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.

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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.