Chicken Training – Day 2

No, I didn’t sleep well.  I did sleep but it was as if my brain was working through the various permutations all night.  I ended up going down at 6 to see how they were doing and realised that in the confusion I’d forgotten to pull up the ladder.  The meant that Luna was down under the coop and strutting about looking for food.  The two new girls were nowhere to be seen.

I hastily let Luna roam and got her food out of the shed.  I then went around to the Nesting box end and found Fleur and Molly huddled together.  I don’t think they’d moved.  I put the barrier in place –  this is part of a rabbit run with a bit of plastic mesh behind it to fill the triangular lower corners.  I fixed it to the run so it couldn’t be pushed forward and then found the very handy insides of a peck block which I could hook around the base of the plastic mesh and then through the wire of the run.  In this way, Luna wouldn’t be able to force her way through and hopefully they’d all be secure.

So, with that in place, I gathered Fleur and Molly up one at a time and transported them to the run side.  They were pretty compliant and seemed happy to run away from me and experience the logs we have in the run.  I guess they hadn’t experiened logs before as they struggled a little with the different levels and slipped a bit as they moved around.  The new girls were installed in the run and Luna was under the coop – not idea as it has slabs underneath a good layer of bark but she had a fair amount of space, could stand up and had food and water.  As it happened she was so put out, she wasn’t interested in egg laying but at least she had the choice.  To be fair she would normally lay her eggs before 6 and so having two small chickens in the nest box probably didn’t encourage her but I could at least give her the chance later on.

My husband was working from home on Tuesday so I asked him to look out for the girls and make sure they stayed separated.  I’m not sure if I’ve told you before but my husband is very, very good at treating the girls.  He may not look after them on a regular basis but all our chickens have adored him as he wanders up there with treats aplenty!  I also asked my daughter to sit in the run when she got back from school and try to get the new girls to eat some food from her and get used to humans close to them.

What a good family I have – they duly reported that the barrier stayed intact and they all enjoyed treats and weren’t too spooked by small humans in their run.

When I got home from work, I got changed, let Luna outside into the unprotected run and went and sat with the new girls for a while.  I kept very still and took some corn with me – they moved around and seemed unbothered by my presence, without coming too close.  I did let them meet each other for a short while but Luna headed straight for Fleur and pulled out some feathers.  Fleur is a chatterbox so she had a good squawk and ran away.  I’m not sure if Luna sees something of Ginny in Molly (they’re the same basic colour) but she does seem to really go for Fleur over Molly.  At one point (and bear in mind this was a time period messaged in minutes not hours!) Fleur took to the air and landed on top of the coop and away over the other side to the garden.  Oh no, not a flyer!  I can only hope that fear created that flight (rather like Tonks in her first week) and it wouldn’t be repeated often.  Anyway, that was a short lived experiment and they were soon separated again as I headed inside for tea.

Girls outside

Dusk at the moment is around 8:45pm but on Tuesday my daughter and I went to the Sports Centre. When we returned just after 9 we found Luna in bed and two wee chickens sleeping on the highest part of the logs.  I scooped them up, put them back in the nest box and locked them up for the night.

I hoped that they, and I would sleep better but my brain was still wondering the logistics of keeping the new girls safe from a violent Luna.




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.

Is it cheaper to keep chickens or buy eggs?

I just received this article in my inbox from ChickenKeepingSecrets.  They send a regular newsletter which always answers two questions.  As it pops into my inbox during the working day it always brightens my day as I remember the joy of keeping chickens whilst I’m at my computer.  Having said that, it can be a bit pushy salesy which I definitely don’t like – so I just ignore that bit and read the articles.  Anyway, thought I’d share this one.  It’s interesting but does bring home the point that having chickens is not about cost-savings, it’s about the experience and fun!

Mind you – I’m also shocked that shops can keep eggs for 45 days.  I always feel that our eggs are getting old after a week!


“Is it more economical to raise chickens and eat their eggs than to purchase them at the market?” ~ Mira VosbergMira, I’m glad you wrote but I’m not sure you’ll like my answer.

If you have to feed your flock only on commercial feed, you may find that it costs more to keep your chickens than it would if you were to buy fresh eggs locally.

You will certainly pay more to house and care for your chickens than you would spend to purchase regular eggs at the grocery store that come from a battery operation.

