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!

New Chicken Run

The time had come to fix our temporary run solution and, thankfully, my extremely clever husband had the skills and the ingenuity to do this.

I’m not sure we’ll ever build the perfect coop and run – there are always changes and tweaks that I could make.  However, after much discussion and pacing out we decided that a triangular-shaped run pushed up against our triangular coop would give us enough space for three chickens to roam more freely and enough height for me to get in and rake it out.

The materials took some research – the wood had to be preserved, the wire mesh had to be the right thickness and strength and any fixings made of durable metal.  I found a supplier of wire mesh and measured the size of the existing mesh on the coop.  Matching that size and gauge I found that we needed around 13 m of 0.9 m wide mesh.  In typically annoying fashion we could buy 3 rolls of 6 m mesh for only a few £s less than 30 m of mesh.  Hence I now have a goodly supply of wire mesh left over – a supply of mesh I have no home for!

The next issue was how we attach the mesh.  I’ve seen people use nails and washers successfully. However, that was a time-consuming  and quite expensive solution.  Alternatively we could use U-shaped nails but having tried to put those in our wooden fence panels previously I knew they were tough to handle and I usually ended up with bruised fingers.  Even though it would be my husband putting them in (and he has far more DIY skill than me) I didn’t want to make this run a difficult build. We already had a staple gun but the staples were small and would rot easily.  So we decided to find some galvanised, longer staples and use those to attach the mesh.

So we had materials and we had the will – now we just had to find the time.  I say ‘we’ but really I meant ‘he’.  My husband was the builder here and whilst  I could stand around and make ‘helpful’ comments we both knew that it was his build.  So it was a lovely surprise to come home one day to find a half constructed run in the back garden.  It was clamped together and looked great. It was going to be a challenge to put the mesh onto the frame.  Not only is the roll of mesh like a giant spring that starts to unroll the minute you look at it but it also stays curly when unrolled and the cut edges are very sharp.  However, my husband is not one to refuse a challenge so the next day I returned home to find the run fully covered and a husband with many small cuts on his hands and arms!

We pushed the run up against the coop and realised we needed to add a few more sections of mesh to tighten up the gaps a little but other than that it was fantastic.  The chickens now had twice the amount of run area with a good height so we could put a perch in there and allow them all to stretch their wings.  Plus I could get in to it and clear out the coop and run without too much discomfort.  A fantastic solution which makes my chickens and me much happier – what more could a husband want?

Happy Chickens on their perch.

Happy Chickens on their perch.

The new run.

The new run.

Foxes come to visit

Given the early mornings that Cho had been giving me I ended up leaving the ladder down some weekends.  It didn’t give me a huge lie-in but I could maybe relax until 6:30 instead of 6:00!  Unless you have an early morning call you won’t quite realise what a difference that makes.

However, that all came to an end one morning when I went out to release the chickens only to find a large hole dug at the edge the run.  There was only one thing that could do that – Mr Fox.  Thankfully the coop itself is placed on top of paving slabs so bar the fox physically tearing back the wire mesh it’s pretty impenetrable.   So all Mr Fox could do was enter the run, sniff about and then exit again.

IMG_3670 IMG_3671

It was a little scary so we do plan to put slabs all around the run as well but for now have dug the hole back over – adding a large rock to the point of entry and placed a few heavy logs around the perimeter.  I am fairly philosophical about foxes and chickens – whilst I don’t want to see my chickens destroyed I nevertheless realise that it’s part of life.  Foxes are very sly and very clever and I’m not going to build Fort Knox or make my garden some electric fence wonderland.  I will let my girls roam the garden when I’m about and then pop inside to get things without herding them back into the run.  I may rue the day I said that but for now I’m happy with my mix of protection and freedom and hope that it can remain the same for a long time.

Noisy Chicken – bye bye lie ins!

After my decision to contain the chickens more we really had to come up with a new solution.  The cheap extensions that I’d brought last year as an extra area were very helpful but it wasn’t a great solution.  Essentially we had these extensions pushed up to one end of the ark.  As there were gaps around the edges (a rectangle meeting a kind of trapezium) it wasn’t a fox safe solution.  The morning procedure was to pull the extension away, remove the panel from the end of the ark, then push the extension back up against the ark.  In the evenings we did the same in reverse.  It all worked OK until Cho decided that she didn’t like waiting for me to let her down at 6:30am.  I’d always thought Ginny was the noisy one but no, this year Cho was the ringmaster.  If I was a little late for her she’d squawk away – I’d be just coming to in bed and then hear this noise and have to fly down the stairs in my PJs, find the back door keys and get out there.  She’d usually shut when she saw me but occasionally would continue so even if her squawking didn’t wake the neighbours my ‘ssshing’ probably did!  It really wasn’t the right way to start the day – a minor heart attack followed by a day of guilt!

As is my want, I spent a good while scanning the web for solutions.  Various blogs suggested darkening the coop to delay her waking.  I wasn’t sure how I could do that with our ark as it was pretty dark anyway and I wanted them to be well ventilated.  I looked at electric door openers and found out it was possible to get one working with an ark, as long as you had a pulley system in operation – something worth looking at for the future.  I have to say my neighbours never complained (to my face!)  – we did ask one set and they said they hadn’t heard anything.  So maybe I was worrying about nothing but I really couldn’t risk all my chickens over one noisy girl.

My interim solution was to leave the ladder down over night.  The coop was on hard standing so a fox couldn’t dig in – it wasn’t ideal but it did at least allow the girls down to food and water early morning.  I thought this had worked but the noisy lady decided that it still wasn’t enough – she didn’t just want down, she wanted out.

