Thursday, 25 September 2008

Who's who - LOTTIE

Okay - if you troll back to I think our very first blog you will know all about Lottie.
  • Lottie is a silkie bantam.
  • Lottie is Harriet's nest mate/sibling/sister.
  • Lottie is NOT normal!

So what makes our Lottie so unique?
Silkies have blue skin as did Lottie when she was a chick, however she started to lose her skin colouration. She went from blue to a very lovely turquoise (when I first saw her) through to yellow (the colour she was when we got her) to now, at four months old, and she has white/pink skin.
We have tried researching what could be the problem. She is in excellent health and veterinary opinion says that there is no real reason for such a loss of skin pigmentation. Scouring the boards we did get some negative feedback in that Lottie, it was suggested, could be a cross breed, however:
  • She came from an establishment that only keeps silkies
  • I saw her parents and collected Lottie and Harriet (her sister) from the enclosed aviary which would inhibit even a house sparrow from entering (though I am intrigued by the sparrow/silkie hybrid)
  • Lottie is the only bird from over 25 chicks from this pairing ever to have this condition and her condition has previously never been seen in any of the birds produced and they have bred countless silkies over the years

Positive points: Lottie is nothing if not unique. Quiet and gentle, she will probably make the best broody hen in the entire world. Negative points: too shy and quiet, easily intimidated. Harriet likes dust bathing in mud, Lottie positively adores it. Spends far too much time being mucky however she does preen up really well.

Definitely bottom of the pecking order and the biggest victim of Ruby's rush attacks, Lottie hangs in there. She and Harriet are very close though Lottie spends a fair bit of time alone as she is an adventurer and is quite happy exploring flower beds in search of bugs.

Lottie - she's a little sweetheart

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Who's who - RUBY

Another of the Sussex breed, Ruby is a buff and our front cover "Hens in the City" model. Of all our hens Ruby has the most classic "chicken" look and profile of all the girls. Over the past month she has visually matured the most.

Positive points: very chicken looking, superb hen hoover (she eats everything)

Negative points: greedy bugger, quite adept at stealing food from anybody if she gets the chance, the most stand offish of all the birds and last to feed from the hand. Bit of a bully, she puts her wings up and rushes everybody (apart from Cybil), gives them a peck and then rushes off. The silkies get vaguely frightened however Margot has got completely bored with it and refuses to be intimidated. Ruby however still thinks its great fun.

Ruby thinks that she is number one but in fact in the real pecking order she in probably number three or four - she and Margot are vying for the post of number two Sussex and I think that Margot probably has it.
Though she is without doubt the trouble maker in the flock, Ruby is a sweetheart. She is more than happy to sit next to you on the bench if she thinks there is food in the deal and if she is emulating Cybil. Lets hope that when she starts laying she chills a little.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Who's who - HARRIET

Silkies I have to say were not one of my favourite breeds as they are not particularly productive layers and also having blue skin don't make the best of Sunday roasts. But as they say, experience can really change your mind!

Silkies have been around for hundreds of year and probably originating from Japan or China. Because of their fluffy plumage they are very poor fliers so are happy to plod around the garden.

Positive points: very placid and docile, gorgeous looking, inquisitive

Negative points: as a breed they aren't the best of egg producers. Harriet likes mud which never goes well with pristine white plumage.

Head silkie and probably number three in the flock

All in all silkies are a new breed to me and I have been really impressed. Looking forward to some eggs at some stage but I think they are more for good looks than the pot.

Who's who - CYBIL

The Sussex chicken is one of the oldest breeds of chicken and hardly surprising to learn that they originate from the county of Sussex. They come in several colours and Cybil is a silver Sussex. Although they are not the rarest of the colours they are quite unusual, from what I can gather not the easiest of the Sussex and a little "gamey".

Cybil I guess is the oldest of our girls with a well developed wattle, adult plumage and full tail, Miss Independence and a definite head of the flock.

Positive points: trusting, friendly, inquisitive, almost fearless, gorgeous

Negative points: nosy to the point of being a pain in the arse, addicted to getting into the house, she can cluck and squawk for the UK!

Needless to say for the number one hen, Cybil is a star


The great egg experiment failed - no eggs so I couldn't see if Harriet was laying as well as Cybil.

