Bring back ma girls!

New additions for the hen house – Tallulah and Attila the Hen – who come to me from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who rehome chickens from battery farms when they come to the end of commercial viability.

BHWT are very well organised – you sign up online, phone them to have a quick chat, and book into pick up some hens.  I needed two – the minimum you can have – to add to my existing lone hen, Perry. There’s masses of information on their website and it’s well worth having a read through all of it at an early stage.

On the day, pickup was fast and competent. They gave a guideline arrival time by surname within a whole afternoon, had people on the road to tell me where to park and checked my pet carrier was suitable on my way in. They guided me to sign in, sent me around the corner, and I was back in my car with my new birds in… literally under two minutes.

Tallulah and Attila

The girls are not in best condition. They have a lot of feathers missing and nasty floppy pale combs on top of their head. They are supposed to be red and a lot tighter. They are a heat dissipation method for the birds, and they grow large in their cages where they are kept warm.

Tallulah and Attila

The feathers are either missing or sparse in large chunks – the birds look almost skeletal!

But apparently both the combs and the feathers will start to sort themselves out reasonably quickly and the girls will be almost normal within a few months.

I had great plans for segregating the coop and finding ways of keeping the new hens separate. I have a large 2m cubed walk in run, an Eglu Classic hen house and half of an Eglu run which is covered from rain.  My plan had been to fence off a portion of the run using Omlet fence/netting, and let the new birds live in there for a while, sleeping in the cat carrier they came home in.

This plan lasted about an hour. Perry, the existing chicken, at first was just curious at the new girls, but when I went back later, she had managed to tunnel in under the fence but get stuck inside the fenced off area. The new girls were stuck in a corner at the opposite end.  So I lifted the fence to let Perry out, secured the bottom of it more with tent pegs, and went away to give them a further bit of time.

There was lots of shouting from all sides, without any actual pecking…

Tallulah and Attila

Interestingly, in their minimally feathered state, you can see their tails move in sync with their throats when they are shouting and crowing.

The next hour I went back to find Perry roosting on a perch over the fenced off area – she’d managed to fly over the fence – and one of Tallulah or Attila had flown out of the fenced area to perch on a rod.  That was a surprise – I didn’t realise they had enough feathers to be able to fly.

Perry perching

At that point I had to give up. The fence was more of a danger than a help! I removed it for bedtime and let the girls get on the best they could.

When I went down this morning, the new girls had found the chicken house and were in there. Not sure if cowering or sleeping – but I am pretty certain that Perry was keeping them in there and chasing them back in if they tried to come out and feed.

So I’ve had another go at separating them. This time the new girls get the real chicken house and I’ve fenced off the end of the tunnel. Perry gets the entire run and can sleep where she pleases – on a perch or in the cat box. She hasn’t got much rainproofing though. We’ll see how this continues and it will be interesting to see where she lays.

And on that, this morning, the first morning with the new girls, there have been three eggs, so despite the upheaval and the trauma of a new flock, everyone is laying…

More photos: album on Flickr

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Garden and chicken problems

Some issues in my garden – advice please!

For starters, something else is living in the chicken run apart from the chickens.

There’s this huge great tunnel:

Tunnel in chicken run

Easily big enough to get two fists in. Some other critter is coming in and presumably stealing the chicken food.

Whatever it is it has not harmed the chickens and doesn’t take the eggs.

Both P and I think we have seen it, but only ever fleetingly before it backs away. I’ve been out on evenings when someone else’s cat is sitting on the outside of the chicken pen staring intently down the hole. But I just missed whatever it was. My impression of what I saw the one time I caught sight of it, was that it was cute, and red faced and looked almost like a teddy bear. All I saw was its head poking out of the hole before it vanished. P’s abiding impression was more grey in colour, but again he thought cute.

Obviously the most likely culprit is a rat. But neither of us thought we saw that. And it is a huge great hole for a rat!

Our thoughts after that turned to stoaty, weaselly, minky things. But how likely are they in an urban garden? And wouldn’t they have gone for the chickens.

Could the squirrels – which are very interested in chicken feed – be able to tunnel underground like that?

Obviously I should dig the hole over and probably I should put some chicken wire down on the ground too. But thus far I have just not got around to it.

The other problem is a strange discolouration on the leaves of a big variety of different plants.

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

It’s on a shrub in a pot on the decking.

It’s on the elder.

It’s on a sweet smelling yellow leaved shrub I feared that careless gardeners had killed by hacking to the ground despite being told not to, but which has behaved as if we had pollarded it and sprung back.

I am concerned that the same thing is happening to so many plants. Is it a bug? Is it a disease? If I leave it will it go away!?