold snap was due to last a couple of weeks and we didn’t want our “bibbles” walking about with daggy bottoms for any longer than they had to.

So while Adrian set up a dog crate next in the kitchen next to the aga, preheated some soft towels and popped the kettle on the stove, I nipped out to get the first “bibble”.

dog crate containing “bibble” near the aga

I should say at this point, friendly as our bibbles are, they’re not exactly tame yet, as in, we haven’t got to the point where we can just go and pick one up.  But I had a plan, thanks to our large, “walk-in Omlet hen run” which we built last summer, I was able to herd the hens into the run, corner my target and scoop her up.  Amidst plenty of squawking I tucked a slightly indignant bibble under my jacket and zoomed back indoors before she had time to realise what was happening.

Bibble enjoying a bath

Once in the kitchen I sat down for a moment to let her acclimatise and relax.  I also took a moment to peel off my winter layers; bobble hat, coat, scarf, gloves and boots …  Then, with Adrian at the ready in case Bibble made a break for it, I gently lowered her into the bucket of warm water.  I made sure her bottom was submerged and waited a few moments so she could get used to to this new sensation.  She relaxed very quickly and I was able to get to work massaging the daggy bits from her tail feathers and peeling the clumps off.  The warm water made this easy, the clumps dissolved and after about ten minutes our first bibble had a delightfully clean bottom.

We lifted her out of the water, gently wrapped her in a warm towel, and gave her a blowdry.  We found it easier to do this with her in the dog crate standing freely.  This meant I was able to run my fingers through her feathers and get the warm air flowing exactly where it was needed without having to hold her at the same time.  She seemed to enjoy the feeling of the hairdryer and started to preen herself as I worked away.  For a first time visit to the beauty salon, our Bibble did us proud!

Blowdrying Bibble

Over the following few days we did all the bibbles’ bottoms and they all took it in their strides, they particularly enjoyed the hairdryer experience.  We hope to continue handling them over the coming weeks so that subsequent spa experiences will be even easier.




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Pepper not doing so well

Ten days ago I wrote a story about our hen Pepper who had a problem with her crop which wasn’t emptying properly.

Since I whisked her into the vets for an operation at the beginning of January (where the vet found nothing untoward), we’ve been scratching our heads wondering what could be causing poor Pepper’s crop problems.

Pepper in the kitchen

Since her operation, Pepper’s been convalescing in the kitchen in a dog crate where she can stay warm and safe until she gets better.

Since my last story and after chatting with the vet, we’ve given Pepper “Flubenvet” which is a poultry wormer, in a little dropper into her beak over the course of seven days.  The vet didn’t think she had worms, but said worming her wouldn’t do her any harm.  We were willing to try anything.  We also gave her “Beryl’s Friendly Bacteria” which is especially for hens to help her post-antibiotic tummy.

Pepper doesn’t have much appetite but every day she eats a small amount of chick mash, scrambled eggs or porridge and drinks some water.  We massage her crop daily and monitor her droppings.   Each morning we check her crop to see if it has emptied overnight.  Pepper’s crop continues to feel like a ping pong ball in the mornings but she seems relatively perky and continues to have some appetite. She’s still going to the toilet despite her blockage which means that some food must be passing through.

We continue to hope.  However, Pepper’s morning crop situation is worrying and every day at 7.30am when we give her fresh bedding and her morning cuddle we desperately hope to find her crop empty.  A chicken’s crop is like a storage bag, it sits under the right breast and fills up during the day as the hen goes about her business foraging.  Food collected in the crop then trickles into the gizzard and then on into the digestive system.  By morning the crop should be empty and the hen house full of droppings from the previous day’s foraging.

Pepper in the polytunnel last weekend

Over the days Pepper hasn’t made a lot of progress but seems perky-ish and enjoys daily trips to the polytunnel where she has an hour or so to stretch her legs and scratch for worms.  We were so happy to see her eating worms and scratching around the first time we took her in.

Last weekend Pepper turned a corner.  On Saturday morning her crop had emptied, I jumped for joy!  Pepper spent Saturday and Sunday looking much happier and more lively and really enjoyed herself in the polytunnel.  If it wasn’t for the fact that underneath her feathers she was very thin, Pepper looked for all the world like her old healthy self.

Sadly though, since last weekend, Pepper’s perkiness has started to wane.  She has become more tired and droopy as each day has passed.  Her crop has gone back to feeling like a ping-pong ball again in the mornings and Adrian and I are preparing to say goodbye to our dear feathered friend.

