Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

I was standing at the kitchen sink this morning (as I very often do!) and a sparrowhawk landed on the little table in front of the kitchen window.  Amazing, it was so close.  Usually you struggle to identify birds of prey circling high in the sky above you but this was so easy to identify – it was so close. Even though I stood perfectly still, I must have blinked because he was off in a flash – but the picture in my mind remains.

Daisy laid her very first egg this morning.  Dorking eggs are pale – not brown – and this is probably one of the reasons that Dorkings are now a rare breed.  Although the nutritional content of white and brown eggs is exactly the same – the perception is different – and consequently supermarkets only seem to sell brown eggs now.

Once Dillon learned to crow, he quickly realised he could do other things too – much to Doris’s consternation (she had obviously forgotten about Dillon the First).  The Spice Girls seemed to accept it as par for the course.  I can never quite figure out whether hens like to be jumped on – the ducks however do seem to enjoy it.  When we first had ducks (and geese) I was told we would need a pond if we wanted fertile eggs, so we spent ages digging out a pond deep enough for the geese to swim in.  The ducks and geese did love the pond – but they managed equally well on dry land.

Before I started this blog, I used to let the hens out then rush off to start work.  Now I am writing a blog, I sit and watch them for a while each morning and it’s amazing how much more you notice.  Doris (the oldest hen)) always comes to stand by my feet, waiting for some sunflower seeds.  The Spice Girls are quite adventurous now – and less timid that the other hens.  I use black plastic sheets on the vegetable patch to supress weeds – slimy creatures love to hide under it – so every so often I spread it out for the hens and ducks – the spice Girls are always the first on there picking off slugs and snails.

Doris

Dillon (cockerel) and Desmond (drake) have had a few scraps but they seem to have come to a sort of truce and, provided they keep out of each other’s way, everything’s fine.  I have learned that you do need at least 2 ducks with a drake, especially if you are keeping ducks and hens together – the previous drake insisted on mating with one of the hens and I had to separate them.  (Several reasons I won’t go into here – their anatomy is different and therefore damaging to the hen.)

 

Autumn in Barbara’s Back Yard

Autumn  – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats

So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs.  They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more.  Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me:  “Just one more bit of grass first…”  I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!

Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel.  He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!)  Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing.  Happy hens lay happy eggs!

Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top.  Works like a dream!

My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them.  Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips!  They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites!  Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out!  They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute.  They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.

October in Barbara’s Back Yard

The New Spice Girls

The new ex-bats are bigger than the last ones and less timid.  They are settling in much quicker and seem less vulnerable, but they are not very adventurous yet – just eating their layers mash – and I think it will be a while before they have grown enough feathers back in order to perch.

The first night I put them all in the little pen (as instructed) but the next morning one of them had got out so I opened up the pen but put a board across the door to discourage them from venturing outside until they had got their bearings.

The next day, Ginger (obviously the ringleader) had circumvented my barricade and was exploring outside, she got quite stroppy when I tried to usher her back in.

Like before, my other hens are ignoring the newcomers – they don’t seem to recognise them as the same species.

I made firelighters – I pruned and cut down the herbs in the herb garden.  Sage, thyme, bay, rosemary and lavender contain oils and burn well so I tie them in bundles with other herbs – tarragon, marjoram, lemon mint and hyssop to make firelighters.  I hang them up in the barn to dry.  They are much more environmentally friendly – and cheaper – than chemical firelighters – and work just as well.   It was a beautiful day, the sun was really warm and it was lovely outside – except I kept being plagued with ladybirds landing on me – and occasionally biting too.

I picked the first pumpkins and made spicy pumpkin soup – with chilli powder, allspice, cayenne, – and fresh thyme.

Homegrown carrots, parsnips and potatoes generally suffer from some pests – like wireworm and carrot fly – so when preparing them, I don’t put the scrap bits on the compost heap – I put them in a bucket and give them to the hens to scratch through and devour all the bugs.  Same with cabbages – I give the outer leaves – complete with slugs and caterpillars to the ducks and hens to pick  through. The ducks love slugs and snails.  Every other day I check the polytunnel for snails – collecting them in a bucket and then I tip them into the ducks’ water bowl.

Weeding is much more fun when you can feed the chickweed to the hens and the shepherd’s purse and dandelions to the rabbits.  Much more satisfying.

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

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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!