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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?

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Chicks Thriving in Summer Weather

The recent summer weather has been welcome for many reasons and, in particular, it has benefitted the hens. Unlike many birds, hens do not have waterproof feathers so when it rains, they prefer to stay under shelter. For young, keen to explore, bubbling with energy little chicks, that’s like being stuck in playpen with no toys.

The last week or so has been much drier and the chicks have been out and about, foraging, scoffing and having a lovely time. They have also been growing and are now bigger than blackbirds. As each day passes, they get a little braver and can be seen scuttling further and further from their mother, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ). They are also looking a bit scruffy as their adult feathers are pushing through the fluff they were born with. You can see tiny feathers poking out through their tails and also their developing wings. There’s nothing they like better than stretching their wings out in the sun.

Exploring far and wide, they come into contact with the rest of the flock and it is great to see that they are already accepted. Anyone who’s introduced new hens to an existing flock will know what I mean.

Cherokee the cockerel likes to keep a watchful eye over them. MMJ is more tolerant of him than some of the other hens who are sent away if they get too close.

Given our hens have pretty much given up laying, we are looking forward to the next generation of layers growing up and once again filling our kitchen with eggs. That will take the pressure off the older timers who can then live their lives out in gentle tranquillity and luxury.

At night, they still use their nursery run and coop. We put them to bed around 6pm. Soon we will leave it open till sunset and see if MMJ moves them into the main hen house.

The nursery run has been a huge success and in future, we’ll use the same approach for broody hens. We’re already in the planning stages for a small, fenced off area that can keep the sheep at a safe distance and provide room for multiple nursery runs.

Although it’s hard to tell the girls from the boys at this age, it’s looking like four girls and one boy. Time will tell, but we’re hopeful.

 

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Chicks Abroad

On Saturday, we spent some time watching our newly hatched chicks in their safe and secure run. It soon became clear that they already needed larger premises. Although they were safe where they were, the grass was showing signs of wear and tear plus, they needed to get out and about and get some natural food and exercise. Also, this means their mother, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ), can teach them what they need to know. Over time, we have learned the best policy is to trust the animals – they know what they’re doing.

Our hens free range, but we do have fences to keep them away from danger, mainly the track (delivery vans) and neighbours’ cats. Though hens can fly, a 90cm high stock fence is enough to keep them contained.

In their secure facility

Having, some years back, had chicks happily charge through these fences and all over the place, we installed chicken wire around the perimeter. We also put in a few hedgehog tunnels so the hedgehogs could still roam freely. Tiny curtains were enough to stop the chicks. Over time, the odd gap had appeared. mostly around the gates. So, before we could let these chicks out, the main area needed to be checked and made chick proof.

We also decided to move the sheep out. They have been using the lambing shed to keep out of the sun and rain. This is situated in the orchard where the hens roam. Fortunately, we have a field shelter and a “silvo shelter” so we closed off access to the hen area. The other hens will find their roaming area reduced, but it’s still an acre or so.

Sunday, we set to work. I say ‘we’, but mean ‘me’, Nicole being busy with our new dog Elliot, I raised the ground level under three gates using some of the road scalpings we have for just such occasions. Ten barrow loads or so were duly wheeled in. I also attached chicken netting to the gates and made sure the gaps at either end were covered.

That done, we opened the door at the front of the run. MMJ was initially reluctant to set forth, but eventually wandered through. She was closely followed by four chicks. As she headed slightly further away, chick number five ran up and down inside the run, not quite able to work out how to follow her. Thankfully, she did find the exit and caught up.

MMJ and 5 chicks - meets the other hens
Saying hello to the others

Having sat on eggs and chicks for three to four weeks, the first thing MMJ did was have a dust bath. She found a shady corner and got to digging, all the while making contented clucking sounds. The chicks stood around waiting, bored, until having waited long enough, they started jumping all over her. Eventually, MMJ got the hint and took them for a walk. The other hens had seen them by now but, thankfully, seemed completely disinterested. In fact, MMJ took them over to say hello and announced their presence by jumping onto Clippy, the flock matriarch, and giving her a taste of what might happen should she get too close to her precious chicks.

tempted by strawberries
tempted by strawberries

We kept a close eye on them all, but MMJ seemed to know what she was doing so eventually we left her to it. After, of course, we’d tempted them into camera range with a few chopped up strawberries.