Pepper last week scratching for worms

I carried Pepper into the polytunnel today but she just stood on the soil and closed her eyes.

I brought her back indoors and gave her some beetroot soup with a dropper but she has spent most of today asleep.  She is getting more wobbly on her legs and we have to take care when placing her back in her dog crate hen house so that she doesn’t topple over.

We are making her as comfortable as we can and keeping her hydrated, but sadly Pepper is fading.  There is only so much we can do.


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Poorly Pepper

For a wee while now one of our elderly hen ladies, Pepper hasn’t been quite her usual self.  The signs were subtle, in fact, there was only one sign, her tail feathers weren’t as perky as they usually are.  We weren’t unduly worried because she’d gone through a hard moult in November along with the other hens.  Hens can feel a bit depressed when they lose their feathers, particularly if the weather’s bad.  We thought she’d perk up once her plumage grew back.   We were also not too worried because she wasn’t displaying the usual signs of hen illness; her comb was a bright healthy shade of red, her bottom was clean and fluffy and she had a good appetite.  She was also feisty (Pepper is second in command to Clippy the top hen), and she was still merrily bossing the other hens around along with Clippy and keeping order in the flock.

Then, one morning a couple of weeks ago I noticed Pepper wasn’t eating her corn.  She was running in for it and claiming her position next to Clippy to get the biggest beakful, but  she wasn’t actually eating any, just moving it around on the ground.  Alarm bells ringing, I scooped her up and brought her indoors.  The first thing I did was feel her crop, it should be empty first thing in the morning but Pepper’s was full and the size of a large golf ball.  She was also quite thin.  I was relieved and upset at the same time.  I was glad to have found the source of her discomfort, but upset because an impacted crop would need operating on, and sod’s law, it was 2nd Jan, bank holiday in Scotland.

… within a few minutes I had Pepper in a box and Adrian was de-icing my car.  Having spent three seconds philosophising about how these things always seem to happen at weekends, I’d rung the emergency vet and booked Pepper in for a crop op.

A crop operation entails a small incision into the crop and the offending blockage being removed.  It’s done under a local anaesthetic and usually takes about 15 minutes.

Once at the vet’s we got started, I held Pepper in position and the vet got to work.  When the crop was opened, we were both a little surprised to see only corn.  No bailer twine, no ball of hay, no bunch of feathers.  Truth be told we were strangely disappointed, we had expected a big plug of something to plop out, like pulling out a bunch of hairs from the plug hole.

We were a little mystified because Pepper should have been able to digest the corn in her crop, it was soft and should have been able to pass through into her gizzard without any problem.

Pushing that niggling worry into the back of my mind for the moment, I set off for home with Pepper stitched up and looking quite perky considering.

We put her in the kitchen by the aga in a dog crate and monitored her.  The first thing she did was drink lots of water.  That’s good we thought.  Later that day, we offered her a tiny amount of softened chick mash in a mini cup which she ate and enjoyed.

The next day Pepper was looking perkier and we offered her a  tiny amount of scrambled egg which again she enjoyed.  Later in the evening she had some more softened up mash.

Pepper post op by the aga

On day three it was sunny and relatively warm.  After some thought over a cup of tea, we decided to put Pepper outside so she could be with her friends.  It’s always a fine balance when taking care of sick animals, how much we intervene as humans is something we’re always considering.  Hens are sociable creatures and we reckoned being with her friends would lift her spirits.  Not only this, but hens love lazing about in the sun and it was a mild, sunny day.  Indeed, as soon as we put Pepper out, she joined her pals for a catch up and a sunbathe and looked happy as can be.  That evening Pepper was still looking happy and the weather was still mild so we thought we’d leave her to sleep in the hen house with the flock.  We watched her go to roost and made sure she’d hopped onto a perch.  Then we went indoors and had a cup of tea.

Pepper having a cuddle

The following morning I went to check up on Pepper.  I waited by the coops as the sun slowly rose.  The auto-doors were set to open just before sunrise at 7.30am.  As the doors opened I watched the hens come down the ladder one by one.   All of them trouped out except for Pepper.  My heart sank, quick as a flash I ran round the back of the coop and whipped the back panel off and there she was was, sprawled on the floor.  I felt dreadful, what a terrible hen mum I am I thought as the tears started.  But then I saw a small movement, Pepper was alive!  I carefully picked her up and brought her back indoors.  We wrapped her up in a blanket and then gave her breakfast, tiny bits of fat from last night’s slow cooked beef dinner, a small amount of porridge and a small amount of scrambled egg.  Pepper quickly perked up and spent the rest of the day in the kitchen getting small amounts to eat and lots of cuddles.

