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Cherokee calls out Mountain rescue

Our chickens have a large area in which they can roam freely.  They share it with the sheep as the sheeps’ winter hay and main shelter are located in this paddock.  At one end, there is a gate open to the fields.  While this has been open for months, the hens rarely venture out.  Occasionally, they have been seen just the other side but, as a rule, they are happy in their paddock.

hens in hen run
Cherokee (left) and entourage in their large run

That said, today the Cherokee the cockerel decided to go hill walking.  He tried to take the hens with him but only two would go, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) and Tina Sparkle.  The rest decided to stay put.

Off the three went, up the path, over the track and up the hill.  They followed the line of the fence right to the top where they found a gate.  Well, an open gate is a temptation for most animals and these intrepid three passed through gleefully.  They had a lovely time scratching around until one thought it might be a good idea to head back.

Down they came only to find that they had come down the wrong side of the fence.  The gate was long forgotten.  The three gathered together in the corner of the field looking wistfully at their paddock.  However, a 3ft high stock fence stood in their way.  Despite have wings and the capability to fly, this fence was deemed impassible.  So, they set off along the lower fence of this hill field looking for a way through.  When that failed, the worked their way back to the corner.

“I know what do”, said Cherokee , and headed up the hill.  Only it was not the gate he sought, but a vantage point.  “Cock-a-doodle” he exclaimed at the top of his voice.  Tina and MMJ looked at each other with world weary expressions.

However, this “cock-a-doodle-do” was, in fact, heard by myself as I set off to walk the dogs.  Not realising it was a cry for help, I simply congratulated Cherokee for his derring do as I walked past.

Nevertheless, knowing animals’ propensity for getting trapped in field corners, I decided to keep an eye on them.  Even our dogs can’t figure out what do when they find themselves in that same corner.  In fact, only the sheep seem to have the ability to work out how to get around via gates.

emergency hen gate
emergency hen gate

I alerted Mrs D and she thought it might be a good idea to lead them back.  Off she set with some corn to lead them through the gate.  The intrepid trio started to follow but, about half way up the hill, they decided they were going the wrong way and turned back down.   They did not realise they were being rescued.  MMJ lost patience and, without thinking, flew over the higher fence which was topped with barbed wire into the garden area. Observing this from the kitchen window, I headed out and picked up some tools and some wood.  It was time to build an emergency exit.  On the way, I shepherded MMJ back into the run via a handy gate.  Not a cluck of thanks, mind you.

Arriving at the field corner, I knocked together a chicken door and installed it in the corner of the fence.  Now, all they had to do was walk through.

But no, Cherokee decided that standing in front of it was far better.  I headed off to make lunch.  Mrs D tried to coax them through to no avail.  In the end, she returned for a more tempting snack than corn – mealworms.  That worked, Tina was straight through but Cherokee took his time before following.

By now the other hens had spotted possible tasty treats being dispensed and were on their way up.  Thankfully, Mrs D led them all back to their run and all were able to relax.

Hopefully on future hen walks, they will be able to make use of the hen door.

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Happy Halloween!

Many things have changed for us since upping sticks to run a smallholding and becoming ‘country mice’ but one of the biggest changes has been our diet.  Now don’t get me wrong, as ‘town mice’ we were never ones for stuffing ourselves with crisps and takeaways, but nor were we food evangelicals brandishing this or that diet.  We just liked to use fresh and organic ingredients wherever possible.

Now though, since living “the good life”, we’re forever foraging in the garden picking this and that to pop in the pot, it’s one of the best things about being a country mouse, having an extension to the larder just a snuffle from the back door.

So while removing slugs from various nooks and crannies in carrots and picking caterpillars off kale isn’t my favourite activity, I remind myself that fresh veggies taste a lot better, and not only that, they make you feel better too what with all that freshness zooming straight into your bones.

