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Busy times in Auchenstroan

me and pinkie

It has, as ever, been a busy spring.  On top of moving here in March, we have expanded our animals to include pigs, more sheep and we been through lambing .  And along with this, we have our day jobs plus carrying out repairs to the new house, unpacking and arranging for new bathrooms.

water tank
water tank

The sheep needed two main jobs, automated water and a shelter.  While there are many streams and springs, in the dry weather they dry up so we need to have troughs of water in each of our fields.  During dry spells, this has meant transporting 20l water carriers daily across to keep them replenished.  Thank goodness for the quad bike.  In the meantime, we have purchased a water tank, troughs and much plastic pipe.  The plan is to bury the tank near the top of the hill where a natural spring emerges.  All the troughs will be plumbed in and filled with natural spring water all powered by gravity.  We’re just waiting on a date for the man with a digger to come and dig a big hole for it.

For the shelter, we chose a central location that can be reached from most of our fields.  I ordered the bits needed to build one only to realise, when they were delivered, that it would be too small.  So, another order later, I moved all the wood and corrugated iron up to where it was needed.  At this point, the sheep were not impressed – they don’t like to see humans carrying things!

starting new sheep shelter
starting new sheep shelter

Next, it was time to build it.  On a pleasant weekend in May, I got started.  I had designed it with the support posts sunk into the ground to keep it in place in windy weather.  So, time to dig a few more holes.

And two days later, it was ready.  Fortunately, the weather had proved not to be midge friendly, so that helped a lot.

And the sheep were now suitably impressed.  They like their shelter.  The lambs especially so.  You can see the finished shed in the picture at the top.

two piggies
two piggies

Meanwhile, the pigs have been going from strength to strength.  They grow really quickly and have turned into quite large animals in a matter of weeks  And this despite our scales being wrong and causing us to underfeed them for a bit.  Amazingly, they have not trashed their entire pen.  Perhaps it’s because they are quite large.  Perhaps it’s because the Kune Kunes are more grazers than diggers.  Or, perhaps, they like gardening.  At one point it seemed like they had a nice area of lawn, a flower bed full of blooms and a digging area.  Since the recent rain, however, the digging are has expanded.  We may get next year’s potato planting area yet.

hay shed posts
hay shed posts

Hay cutting will be upon us shortly but the hay shed is still under construction.  I need to order some smaller planks as I can’t make it as deep as I’d hoped due to the hill behind it.  Seemed a shame to trim the planks to make them fit.  They are now earmarked for another project (see below).

And now we have decided to change our minds and lamb next year.  So a whole lambing complex with decent shed and paddock in front of the house is on the drawing board.  It will be great having the shed close to the house and being able to keep an eye on the lambs through the kitchen window.  All I have to do now is build it!

 

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Baby chickens emerge

chicks emergeJust recently, I wrote about how one of our hens had turned broody.  Well, yesterday, she emerged from her nest in the flower bed with 13 baby chicks.  All the eggs had hatched!

They are unbelievably cute.

The mother, Mrs Mills, is a chicken that was born to one of our hens (Hattie – still going strong) 2 years ago.  She was one of only two chickens, so to hatch 13 is an unbelievable achievement.  That said, she has great place here and actually nested outside the chicken run in the garden.

So far, she has led them round the grass in search of titbits, worms, beetles, any small bug really.  Flower petals seem also to be a sought after delicacy.

Mrs Mills and chicksAnd then there are the treats left by us, well Nicole more than me – grapes, bacon rind, strawberries and of course, being in Scotland, chips.

Fortunately, the dogs are treating them with respect and of course, their presence keeps the local cats at bay.  There’s always a danger from buzzards and crows, but we are doing our best to keep them safe.  Including a few hastily erected fences to keep them off the drive and away from delivery vans wheels.

This takes our current tally of hens to 23, so we may have to buy another chicken house.  And, of course, we’ll probably have rather a lot of eggs later in the year (assuming they’re not all boys).

In the meantime, lots of cups of tea in the garden 🙂

 

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Spot the Chicken

broody hen

When we moved here, we inherited 5 hens and a cockerel.  We brought our 4 up with us giving us a nice round number of 10.  They already had a large run, but we further extended it to include a large patch of grass around 1,500 square metres in size.  Recently, we extended it even further to include the hedge and wall as natural boundaries.  we put the fence along the hedge so as to render it largely invisible (to us).  As well as looking better, it gave the hens even more space.

