News from the coop

Bertha, who joined us in October last, was not long for this world.

Two weeks ago, she was clearly unwell – bleeding from her rear end. On closer inspection it seemed she had a prolapsed vent and that Persephone had pecked at it and caused an injury. I read up on what you have to do, and that was bathe her to get the blood off and see what was going on, gently push the vent back in and isolate her from the attentions of other chickens. Chickens are cannibals. Who knew?

To keep her safe, I cleaned her up and then brought her into the house in a cat carrier we have repurposed for fowl use. She was definitely in a bad way on Saturday night – I put her in the box, closed the door, slightly trapping her tail feathers. She didn’t move for 12 hours.

However, the following morning, she was clearly a bit perkier. Opening the conservatory door she cheeped at us, and when we started to feed her again – she’d been starved so she wouldn’t lay another egg and injure her vent again – she went for the food. Thinking she was well on the mend, I put her back in the run. But not a happy outcome – a few mornings later and she was no longer with us.

So, a few weeks later and I’ve restocked the coop. This time it’s new season birds, very small, and still a month or maybe two from laying.

New hens

They are a Copperhead Maran and a Barred Rock. The Barred Rock reminds P of a falcon and so is probably going to be called Peregrine. Is there a feminine version? Peregrina? No name yet for the copperhead who, we are promised, will iridesce in the sun.

We dropped them into the chicken palace along with some seeds and mealworms and there was vanishingly little squabbling. A little bit of arguing nothing too serious, so I left them to it.

Long after dark I went back down the garden to see how it was going. Persephone has now been used to us for so long that when we go down the garden in the middle of the night, she wakes up and comes to see us. For too long over the winter I’ve not been home in daylight and all of the henwrangling has been done after dark. The new birds know nothing of this and were sleeping peacefully in the hen house.

Welcoming Bertha to the hen house

We had a death a month or two again – Houdini the chicken looked a little peaky in the afternoon, but she’d looked peaky before and rallied so we left her to it and went out to see Jason Donovan in Priscilla The Musical On Tour. By the time we came home, Houdini was dead, and in full rigor, under the feed bowls.

Going from two chickens to one answered a few questions in a slightly surprising way. We had assumed it had been Persephone laying the shell-less eggs, and that it had been Houdini who like to shout from the rooftops at 5am dawn. It had been the other way around.

We have postponed finding another celly for Persephone for the months since just because when you read about how hard it can be to introduce new birds to a flock, it seems awfully offputting. We had half-baked plans in our head of fencing off half the run, buying additional food bowls, keeping two chickens apart, maybe even using the cat transporting box as a temporary roost… but talking it through with our chicken supplier out by IKEA this afternoon made it all seem a little simpler. “Just chuck her in and see how she gets on,” was the advice. “There will be ten minutes of squawking and feathers and then it will be fine.”

The chicken lady was concerned our existing bird would try and injure our new one, but our concern, on seeing the birds for sale, was that they were enormous and it would be Persephone who would suffer.

It’s her size that gave Bertha her name: as the chicken lady hoiked her out of the pen and trimmed her wing, she said, “Come here, Big Bertha!” And that’s the name we’re going with.

Bertha arrives

We drove her home, chucked her in the pen, watched for half an hour and there wasn’t too much aggro. Persephone ducked and froze for a while and allowed herself to be pecked before flying up to a perch and sitting out of the way and bokking.

Bertha arrives

Then she jumped down and gave chase for a few minutes before it was Bertha’s time for the solitude of the perch. It’s quite hard to take pictures of a white chicken against the dark of the bark, she just ends up overexposed and ghostly. Chickens generally don’t stay still long enough for good photos anyway.

Bertha arrives

After a few minutes a sort of peace descended, broken by Bertha’s reaction to the cats in the garden. Persephone is used to them by now, but Bertha got into a complete flap and the cat ran past the hen house as fast as it could. (Not our cat – a neighbour’s cat comes up through a gap in the fence and spends most of its afternoons sunbathing in a corner.)

