Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Operation Harriet

How do you measure happiness? In chicken world, in fact Harriet's world to be precise, the greatest joy of all is a dust bath! The fact that the dust can be mud seems to make no difference what so ever - the main objective seems to get all your lovely white feathers as dirty as possible!
Harriet disguised as a mud slick

We are not sure quite what happened but either Harriet mistook the pond for a giant mudpool or she was trying to dabble in the mud around the pond - whatever, she fell in! Now if one thing that silkies are and that is a very good sponge! I got outside to find a very wet, bedraggled and generally feeling sorry for herself little chicken. Despite giving her a dry off and putting her inside when I checked later she was still not looking happy.

Operation Harriet into action - big towel rubdown, bit of fuss, lots of mealworms and a night spent in the kitchen in a box with lots of nice dry wood shaving and straw and the next morning she was as fit and chirpier than ever!

Lottie and Ruby on a frosty morning

It has been one of the coldest Decembers for many a year, of course the first instant benefit is no mud for Harriet (though I am dreading the thaw). We await to see how many of the garden plants get through the winter. The bananas and echiums are looking particularly sorry for themselves however the tree ferns look spectacular glistening in their frosty overcoats. The other cause of horticultural destruction is of course the girls - I think we will be wiring areas off as spring arrives just to preserve some plants!

Tree fern fronds covered in frost

It's been an amazing year - there is no doubt that five little chickens have helped in that so all that remains is for us to wish you all the most wonderful and prosperous New Year xx

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Santa's Little Helper and its Christmas Eve

Who more appropriate than the real living epitome of a poultry snowball to greet you before the big day itself, it's festive Lottie, Santa's Little Helper
A house full of people (actually a very small flat in South London!) but we are aiming to have a fantastic time as we hope you all are.

Girls are doing great - between 2 and 3 eggs a day. We have been able to give all our long suffering neighbours some eggs as a Christmas gift which I hope will at least be some compensation for Margot going into very loud clucking as she gets into egg laying.

So girls well fed and cosily roosting on not that cold a night here in London. Just checked out where Santa is at - its Christmas Eve only and he's just delivered in Mongo, Chad. Presents wrapped and after a busy day now about to chill with my lovely family.

Happy dreams and I'll post tomorrow to wish you all a Happy Christmas.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Nothing to do with Chickens

Seriously, nothing to do with the girls - just an announcement that Mother has arrived for Christmas. Happy? Absolutely overjoyed. I love my Mum but bloody hell, how much luggage :)

Gutted that Lisa didn't win Strictly - we woz robbed!

My gorgeous Mum and me at Leeds Castle in Kent

Friday, 19 December 2008

Santa's Special Sussex Bantam - Merry Margot

The festive season is well and truly upon us now. A week of Christmas parties has left me bereft of normal liver functions, sleep and chicken contact, bless those girls they have been keeping busy without us. I do have to say that baby Jesus has lots to answer for but definitely keeps the UK bar and restaurant trade very busy for a month.

Our Christmas chick on this occasion is Margot. Please note the highly festive tree fern in the background, antipodean version of our very own festive fir.

Margot looking lovely in the garden behind a festive tree fern
We have been amazed at the increase in egg production. We have continued the lighting regime, merely an hour extra in the morning and allowing the girls to get out and scratch through the borders at every opportunity really is paying off. Last night we were away staying at the Sloane Square Hotel (and very lovely it was as well) which meant that the nestbox wasn't checked for 36 hours.

What a shock we had when we got back home. 5 eggs! which means that there have to be at least three hens laying.

Needless to say that Cybil is top layer and Harriet we are 98% positive on number 2 layer but who is number 3?
Bets on, its a difficult call however we think that it could well be our cover girl this evening, Margot.

A quick note on internet purchasing. I ordered a "pecka block" and some 4 egg egg-boxes from Flyte So Fancy Can just say that the service and goods well deserve a mention as they were ordered on a Monday evening and were with me Wednesday morning - so thank you!

And finally - HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my gorgeous fella, 39 today (old git in the making)

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Seasonal Cybil

     Okay, so even I have to admit that the photographer and image builder went a little overboard here! Still, with what looks like a clutch of festive baubles instead of eggs Cybil is still cranking out 6 eggs per week.

     Yesterday was truly grim, 24 hours of very heavy rain. The girls had to spend most of the day in the run as it seemed pointless letting them out just to get very wet and very muddy. Still, I went and cleaned out the night shed so they did have an hour but were very easy to get back in - mealworms and corn in a nice dry run or scratching around the borders and lawn in the deluge?