I have decided that bloody cats are a right pain in the arse - I don't think that they will take one of the hens on but they do spook them and I found a cat in the shed! Idea's on eradicating them from the garden would be appreciated (I did think that a Howitzer would be fun but I can't get one through the house)

A visit to the allotment was depressing in some ways. Two years of having tomatoes devastated by blight (bloody wet weather) I have decided that next year sod the traditional varieties, I am going for blight resistant tom's however bog standard they come. Needless to say the girls loved a few tomatoes, it's so funny to see them rush off with a cherry tomato and then pecked them getting covered in juice just to get at the seeds inside.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Eggs, eggs, we have EGGS!!!!

Okay, so its a waiting game. You have the hens and now you are waiting for eggs.

There are various ideas on when chickens start to lay, commercial layers I think begin at 12 weeks however I think that specific breed bantams may take a little longer. Although the three Sussex were theoretically the same age Cybil the silver was by far the oldest and within a couple of weeks was already stopping and lowering her wings if your hand got anywhere near her - a sure sign of readiness to lay. Add to that perfect adult plumage, well developed wattles and lots of confidence she soon took over as head of the flock. By contrast Margot the light Sussex was still acquire her adolescent plumage and still a very young lady.

Checking the nestbox was a daily but overly optimistic activity however when I was away in Antwerp at a conference I got a text "We have an egg!!!!!!". So Friday 19th we were the happy owners of at least one laying hen.

Needless to say, being a bantam, it was a small egg but being of a pinkish hue we surmised that it was Harriet the silkie that had produced, well done Harriet.

Sunday 21st saw the second egg (at this rate we will be a major force in the semi organic egg market)

So on to today and Monday 22nd............

Off today so the girls were again at liberty. I was gardening for most of the time and Cybil was (1) completely in my space and wouldn't leave me alone. Re-potting plants generally meant removing her from the pot before putting the plant in, raking up meant removing the hen from in front of the rake.
(2) breaking into the house. She scaled a 4ft fence to get into the kitchen where she was removed several times. When she disappeared again I found here scrabbling about in the bottom of the airing cupboard! So that was it, doors closed.

(3) what a noisy chicken however her clucking changed and all of a sudden I realised that she was wanted it lay.

Absolutely NO interest in laying in the nest boxes in the run she had obviously been hunting a nest site. I opened the shed door and opened the door to one of the carrying boxes, Cybil was straight in! I threw in a couple of handfuls of barley straw and she was instantly nestbuilding and within 10 minutes an egg.

Herein lies the mystery. The egg is very similar to the first two (that we had thought that Harriet had laid). Of course its not impossible for hens to lay an egg a day but this fast? and also if she had been the producer of the first two eggs, why didn't she lay in the same place and make such a fuss of finding somewhere different to lay her egg?

I'm off tomorrow so lets see if there is an egg and where its laid (and if I can, see who produced it!)

Of course after the triumphant arrival of the egg Cybil decided on a celebration, its called shoulder hopping and ear pecking.

Belated update

I think that the "girls" have taken us over already.

It only took a day of being in the pen before we let them out into the garden. I have to say that the garden is secure and I spent a day fencing gaps behind sheds, wiring under fences so on the whole felt that the chickens were safe especially as the idea was that they would just be out in the garden while we were there.

Despite only being with us for 24 hours they soon took command of the garden and let by Cybil (the silver Sussex) all five were soon exploring the garden. The physalis (Cape gooseberry) took a real battering, they loved eating the leaves, but apart from that they were very well behaved and scoured the lawn and borders for bugs, all had a dust bath underneath the banana trees and then put themselves to bed!

So following the books and learnt wisdom the "girls" main diet is layers pellets which are provided ad lib. Mixed corn is provided as a treat late in the afternoon though as the nights draw in I'm not sure how that is going to work. They get offered a good range of greens when they are in the run however due to the large amount of foraging in the garden they never seem that bothered. They love melon seeds and skin and are addicted to mealworms which are given as a super treat and if anybody has to be caught up they are rewarded with mealworms to prove we are not baddies. However, so addicted are they that it only takes a few wigglers to entice chickens on your arm, leg, sitting next to you on the bench, you name it - hens are more than happy and willing to almost anything for a mealworm.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Wild and Wet Devon

Oh great trepidation, the first weekend of leaving the "girls" alone. Off to spend a weekend in Devon with our lovely friends David and Sylvia we had to call on the assistance of our neighbours to be chicken minders over the weekend. Needless to say after a crash course in poultry care and management we were more than happy to head off to the West Country full of confidence (but we did leave lots of phone numbers.....).
Of course the weather forecast for the entire weekend was dire with torrential rain, warnings of flood and gales - you guessed it, no Indian Summer.