Pepper continued to improve slowly, but as the days went by I started to get a little concerned that her crop wasn’t emptying as fast as it should be.  She was going to the toilet (albeit on the runny side – post antibiotic tummy), but each morning her crop didn’t feel as empty as it should be.

Not having had crop problems in our flock before I made the mistake of googling “crop issues in hens”.  Two things came up; impacted crop and sour crop.  There was little else about crops not emptying except a brief reference to capillary worms which can affect the digestive system and stop things working properly.  I pondered this info and by the end of the day I had convinced myself Pepper had gigantic capillary worms.

The following day and thinking more clearly I rang the vet for advice.  I wasn’t convinced anymore about worms, Pepper’s comb was looking too healthy for there to be a worm problem.  The vet and I chatted about Pepper and he told me that sadly only about 50% of hens with impacted crops get better.  Out of the 50% who don’t respond to treatment the problem is usually due to something underlying like a tumour.

Pepper having porridge out of a small cup

The vet also agreed it was unlikely to be worms, but that it wouldn’t do any harm to worm her.  So we decided to give Pepper flubenvet in a little dropper every day, just to make sure.  We’re also giving her probiotics (special ones for hens), and keeping her spirits up with regular cuddles and strokes.

We’re taking each day as it comes, fingers crossed for our dear hennie.

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Moving the Hens – Part 2

hen central - omlet walk in run complete

Carrying on from last week’s story, Moving the Hens, we have both been busy installing and preparing the new area for the chicken coops. We call this ‘Hen Central’ because it’s where they eat, drink, sleep and lay their eggs. The big jobs this week were to install two new fences and put up a walk in run.

hen central - old gate
hen central – old gate, new stob already in place

The first new fence is where the old entrance used to be. There was a fence there, but it was only chicken wire. Given it was along the track, this is where the biggest threat from unsupervised dogs was to be found. The gate was removed and proper stock fencing put up. Not 100% dog proof, but far stronger.

The second new fence is in the orchard which doubles as the hen run. It is needed not to keep the hens in, but the sheep out. Sheep have a penchant for scratching themselves on any available object, so they could do a lot of damage. They also are partial to corn, so would be tempted to get into the feed bins. Plus, the hens need somewhere where they can have a bit of peace and quiet.

Also, if a hen goes broody, we need to be able to set aside a space for the nursery run and an area for them to wander out and about, free from the danger of sheep’s hooves.

The walk in run is more to deter night time threats and also, prevent wild camping. The plan is, at roosting time, to tempt them into the run and shut the door. That way, the hens’ only option is to sleep in the safe chicken coops.

bye bye electric fence
bye bye electric fence

We ordered the Omlet Walk-in Run and it was earmarked for delivery on Tuesday. So, I got started on the deconstruction of the old hen central. First to go was the anti-badger electric fence. It had done it’s job, but was no longer needed. It would also no longer be a trap for the unwary, easy to trip over.

Next was the first of the two fences. That was fairly straightforward as most of the stobs were already in place.

Come Tuesday, no delivery date was available from DHL so I got on with the second fence. That was soon up complete with purpose built hen flaps.

hen central - new gate and fence
hen central – new gate and fence

Wednesday came and still no run or delivery date. I attempted to decipher the jumbled misinformation on the DHL tracking service and worked out that 13 of 14 parcels had been forwarded from the Glasgow depot to the local delivery agent. One was missing. Of course, modern customer service comprises the above misinformation and a chatbot that is worse than useless. We contacted Omlet to see if they could find out any more. They, too, struggled to get any meaningful information from DHL.

hen central - boxes opened omlet chicken run
hen central – boxes opened

Anyway, Thursday arrived and Nicole and I carried on and got as much of the new run ready as we could. The fences and new gate were in and all the shelters and feeders were laid out in their new locations. Thursday afternoon, still no news from DHL. Without warning, a van pulled up and disgorged 14 packages. It had arrived! DHL were kind enough to send an email to let us know it had been delivered.

hen central - level one omlet chicken run
hen central – level one underway

Friday, our day off, so to speak. Normally we take the dogs and a picnic and head off somewhere for a break. Not today. I got started on the new run. First off, I had to build a small bank as, at one corner, the land slipped away quite steeply. This meant transporting a fair few stones and some road scalpings. No sooner had I finished that than Mrs Mills Junior began to dismantle it. I gently persuaded her to move on and retired to ponder the Omlet instructions. An hour later, I felt ready to begin.