Chicks being little cutie pies, we took a few photos and these can be found in the chicks gallery. We may add some as they grow up. In the meantime, it’s loads of stress for us as we worry about cats, kites, buzzards, golden eagles (we have the occasional visit), sparrowhawks, crows, stoats, foxes and so on.

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Baby chicks hatch

About three weeks ago, we mentioned we had a broody hen (Broody Hens Conundrum); Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) to be precise. After last year when two hens sat on eggs but none hatched, we decided to source fertilised eggs. It was made easy by the fact that MMJ was broody but not actually sitting on any eggs.

Chicken Run - Omlet
secure location

So, we moved her to a secure location, her own personal run safe and secure from the weather, predators and nosey hens. We settled eight eggs underneath her and sat back to wait. 24 days was the time to hatching according to reliable sources.

This week, they hatched, a little early we suspect. First we knew was Friday morning when a tiny ‘seep seep’ could be heard. Peering down the run into the hen house revealed MMJ peering back accompanied by a hatchling stretching its neck to look at us. We had chicks!

We kept our distance, despite much temptation to peek more closely. Today, we were rewarded by the sight of MMJ taking her brood out for a walk in the sunshine. I say walk, what I really meant was nap. MMJ was sitting there happily and one tiny head was poking out from under one of her wings. We both stood and watched, our breath held in anticipation. A few minutes later (long minutes let me tell you), a second head popped out from under her front. Two chicks. Moments later, two more heads. Four chicks.

Eventually, all four squeezed out and started mooching around in the grass under MMJ’s watchful eyes.

At this point, Nicole sneaked round and checked the hen house. Of the eight eggs, five had hatched. We waited and watched, but number 5 never appeared. With things to do, including sheep to shear (Shearing 2022 – hand clipping the woolly Ryelands), we left them to it.

Later on, I made a cuppa for Nicole and took it to her at the shearing pen. On the way back, I checked in on MMJ. She was up and about scratching away happily and was surrounded by five chicks.

This is excellent news. Not only will we have chicks brought up and accepted into the flock, MMJ only had to sit for 3 weeks. Last year, sitting on eggs that turned out not to be fertilised, Clippy and Pepper sat for 9 or 10 weeks, maybe longer, and their condition suffered as a result. MMJ’s comb is bright red, as it should be, and she looks to be in excellent condition. All in all, we are well pleased we decided to give her her own enclosed space.

Next job, check the wider perimeter so the chicks can’t get through the fence onto the track.

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Broody Hens Conundrum

hens in hen run

With spring fully underway, though the weather doesn’t feel like it, we are on the lookout for broody hens. Each year, one or two of our hens decides it’s time to sit on eggs. Each has their own particular approach.

Clippy likes to disappear, much like her mother did. All of a sudden, she’ll just go off the radar and we’ll be wondering where she is. We’re never quite sure and worry that some predator has taken her. Then a few days later, we’ll catch a glimpse of her sneaking towards the food dispensers, often giving the other hens a wide berth. Putting our private detective hats on, we try to follow her back without being seen. Not easy in an open field with the tiny apple trees providing the only cover. Last year, she built a nest in a newly planted woodland area, under a bramble and right up against the fence to one of the neighbouring properties. We managed to locate it and had a quick look while she was off on one of her excursions and saw thirteen eggs (again, just like her mother).

The weeks went by. Nothing. Now hens’ eggs should hatch in around 24 days, so something was wrong. In fact, not a single egg hatched but it was months before Clippy gave up. It took her a long time to rebuild her condition.

Chicken Coop - Green Frog
Chicken Coop – Green Frog

Pepper, on the other hand, decided to go broody in the Green Frog henhouse. We have three henhouses, Green Frog, Solway and Omlet so our hens have plenty of choice. Normal night time spot is Green Frog (or the bushes behind it). The favourite laying spot is one of the two nest boxes in Green Frog. That said, sometimes they switch and lately the eggs have been laid in Solway (4 available boxes). Omlet (just the one nest box) has been out of favour for a while.

So, back to Pepper. Last year she decided to go broody and make her nest in Green Frog. On the plus side, we could easily monitor her. On the down side, constant interruption. Hens do like a bit of peace and quiet when they’re sitting on eggs. However, the other hens took umbrage at being locked out of their favourite nest box and made quite a racket at laying time. Well, more than usual. In fact, they managed to dislodge Pepper more than once as we found her in the left box one, day the right box the next day, then back to the left one, and so on.