Still, despite the weather David and Sylvia are more than ready for an adventure so despite the downpours we headed off to the Devonshire Traditional Breeds Centre near Crediton. Having checked out the website before they advertised a good range of poultry breeds, accessories and some farm animals as well. If nothing else it would be a good opportunity to look at lots of different chickens.

Set in the ground of a lovely farm the best thing is that its totally free to wander around so armed with pots of corn at a very well priced 50p we headed (umbrellas at the ready) into the grounds.

Of course, it is completely understandable that we headed into the grounds the heavens did indeed open, and rain it did, and more and more to the point that even the ducks were getting bored with it!

In the brief moments when the rain stopped, meteorology decided to baffle us further and bathed us in brief glimpses of the sun so some of the pictures to not really equate to the drenching we got. Additionally it was only with bribery of lots of corn that we

managed to get the chickens to show themselves as they had the sense to stay indoors anyhow we did tempt a few foolish fowl out into their pens.

We did see quite a few breeds, some would not be tempted, other pens had recently been emptied as the Centre was having an end of season change about. I have to say that the pens were in very good condition after a breeding season and lots of usage and additionally so was the stock. Of course, some of the girls were a bit tatty, they had eggs and chicks to produce and had started to

moult but all the birds we saw were very healthy looking.

Anyway, for the birds that we did see, it did confirms that I don't really like the feather legged breeds generally.

So what did we like. Above and opposite are Japanese bantams. Truly lovely little birds that I didn't think would like but they really had presence.

We were very impressed with these little chickens, I'm fairly sure they are silver quail Barbu d'Anvers (Antwerp Belgian bantams). They were splendid birds but seemed excellent escape artists as they seemed to appear all over the place and had got the idea of following you with menace if you had a corn pot.

As you can see - all the birds were keenly watched during breaks in the rain. Unfortunately we didn't get good shots of the large breeds but the Orpingtons were great (at least three breeds)

Fairly sure that these are quail Barbu d'Anvers, also known as Antwerp Belgian bantams >>

These are a "bearded" breed and one of the oldest bantams as there is no large variant so can be classed as a true bantam as opposed to a dwarf breed. There is a depiction of a Barbu d'Anvers in a seventeenth century painting so they have been around a while.
So a couple of things to note.

  • They are a good laying breed apparently but obviously due to their size the eggs are not exactly large.

  • The males get very feisty during the breeding season and also are championship quality crowers so maybe not the first choice for the city garden.

These guys opposite are more Barbu d'Anvers, this time of the porcelain type.

And finally below, what I thought was my favourite of the day - White Pekin bantams. I know, before you say it, they are a feather legged breed but goodness me what gorgeous little hens. Despite the weather they looked stunning and really brightened up a very grey and cloudy day. Below is a pic of these lovely birds

So - all in all if you are in Devon (and preferably in the spring and summer) the Devonshire Traditional Breeds Centre is a definate to visit. Additionally there is a great shop that sells everything from chicken feeders and feeds, books, magazines, range of poultry related goods as well as having goods from the farm such as beef, lamb and of course free-range chicken (well those cock birds have to go somewhere I guess and they would have had a wonderful life). Also of note was the brilliant cafe and the staff who were amazingly friendly, chatty and informative. Check out the website which is in my links.

A big thank you to Sylvia and David, wonderful hosts who took on the chicken challenge in the rain and also to Rob and Isabella for being such good chicken minders in our absence.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Sussex Girls Arrive

The arrival of the chickens triggered somewhat of a spending spree. Feeding troughs, bins, feeders, drinkers, straw, wood shavings, wood chips, grit, feed. At the rate we were going the first 6 eggs were going to be costing in the range of £25 each!

Still, we wanted to make sure that we had everything ready. With the arrival of the Silkies Harriet and Lottie, everything was in place so it was with enthusiasm that we set off to meet Julie and Martin Furey of Just Sussex Poultry.

The Furey's are Sussex enthusiasts through and through and we had a great time chatting chickens, chickens and chickens. All their stock was in lovely condition and it was good to meet people with such a keen interest in a breed. We had ordered three Sussex bantams, a silver, buff and light and were delighted to collect them.

The journey home flew by and we couldn't wait to get them back to the garden and into the run. Just to be on the safe side we decided to clip one wing just to make sure there were no speed exits once we let them to free-range around the garden. As ever, after a journey they were fairly calm so holding and clipping the light and the buff was really no problem. The silver, well she was having none of it!

Here we have to make a bit of an admission. The chickens had been named before we got them. Top picture is Ruby the buff Sussex. Next is Margot (say Margo) the light, and the youngest of the three and finally the silver Sussex. Originally named Hilda, once we met her she was so a Cybil!