Not even taking into consideration the conditions in which the eggs are laid in a battery operation, you may remember that eggs
are allowed to be on the shelves of the store up to 45 days after they are processed. So no matter how cheap they are, store bought, regular eggs are my LAST choice.

If you want a lot of eggs and do not have a preference in color, Leghorns are the most economical breed because they do not eat as much as larger breeds. Their eggs are white and they are the breed of choice for commercial egg production for the reasons I just mentioned.

If you have to feed commercial feed only, look into discounts available if you purchase in bulk. Keep in mind that feed does not last indefinitely and should be used within a few months.

Any amount of diet that you can provide through forage and home rations will help to make your chicken keeping more economical. Just remember that what you put into your chickens will determine the quality of what comes out of them.

Refer to Vol 2: Issue: 1 – Wednesday 21st January 2009 of this newsletter for an in depth discussion on home rationed diets. For now though, the basics are Grit, Grains, Greens, Protein and Calcium.

To really determine if it’s economical to keep chickens, as always, I’ll encourage you to do the research in your area. If
you have a neighbor who will sell you their surplus eggs, you’ll probably be able to get them cheaper than if you raise the chickens yourself.

If you must buy your eggs from the store under the label of “Free Range”, they might not be fresh and you’ll pay a lot for them.

Check into the cost of building or purchasing a coop.

Find out what feed will cost in your area.

Even if your flock can forage for most of the year, chickens need more food to maintain their health in the winter and in most places, forage is limited during the winter so you’ll probably have to supplement with commercial feed during that time.

Finally, I’d like to suggest that keeping chickens doesn’t have to be about money only, or even about the superior nutritional quality of the eggs; keeping chickens is also about “keeping chickens”. It’s an experience and a process. It’s a way to connect to our food and to give it meaning. It’s an opportunity to work with animals in a world that spends much of its time working with computers.

It gets us outside into the sunshine and fresh air.

So whether it is or isn’t more economical to keep chickens than to buy our eggs, for our family, it’s worth it.

Cooking with Eggs

I wish there was a way to gauge the impact our increased egg intake has had on our bodies and health.  I now eat far more than I ever did but don’t feel significantly different.  Does anyone else notice any changes?

As we approach our first Winter with the chickens I’m beginning to re-evaluate assumptions and processes to see what we can do differently next year.  One think I aim to do more of is bake and cook egg-based dishes and then show off the good looking ones to you.  If you don’t have ‘home-grown’ eggs you really can’t imagine the richness of the yolks and how simple things such as scrambled eggs look so intense.  My daughter is now cooking at school and she’s dying to do an egg based bake so that she can take in our eggs.  This week it’s a main meat or fish dish so she has to wait a little longer. In the meantime she’ll just have to help me bake more cakes at home – as long as she doesn’t want to eat too much of it.  We do tend to fight over cakes in our house – in a very gentle and fun way but somehow the latest bake never lasts very long.

Having chatted to my lovely sister-in-law Rachael I’m now determined to make twice the quantity each weekend and put half in the freezer to take out later.  My only concern is that we’ll actually just end up eating double each week!  Time will tell and maybe I should post my stomach measurement each month so you can keep me on the straight and narrow (or slim and upright!)

So for now, here are some pics of recent bakes.

Courgette Soufflés – one is not enough!

Sunday Morning Specials – Jamie Oliver’s US Stylie Pancakes.

It might look like chocolate but it’s a fruit cake!

Dorset Apple Cake (but I wimped out on the amount of Apple – bad decision!)

Worrying about Chicken’s Health

I guess it’s the same with any new creature (pet!) – you need to learn about it and adapt your behaviour to theirs.  Why wasn’t it the same when we had cats?  I guess because I’d had cats as a child so knew what to expect from them – not a lot, they’re in control!

In general, cats come in, eat food, sleep, go out, hunt, come in, eat food, sleep all on an endless cycle.  They’re only demanding when they want food and then they try every trick in the book to trip you up or annoy you so much that you feed them just to shut them up.  Yes, we have one cat who likes to talk – Jingles.  He is constantly ‘talking’ to us.  As endearing as it can be – it’s also very annoying and at times pitiful.  Actually, I have to be careful talking about the cats – they’re officially my daughters and so she’s very protective of them and shields any negative comments.  We love them really!