This brings me onto a subject I find fascinating; the medicinal properties plants.  It’s probably an age thing (a weird thing’s happened as I’ve got older, I’ve become a bit paranoid about putting chemicals in my body, beauty wise and diet wise)!  This, combined with living in the sticks, which makes nipping to the chemist quite a chore has resulted in me avidly growing plants specifically for their medicinal purposes.  Truth be told I also I just love it!  In a witchy kind of a way, I feel like Sabrina as I sprinkle my magic seeds into the soil and watch them transform, tadaaa!

This year I’ve grown Echinacea and Chamomile to make tea with if one of us feels under the weather.  Or I’ll forage for Herb Robert which makes a tasty tea too and is reputedly good for all manner of things even if does smell a bit funny.  I brew up Rosemary, let it sit for a while, strain, then rinse my hair with it for natural shine.  This year I’ve been mushing up raspberries and making a tasty face mask.  Raspberries have natural anti inflammatory properties and feel very soothing on the skin.

I’ve also started using natural products to help our hens.  In our ‘previous lives’ we’d buy the standard worming meds for our chickens.  (Hens can be quite prone to intestinal worms so you need to keep an eye out for these pesky blighters).  These days we’ve found a combination of natural remedies do the job and means you can continue to eat your girls’ eggs as there are no nasty chemicals in their systems.  I always have pumpkin seeds in the house, I’ll crush them up and mix a little in with their food every couple of weeks or so.  I also give them crushed garlic periodically which is brilliant for preventing intestinal worms, and sometimes I’ll sprinkle a small amount of chilli into their food as if there are any worms lurking where they shouldn’t be, they’ll come shooting straight out.  And finally, I add cider vinegar (home-made of course, what else?!) to their water which helps their digestive systems and gives them a vitamin boost.

So with it being Halloween don’t throw your pumpkin seeds out if you keep chickens, add some crushed seeds to your hens’ feed, they will thank you for it.  Happy Halloween!

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Bim the Wonder Hen

Since June, Bim has been suffering from egg peritonitis (see swollen hen), a common condition in hens of all ages for which the prognosis is usually death.  Given this poor prognosis, we asked the vet (who happened to be here looking at a sheep) to have a look.  We fully expected we’d be putting her down (Bim that is, not the vet).  That said, swelling aside, she looked really healthy and so we all thought it might be worth trying again.

The vet agreed with our plan and left us with a course of anti inflammatories and antibiotics.

Bim fit and healthy again
Bim fit and healthy again

Now, the problem is that while the antibiotics can deal with infections, they don’t really deal with the root cause (normally an egg yolk trapped in the abdominal cavity).  Nicole got on the internet to look for alternative approaches.  We also pondered alternatives to antibiotics – well we didn’t want to be giving her a jag every two days for the rest of her life.

We came up with an approach that incorporated a number of ideas.

  1. Warm baths with epsom salts.  These were mainly to help her feel better (we all love a good bath) as the condition causes a lot of swelling which looks pretty uncomfortable.  This is followed by a blow dry.  Bim loved this moving her wings to get an optimal flow.  We did this 2 or 3 times, basically while she was receiving her jags.
  2. A daily supplement which contains a mixture of garlic (two cloves per day), turmeric, black pepper, honey and olive oil.  Garlic and honey are natural antibiotics as well as being nutritious.  We also added to this a mineral boost containing calcium, probiotics and seaweed (you can buy this).
  3. A daily dose of Kali Phos, Bryonia and Hepar Sulf.
  4. Water – we added cider vinegar, multi vitamins and oregano.

The above sounds pretty complex, but it’s not really.  All the supplements can be mixed up and put in a bowl.  Bim, being the top hen, is always first to a bowl so, for us, it was fairly easy to make sure Bim got her “medicine”.  I say “us”, but it’s all down to Nicole really.

The net result of this is a that, for a time the swelling went down and Bim got back to being her old self.  When we wandered into the vet some time in July to pick up some sheep meds, the vet who had examined Bim happened to be standing there and asked how Bim was.  When Nicole said she had pretty much recovered, the vet’s jaw nearly hit the floor.  “That’s two miracles this year then” she said (or words to that effect).  I don’t think the vets can quite believe that Ymogen recovered from her broken jaw either (Ymogen’s Story).