Cybil with seasonal spheres and Santa headwear

     Despite having 4 feeders in the garden we have a complete lack of garden birds visiting. In previous years we have had a good selection of birds including blue, coal and great tits, robins, hedge sparrow - you get the idea. This winter we a bereft of small birds! We have the occasional blackbird and a plucky robin but that seems to be about it! I did add some food to the bird table (we usually feed just from hanging feeders due to previous problems with squirrels) but the only birds to eat off there was a magpie and a very fat wood pigeon. Some long-tailed tits and the occasional goldcrest put in an appearance in the trees at the bottom of the garden, ring-necked parakeets and crows are also seen over the house but never visit. In the 5 years we have been here we still have to see a house sparrow! So where have they all gone? 
Great tit at a feeder - not in our garden unfortunately

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ho Ho Harriet

Party season has now kicked off full time now - fortunately the girls have complete party outfits!

Today driving up the M1 from London to Whipsnade it was snowing and once up on the Downs there was a generally scattering of the white stuff.

In recognition of this today's photo is of the hen version of a snowball, Harriet, looking resplendent if not somewhat slightly grumpy.

Cybil laid again, currently running at 6 eggs per week. Why or what triggered mid winter laying? Answers on a postcard (actually just leave a comment)
Ho Ho Harriet in festive pose

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Festive Fowl

Okay, my lovely partner has been playing around in a festive manner so over the next week or so we'll have a few photos of the Girls in Christmas mode. I am of course useless of any kind of pun however please add comments if you can do better on a photo title (listeners to Capital FM breakfast show with Johnnie Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon should be a dab hand at this!)

In honour of David Beckham, Ruby appears in panto as "Goldenbells"

The real "Goldenballs"

Monday, 8 December 2008

Frosty mornings and a welcome to the world

Early December's cold weather continues however it does seem somewhat more seasonal now than in October.

The girls are getting very familiar with frosty mornings and although its damn cold I've no problem going down the garden to open the night shelter door at 5.45am each weekday morning.

They now have a battery (rechargeable of course) light it means that they are straight out into the run and feeding. It works better than having the light on in the evening as once they have gone to roost they are not easily encouraged to do anything where as mornings it gives them an extra half hour before sunrise. Something is obviously working as Cybil is still laying - one a day.

Margot (with Rubster in the background) inspecting a frosty lawn

The chicken house is on the deck at the bottom of the garden and most of the pathway has been covered in large echiums (Echium pininana if you are interested for pictures and for information on the plant).

I digress, the point is that as we can't walk down the path so we are churning the lawn to a slippery, slidey dirty and gunky mud bath - not desirable. So the weekend project was make a new path, consisting of lifting out a muddy stripe of lawn and filling it with woodchip (free from the council). Perfect in execution and lovely to look at, walking down to the chicken house was a pleasure on the new path. No mud all over the place and the fact you didn't need several changes of wellies and boots just to get to the house was an added joy. It took the girls approximately 5 minutes to realise that it was a brand new toy to be scratched, dug up and completely enjoyed. Chicken enrichment at its best!

Ruby wondering why frozen worms don't taste good.

Margot looking all grown up

Christmas has arrived with Harriet and Lottie heavily disguised as snowballs

Few other things of mention that have had me thinking over the past couple of days.

With the smoking ban, more tax increases on beer and people being more inclined to get a bottle of wine to drink at home we hear more and more over the demise of the British pub. Interesting then that French bars and cafe society are going down the same path as the pub - the gauloise plume that hung from every bar ceiling has disappeared, a glass of red wine replaced by a bottle of white at home. Sometimes we think that we have all the problems here in the UK, not so, and oddly another community asset/link/facility slowly disappears.

And finally - welcome to the world Ferdinand Jack, all 8lbs 3ozs, born 7th December 2008

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Perhaps we are going to have a "real" winter?

Another few days of bitterly cold weather and snow had been covering much of northern Britain and it looks as if the pattern will remain.

The girls have been getting some special attention. They have a small light in the sleeping quarters and I invested in a couple of small LED lamps for the run. They only light the pen for an hour or so each evening but it gives some extra feeding time to make sure they have plenty of food when they are ready to roost.

Most amazing was that we have had a recommencement of laying! Cybil is the prime suspect - amazing or what! And the eggs tasted wonderful :0)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Frosty bananas, muddy hens

Late autumn slowly moves on - warm, cold, warm, cold, colder.

