Summer in the poultry patch

I finally let the chicks and ducklings out of their shed to free range today.

Because I have lost so many hens, ducks and rabbits to foxes, polecats and goodness knows what else I have been extremely careful with these new ducklings and chicks.  So they haven’t got 4 acres – they have 10 square yards with a hedge and a duckpond – and a big shed.  So it’s not exactly free range!

The first thing the ducklings did was eat some grass, then they ran round and round quacking excitedly, they are so delighted to be outside.  They haven’t found the pond yet – I moved their water bowl outside and they are dipping chunks of bread in it.

They keep out of the way of Doris (head honcho hen) but seem to get on fine with Grace (grey hen) and the chicks.  They are very inquisitive, poking their beaks into everything, trying different plants – and spitting some of them out!  They  like plantains but not burdock or feverfew.  When they find something distasteful they quickly dunk their beaks in the water bowl.  It’s lovely to see them outside.  They keep together – if one runs after something – the other quickly runs too.

Grace has wandered off for a dust bath under the hedge – she seems very relieved to be out in the fresh air with some grass to eat.

The chicks are exploring, occasionally cheeping to one another when they find something interesting – or get too far apart.  They have most of their feathers but are still fluffy whereas the ducklings have all their feathers.

Doris has followed Grace and gone off for a dust bath and left the little ones in peace.  They are finishing off the bread and scraps.  When Doris comes back to the water bowl for a drink, the babies keep well out of her way.

It’s so lovely to see them all outside.

The Ducklings are growing fast

The ducklings are growing fast

They have most of their feathers now.  Indian Runners are so funny, the way they stretch their necks up and look around.

Doris, the resident brown hen, doesn’t think much of them and pecks at them if they come too close.  Grace (other hen) is quite indifferent to anything going on around her and wanders around in a dream most of the time.  I don’t think she’s really noticed they have arrived.  The other day she pecked at something really close to the Dorking chicks – and one of them pecked back – and made Grace jump – she looked so surprised it made me laugh.

I am hoping I have a drake and a duck – I think I shall call them Oliver and Isobel – I never name anything until they have settled in – then, when I’m out with them, the names will just come to me. I always make a bit of time each day to sit and watch – the poem (by W H Davies) “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare,” often comes to mind.  No point having animals and birds if you don’t get time to enjoy them.

Early June – Indian Runner Ducklings and Dorking Chicks

Early June – Indian Runner Ducklings and Dorking Chicks

I decided this year might be my last chance to breed some Indian Runner ducks and some Dorking hens.  Earlier in the year I had put a ‘wanted’ advert on Preloved for Dorking hens to go with Dillon, my Dorking cockerel.  I had received a reply from someone in Yorkshire saying they had hatched some Dorking eggs and I replied that I would be interested when the chicks were a bit older.

By the time I got around to replying, the fox had got Dillon (I was really upset as he was a wonderful, placid, gentle, friendly cockerel.)  It was during the day and I was around outside most of the day – I just couldn’t find him at bedtime – searched everywhere and all I found was one tail feather.

Anyway we went to Yorkshire to get three Dorking chicks.  When we arrived, in the pen next to the chicks were some Indian Runner ducklings – so we came back with two ducks as well.

I am so scared of losing them that they have been in a pen in the hen house at night and painstakingly moved to a pen outside each day.

One of the chicks died – not sure what happened but one morning he just sat all hunched up and within a few hours he had gone.  The other two are thriving, not sure yet of course if they are boys are girls!

Now the ducklings are bigger I have let them have free run of the hen house but they are not going outdoors until I am sure they know where home is and I’ve checked that there are no gaps they can get through!  The first day, they stood poking their heads out of the door and looking all around.  Can’t wait until they go outside and find the pond!  They love the water bowl and try swimming in it but they are much too big to even get their heads under the water now.

 

 

 

Update on the Spice Girls – our ex-batt Hens

Update on The Spice Girls – our ex-batt hens

The bad news is that Cinnamon didn’t make it, she was struggling to stand up and eventually just gave up.  The other three worked out how to hop out of their little pen and joined in scratching for bits in the hen house – keeping a wary eye out for the resident hens and keeping out of their way as much as possible.

Ginger has become very inquisitive and now she always hops out to meet me and follows me around, keeping close to my feet to avoid Doris and Fliss and Floss – the youngest hens.  Here she is pecking at the grass – it’s the first time she’s seen snow and she’s missing half her feathers but she’s happy to be outside when I am around.

Although the young hens don’t like the Spice Girls and peck at them if they get too close, the older hens are quite kind to them.  Ebony, the oldest, really doesn’t think a lot of Dillon and has always kept out of his way as much as possible.  She has found the little pen a refuge and spends quite a lot of time in there with the Spice Girls.

Whilst the rest of the hens perch at night, the Spice Girls all go back into their little pen.  I wonder if they will ever learn to sleep in the rafters.  In the meantime, they’ve learned how to perch on the edge of their pen in order to get out, that sunflower seeds are a treat worth running over for and grass is edible.

This is Dillon with Doris – she is the biggest bossy boots in the hen house and definitely top of the pecking order.

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

What will the Spice Girls make of Dillon?

I was wondering what the Spice Girls (our newly arrived ex-battery hens) would make of Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – he’s grown into a really fine specimen.  He was a bit small when he arrived and I wasn’t sure if he would grow to full size, but, as you can see, he has.  I put an ad on www.preloved.co.uk when I lost my last cockerel and a very kind family from Kent donated him.  A friend of theirs was visiting family in Cheshire and she offered to deliver him.  We met at Audlem (which is how I came to write about Audlem for Today’s Treasures).  It was a baking hot day and she was worried he might get too hot – she was also worried that he might crow all the way there but he was really good and arrived safely.  I racked my brains of a way to say thank you – then spied the pumpkins – and thought they might be a good idea (it was September) so swapped Dillon for two pumpkins – one for Dillon’s taxi driver and one for his previous owner.