Anyway, Bim was doing fine.  As she is about 5 years old, her laying days should be largely in the past.  However, a couple of weeks back, she went in to lay an egg.  Of course, no egg appeared, once again the yolk must have been “laid” internally.  Then she did it again and the swelling returned.  Despite all this, everything else about her was healthy.  You can tell when a hen’s time is close, they just stop.

Bim was starting to show signs of “stopping” in that she would still be in the hen coop at morning corn time.  We decided to give her another course of antibiotics.  At this time of year, laying drops markedly for all the hens.  The shortening days act as a kind of signal to stop laying.  The chances are Bim would stop laying and so might recover once any infection was treated.

The good news is that the swelling has gone again.  Bim has not had any garlic or natural supplements for a couple of weeks because she is now kind of wary of being caught again.  We are hoping that with the days shortening and her age, there will either be no more attempted laying for a while, or just sporadic attempts.  If she leaves enough time between eggs, then she should be able to reabsorb the internally laid yolk.

Nevertheless, she has survived much longer than predicted and we are now hopeful she’ll now make it through the winter.  After that, there’s a good chance she’ll be old enough not to lay any more and then could survive gracefully into old age.  Fingers crossed.


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Swollen Hen

We’ve had our fair share of animal medical problems this year and while most are now sorted, one of our hens, Bim, has rather a persistent problem.  It’s a large swelling in the lower abdomen and looks pretty red and uncomfortable.  It’s a condition called Egg Yolk Peritonitis, a common condition in hens of all ages.  You can see the angry red patch down near her legs in the photo.

Bim swellingBim has already had a visit to the vet resulting in a course of anti inflamatory injections and a course of antibiotics.  That helped a little, but in the following weeks, the swelling slowly returned.  Sadly, treatment for Egg Yolk Peritonitis is seldom successful and often results in the hen dying.

But Bim was showing no other signs of ill-health.  Her comb is red and healthy.  She is eating, she keeps up with the other hens, in fact she is still number one hen.  That said, she had started to be slow in leaving the hen house in the morning.

The question was what to do.  There is no real treatment for this condition.  Even an operation is out of the question as hens do not normally react well to anaesthetic.

Anyway, we had the vet coming over to check on one the sheep.  Peaches, the oldest, is looking a little thin and we needed to check her teeth to make sure she was still able to eat.  We tried, but putting our fingers near Peach’s teeth proved somewhat tricky.  The vet had a special gadget and Peaches is fine, thankfully.

Anyway, we asked her to give Bim a checkover.  She also agreed that Bim, swelling apart, seemed very healthy.  So, she’s on another course of antibiotics supported by a diet and bath regime designed by Nicole.  Yes, you read correctly – a bath regime.  Apparently a warm salt bath can help to clear the affected passage.  Bim is not entirely sure about the bath, but the blow dry afterwards goes down a treat.  Bim happily stands on the floor and lifts her wing to get maximum effect from the hairdryer.

Her diet comprises garlic and other natural antibiotic / anti-inflammatory plants.

It’s early days, but she is now proving hard to catch which is a good sign.

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Running to stand still

nicole planting new veg patch

Where to start! We are finding out that owning land creates lots of work. Owning animals just adds more! We keep thinking we are getting there, but then we dream up new projects.

veggie patch complete

One example is the veggie patch already featured on this blog. It’s pretty much finished now. I added the rose arches over the gates as the final touches. No roses yet, they’ll go in in the autumn. Nicole has been busy planting it up. I keep saying I’ll help but I always seem to end up working on some other project. It’s starting to look fab with good crops of turnips, carrots, parsnips and sprouts. We’ll also have kale, courgettes and beetroot. They were sown direct and are not quite showing yet. All this planting was helped by two thunderstorms which gave everything a good soaking. More about water later.

rows of onions and salad
rows of onions and salad

Nicole has also been busy moving self seeded daisies out of the other veggie patch and into the borders next to the new veggie patch. So, soon, it will be surrounded with flowers. All that planting created the room for all our onions which Nicole finished planting today. We even did a bit of a landscaping (after yesterday’s storm) but the midges soon put a stop to that.