I suppose that I will keep saying it through the winter months but I do miss seeing the girls during the week. Weekends are so special as they spend all the time in the garden though maybe a little disappointingly they do seem to spend far to much time habituating with us and if we are in the house they sit on the back door step. Preening, pooing, just chatting to each other. Needless to say where ever we are, we have working gardeners, companions and bug killers at very close hand.

The weekend was clear and blue - somehow bananas and frost don't mix but sunshine is always enjoyed.

The best scratching place in the entire garden is under the bananas and gingers. With the big leaves I assume that the earth stays drier than the rest of the soil in the garden so its a favourite area.
Cybil inspects the garden

Harriett checking out the dodgy photographer - look at the gleaming feathers

Now if there is one thing that chickens love to do and that is dust bathe. Right, dust bathing in summer is fine - the words "dust" and "bathing" seem to make sense.
As the girls are in the run for most of the day we provided them with a lovely tray of clean dry sand that they can have a bath in. Oh so wrong - not interested at all.
What they are interested in is mud - MUD. How do you equate MUD with lovely clean dry sand? Life as a chicken is odd, however I think that if mud is what makes you happy then just think of how you feel when your prize white silkie chicken looks like this!
The happiest Harriett you will ever see!
Well this isn't all about chickens and our other creatures are a pond full of Carassius auratus. Perhaps goldfish is more recognisable as a moniker (referred to as "the children") and when we moved here we inherited a large finned specimen labelled Miss Swishy living in 2 inches of water - mud for chickens and fish may not be the best of scenarios for either!
Anyway we did a big pond makeover and got a few more goldfish (all named but that's another story) and they bred! Add plants and love, pond turned into a frog sex orgy centre (the resultant tadpoles perhaps stimulated the fish breeding?), damselflies and even newts.
But we got a leak so we needed to fix it to save our little haven.
I think the photos below show how I totally managed to mis-measure the pond and the amount of liner needed............ (have you ever seen anybody looking so mystified by the amount of black eco-pond liner wafting gently in the gale force wind)

Still, after a busy day the pond was re-lined, plants re-potted and "the children" (as the goldfish are known) returned to a larger and lovelier home. The frogs are already back, we hope the newts return soon.
And just when you thought it was all over - it snowed again!

Two snowfalls before December is just - well virtually unknown. Winter we await you.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Mid November musings and pics

After the snows of earlier this month mid-November is back to being grey, wet but surprisingly mild.

Of course the girls are only getting out into the garden at weekends now, when we are about. We are still being plagued by cats and not happy leaving the bantams out and unattended.

As you can see they really enjoy trashing the garden and I am actually wondering if anything will grow at all next year as they are doing a great job at digging everything up!

We decided to have a bit of a mid autumn clear out so moved the pen, scrubbed the deck down, added all new wood chips and removed the horrid ramp up to the night shelter and made a branch ladder in the style used by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to replace it. It looks much nicer, makes the pen seem larger and the old ramp got very dirty.

Super Ruby was the first to try it out - no problem

And to prove how easy and stylish you can look on your new designer ladder she showed the girls how to get down as well.

Chicken's eye view - the girls are looking suspiciously at the photographer here but all loving the new bark chips.

I love this photo - its so funny, they look so guilty! Chickens caught by paparazzi :)
Didn't take them long however to get back outside and start helping me move leaves!
I thought that Lottie would have been problematic about going up to the night shelter but it was Margot in the end that was having a small trauma but only took her a minute to decide she was going in after the other two Sussex went in.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Halloween and snowy times...........

Poor chickens.......

We are mere distant strangers to the girls at the moment! Once the clocks went back to GMT we now get up and go to work in the dark and get home in the dark. We get to feed and water via torch light. Still they get out in the garden at weekends and did at least celebrate Halloween - I know its not a pumpkin but a melon was as close as we could get on the day!

Margot and Cybil attacking a melon

Of course what we didn't expect was SNOW at the end of October - not just a scattering but a good old downfall of a couple of inches. Loads of damage to trees due to them still having leaves on but the views were spectacular! Needless to say we have been making sure the slide is closed on the night shelter so the girls stay warm and out of drafts.
Whipsnade Common on 29th October

When the girls are out at weekends they do have the best of times. The garden isn't particularly sunny in the winter months due to houses, fences and trees so all areas that get direct sunlight are exploited to the full. So how many chickens can you get on a bench?

Sad to say but Harriett managed to maroon herself on the back of the bench and had to go through a major trauma to get off!