Chicken Coop - Solway
Chicken Coop – Solway

We moved her and her eggs to Solway thinking that would give her some security. But as soon as Solway opened the following dawn, she was back into Green Frog. We moved her eggs back but the nest box hopping continued. As with Clippy, none hatched. The whole experience took such a toll on Pepper that she lost a lot of weight and feathers. She was in a very poor state and we started giving her extra feed to help her recover. Predators are all always on the lookout for weak or distressed animals and a local stoat took his opportunity and snatched her. Luckily, it was witnessed by Nicole who was out in flash, in her slippers, and rescued Pepper. She made a full recovery, Pepper that is.

Cherokee the cockerel
Cherokee the cockerel

So, the question arose; why so many eggs and no hatchlings? Our attention turned to Cherokee. Now, Cherokee has blossomed since he moved in with us a few years back. He came from a house nearby where he’d survived a dog attack in which all his hens had died. He had subsequently been left to his own devices. We offered to take him and, over time, he’s gone from shy and tetchy to become Mr Cool as Mince. The problem is, he’s so cool he can’t really be bothered to catch the hens. He gets a sudden urge and lopes across the grass to the nearest hen, full of intent. She hears him coming, takes one look and makes herself scarce. Cherokee arrives where said hen was moments before, stops and looks around in a puzzled demeanour. Sometimes he catches them, but more often than not he gives up and goes off to find something to eat. His predecessor was far more persistent. Or, perhaps, Cherokee is just firing blanks.

We scratched our heads and came up with a possible solution.

Saturday past, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) went broody and settled down in Green Frog. We gave her a couple of days to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm and then moved her to Omlet. We had set Omlet up with its own private run which is predator proof. MMJ, surprisingly, had not laid any eggs, so we got the latest one, laid earlier in Solway, and put it in her new nest. Of course, MMJ was not too impressed and scurried around her new run squawking irritably, perhaps trying to find her way back to Green Frog. We gave her time to settle and next day, she was sitting on her single egg. Broodiness had trumped indignance.

Chicken Run - Omlet
Chicken Run – Omlet

Knowing this one egg may not be fertile, not wanting her to sit there all summer and wanting some new chicks, we sourced some fertile eggs from Backyard Chickens near Dalbeattie. Today, we zipped down there and collected them. We drove back with Nicole clutching the carefully packed eggs to protect them from the myriad of potholes that are a feature of roads in Dumfries and Galloway.

Chicken Run - Omlet
Omlet kitted out for restful brooding

Getting back, we carefully opened Omlet and reached in to pick up MMJ so we could put the eggs in place. MMJ was having none of it and shot off into her run squawking as if a giant fox was right behind her. Quietly, we placed the eight eggs in her nest and retreated. Minutes later, she was back on her nest making contented noises.

Hopefully in 24 day’s time, we’ll be reporting on squeaks and baby chickens.

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Hens prefer wild camping

hens sleeping out

Our hens have all the creature comforts we can provide. There are three state of the art plastic hen houses with automatic door openers that open and close at dawn and dusk. Inside, there are purpose built roosting bars or individual boxes packed with fresh sawdust. Each hen can choose its own sleeping arrangements to its personal taste. These are kept clean and mite free and provide protection from wind, rain, snow and all the varieties of weather that South West Scotland can throw at them.

However, this is not good enough for Clippy, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) and Salt. They have decided it’s far more comfortable, or exciting, or both, to sleep rough. Clippy started it all. She has always been borderline feral, much prefers the great outdoors. She’s also the current matriarch and has been sleeping out on and off for a while now. MMJ and Salt have recently joined her. Poor old Cherokee (the cockerel) must be wondering where they all go at bed time.

We shall keep an eye on them and expect that, as in previous years, once the cold, wet weather sets in and all the leaf cover has gone, they may decide the warm, dry shelter of a hen coop is the best bet.

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A new role for Tina Sparkle

Two weeks ago our dear brave hennie Bim, passed away to the Great Hen Run in the Sky.

Bim fit and healthy again
Bim

Bim was a remarkable hen, she lived a whole year and a half longer than predicted since developing a serious condition called “egg yolk peritonitis”.