So, what have I been up to that has stopped me from helping? Well, the weather went from wet to dry overnight, and stayed dry. This is great, except that the grass growth was slow and our field water dried up, Annoyingly, the big tank we put in last year has sprung a leak somewhere and I think I am going to have to dig a hole to find it, a big hole.
Anyway, we have two rivers that are merrily running through our patch. So I suggested we extend one of the paddocks down to include a bit of river. The cows would certainly appreciate that!

So I have been off doing that, knocking in posts and fencing it all. The fencing is now all done but there are two stone dykes that need some repair where they have fallen down. If our sheep got to those, they’d be up and over in a flash. I think the cows would probably give it a miss though. So I’ll be repairing those later in the week.
It’s also infested with bracken which is poisonous to cows and sheep. So we’ll be down dealing with that too!

Talking of cows escaping, coming back from the garage one day last week (my new car had some faults needing fixing), I realised that one of the cows was the wrong side of the fence. In fact, Bluebell had taken down a bit of fencing and we reckon she’d been out for a day or two. We headed down to round her up wondering how it would go. Highland cows are pretty stubborn at the best of time. However, she was waiting by the gate. When Nicole opened it, she wandered back in of her own accord. Miracle!
In between all that, we had the sheep sheared on Thursday last. You may remember that Nicole and I did a sheep shearing course a couple of years back. Well that and the experience of shearing three sheep made us decide this was best left to the professionals. Finding shearers for small flocks can be a problem, but this year, on a recommendation, we managed to hire a top shearer.

They arrived with a professional rig on a trailer with two shearing stations and two shearers and a third person to roll up the fleeces. Our plans of leading the ewes in one at a time from the paddock evaporated in an instant. In fact, we ended up charging around and catching and rounding them up. We only just kept up with the two shearers but, of course, we then had to collect the sheared sheep and get them back. It was borderline panic for the duration, but they are all sheared, and it was a great job too. The sheep must feel so much better in this heat.

After that, we had to inoculate the lambs. Rather than rounding them up, we caught them one at a time. Nicole gave them the injection while I held them. The girls struggled like mad doing their best to headbutt me (by flipping their heads backwards). The boys, harder to catch, seemed only to shrug with vague indifference when the needle went in. Some of the lambs were very flighty – once they know you’re after them, they can move out of the way pretty quickly. Nicole’s pretty good at sneaking up behind them and catching their legs. One managed to wriggle out and tried to run past me. I’m not quite sure how I did it but a stuck an arm out and caught him and quickly had him in a hug. Which would have been great had I not, in my moment of self satisfaction, then stepped on some sheep poo ( we were on a hillside) and slid landing flat on my back. I held onto the lamb though, who was safe on my chest. We have to do it again in four weeks, perhaps we’ll pen them up. They might be a bit heavy to carry by then.

Nicole is on top of the sheep worming. We don’t blanket worm them. Nicole collects samples and we have the vet do an analysis so we know who to worm and what to treat them with. There are a few dirty sheep bottoms out there, often a sign of worms, and one of Nicole’s less exciting jobs is keeping their rear ends shaved (it’s called dagging) so that we can avoid fly strike.

In-between all that, we have been trying to comb the cows. They haven’t had much attention of late and Bluebell is not entirely sure about being combed. This is not helped by them moulting their winter coats which creates humungous knots. They are hard to get out, but amazingly satisfying when you get one.

And if that’s not enough, some of the chickens got infested with lice. So, we had to catch them and Nicole cut all the eggs off and we treated them to kill the adult lice. Sounds easy, but catching chickens is incredibly hard! You can wait till night time and get them out the chicken house – they tend to be quieter then. Bu these days, in mid June, that would be around midnight and we are fast asleep by then.

And tomorrow it’s Monday and back to the day jobs! We’re still waiting for that elusive day off! I haven’t even had time to take pictures of our sheared sheep or new paddock, but I’ll try and get some tomorrow and add them.