The Spice Girls have settled in – and are laying eggs!  But (as I was warned) have stayed pretty much in their little pen.  However, I went out at lunchtime to see how they were getting on and Ginger was ‘gingerly’ exploring the hen house, carefully negotiating around obstacles and looking curiously at the food trough full of corn.  Head on one side she studied everything cautiously.  Then Doris came in with Dillon to see what I was doing and if there were any titbits.  Amazingly they ignored Ginger – even Dillon – who usually jumps on everything that moves – it was like Ginger belonged to a different species – or was invisible.  Ginger ignored them too.  So I guess it will be a while before they realise they are all chickens and then there will be a bit of a scrap until they have sorted out the pecking order – and the Spice Girls will eventually find out that Dillon’s a cockerel!

Meet The Spice Girls – our Ex-battery hens

Meet the Spice Girls

We have adopted some ex-battery hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust @BHWTOfficial.

We’ve called them ‘The Spice Girls’ – there’s Cinnamon, Meg (nutmeg) Corrie (coriander) and Ginger.

As advised, I’ve kept them in a smaller pen inside the hen house.  I shut them in the little pen for the first three nights.  I’ve taken the top off today so they can see outside but (as I was told but didn’t quite believe) they have stayed in their little pen.  I wonder how long it will be before they venture out.  They probably don’t even know they can jump onto the side of the pen to get out.

My hens all perch at night – I have put perches at a sensible height (3 – 4 feet off the floor) but the younger ones fly up to the rafters as high as they can get.  They fly up in stages but come down in one big jump – of course feathers help a lot in getting them safely to the ground.  It’s a big shed so they have plenty of room to manoeuvre and navigate a flight path.  The older hens are more sensible and perch lower – and come down in stages – I put straw bales in steps so they can hop down a bit at a time.

The Spice Girls are missing a lot of feathers and their combs (the red bit on the top of their head) are pale and droopy.  To henkeepers this is a sign that a hen isn’t happy.  Hopefully they will all be feeling better soon and their combs will be bright red and perky.  Cinnamon doesn’t seem to want to stand up much so I’m keeping an eye on her.

Here are some of the other hens outside with Dillon.

Sweet tubs make great water bowls for my rabbits

Water bowls made from sweet tubs

as_DSC0630

I am a great fan of recycling – and if you can reuse something first – even better.  This is an excellent example.  Sweet tubs – the large ones everyone gets for Christmas containing a selection of chocolates – make great water bowls for my rabbits.  They are reasonably easy to clean – and you can replace them with new ones every January!

 

 

Spring plants that rabbits like

There are lots of spring plants that rabbits like and, fed in moderation, they are really good for them – too much green stuff can upset their digestion – but a few leaves of a few different plants  every day is fine – and they really enjoy them.

s_DSC0017

Comfrey leaves and flowers are a favourite – not to be confused with foxglove which has the same shape leaves.  Comfrey is very easy to distinguish at this time of year as it’s in flower and foxglove is just leaves.

s_DSC0022

Foxglove is digitalis and very poisonous so make sure you pick comfrey plants with flowers.

s_DSC0022

Rabbits like most herbs, these are chives which have a slightly onion smell.

s_DSC0028

Another spring weed in garlic mustard, or Jack-by-the-hedge which has a mild garlic scent – rabbits like flowers and leaves – smaller plants are most tender.

s_DSC0026

And of course the dandelion, just leaves and again in moderation – just two or three leaves a day.

I like to give each rabbit a choice of leaves and see which they eat first – they don’t all choose the same ones first.  Dandelion likes comfrey and Fiver likes chives.

Every day I get real pleasure from picking a few choice titbits and watching the rabbits enjoy eating them – the hens like some plants too, particularly the brassicas, but their favourite is always bread and they come running when they see me carrying a basket.

 

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot

s_DSC0012

One of my favourite spring flowers is coltsfoot – unusual in that the flowers appear before the leaves.

The Christian word ‘Easter’ is derived from the pagan word ‘Eastre’.  Eastre or Ostara is believed to have been the Saxon Goddess of the Dawn, hence the reason why Easter is celebrated at the time of the Spring Equinox.

The connection between Easter and the ‘egg’ symbolising new life also originates from pre-Christian times but fits perfectly with the Christian belief of the resurrection.

Although our youngest son is now 15 (and the others are 25 and 22) we still have an Easter Egg Hunt each year – but now with cryptic clues and riddles they have to solve rather than a trail of tiny Easter eggs.  Clues like:

What has to be broken before you can use it – and where can you find some?  The answer is of course – eggs – in the hen house.

Family time is so important – and often so difficult to organise with so many computer distractions – but it’s always worth it.

 

The days are getting longer

The days are getting longer, Spring is in the air, with the promise of summer to come, there’s a great sense of excitement in the garden, you can almost feel the grass growing and the daffodils bursting into brilliant yellow splashes of sunshine.

s_DSC0024

Here is Charlie with his foster-mum – Mrs Grey – and I’ve called the other chick Ebony – I think he (or she) is a pure  is a pure Vorwerk.  If so (s)he’ll look like one of these when (s)he grows up:

s_DSC0277

This is Captain Von Vorwerk with Violet, they are quite impressive hens and they lay little white eggs.