I have built a few Omlet runs in the past so was aware of the clip system they use. However, nothing had prepared me for the new ‘double-clip’ used in certain places. It needed about 20 tons of pressure to close it. I have to confess to employing some choice language. Finally, I worked out a technique I could use.

hen central - omlet walk in run complete
hen central – omlet walk in run complete

It’s not a one person job. Nicole pitched in to help and we worked non-stop till we had it built. We were both loudly cursing the Omlet plastic clip on by the end of it. We were both completely shattered when we finished some time around 6pm. We were delighted with the result, the run looked excellent. Cherokee, the cockerel was already hovering as he likes to get to bed early. But, he’s pretty cool and waited patiently. The moment we stepped out of the run, he stepped in and went to bed.

Seizing our opportunity, Nicole threw some rice and corn into the new run. All but two hens rushed in. Pepper and one of the youngsters (still to be named) decided to run round the outside instead. With deft care and precision, I coaxed them round to the front where Nicole was managing the door. To our relief, they crossed the threshold and we shut the door behind them. The hens were safe and happy. We had turned a two hour vigil into a five minute gathering. Wine and beer called, it was time for a celebration.

Then we counted them.

One short – who else but Mrs Mills Junior? Nicole arranged the search party and located her at the far end of the paddock having a dust bath. Gently, she was persuaded all the way back and, in another dance of co-ordinated movements, she was herded through the door.

Now we could celebrate.

Later on, when they were all tucked up in bed and the doors to their coops closed, Nicole opened the door to the run so they could get out in the morning. My next job will be to install an automatic door. We have the door motor, I just have to build a panel. Once that’s in place, we can leave the run securely closed at night and the door will open automatically for them in the morning.

Over the coming days, the goal is to train them to go into the run just before bed time. Hopefully, in time, they’ll forget about sleeping in the bushes.

hen central - view from the orchard
hen central – view from the orchard


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Moving the hens

This week we have been very busy moving the hen coops to a new part of the orchard.  This has been prompted by several things, but mainly it is down to Clippy.

Clippy (the flock matriarch) has always been on the feral side.  She prefers to lay her eggs in a clump of grass rather than in the nest boxes, she prefers to sleep in the bushes than in the hen coops and she’s the one likely to be found on the wrong side of the fence, sometimes to her detriment.

We wouldn’t mind Clippy doing her own thing if it wasn’t for the fact that as flock leader, she naturally sets an example to the other hens.  As a result, the flock is becoming noticeably more feral.  Over time we have discovered not just Clippy sleeping rough, but often two or three accomplices in neighbouring trees.  It’s not only at bed time that the hens are doing their own thing, over the summer we had hardly any eggs, or so we thought, until yesterday when Adrian stumbled across a huge pile nestled in a clump of sedge grass.

where the coops used to be

Things came to a head recently when one warm summer’s evening, MMJ (mother of the chicks) decided to sleep in the tree tops alongside her pals Clippy, Salt and Pepper.  MMJ  didn’t seem to realise that her chicks were too little to follow her, and perched high up upon her branch, merrily called them to follow her into the trees.  Fortunately we were in the garden frying sausages on the barbeque and heard the commotion.  With a little strategic shaking of branches we encouraged MMJ to abandon her camping expedition and go to bed in the coop with her little ones safely tucked under her wings.

Unfortunately MMJ going wild camping with her feathered pals didn’t prove to be a one off.  This has meant that every evening for the past couple of months, we have been on “hen watch” at dusk.  This has meant creeping around the orchard to see what MMJ gets up to.

We’ve tried blocking the bushes and launch pads but to no avail.  Clippy gets past all barriers and is often accompanied by one or two others.

newly situated coops

There’s another reason we don’t want the hens sleeping wild, it’s disruptive to our evenings and many a dinner has been reduced to burnt morsels while we pad around the orchard looking for hens and it’s a huge worry that the chicks lives could be in danger.  But on the other side of the bushes is our farm track leading to neighbouring houses.  If the hens decide to fly down from the trees on the other side, they could end up on the wrong side of the fence unable to get back in.  More than once we’ve found hens wandering around in the morning looking to get back into the orchard for their breakfast.

Again, this wouldn’t be a problem in itself if it wasn’t for the fact that sometimes visitors to our neighbours have dogs and unfortunately seem to forget they’re in farming country and let the dogs wander around off lead.  As smallholders, loose dogs around livestock is a huge concern.

So, having had one too many evenings disrupted, the thought of hens getting into trouble or the whole flock ending up feral, we decided to take action.

