And then there was one…

I made a tough decision this week – I decided that I could no longer keep Ginny. She has crowed each morning for the past week, and she’s getting louder. I have to stress that this isn’t just hen cackling – it is a full on cockadoodle do!  Thankfully it doesn’t go on all day but given its increasing frequency I feel I’m on a downward trajectory of noise.

My husband was away this week and whilst he’d volunteered to ‘deal’ with her if needed, I didn’t want to put that onerous task on his shoulders.  Whilst at work, I found another and hopefully happier solution.  A lady I work with has recently brought a farm in the New Forest and keeps some livestock.  We were chatting about the phenomenon of chickens changing gender and I wondered if she’d be able to take Ginny for us.  My hope would be that Ginny could make a home there but worse case, s-he’d be dealt with efficiently and quickly by one of the farm staff (staff that have experience of managing livestock.)  This lovely lady, to whom I am much indebted, agreed to chat to her Dad (chief poultry chap at the farm).

So, Saturday dawned and my daughter and I retrieved the cat box from the loft and encouraged Ginny to eat some mealworms inside.  She settled quickly and off we drove to the Forest.  The farm has a few hens like Ginny, a White Sussex cockerel and his chickens and some young bantams.  My friend’s Dad agreed to give her a try and introduced her to one of the runs.  There will inevitably be some fighting, especially given Ginny’s rising aggression but she’s always been number 2 to Luna so I’m hoping she’ll find her niche and settle in.  I have no idea if it’ll work out but at least she’s had a second chance.

Now, I just need to work out what to do with Luna – I certainly don’t want to leave her on her own for long, it’s not natural for them and inquisitive and cheeky as she is she’s so much funnier with a pal to follow her around.

 

 

I’ve got a problem…

Ginny has started crowing. The first attempts were rather pathetic. She’d start off OK but tail off, rather like a record being wound down (note to self – I must find a modern analogy for that sound!). She wouldn’t crow every day but I did make an effort to get down a bit earlier in case it was a ‘get me out of here’ sound. Trouble is, she’d continue when roaming about the run. Thankfully she didn’t do it everyday and when indoors you could barely hear it.

Unfortunately it turns out that was just the start and that she has actually started to change gender. As ever, I’ve been researching online and it seems that it is entirely possible.

From what I’ve learnt online there are suggestions that chickens in a large flock can turn ‘male’ so that there is a cockerel as part of the flock.  Well, I only have two chickens so it can’t be that.  Old feed has also been suggested, this introducing a fungal spore to the chickens which triggers the reaction.  No go here – unless the feed is stored for a long time at my supplier, I only buy one bag at a time and it goes fairly quickly.  So we’re left with the final suggestion – damaged ovaries.  Now this does ring true.  Ginny had been laying soft-shelled eggs for much of last year and after a quick and magnificent moult this winter her feathers grew back good and strong and she hasn’t laid any more eggs.  Don’t quote me on this, but from my research chickens are born with two sex organs.  One will wither and the other becomes dominant and creates the eggs.  If this one gets damaged/diseased, then the withered organ will refresh and start producing testosterone.  This will obviously have the effect of bringing on male characteristics – hence the filling out, the fine feathers, the crowing and as I saw this week which nailed if for me, larger wattles and combs.

So, it looks as though I now have a he/she (a chicken who has so much testosterone that she looks like a cockerel, lays no eggs but can’t fertilise any eggs and most annoyingly crows).  It seems so wrong, but I live in a suburban area and my neighbours will not tolerate a crowing hen for long.  He/she’s looking beautiful and healthy but I just don’t see how I can keep a noisy hen.

Here we go again…

Cho

Following on from my last post Cho had perked up quite a lot.  She came down with the other girls in the mornings, ate and wandered about doing what chickens do (scratching up the ground and eating).  She really looked a lot better.

A day or so later the weather started to get hot again and she went into a serious moult.  Now, I’d read that healthy chickens moult quicker than sickly chickens but I now doubt that wisdom as she was shedding feathers by the handful.  I could stroke her and feathers would come out in my hands.  She started to slow down again so I tried to give her some treats and vitamins for an extra boost but she lost interest and retired back to the nest box.  Her waste was normal by now but she’d not laid for weeks.  Each morning and night I dreaded going to the coop just in case she’d had enough.  Unfortunately, by Tuesday morning I found her lying on her side in the nest box – she’d gone.  So very sad – she was a lovely, beautiful chicken who seemed so much more regal than the other two.  I’m not saying I had a favourite but…

That morning the other two girls seemed a little freaked out and took some time to come down and settle into their routine. I know Cho had never really made it into the inner gang. Luna and Ginny were rarely to be found without each other but Cho would quite happily wander off to a different part of the garden and explore.  She also had different tricks to get the treats from me but then she had to be more skilled as the other two are fast and aggressive when it came to getting to food first.