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Thirteen to One

one chick

Around this time last year, Mrs Mills (one of our hens) disappeared for a while and we suspected she might have fallen foul of a predator.  However, she’d just gone broody and nested under a bush.  She produced 13 chickens and raised them to maturity.  Very impressive.

Well, this year, one of those thirteen decided to follow suit.  She wasn’t able to disappear as we have, by and large, hen proofed their run.  It’s not actually hen proof as a neighbouring hen regularly pops in for some extra food.  But we’ve done enough to make it too much trouble to leave.

So, anyway, Pepper chose to go broody in one of the hen houses.  We found this out when trying to collect eggs.  The other hens also found out and stopped laying in that house.  Broody hens are best avoided!

We’re quite pleased to get the odd broody hen as it means we have young hens coming in and there’s no need to merge them, they are part of the flock from the moment they’re born.  Mind you, we don’t really need too many more hens as we are struggling to keep up with the eggs as it is.

Anyway, how many eggs we wondered?  We left her in peace and even when she popped out for the odd snack, we didn’t look so as not to disturb her.

Finally, a couple of days ago, we heard the “cheep cheep” of a chick.  They’d hatched.  They?  Well, one chick was wandering around.  It turns out she sat on two eggs one of which sadly didn’t make it.

So, we have one little chick out exploring the run with her mum.  And she has certainly picked a period of fine weather to join us.

I say “she”, more in hope than knowledge.


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Badger in the hen house

With each passing day we are slowly coming to terms with the loss of our wee calf Ivor, and with the weather slowly improving, we are even starting to sense signs of spring in the air which is enough to cheer anyone up in the darkest of doldrums!  We’ve been putting the finishing touches to the lambing shed and ordering what we need for lambing; hay, straw, sheep nuts etc … we are starting to feel better about life, that is, we were, until the next reminder that sometimes life can be brutal and cruel.

A few nights ago, at midnight, we were woken suddenly by the sound of our hens squawking and making a terrible racket.  Now, as we’ve lost hens to foxes in the past, our radars are finely tuned to hens in trouble.  We’d purposely positioned the coops near to the house where we could keep an eye on them (not to mention having only a few short steps to walk when getting eggs).  We also had state of the art hen coops, fox-proof with auto shutting and opening doors.  So although our first thought was “fox”, at the same time we found it hard to believe it could be.  We ran downstairs, grabbing our coats and torches and flew out into the garden and into the hen run (“hen central” as we call it).  At which point the squawking stopped and all was deadly still, funny we thought, what is going on? The door to the coop was shut, there was no sign of anything untoward.  We opened the nest boxes and peeked in, all seemed fine, the usual bundle of hens, little eyes looking back up at us, blinking in the torch light.  So back we went, upstairs,  but no sooner had we turned the light out, the din started again.  This time we knew there had to be something, whatever it was, we we must have missed it, they wouldn’t be making all this noise for no reason.

We decided to remove the roof of the hen house, no mean feat, we had to unclip various clasps and fiddle about with catches, after what seemed to be an eternity we were able to lift the roof off.  We shone our torches in, still nothing, just a bunch of hens and a cockerel looking back up at us.  But on closer inspection we saw two hens were dead, then Adrian shouted, “there’s a f***ing badger in there”!   There, curled up in the corner, was a badger!  With the same grey colouring as our hens he was spookily well camouflaged.  Not for long though, we grabbed a broom stick and prodded him at which point all hell broke lose with hens running round and feathers flying.  We opened the main door to let them out by which time the badger had catapulted himself out through the open roof.  George our Anatolian Shepherd shot off after the intruder with great bounding leaps but we called him back in case he got hurt, badgers don’t take any prisoners, even with big dogs they’ll stand their ground if cornered.