Anyway, back to cat’s health – in general they’re robust creatures.  Bar a visit to get a leg gash repaired and monthly flea treatments they’re pretty healthy and they come and go on their own terms.

Chickens, however, worry me.  Maybe it’s because they’re relatively new to the household or because I can’t ask a neighbour what to do if I have issues or maybe it’s just because they’re prey animals and so hide illnesses until it’s too late.  Whichever it is, it’s made me hypersensitive to the slightest change in behaviour.

Cho, is our biggest and youngest bird and our prettiest (oh, I feel harsh saying that – you’re not supposed to have favourites!).  After Tonk’s demise I’m especially wary of anything Cho does out of the ordinary.  Afterall Luna and Ginny have been around longer and Ginny has made it through some illnesses so they’ve shown their toughness.

Cho has had some fleeting moments of inactivity which always sets me worrying.  Maybe as a heavier bird she likes to take it easier and rest at little, rather than the relentless scratching and foraging of her comrades.  Maybe as a more select hybrid she has a more delicate constitution? She has had a couple of phases of laying soft eggs, this will usually last for 4-5 days and then she gets her rhythm back.  As a bigger bird, does she need more grit in her diet?  I try to make it available constantly, although find it hard to keep in the bowl as the chickens do like to step on their food bowls and tip everything all over the floor (good job they like to forage!)  Cho’s inactivity definitely coincides with her producing soft-shelled eggs, so her body must be telling her to sit and take it easy until it’s produced.  I imagine it’s a wierd feeling to pass something soft through your system when you’re used to moving hard objects. It’s just always un-nerving and gives me a restless night of worry.

As with Tonk’s death, I’ll never know all the answers. I can only observe, search, research and deal with what I see.  I just wish I didn’t have to have the worry to go with it.

What do you put in your water?

In my bid to keep the chickens healthy – and in particular to get Ginny laying good strong shelled eggs again I’ve been researching different additives and remedies.

On my current shopping list for the girls is:

– Verm-X: a natural remedy for internal parasites.  No idea if it helps but Ginny and Cho love these pellets.  Luna on the other hand turns her beak up and walks away.

– Poultry Spice:  I’ve only recently brought this and sprinkle it on their food.  No idea if it helps.

– Garlic Clove: I put a single clove in one of the water dispensers with the water and let it ‘stew’.  The container sure smells good now and the girls drink the water but does it do any good?

– Apple Cider Vinegar:  I’ve brought this from various outlets and add it to the other water container once a month and when the girls are stressed or under the weather.  You won’t be surprised if I say – I don’t know if it helps!
Yes, there is a running thread here.  I’m buying extras to supplement their diet but it’s impossible to tell if they help the chickens and keep them healthy.  I’d like to believe the advertising but I have a cynical streak (and a very cynical husband who keeps my consumerism under control – occasionally!)  I want the best for the girls and Ginny’s eggs have finally returned to normal – hurrah!  Did the combination of supplements do this or was it just the passing of time and her ability to fight off the bugs?

I’ll never know and I think that’s the most annoying thing about chickens – you feel like you’re in the dark much of the time.

Tales from home


Sorry about that – my internet connection can be dodgy here and apparently I posted a title.  I hope the excitment of that post wasn’t too much for you, and the content of this post lives up to the temptation!


I realised that even though I’m not at home I do have chicken tales…well, did you really think I’d ignore them for a while?  No, I get regular updates.  Having said that I did forget to tell you some big news…Cho laid her first egg before I left.


I was beginning to think that she’d not give me the ‘first egg’ treat but she laid her first egg on Saturday so I got to find it and get that lovely happy glow of satisfaction and excitment.  If you don’t have chickens then please don’t judge that last sentence harshly – it really is very exciting to get an egg every day but to get the first one is amazing!

So here it is!


So we’re back to 3 eggs a day and with me away our friends and family are very happy to help us deal with our glut.  I hope they’ll remember it when I ask them to chicken-sit at some point! 😉

Ginny’s eggs are still fragile and slightly rough though – does anyone know why?  I’ve looked it up and inspected her but she looks/feels healthy and eats the same oyster shells and good layers feed that the others do.  Any ideas would be great…

Enough for now – I’ll try and give you more tales as I get them.