So, I reset my alarm for 6:00am and ruled out any early morning slow wake ups.  I had to be down in the garden by 06:10am…not really what I envisaged when I got chickens!

The challenge was that as the ladder was down, the chickens were also down.  So I had to do an early morning chicken dance – carefully moving out the extension, positioning it ready for the push back. Pulling out the end of the coop and sliding back the extension before any chickens escaped.  Even if I say so myself I got pretty good at it – the challenge came when we went away for the weekend and had to train others to do it!

Who said having chickens was simple – sure wouldn’t be me!

Neglected readers and cold chickens again

I really haven’t been very good at keeping you updated have I? I got out of the habit of resting my laptop on my lap each evening and jotting down my thoughts – mind you with the winter there isn’t so much of interest happening.  We’ve spent a lot of the time sitting looking disgustedly at the weather, wishing we could get outside. As Spring arrives we’re now getting glimpses of warm weather and clear skies and then it’s taken away from us and we’re plunged back to sub-zero temperatures.  Not very British!

Our novice chicken sitters have now completed their week long course and passed with flying colours.  Chickens, cats and daughter’s all thrived and survived the break in routine.  Even more happily, my parents survived the routines of our house – getting up to get lunch boxes made and daughter’s off to school, living it up all day and then driving around the countryside in the dark as they kindly fulfilled our other weekly commitments.  Long will the drive home from Stokewood stay as a family story!  If my parent’s are ever kind enough to do it again, I’m pre-programming a GPS to help maintain sanity. My husband and I had full weeks of work in Amsterdam and so it was wonderful to know that all was running smoothly back home – we are, as always, grateful for my parent’s support.  If only they lived closer so we could spend more time together (and really get them into chicken-keeping!!!).

So what has happened since that trip?  Well, the year is flying on by and I’ve decided enough is enough. The back of our garden is a wreck and I can’t take it anymore. Yes, it’s been a very wet winter but as I’m sure fellow chicken keepers can understand, chickens are very destructive and everyone needs to find their balance between chicken and owner happiness.  On this occasion my love of the garden is winning over my love for the chickens to have lots of space to run around in daily.

I decided that the Omlet netting was getting far too tatty (foxes can slice through it with their teeth) and that I was fed up with coming home to a smirking Luna merrily scratching through my borders.  Yes, she became very skilled at climbing up the ark and flying out to treats beyond the netting.  Ginny and Cho just weren’t as committed to the escape committee and would occasionally join Luna on top of the ark, pre-flight but then just popped on back down within the netting, looking forlornly on as Luna found scrummy treats buried beneath my bulbs.

So, the netting has been rolled up, the extra posts pulled up and the ark moved behind the shed.  Oh, if only it was that simple.  Why, oh why does one simple job turn into half a dozen more complex ones?

Plan – move the ark behind the shed.

Problem – the shed needs re-painting.

Solution – re-paint the shed.

Problem – the shed needs a preserver and has a paint on it.

Solution – sand the shed.

Problem – it’s freezing out there.

Solution – more clothes and woman with power tools!  (Yeee haa)

And so it goes on.  Several hours later, one cold (but very helpful daughter), one very cold, tired and aching me (those power tools are heavy when reaching up and down) but one newly preserved and green shed.

The next day I moved the ark over to the hardstanding behind the shed, added on two contained extensions to give them some more space and sprinkled wood shavings over the floor for both interest and waste gathering.

I’m keeping a close eye on the girls to make sure they’re happy – they’ve still got space to scratch and dig.  They still get out for a roam at least once a week but I can happily walk to the coop – without facing the mud challenge, I can gather eggs – without facing the mud challenge, I can feed the chickens – without facing the mud challenge and I can ask people to look after the chickens with a clear conscience.

The next plan is to build a larger extension for the girls but that’s been moved down the list of priorities as the insulation of our loft took over.  But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of the lovely gift my daugther made me for Mother’s Day – I’m a lucky lady!

Mother's Day

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.

Making good decisions…

If someone has a crystal ball, could I borrow it?  I’d like to take on a new hobby (obsession!) without wasting time and money making mistakes.  The learning process is essential and a fantastic journey but I really thought I’d done my research and yet here I am 9 months later wondering if I’ve made the right decisions.

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QUERY ONE: Should we have brought the ark style coop?

I love the way this coop looks.

I love the fact that it can be disassembled and cleaned really easily.

I love the fact that the chickens are pretty secure once they’re inside.

I’m getting bored of moving the coop around the garden.

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QUERY TWO: Do chickens and gardens mix?

OK, stop laughing now.  You know the answer to that. NO.

I love having the chickens run free – it’s an ethical thing for me.

I love gardening with chickens – it adds a real fun touch to the gardening.

I’m getting fed up raking the soil back onto the borders and I would like the odd lawn edge to stay put (and not be odd!)

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QUERY THREE: Should we have brought Cho?

I love Cho – she’s gorgeous.

I love having three chickens – it’s a good number for the coop.

I’m concerned Cho is a little big now.  She adds hugely to the mess and maybe too large for the coop. Would she be more comfortable in a more spacious coop?  Maybe she just likes going around and around the ‘ladder’ before she goes up and it’s not her being reluctant to climb upstairs.

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QUERY FOUR: Should we have brought a plastic coop?

NO.  They may be practical but they’re expensive  and ugly.  Enough said.  I’m sure anyone with plastic coops are really happy and love the simplicity of cleaning them out but they’re not for me.

So why do I have a permanent Ebay search for Eglus in our area?  Ah, the complexities of me!