We were relieved to have saved most of our hens but sad to have lost two, Mrs Mills the mother of the thirteen chicks, and Petal, a shy girl who had recently risen up in the pecking order and was gaining confidence and becoming her own hen.  We sadly put them in a box to bury later, and then ran round the orchard locating the rest of our flock who had scattered to the four winds.  We couldn’t leave them out there, not with a badger on the prowl, we needed to get them back in the coops as quickly as possible.

If anyone has tried to round up hens under torch light, hens which are spooked and running for their lives, I take my hat off to you.  In which case I will take my hat off to myself and Adrian, because by 3am, (albeit we were rounding up hens for about two and a half hours), we managed to get them all back into bed with the doors shut, phew!  Needless to say neither of us slept a wink for the rest of the night, we couldn’t get to sleep for all the adrenalin, not to mention having a well needed cuppa which probably kept us up as well, but needs musted!

On Friday morning, first thing, I checked up on little Hatty, a casualty from the night before.  We’d found her lying in the coop with blood on her wing.  I’d popped her in a basket like an easter egg in a nest of soft towels and sprayed her wing with antibac before going to bed.  But this morning on closer inspection I could see her wing was the least of our worries.  Underneath there was a bite mark and lots of congealed blood.  Without further ado, I popped her in the car and off we went to the vets.  The vet was great, we were seen to straight away, they said she was lucky, the bite was deep but hadn’t ruptured any internal organs.  She would need stitching up so I left Hatty there and drove home again to help Adrian set up an area for electric fencing we planned to erect around the hen coops.

I noticed another hen looking droopy, it was Jane Torvill, she had got stuck under a roosting bar in the skirmish and we’d had to unhook it to set her free.  It looked as if she’d hurt her neck.  We decided to take her in and monitor her.  Jane really thrived once inside, we gave her pride of place in a dog crate in front of the aga and fed her meal worms, corn, puppy food and left over porage.

Jane Torvill in recovery

We cared for Jane for three days, we discovered she couldn’t bend over to peck, her neck seemed to hurt whenever she tried so we fed her by hand every two hours holding up small dishes to her beak and happily watching her hoovering up the contents.  Today we decided she was probably ready to go back out with her friends. We couldn’t keep her in for much longer or they’d forget who she was and hens being hens she was likely to be pecked.  Fortunately she was welcomed back into the flock, even given a special welcome by the cockerel, not sure if she was too happy about that, but after each check she seemed more and more relaxed.  By late afternoon she was even starting to peck from the ground so her neck seemed to be improving, hooray!  This evening Jane was last to roost, but that is hardly surprising, after spending two nights sleeping by the fire she was probably wondering if the grass was indeed greener!

Adrian putting up electric fencing

On a sad note, little Hatty didn’t make it, the operation was too much for her and she slipped away during Friday afternoon.  We collected her on the way to the agricultural stores where we bought a super duper anti-badger electric fence set up with 7000 volts worth of oomph, hopefully enough to deter the most determined badger.  We’ve also raised our hen houses so they are out of badger reach and switched the doors from “auto mode” to “manual” so we can turn on the electric fencing once all the hens are safely tucked up in bed. Finally, we now tie the doors closed so there is no risk of them being snuffled open.  Hopefully with three lines of defence in place our hens won’t have to go through a horrific night like that again.

Thinking back over the badger scenario, we are still not certain how the badger managed to get into the hen coop, but it seems likely he might have snuffled the door open which then shut behind him trapping him in with the hens.  The whole event has left us with a sense of uneasiness and also mixed feelings.  Uneasiness because we’re not sure how the badger operated, and mixed feelings because ultimately we are respectful of badgers and their place in the natural world.  Is it fair to condemn the badger for doing what badgers do?  It’s been a cold winter and all animals are hungry, wild as well as livestock.  It brings to mind a conversation between Dr Who, Nardole and Bill:

“NARDOLE: You can be very silly sometimes, you know that? So how do we know this water thing is actually dangerous?
DOCTOR: Ah, because most things are.
NARDOLE: Mmm, that’s true.
BILL: Why? Is everything out here evil?
DOCTOR: Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think that your bacon sandwich loves you back?”