During the week we try and make being in the run as much fun as possible. The purchase of the "wire treat ball" gives the opportunity to give titbits off the floor and lots of interest from the chickens. Sweetcorn cobs, veg scraps, greens and cotoneaster branches with berries are put in there and it keeps them occupied for ages.
Lottie takes the wire cage challenge - notice how much paler her skin colour is now

Anyway if there is no sun the back door step is still the favourite place just so they can see what we are doing. The croc sandal placed to stop "illegal" chicken entry into the kitchen - it works about 80% of the time (I wish)

Still, sunshine is completely prized and every opportunity is taken for sunbathing - the concrete path is favourite as I guess it warms up fastest and holds some heat. They love it - and also dries out the mud they cover themselves in by trying to dust bathe in wet soil!

However, always remember that if the sun isn't shining or we aren't getting any treats there is always a pot or two that we can go trash....And finally - winter might be here but the girls are still happy (I hope)
p.s. - I guess egg production really has finished for the year.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The end of egg laying this year and chilly nights...

Much has been written on autumnality however getting home from work with clear blue skies, a certain clarity to the air, you know that cooler weather is on the way.

I got home by 1710 and it was still light so got down to the chicken run only to find a cat lurking behind the pen. A small battle ensued (bless the girls, they had removed themselves to the shed so they didn't see any of clash). I still hate cats though with a couple of scratches after today's encounter I feel it won't be back soon.

I digress. The girls were overjoyed at a late afternoon run about in the garden. They are addicted to contoneaster berries so it's a special treat to trash council planting on the way home.

The main subject of this evenings scribblings is that I now assume that egg laying has finished for the year? Mystery surrounds our egg layer(s), definitely Cybil as we saw her lay an egg, two in fact. But laying days and a difference in egg shell (though small I admit) lead me to think that there may have been another layer. Well Cybil's loss of condition has obviously been a major contributory to lack of eggs - was Cybil laying a trigger for Harriet?

Anyway, I am guessing that once egg laying stops the receding daylight hours also assist is shutting down the laying process - so unless I can get the "rooster booster" made up to work from solar power I think we have seen the last of any egg laying until 2009.

And for the first time I shut the shed hatch to keep heat in, its a cosy little shed but tonight you could see your breath in the air! Autumn is here.......

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Midweek murmurings.........with a head cold

Off work today as suffering from a rotten head cold, however another day that the girls can have a day running around the garden. The down point was getting off my lazy sick arse every now and then just to check no cats were lurking.

As ever, lots of autumnal lawn wrecking, weed scratching and insect eating, that's what being a chicken is all about.

The garden is somewhat shady so the bench is a favourite place for a lunchtime sunbathe.

Needless to say just looking at Harriet enjoying herself having a snooze in the sun, it makes giving them the run of the garden all the more worth while.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Guest Blog Spot - the Chicken Photographer Writes

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a regular slot of guest blogging.

This week has seen the weather improve and apart from chilly, damp mornings covered in dew, it's been a glorious week of sunshine for the most part. However due to the reducing daylight hours available, we're getting home to the Girls when they're all gone to roost. Today was the first day of the week when they have been let out to wander the garden at leisure. As soon as that door was opened this morning, they shot out like rockets to the moon! Harriet proceeded to dig a nice deep hole under the bananas and cover herself from head to foot in what looked like a very pleasurable dust bath....white is not a good colour for her I've decided! Whilst cleaning them out, Cybil spied some juicy woodlice and so rushed back into the coop to pick them off whilst I cleaned up the inner quarters.

This afternoon the sun has been shining and the Girls have taken full advantage of it and have been sunning themselves on the garden path. Cybil is still sneezing, although from what I've noticed, not as much as she has done. Her medicine came today, a tonic called 'Respite' so we'll see how she gets on. None of the others have it so let's hope it stays that way!

The Girls have decided that they're favourite garden plant for eating is Lemon Balm.....there used to be quitea good supply around the garden, however each and every plant has been stripped....the picture of Harriet shows her finishing off the last of what was a healthy bush under the bananas.

As I type, the Girls are making a concerted effort to get into the kitchen, but unfortunately for them I'm having none of it. The doormat is the boundary, any further and they get sent back out....I'm sure they're testing me as the minute I turn around they're back in the kitchen (when I say 'they', it's Cybil, Ruby and Margot!!!!), how they got so naughty I have no idea! What should have taken 5 minutes to type has taken nearly half an hour, what with the constant up and down to shoo them out again!!!

I am the "Official Photographer" for Hens In The City....I never knew photgraphing little bantam hens would give me so much pleasure. I hope you enjoy my amateur attempts at showing the Girls to their best....