We’ve moved the hen coops away from the trees, into a part of the orchard where we can keep an eye on them from the kitchen window.  We’ve blocked off the wooded area where the hen coops used to be.

clearing nettles from the new hen area

Also, in preparation for winter and prowling badgers, we have ordered a large walk-in run from Omlet.  This company has predator proof runs with a “skirt” running around the bottom making it impossible for anything to burrow its way in.  The mesh is strong and nibble proof so will provide an added layer of protection for the flock at night.  It will make things easy for us to encourage the flock to roost in the safety of the hen coops at night.  Once the run is up, we’ll throw some corn in, shut the outer door and let the hens re-aquaint themselves with the coops.  We also plan to install an automatic door on the run that shuts at dusk and opens at dawn so the hens can wander off into the orchard as they please during the day, but at night they’ll be safely tucked up.  This arrives later today so we’ll be busy building that for the rest of the week.

building the frame for auto-opening door for new hen run

Meanwhile, we’ve already moved the coops and have spent the last three evenings in a mild state of stress watching the hens sorting out who sleeps where while they go “in, out, in, out, in out” of the coops for what feels like hours .  The most painful part has been monitoring Clippy and the chicks.  She has sent them skidaddling from the coop with a sharp peck on several occasions and the first time this happened we had to intervene as the chicks ran all the way down to the lambing shed at the far end of the orchard and it was getting dark.  We put Clippy into a different coop that evening and the chicks came back with a little encouragement.  However we don’t want to be intervening like this every time, Ideally the hens should sort it out for themselves and Clippy needs to learn that the chicks are part of her flock.  It’s a tricky one knowing when to intervene and when not to.

The last two evenings haven’t gone too badly, still a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but Clippy has been more tolerant of the chicks which has been a big relief.

We’re really looking forward to having the hen run installed and our flock becoming more domesticated.  We’re also looking forward to being able to cook dinner without any disruptions.






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Chicks Move to the Big House

Our chicks have had a purpose built predator proof run from when they were eggs. After they hatched, they had a couple of days to find their feet before being let out into the wider world. Each night, they returned in the early evening, had a quick meal of corn, and turned in for the night. Every morning, they were waiting by the door, eager to get out and about.

At around four weeks old, their mother, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ), decided it was time to return to the main chicken coop. This could have gone smoothly… …but it didn’t

First, MMJ decided it would be a good idea to roost in the bushes behind the coop. A few of the hens like to do this from time to time. However, reaching said perch was an impossible ask for the chicks. They might be getting quite big, but they are not yet close to being able to fly.

Pipette looking out at chicks
Pipette looking out at chicks

MMJ set up herself up, got comfortable, closed her eyes and settled in for the night. We watched, wondering how best to intervene. Then, MMJ realised something was missing and, after an elongated period of calling, flew down to find her chicks. Much clucking and shaking of feathers ensued before, finally, she decided to head into the coop. The chicks were not sure about this and took their time, but eventually, they all followed her in. Quickly, we shut the door.

The following evening, it was raining. This time, MMJ decided the coop was the better option. However, two of the chicks had forgotten the way and sat disconsolately under the coop. This caused much scratching of heads. Eventually, I approached and threw a little corn down. They were straight over and were joined by Pepper. Pepper returned to the coop and this was enough to show the chicks the way. Phew!

is it bed time?

Next day, I made some adjustments to make the ladder easier for the chicks to use, basically, I made it a little less steep. However, MMJ decided to go for the tree roost option once again causing panic in her brood. This time, she seemed oblivious. We intervened, shaking the bush causing her to fly down. Cue mass clucking and shaking of feathers. She led her chicks around for about half an hour before finally settling into the coop. Once all five chicks were in, we shut the door.

We thought things were settling by now, however, we hadn’t made allowances for Clippy. Clippy is the flock matriarch and the most feral. She likes her wild camping. That would be fine, but she also feels the need to announce it to the world. Next evening, MMJ and the chicks were happily ensconced in the coop when Clippy flew onto the roof on her way to the bush. She clucked her intentions out loud and the chicks all rushed out to see. Cue mass disruption as other hens joined in.

it’s lovely in here

This whole stramash was made more complicated by MMJ deciding the coop was for her, her chicks and the cockerel only. No other hens allowed. Fortunately, we have two coops. Nevertheless, the four hens cast out were none too impressed. They checked out the other coop, but seemed unsure. In out. In out. When, finally, all were in, we pounced and closed the door.

Yesterday, things finally went smoothly. The chicks and MMJ joined the cockerel in the Green Frog coop. The other four headed straight into the Solway coop and roosted.

Who knows what fun and games tonight will bring?