Basically this meant that every time Bim laid an egg, the yolk would miss popping into the egg shell and instead, slip into her coelomic cavity where it festered and became infected.

Since being diagnosed back in the summer of 2019, Bim somehow managed to shrug off the infection (with a bit of help from us but mostly by her own remarkableness) and carried on with her every day business of scratching around, bobbing about and laying eggs, well, internal ones anyway.

When Bim was first diagnosed, we gave her antibiotics, then garlic and other potions to keep her going in between the antiobiotic injections, click here to see more: and here, and here

Winter came and her swelling subsided in line with the hens not laying over the winter months.

Cherokee the cockerel

 

 

With the arrival of spring though, Bim started to swell up again and our hearts’ sank.

Bim swelling
Bim and her swelling

We thought long and hard and had several cups of tea over which we made the decision to leave off the injections.  She’s an elderly hen and we felt the invasive treatment would cause her more stress than the condition itself.  Being an older girl, her breast was on the skinny side and it was actually really tricky to find some muscle to stick the needle in.  So we continued to monitor her through the peak egg laying months, spring and summer, and continuted to give her garlic and cider vinegar.

One day earlier in the year, April or thereabouts, Bim decided she’d had enough of garlic and refused to eat any more.  I can’t say I blame her, she was developing very garlicky breath and Cherokee the cockerel and the other hens had been complaining.

Garlic-free, Bim seemed happy enough despite the swelling which caused her to waddle like a penguin.  We continued to monitor her and the swelling came and went but never completely disappeared.

Sometimes I think perhaps the reason Bim kept going for so long was because she had an important job to do, she was “Top Hen”!  This meant that she was first to the corn in the morning, and, well, first to everything really.  Her status meant that the other hens looked up to her and gave her lots of respect, including Cherokee the cockerel.

If any of the hens stepped out of line, Bim would give them a sharp telling off in the form of a peck.  The hens and Cherokee all understood this and were happy to follow Bim’s lead.

Right up to her last day, Bim commanded respect amongst the flock, however, we suspected we knew who was “second in command” and who would take over when eventually Bim breathed her last breath.

Tina Sparkle embracing her new role

And that was Tina Sparkle.

Tina Sparkle is a confident hen of a certain age.  We inherited her when we moved to Auchenstroan so we’re not actually sure how old she is, she could be 5 or 6 or older.  Tina Sparkle is a small hen, particularly compared to Bim who was a big girl, but she doesn’t let her size get in the way of her natural leadership skills.  She has slipped into Bim’s shoes very happily, and the other hens (not forgetting Cherokee) are all more than happy to follow her lead.

We wish Tina Sparkle every success in her new role and have no doubts that she is the right lady for the job.  Congratulations Tina Sparkle!

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Bim Lays an Egg

cuckoo maran egg

Since June last year, Bim has been suffering from egg peritonitis, a common condition in hens of all ages for which the prognosis is usually death.  Last year, we managed to keep her going with a range of treatments (see Bim the Wonder Hen).  As the year progressed, the hens stopped laying and Bim’s condition stabilised.

With spring arriving, egg laying has been in full flow.  Bim, too, has been trying to lay.  Unfortunately her peritonitis is still with her so her laying has led to her swelling up again and walking like a penguin.  The vet prescribed two courses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories but sadly after two weeks of treament, the characteristic red bulge has refused to go down.  So Nicole has been preparing a special afternoon snack laced with garlic, minerals and homeopathic remedies.

Now, our chickens like the world to know when they are laying an egg.  There’s the racket made before is laid and then the racket made afterwards.  Just the other day as we were standing by the coops when Bim emerged to announce to the world that she had laid an egg.

“Oh no” was our first thought.

But looking in, we found an egg, a dark brown, cuckoo maran egg that was warm.  Bim is our only remaining pure bred cuckoo maran.  Therefore, it must be her egg.  We jumped for joy!

This is good news – if she can actually make and lay an egg, she might make it through the egg laying season again and survive another year.

Since then, she has laid a second egg, but no more.  Unfortunately she appears to still be laying some of her eggs internally as her bulge is still there. Nicole is keeping up the natural remedies which we hope will keep her going until egg production slows down.  Bim is an elderly hen so should naturally lay less eggs as time goes on.  Fingers crossed she can enjoy her twilight years egg free.