As you can see from the photos, the first two (Ruby and Margot) were fine. Quick clip of the primaries and a fast check over and no problem. And they you get to Cybil. She is older, though 2008. Very confident but do not touch! As soon as she was held you would have thought her neck was being wrung. For the keen chickenist out there you may perceive the bottom photo as a slightly stressed chicken, head down and beak open. Let me tell you it couldn't be further from the truth. She is cursing like hell and pecking anything within peck distance!

No matter, it took them all of 10 seconds to get over the stress of the journey once they got into the run. We put them into the roosting/sleeping quarters so they became acquainted with the area but it didn't take them long to head out into the run and explore. The joys standing in the feed tray and filling it with as many wood chips as possible seem to be the favoured action, along with inquisitive looks at the Silkies.

So all the chickens now ensconced in their new home, what else to do but spend the day with glass of wine in hand watching them settle in.

The Chickens (are) in the City

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hens in the City - moving the urban chicken

Keeping chickens is an adventure - well it might be! Just follow how well or badly we do. This blog started in Urban Chickens Honor Oak Hens however I am by my own admittance bloody useless on even vaguely technical blog sites so reverted to Blogger however thanks to the enthusiastic folk at Urban Chicken.

From a book titled "Keeping Chickens" by John Walters and Michael Parker I quote the following "Laying hens are returning to back-gardens ........... Reasons for return are varied and range from fears that the price of shop eggs will go through the roof to a feeling that a back garden flock is the only way to get really fresh eggs. There is also a desire for a profitable hobby which will break they hypnotic hold of the TV screen. You maybe surprised that the book was published in 1976.

Actually you are probably not surprised. Chickens have been popular for a long time and although going through the normal cycles of popularity and more people than ever seeming to be in an urban situation, the hens in the city seem to prosper be it in town gardens, allotments or in fact anywhere that a run and housing can be placed.

So how did we end up with five chickens in a back garden in South London?

Firstly keen gardeners that having filled the garden with tree ferns, bananas, gingers, a pond with a thriving community of goldfish, frogs and newts and vegetables in pots, we expanded into an allotment. Three years down the line and lots of hard work from a patch of weeds and brambles on heavy clay, it now produces everything from globe artichokes to kohl rabi.

We had pondered on a dog or dogs however, working the hours we do, goldfish seemed to fit the bill better though we did want something "more". Importantly something that gave back as well. As lovely as the goldfish are, their input into the home apart from swimming seductively around the pond on summer evenings, is somewhat small. It also needed to fit in with the garden and our philosophy on "home-grown".

Following much discussion (months of discussion in fact) we decided that we should keep chickens. Not the most obvious choice we thought for a town garden (how wrong we were, there are loads of you out there!) however we looked at housing, checked with neighbours, pored over books, websites and pictures and in May took the plunge and ordered our chicken house and decided on the breed of chicken.

After scouring the internet we found some well priced chicken runs. We eventually settled on a large ChickenShack. Duly ordered I have to admit we did have a few problems as the packaging seemed somewhat inadequate so some of the panels were broken. Saying that the company were excellent and the parts were replaced promptly and without any hassle.
Chickens - we decided on hens only for obvious reasons and for those of you who haven't kept cockerels before it really is obvious (noisy buggers). Sussex bantams were the selected breed and we ordered three, one each silver, buff and light. And how exciting waiting for August 23rd when we could go and collect them.

But things never quite work out as planned. Little did we expect that we would be the happy owners of two Silkies! Bred by accident, two chicks from what was thought to be a clutch of infertile eggs (they needed the hen as a broody for pheasant eggs) they were in need of a home and who better that somebody who had a nice new chicken shed that was empty (well it was at the time).

So on August 22nd Harriet and Lottie arrived from North London.

Odd story because Harriet is absolutely normal Silkie colouring. Lottie is decidedly not! She did start out the same as Harriet, however by ten weeks she had started to lose the blue skin colouration and was turning a lovely turquoise shade. By the time we bought her home she was yellow with a pink tinge. We have contacted lots of Silkie people about it but no conclusive answers over her condition. There is no chance of cross breeding as the only chickens the breeder kept was Silkies and they are both from the same clutch - the male is old though hence they though the clutch would be infertile as his fertility rate of late had been very poor. Lottie is in excellent health, eats for England so is just our lovely little oddity.

And then August 23rd arrived. Harriet and Lottie had settled in overnight and were enjoying the run so off we went to Alton in Hampshire to collect the bantams.
(to be continued......)