I never know what to do with ill chickens as you’ll know from reading my other posts.  The eternal question – should you call a vet or will whatever you do, frankly be too late and it’s just down to the will power of the chicken to fight off whatever illness it has?  I honestly don’t know.

I do know that I’m not keen on getting another chicken right now.  I love the idea of having three chickens but I hate the challenge of introducing a new chicken. As I’ve now seen twice, the third one will always be an outsider.  I can’t have four chickens without building another run and I’ve only just extended!  I wondered about getting Bantams but cute as they are, I do like the large eggs of my girls.

So for now, I’m working on holding on to the two I have.  They’re now enjoying the extra space and look happier and healthier.  I’ll see what I’ll do come next Spring but for now I’ve just got to avoid chicken breeders and their websites – maybe it’s a good thing I can’t find Race Farm online any more!

Unhappy chicken and far too many forums

Cho isn’t well.  She’s gone very lethargic and barely moves.  I hate it when chickens get ill as you feel so useless.  I know that often there is little you can do for them and they’ll go quickly but as to what is wrong with them – it’s an impossible quiz.

For those of you who don’t live in the UK we’ve had some ridiculously hot weather here and my chickens aren’t used to it.  Cho is the biggest bird with the thickest, black feathers.  She’s a beauty and has laid consistently all through winter.

I did examine her but couldn’t see any obvious signs of illness so I moved her to the water and food and gave her some treats.  The yoghurt seemed to help and she did take some of that.  She then sat by the water and drank some.  I spent some time online looking at chicken websites.  It’s such a minefield – for a start all of the forums/comments seem to be from around 2011.  I’ve no idea why that is, as chicken keeping is becoming so popular I’d expect much more current comments.  Then of course the answers are all so subjective –  you end up with lots of ideas, lots of contradictions and ultimately no real answers.  It was very frustrating.

The next day Cho was hanging on still but she didn’t want to leave the nest box and her waste had turned very green and runny – one thing I had learnt from the sites was that green waste is not good news.  Green waste is bile and so a sign of internal issues.  Looking online again I still couldn’t find any illnesses which matched the other symptoms (or lack of).   A little more yoghurt feeding and carrying her up and down from the coop made me feel better – no idea if it was the right thing to do.  I also cleaned out the coop so it was more fragrant for her – one of our other girls lays fairly fragile eggs early on in the day.  Cho always lays later in the day so if we don’t collect the eggs early, she’ll end up sitting on the other eggs and often fractures then.  Hence when I picked her up her lower half was covered in egg.  This wasn’t something I could do much about – I really felt that cleaning her when she was under the weather would be too much for her to cope with.

I also knew I should try to isolate her from the other chickens but I just don’t have the facilities.  I could create her another run but not another ‘secure’ area.  Maybe I”ll invest in a crate for any such future emergencies?  I always hope it’ll never be needed again.

Thankfully on the third day she came down of her own accord and started to move about with the other two.  Fingers crossed, she looks like she’s getting better.

A Day Out at the Edible Garden Show

Back in March I dragged half my family to a small exhibition at Stoneleigh. As my parents live near the venue, me and my daughter managed to see them and take them to the show too.

I wasn’t too sure of what to find at the show but they had food, gardening, and animal husbandry so what’s not to like!  Even better that Martin Lewis’ MoneySavingExpert website allowed us to get free tickets!

The reality was that the show was interesting but was quite small and seemed a little confused.  The first exhibit we saw on entering was a sock stall…now I do like good socks (especially goat socks) but it wasn’t what I expected.  The second stand was packed with handmade cosmetics..again interesting but not what I’d travelled all that way to see.  Where were the Edible Gardens?

We wandered around the exhibits and found the small theatre packed with visitors listening intently to Bob Flowerdew, we meandered around the water butt stall, lingered at the garden implement stand and tasted samples at the Rape seed oil exhibit.  By this time we were hungry but we couldn’t find anything good to eat, so we filled up on cappuccino (I know – not a good thing but by this time we realised it wasn’t a full day out experience so we could late lunch at home).