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Persuading Chickens to use new Hen House

chickens roosting on hen house roof

Readers of this blog might remember that a few weeks back, Mrs Mills went missing, turned out to be broody and hatched 13 chickens under a bush in the garden.

chick patrolling wall
chick patrolling wall

Well, miracles of miracles, all 13 are thriving and turning into proper little hens.  They, of course, go everywhere.  The netting around the runs does not contain them, nor does the stone dyke that borders a part of the run.  Truth be told, Mrs Mills is also partial to a bit of wall hopping herself.

The run border is in the process of being upgraded as it will double as a lamb paddock in the future.  But that’s another story.

One of the problems that arose from Mrs Mills and her family was that Mrs Mills had stopped using the hen house.  Now our hen house has a fox guard, namely it automatically opens and closes depending on light levels.  So, the hens are always safe at night.

Given our hen numbers have, thanked to Mrs Mills more than doubled, we purchases another hen house again with automatic door opener and closer.  We set it up close to Mrs Mills’ favourite nest spot.

She basically ignored it.

So, we hatched our plans.  We surrounded her nest area with sheep hurdles using chicken wire to cover any gaps.  We also set up netting above the nest.  We waited till nearly dark.  We stood in the midgie infested evening sun waiting for the old hen house door to close.  Once it did, we then calibrated the new hen house door so it too knew at what level of darkness to close.

We caught Mrs Mills and also her 13 chicks and stuffed the chicks in a box.  We transported them to their new home.

At 5, we were up again to calibrate the opening light levels.

So far so good.

new hen house
new hen house

Day 2. Mrs Mills and chicks returned to their old nest under the blackberry bush.  We tried to repeat day one’s exercise of catching the hens but they were not quite sleepy enough and within seconds, 6 chicks were up, gone and scattered around the garden.  We retired, defeated, and left them to it.

Day 3, we chopped down the blackberry bush and other vegetation.  We also netted off an area around the new hen house.  We enticed Mrs Mills with some tasty pasta bits and secured her into the area.  The chicks were able to pass through the net, so they made their way in in their own time.  We put some raspberries inside the hen house.  Mrs Mills went in and nested – yes!  We thought we had it cracked.  We removed the netting so they would be free to wander in the morning.

Day 4.  Mrs Mills, now wise to our plans, nested early in the hedge some way from the new hen house and secure area.  We had to wake her and entice her with more pasta.  Fortunately, tasty bits were more than tempting and we secured her again.  Faced with no choice (her old nest having disappeared), she went into the hen house.

Day 5.  Mrs Mills chose to roost in the hen house with no intervention from us.  We were delighted, now they would be all be safe at night.  And she has slept there ever since.



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Busy Summer

growing chick

The sun is shining today, though there are plenty clouds around.  One of the things we have found here is that the weather is pretty variable and the forecasts also vary day to day.  This makes haymaking something of a lottery.

hay drying
hay drying
hay shed
hay shed

The day we chose to cut our hay was the second in what was forecast to be a few days of dry weather.  Of course, it rained two days later.  We got our hay in but it wasn’t quite ready, still a bit green.  It has been stacked loosely so that it can dry a bit more.  One field turned out to be drier and that hay is now stacked away.  However, the other bales soon heat up if stacked, so now they are leaning against each other with plenty of air circulating.

The new hay shed is looking good, though, we are very happy with that.

Our animals have been keeping us busy.  One of the pigs (Ant or Dec) went off her food and looked a little bit out of kilter.  Of course, it was the weekend and a long discussion regarding whether to call the vet ensued.  The pig keeping book, however, was quite adamant – if a pig is not eating, it’s not well.  So, on a rainsoaked Saturday evening under power shower rain, the three of us, in our wellies and waterproofs, tried to corner the afore-mentioned pig in what was now a sea of slippery, watery mud.  Of course, she had seemingly recovered and was equally intent on not being cornered.  Fortunately, she stopped for a breather and we carefully constructed a pen with sheep hurdles around her.  Diagnosis was possibly pneumonia, so a quick shot of antibiotics was administered.