Extensive chicken run
Extensive chicken run

Also, not sure if I mentioned it before, but we had invested in a battery operated automatic door opener/closer.  It detects light levels so they are shut in every night, safe from foxes.  We also bought large feeders – the hens step on a platform and it opens allowing them to feed.  Our food bill has reduced despite having more hens, no more Mr Ratty and Mrs Wild Birdie helping themselves!  I have to say, these two actions have revolutionised our keeping of hens, so much easier now.

Anyway, back to my main theme – Spot the Chicken.  Well, I have never seen happier hens.  They love resting in the hedge, they love having wide areas to explore, they just ooze contentment.  The could easily hop up onto the wall and explore further, but they can’t be bothered.  Well, they can’t be bothered all except one!  And she, now named Heidi, has taken to wandering far and wide.  But she has always made it back in time for curfew.

Until two days ago, that is, when she just disappeared.

So, we pondered what could have happened.  It is unlikely a fox could have taken her as our 3 dogs plus a neighbour’s dog patrol all day long.  And she would have been unlikely to pack her bags and join another flock as hens are not very good at that sort of thing.  So, that left the possibility that she had keeled over somewhere or that she was broody.

And today, she suddenly appeared, looking a little tired.  Nicole found her nest where it turns out she is sitting on 12 eggs.  So, the question is, can you see her in the photo above?

And given they lay an egg a day and the eggs take around 21 days to hatch, in little over a week we may have tiny chickens running about.  Can’t wait!

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Merging the Hens

merging hens

As I think I mentioned in an earlier entry, we got four rescue hens in June.  We have kept those apart from our existing hens because hens are not very welcoming to new members to the flock.  In fact, they will most likely try to kill them.  There’s all sorts of stuff on the web about how best to merge new hens, but we have worked out what (seems to) work for us).

The hens have been co-existing in adjacent runs for the last few weeks.  This way, they can see each other and get to know each other, but with a barrier that prevents physical contact, so no pecking or outright attacks.  As I also mentioned before, we have separated our mother hen and chicks into a separate run as mother hen was getting very aggressive.

hens-merging-1Anyway, we have been letting one set of hens (the greys) out in the mornings and the rescue hens (the browns) out in the afternoons.  Then Mrs D came up with the brilliant idea of leaving the cockerel out all day.  Cockerels don’t attack new hens, they welcome them with open wings and our cockerel was delighted to have 4 new ladies.  And they took to him big time (they’d never met a cockerel before!).

This weekend, we finally let them all out together (except mother hen and chicks – the chicks are still too small and could easily get through the stock fence and there are dangerous dogs next door).

It seemed to go OK. At first!  With things looking good and no all out physical attacks, we headed in for lunch.  Plus I had a bedroom to paint.  However, when I popped out to check, I found 3 of the browns huddled in their house.  They looked a bit scared.

hens-merging-2So we locked up the greys.

Today, we let them out again but stayed in the garden with them.  We were prepared – we had the hose ready and set on jet.  When Petal (bottom of the grey pecking order but the most aggressive to new faces) launched her first attack, she was hit broadside by a jet of water.  That distracted her.  In fact she only attacked one more time and after getting another jet of water, she calmed right down.  The same went for Bim, the other grey – two interventions and then she settled.

So, all in all, a successful day.  We will keep this up for a while with the goal of ultimately opening up the adjacent runs into one large run and letting them out unsupervised.

Then, just the mother and chicks to re-integrate.  You can see them in the photo below (on the left, watching on.

merging hens

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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!!!

 

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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.

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broody hen

broody-hen

We were pondering hatching some of our eggs this year and looked into incubators, but were put off by the price.  So we did some research and set up a nice little hen house with a nest and some golf balls.

Nothing.

Until last week when we returned from a short holiday to find a broody hen in the main hen house.  But, no eggs under her.  We tried moving her to the special broody quarters but she wasn’t having that and went straight back.  The other hens started to lay in the broody quarters (as little miss broody was quite aggressive if anyone went near her).

So we risked life and limb and placed some eggs under her.  We thought 7 would do it.

Only now the other hens have gone back to laying in the main house and little miss broody is nabbing these eggs to.

No eggs for us for a bit!

But will be great to have some baby chickens, they are expected mid June.