We heard chicken calls for a while after we got back into the house but now it’s after dark. Have the hens managed to roost together without another battle? Better go and check.

The chickens have names!

For a long old while the chickens were called quite simply black chicken and brown chicken.

This has been disturbing a surprising number of our friends and colleagues who think that the chickens should have names. Some friends suggested Coffee and Marmalade, which I thought were great names, but didn’t really stick.

Now Black Chicken has definitely become named Houdini, because she keeps escaping and we don’t know how. (This is a bit of a problem, because once she breaches the fence she can’t get back in again. Which means she doesn’t always have access to water and sometimes if we are late to shut them up for the night, she tries to roost outside the hen house, a very bad idea in our fox-strewn neighbourhood.)

Which left Brown Chicken. A coffee break discussion at school led to her being called Persephone, a name which works for convenience, but I doubt has ever been uttered in her earshot.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the chickens have different names at P’s workplace to at mine.

Looking after them is easy most of the time. Mucking out is a 5-10 minute job twice a week; a more comprehensive clean of the house is needed every month or so, and even that is at most a half hour job.

On a daily basis we top up the feed and water and feed them treats: leafy greens, weeds, corn or bird seed. We let them out into a fenced run if we are around in daylight, which is most days.

P started off hardline: we are only getting chickens if you do all the work. Now, since he is most often home in the daylight, thanks to a crazy early start at work, it is him who does most of the feeding and watering and handling, leaving me the mucking out.

It will get trickier as the weather gets colder. I am a little anxious about what to do when the water starts freezing, especially when I am often out of the house the 12 hours of daylight, putting in regular 10 hour days at school and still not getting enough done.

If it gets properly cold they will have to be shut into the hen house at night and let out in the morning, adding another few minutes to the morning routine when time is always tight. And of course, on the days when time is tight anyway because the car needs defrosting.

We do have more eggs than we can cope with but so far not more eggs than we can easily give away when things get out of hand. We are somehow managing to think both “there are more eggs than we can eat” and “it would be nice to have more chickens.”

Expanding the menagerie

Several of our friends have been part of the back-garden chicken revolution for ages, and so when some of them decided to upgrade their chicken house from v expensive to eye-wateringly expensive I jumped at the chance to buy their old housing at a knock down price.

It’s taken a few weeks to get the garden ready, and it also didn’t seem fair to stock up on livestock shortly before going on holiday.

But last weekend, with the garden and hen house sorted out we popped along to Hens For Pets out near Ikea to get our chooks. They’re “point of lay”, apparently, but it might take up to five weeks before we get any eggs.

New chickens seem to be settling in quite well

The girls seem reasonably well settled into our garden now, scratching around the bark and hopefully avoiding the poisonous ivy and elderberries growing perilously close to the housing.

The first days, the birds seemed pretty nervous, and we could hear them clucking when cats got too close. Our own cats don’t really seem to have the bottom of their garden in their territory, but it seems to be a free-for-all for a coterie of black and white neighbour cats. Now it seems that both the chickens and the cats have figured out their can’t get through the wire of the run and although both are fascinated by each other, the chickens have stopped the cluck frenzy and the cats have stopped trying to rush the run.

Cats and chickens

The morning/afternoon routines seem reasonably easy to handle, but I haven’t done a weekly mucking out yet. We’ve only been able to fit the coop a fair way from the house, so the biggest thing I’m worrying about right now is forgetting they are there.

Insanely cute lambs

Have you seen this yet? I keep popping back to play it again. A man bleats and a little chorus of lambs bleat in response. I think I’ve seen primary school classes less well behaved and co-ordinated than these cute lambs.

Trying to work out if I can strip the audio off and use the bleating sound as my text message tone on my phone!

Cat gif

I am sitting here, immobilised by the kitten, barely able to reach the keyboard and trying not to laugh too loudly at the following:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Most of the time he gets fed up of sitting on laps and goes and sits somewhere else. When he does, I can get on with what I’m supposed to do. But I’m a little feart that for once he is out for the count. He certainly looks fast asleep.