Then the vet dropped his wee bombshell, she needed a five day course.  I say bombshell because, with sheep, it’s just the one injection and also we had never tried giving pigs a jag up till now.  So, next day, we caught her in a pen we constructed outside the pig arc and managed, without too much ado, to giver her second shot.  Day three, she was wise to this and in an instant sent the sheep hurdles flying.  No more jags!  Fortunately, she has recovered well.

Next up was Scarlett, one of our ewes.  She had taken to spending a lot of her time in the shelter.  After this went on for a few days, we started to suspect something was wrong.  We had already checked her over and she was alert, would get up and come over, but she was always in the shed.

So, she too was tempted into a pen (using sheep nuts). The fact that she was eating was a good sign.  We inspected her all over for maggots – nothing.  Not flystrike then.  We were puzzled and about to let her go when Nicole spotted her ear – basically, the area around her ear tag was infected.

So, we had to get the ear tag out.  This proved quite hard.  We wanted her not to suffer, but we couldn’t get cutters in to snip it.  Luckily, following Bluemli’s eye injection, we had purchased a headstock.  So we fetched that and secured Scarlett.  She could still move, but all we now had to do was control the head, not the whole sheep.  Using wire cutters, we snipped the main part of the tag away.  Then, while trying to get into the bit that went through the ear, Scarlett shook her had and out the tag popped.  That was a relief I can tell you.  So we administered iodine to clean the wound and an antibiotic in case the infection had spread.

She’s looking better, but still a bit attached to her shed!

new hen house
new hen house

Our 13 chickens are growing. We can’t believe that they have all survived.  Their mother, Mrs Mills, has basically been living rough for three months so they are not inside the safety of a hen house.  Plus, there are cats that live around and plenty of buzzards and kites.  On top of this, the chicks can still get out of the pen and wander far and wide including into cat territory.  We suspect the presence of George, our large dog, is acting as a cat deterrent.

Anyway, with a total of 22 hens now, we needed another hen house so one was duly purchased and erected (yesterday).  We also purchased the automatic door opener (they are really brilliant).  This one required calibration to set the light levels so the door opens and closes at the right times.  So, we were out last night amidst clouds of midges waiting for the light to fade.  We thought we’d calibrate it to close around the same level of light as our existing hen house.  Of course, being Scotland and a bit northerly, we have extended twilight, so it was a bit of a wait.  Midge nets became essential.

Finally at around 9:45, hen house one closed and we then calibrated hen house 2 to close at the same time.  Then, we rounded up Mrs Mills and her brood of 13.  This was fairly easy as Nicole had set up sheep hurdles and netting to surround their camp site.  All were safely transferred to their new home.  Then, it was up at 5 this morning to calibrate the opening light level.

We have bets as to whether Mrs Mills et al will use the hen house this evening or attempt to carry on camping :).

water tank
water tank

We have also got the new water system in and up and running.  All the fields now have water coming from a tank buried near the top of a hill.  It is fed by a small stream.  It only really fills up after heavy rainfall, but that’s fine.

It’s great not having to take 20 litre water containers over.  Plus, now, the troughs stay full making it easier for the animals to drink from them.

It was a big job, but the plumbing went in surprisingly well, no leaks, well none that I have found anyway. Just have to bury some of the blue pipe to keep it safe from animal hooves.


herb garden
herb garden
veggie patch
veggie patch

Our veggie patch and herb gardens are doing well.  Nicole has spent a lot of time keeping the weeds under control and nurturing our crop.  We are enjoying a steady stream of salad and veggies.  We are looking forward to the turnips ripening so we can enjoy them with some local haggis.

And, while all this is going on, we have been having some house renovations done.  Basically, we’re having two new bathrooms installed and the existing (downstairs) bathroom transformed into a large utility room with freezers etc.

We are starting to think we need a holiday.  But with so many animals, holidays are tricky to organise.

And finally, the housemartins have fledged – here they are shortly before they took off.  It’s amazing watching them all swooping and diving in the evenings.

house martins about to fledge
house martins about to fledge
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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!