A brief scan of the catalogue and joy of joys – I found the chickens and there was a talk about keeping chickens coming up shortly.  My parents declined the invitation to learn more about chickens (I know – I don’t understand why either!) but me and my daughter headed over to the animal husbandry marquee.  Finally, I found my heaven…rows of chickens, stalls of pigs and a selection of goats, sheep and other cute creatures.  The talk was fantastic – given by Victoria Roberts, a vet specialising in poultry.  She brought in a selection of chickens and some splendid cockerels and showed the gathered crowds how to hold them (yup, I’d been doing it all wrong!)  We could all ask questions and get to find out how to judge the fatness of your chicken and where their preen gland is.  Brilliant stuff.

Not so useful was the walk around the rest of the marquee afterwards – I wanted to own every other creature there.  I think next on the list is pigs or bees but for that we need to move house so I really need to start studying and put those on the long-term plan.  Oh and stay away from such shows in the future, just in case I get all impulsive!  For now, here’s some memories from our day.

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Buying eggs and MUD (not buying mud – having mud)

I’ve had to buy some eggs!

Shocking I know but the girls are on a go slow.  Only Cho has been laying consistently and providing us an egg a day – the other two are pretty hit and miss. Can’t say I blame them, the weather has been horrid over the past week (few weeks/month!).  We’ve had regular days of constant rain and as you may know the UK is saturated and we  can’t take much more rain.

The chicken run is frankly a mud bath with miniature therapeutic puddles of muddy water.  To go to the chicken coop is now a two shoe experience.  One set to get me from my slippers to the shed and then wellies to go from the shed and into the run.  Once in there it’s a hazardous experience as you slip and slide around.  Who’d have thought 3 chickens could do so much damage?  You did!  Oh, OK it’s only me with rose tinted spectacules.  My husband did say to me the other day that I have such a romantic view of the world that I always believe that they’ll look like the pictures and behave like the video clips.  Reality is not like that.  I still adore my girls but the grass that is always shown in advertising of chicken coops and runs is not anything I’ve seen at the middle of winter in England in 2012.  OK, we’ve had lots of rain this autumn/winter and I know that hasn’t helped but I cannot see how every winter won’t be so different with 3 chickens on 12sqm of land for a period of time.  It’s got so crazy that I’m even re-thinking the amount of space they have and am going to restrict it in the winter.

My husband hadn’t ventured to the back of the lawn for a month or so – not that we have a huge lawn, it’s just that he’s been working hard and out of the country.  He came down there with me a week or so back and was a little aghast at the state of the lawn – I guess I was getting used to it or with my love of chicken’s was accepting it for the duration.

On a more positive note, I was pleased when I uncovered a mud patch last week.  I think I’ve told you that I’m leaving the run in one area over the winter – the sacrificial grass area to save the rest of the lawn from the onslaught of pooh and claws.  However I have adjusted the run slightly every couple of weeks to try to let the grass recover and give the chicken’s the excitement of a newish area. Chicken’s do have feelings – right? 😉

During my last adjustment I uncovered a patch of ground around 1m x 2m which looked like bare mud.  However, I raked it carefully, adding the precious scrapings to my compost heap, then I discovered that there was still evidence of grass underneath.  Despite the ridiculous amount of rain we’ve had I sprayed the area vigourously with water to try to disperse any more manure and give the grasslets the excitement of seeing the light.  Now, two weeks later I’m not arguing that I have a green area but let’s say that I can see it has potential and I’m hoping not to have to completely re-seed the area.  That’s positive news in my book!

So, I’m raising my glass to a few weeks of limited rain and getting on with my research into building small chicken runs…there is only so much mud a family can take.

Moulting Chicken

Where does time go?  It’s nearly Christmas and you’ve been severely neglected!  My resolve to keep writing regularly failed as I got caught up in other more trivial things.  May 2013 be more prolific!

The last few weeks have shown me once again, how different the girls are.  We’ve now reached the shortest day and only Ginny has decided to moult.  She’s been leaving red feather’s about the run and coop for a while and luckily for her she managed to regrow the new ones simultaneously so we didn’t end up with a bald, cold chicken!  Interestingly the new feather’s are much paler than her  old ones and it may be me but I’m sure they’re softer.

I thought she’d finished moulting and was going to stay highlighted but I’ve noticed more feathers in the coop again so maybe she’s just slowed down progress with the change in light.  Another chicken mystery!  My usual research tells me that different breeds and individual chickens moult at different times, at different rates and for different periods.  So I guess we’ll just have to take note but not worry.  She’s definitely slowed her laying but again that could be the weather.

I’ve also read that after moulting chickens tend to slow their egg laying but lay bigger, better eggs.  Time will tell on that one – I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, Luna has a slightly bare neck and Cho is staying fully feathered and ignoring the season change.  Maybe they’ll moult properly next year or maybe they just like the feathers they have.