Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Tragedy .............................. and moving on

Sometimes you never know what life is going to throw at you.

This morning we were so excited as all the signs pointed to Ruby laying her first egg.....which she did.

However today is devoted to another lovely little hen, our LOTTIE

There was no doubt that Lottie had various elements that would class her as totally bonkers, and she revelled in that.

She adored her sister, Harriet, however could be Miss Independent and would frequently ignore the crowd and go off and excavate holes under the bananas - she was a very happy little hen.

Lottie caused arguements on the poultry chat boards as nobody would believe she was a proper little silkie. She was just white, she was just different.
But nothing will ever let us forget Lottie:
- her mad runs across the lawn, mad runs straight into bananas, bushes and the deck!
- her love of Harriet, the two of them snuggling into one nestbox was so sweet
- complete lack of egg-laying
- the puzzled look in her eyes when mealworms were thrown - if they landed in front of her she was fine but having to find them?
- white, fluffy, snowball and totally trusting
Why or how she died we don't know - she was fat, looked gorgeous and had no injuries at all so we can only hope that chicken heaven is as much fun as the garden - hang in there Lottie
Lottie McKenna-Ellis

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

It's a "broody" thing

“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” so Albert Camus wrote.

"In the midst of winter, I instantly decided to become broody." so Harriet decided!

Bugger. Of course silkies have the best or worst ability deciding on your point of view in providing random egg production or organic incubation needs. Harriet had a profound realisation the she wanted to hatch some eggs.

This was a complete surprise and discovered when she didn't appear for corn in the afternoon - a quick glimpse into the nestbox revealed the following photo as Harriet as a closet broody

"No, I'm not broody, it's the way I'm sitting"
Further investigation managed to expose the fact that Harriet was also coveting the eggs of others - the sin of it! Indeed egg production by Cybil and Margot had been encapsulated for incubation however the lack of a good cock renders all eggs infertile so why the broody behaviour?

"Well I might have a mucky crest but I look cute as a broody"
Who knows, however we have been fanatically collecting eggs and as Harriet became broody she stopped laying so most of the time she has not a lot to sit on however another problem arose. As Harriet began to take over the complete nest box Margot became very, very vocal as she needed to find somewhere to lay an egg.
When this happened at 7.30am I can tell you Margot was moments away from a "sage and onion stuffing gas mark 6" episode. In truth not her fault as no where to lay an egg as Harriet was hogging all nest space!
So we built a nestbox, placed it at the highest point of the new run, Sir Norman Foster would be proud!
The idea was that as silkies are not flighted (due to their feather structure they cannot fly) we could provide a place where the other chickens could lay without Harriet instantly incubating their eggs.
Sky Palace Nest Box
As with any modern architectural design, the locals may not be that impressed.........
"Bugger off, I'm not living in a hi-rise"
So, where are we now?
The Skyline nestbox is working - despite the initial worries that it may be inaccessible we retrieved two, yes 2, eggs from there today
Harriet is now having aversion therapy to broodiness, it's not working at present but as the other girls have found a place to lay eggs without harassment from a manic broody silkie bantam she may find it difficult brooding straw!
However, she is the most gorgeous little broody hen
And just to prove this isn't ALL about Harriet, a quick shot of Ruby who's looking lovely at the moment and her first egg must be soon!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Extensions - how to make your home larger in the credit crunch

So here's the problem.

Up to late autumn we had been managing to let the girls out most evenings and at weekends and they of course loved it. However as the winter evenings drew in and they only came out at weekends - and if the weather was wet (and weekend rain seems to be a mainstay of British life) they stayed in anyway, we decided to increase the size of the run.

Lottie demolishing the lawn

Positives and negatives as ever.

On the positive it would give the girls lots of rooms so letting them out wasn't such an essential. We also knew that they would take their toll on the garden however the chickens truly are a devastation force. When half a border ended up in the fish pond, virtually all of the spring bulbs failed to appear (well we have found some well pecked bulbs) and the lawn became an urban bog it seems sensible to think that the garden could also do with some rest and recuperation.

Negative wise there were two main factors - money (I jest not, credit crunch has come to Devonshire Road) and lack of DIY skills.

However, reality prevails. As mentioned in a blog way back in the mists of time when the first chickenshack arrived, it was damaged and was replaced, however we still have 70% of a chickenshack carcass to work with. So a quick visit to the local DIY store and some lovely neighbours who managed to track me down some wire and £40 later we took on the chicken run challenge!

Of course the weather was lovely, bloody chilly with the occasional rainy burst however trying to saw wood, screw it together, attach wire, all attended by Harriet, Cybil and Margot made for an interesting time (Ruby was far too aloof to be even bothered looking at the worker and Lottie, as ever, was in "Lottie Land" far, far away). Cybil seems to think she can help by nestling down in the tool box and crapping all over the tools! Harriet additionally helped by knocking my mug of tea over into the nails......... swearing ensued as you can imagine.

Almost there

Lottie gets into the extended home

Architectural log feature and Margot's bum

It has to be said that it was very satifying to complete the run. We managed to increase the size to almost three times the size of the original house and run. A complete scrub out, brand new woodchips, a big planter full of soil and innocent forget-me-not plants and lots of treats and the new home was ready for hen habitation.
"Hey, look at our new extension"

"Well the food's good"

Not quite sure where we will place the table and chairs in the summer

Still, it looks fine (once we stain it), the girls have loads of room and the garden gets to live again (and they all lived happily ever after - and still three eggs a day)

Sunday, 4 January 2009

In the Midst of Winter

So, I go on about it being cold. "Nesh" is a peculiarly Northern term for not being quite as hardy and cold tolerant as perhaps one should be. Today I was "nesh".

Half the plants in the garden are looking extremely bad, not only is the frost killing them with cold but they are completely dehydrated. I gave in and bought some echiums into the house, a good re-hydration and two out of the three are looking fine, I fear the very tender one has succumbed.

Frost on the chicken run roof
While being on holiday over the festive period it has given the girls free range for garden decimation. Even though it was crisp and frosty, after a good feed all the chickens had a try at dust bathing, and they succeeded in finding a small amount of earth under some large echiums.

As you can see from the photo below, Ruby also got a very brief opportunity to sun bathe.
Weekends are also clean out times. Halfway through cleaning out the shed Harriet decided she wanted to lay an egg so stood there while John rushed and filled up the nest boxes with the appropriate wood shavings and straw. When a girl wants to lay, she will NOT be bothered by the orderlies cleaning the home!

"Come on Dad, I can't lay on newspaper"

So a weekend treat before the great return to work was an early morning bird-watch at Rainham Marshes It's the first time we have visited, no idea why not before as it seems to be our most local RSBP reserve.

Thames estuary on an early sunday morning with the thermometer registering -2 degrees c, it was a real way to wake up and also to wonder how birds manage to seemingly continue as normal in such weather.

Even with the weather and thinking that with such freezing temperatures visiting a marsh (and all that frozen water) was not such a good idea it was in fact wonderful if not slightly bone chilling (as I said before, nesh - gloves don't work as its so long since we had proper cold weather).

However we saw some great birds - a first for both of us was a jack snipe and in the three hours we were there we clocked up 42 species. You can view the list of all the birds we saw at:

Following are some great shots that captured the morning:

Goldfinch on hawthorn and below on fence wire

Coots and waterfowl in a small space of water in an icy lagoon

Grey heron on ice

More chilly coots and gulls

Frosty stonechat - our companions on the walk

The stonechats were very approachable and confident around people

Male reed bunting feeding - not seen one in a while and we saw LOTS at this site

Friday, 2 January 2009

A Day's Escape from Chicken World

Winter always hails the best of good bird-watching if you interested in waterfowl, waders and cold, wet and wild places. After the excesses of the festive period it's always a great excuse to head out on a New Year birdwatch so we headed off to one 0f our favourite haunts for a good walk, some dramatic scenery and some wonderful birds.

Yours truly showing his Christmas tummy to the sea!

First stop was the Power Station area - I have to say that we always find this area a little disappointing despite everybody else on the planet seeing thousands of rarities each visit! To make things worse the little greasy spoon was closed so no full english for breakfast!

However, next site visit was just down the road to the RSPB Dungeness Reserve This is a favourite place with usually a good number of waterfowl over the winter months and this visit was no disappointment. And it had a very good start as we saw a female marsh harrier just as we passed thorough the entrance!

Shovelers feeding

Stunning male smew

Male red-crested pochard

All in all we had a really good day - not only did we walk a fair way in some jolly cold weather that burnt off calories but saw some amazing birds (smew were the best) and realised that chickens are not the only birds on the planet.

Checklist for birds seen

And if you do one new for 2009, leave a comment especially fellow city chicken keepers but all welcome - thank you

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Thursday, 1 January 2009

Welcome to a New Year

So it's the New Year and time for a quick reflection on the past year and although I never make resolutions perhaps this is an opportunity to highlight some changes that could or should be adopted for the good of the planet, my wallet and the unfortunately expanding waistline.

Chickens - completely obvious that these are now classified as pets. We do enjoy the eggs but on a cost basis we would probably be more cost effective buying them from a shop (I mean who ever thought that you would have to factor in a box of mealworms for treats each week and the mealworms cost more than 4 bantam eggs from Waitrose). Still, we shall thoroughly enjoy each egg irrespective of cost knowing that it came from a very happy hen.

On a vaguely negative point we will have wire off some of the borders as the destructive powers of chickens cannot be underestimated however one hopes that the payback will be some positive fertilisation of the soil (that soil that actually remains on the border that is).

And it would be fantastic to get a clutch of fertile eggs for one of the girls to hatch.

Allotment - despite the bloody awful wet weather the allotment was relatively successful. Again we had a lousy crop of tomatoes due to blight bought on by the wet weather, onions just didn't grow, same for garlic and runner beans again failed to produce much. Winners were shallots, potatoes (Swift were brilliant, Kestrel poor), globe and jerusalem artichokes, chillies, peppers and french beans were a complete success. Carrots have always done badly due to the heavy clay and stones however we grew them in pots this year and they were wonderful, a definite for this season.

2009 and instead of buying more seeds I am going to use up all the seeds we have AND we will try to eat everything we grow.

Friends - we are so lucky in having so many good and dear friends and I have to say that we are bloody useless at keeping in touch and visiting. This year, based on being able to find enthusiastic chicken sitters, we really do want to get and see lovely people we haven't seen in an age so Lollie, Jane and Budge and family on the Isle of Wight, you have been warned!

Stork chicks in Dalyan, Turkey

And finally - get married, go to Turkey, go to France, lose 2 stone, do SOME exercise, don't buy anything unless I really need it, remember that thanks to the Government I have probably loaned more to the banks than they have to me, a day without wine is like a day without sunshine, love Cornwall and finally "Welcome to Planet Earth" Louis Jack and Ferdinand Jack, two bundles of joy that arrived in 2008