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.

 

 

 

Today’s Treasures – Spring is just around the corner … or is it?

Spring is just around the corner … or is it?

The snowdrops are out and the frogs are hopping around the pond looking for mates, primroses are in bud and daffodils are peeping tantalising flashes of yellow ready to blossom into sunshine flowers. Then, just when you think Spring is finally on the way, the #BeastfromtheEast arrives and we’re in the middle of a snowstorm again.  Only in England!

But it won’t be long before the primroses are out in profusion and daffodils and tulips will be swaying gently in the breeze. The birds are already dressed in their Spring colours and singing their Spring songs joining in the dawn chorus – and they know that the snow will soon be gone.

The hens don’t mind the snow, they are always eager to rush out into the fresh air and scratch around outside.  The Spice Girls (our ex-battery hens – see previous post) have settled in and have become part of the family – at least two of them have – one didn’t survive the move and another managed to get lost somewhere – but Ginger and Meg (Nutmeg) now rush out to greet me every morning.  They seem to be so grateful now they have settled into a ‘normal’ lifestyle.  They still haven’t got many feathers (I tell them they will freeze in this snow but they take no notice) but their feathers should grow back eventually.  They still don’t perch at night – they settle down in one of the nest boxes whilst the other hens roost in the rafters. But apart from that, they act like ordinary chickens and are part of Dillon’s flock (he’s the cockerel and definitely rules the roost).

When it’s cold and snowy the wild birds seem so grateful for the food on the bird table.  I always thaw the water in the birdbath if it’s frozen and put extra food out.  I watch them for hours – the long-tailed tits arrive all of a flutter, twittering to each other, the tiny wren, and of course the robin, showing off his best red waistcoat.  We’ve seen lots of different birds this winter – even a bullfinch graced us with his presence for a few days.

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – 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.

I received an email from the Trust advising that they had 350 hens needing new homes in the Wrexham area so I offered to adopt some.  I’ve kept hens for years so was somewhat surprised to receive lots of advice on how to look after them – although I do appreciate that there would be quite a few new foster families who had never kept hens before.

What surprised me even more were the recommendations for caring for ex-battery hens.  I had to go and get some layers mash (which is basically crushed layers pellets).  My free range hens are mainly fed on corn (locally grown wheat) with some layers pellets during the winter. Evidently ex batts need the food they are used to for a while – I found this out when I tried to tempt them with some bread – they looked at me as if I had gone mad!  Goodness knows what they will do when they eventually encounter a worm!

Our hens have a very large hen house and I was advised to keep our new arrivals in a smaller pen inside the hen house initially.  So I shut them in a little pen for the first three nights.  On the fourth evening, I took the top off so they could get out but (as I was told but didn’t quite believe) they were all still in their little pen in the morning.  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.  Usually there’s a bit of a scrap when new hens arrive – until they have sorted out the pecking order.  Next morning, they were all in their little pen once more.

The Spice Girls are missing a lot of feathers and their combs are pale and droopy.  Hopefully they will all be feeling better soon and their combs will be bright red again.  Here are some of the other hens outside with Dillon – our Dorking cockerel – wonder how long it will be before the Spice Girls join them?

It’s fascinating looking after livestock – you never know what you are going to find when you go out in the morning – there’s always something interesting going on.  My hens come running when I call them – and of course they give me presents of beautiful free-range eggs!

Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

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.

My 12 days of New Year Today’s Treasures

Special moments to treasure every day #mentalhealthin2018

Day 1:  A free range egg for breakfast from #happy #hens #mentalhealthin2018

_DSC0031field hens

 

Day 2:  Herbal tea made with fresh #herbs – camomile, mint, hyssop, thyme, sage will all grow in windowsill pots #mentalhealthin2018

s_DSC0622mint

 

Day 3:  Watching the wild #birds eating the food I have put out for them #mentalhealthin2018

_DSC1205birds

 

Day 4:  Eating fresh fruit #mentalhealthin2018

_DSC0086s

 

Day 5:  Walking in the #sunshine – even if it’s not sunny – fresh air helps clear your mind #mentalhealthin2018

_DSC0882s

 

Day 6:  A vase of wild #flowers or winter berries on the kitchen windowsill I can look at whilst washing up #mentalhealthin2018

_DSC0018s

 

Day 7:  A smile – smiling makes you feel better, sharing a #smile makes two people feel better #mentalhealthin2018

s_DSC0377

 

Day 8:  Listening to the birds #singing especially the robin – beautiful, mellow, liquid notes #mentalhealthin2018

 

Day 9:  #hugs – everyone needs hugs – if you don’t believe me just try it with an open #mind #mentalhealthin2018

 

Day 10:  #music – but especially sharing live music #mentalhealthin2018

 

Day 11:  #sunset watching the sun go down #mentalhealthin2018

s_DSC0824sunset2

 

Day 12:  Writing helpful happy #tweets and posting pretty pictures on #twitter #happiness #mentalhealthin2018

Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

sDSC_0149s

“People are trying to eat more sustainably but my worry is that they are turning to diets such as veganism that are not necessarily as sustainable, nor as healthy as they imagine.”

I have always believed that, to be truly sustainable, crop rotation should include a fallow field grazed with animals – and the ideal diet should include some meat.  To me, it makes much more sense to use animals to manure grassland.  If you drink milk, then, on average, for every calf born there is a male calf that is killed at birth – how much more sensible would it be to raise these calves for meat?  Try and buy veal from a butcher’s shop in Britain and you will find it’s practically impossible – although you can buy rosé veal online from Shropshire based www.alternativemeats.co.uk  This is, I am told, because we believe it is cruel to raise calves for white veal – but rosé veal is from calves that are raised and killed humanely.

So I was very pleased to read this guest post on the Farmdrop website from Patrick Holden, Dairy Farmer and Founding Director of the Sustainable Food Trust which works to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems.

He says:  “I am growing increasingly concerned about the large number of people turning to diets that may not necessarily be either healthy or sustainable.

“A healthy diet should work backwards from the most sustainable way to farm, and that ideally means eating the foods produced by mixed farms using crop rotations which include a fertility building phase, usually of grass and clover grazed by cows and sheep, but also pastured pigs and poultry.”

https://www.foodandfarmingfutures.co.uk/Library/content/Detail.aspx?ctID=ZWVhNzBlY2QtZWJjNi00YWZiLWE1MTAtNWExOTFiMjJjOWU1&rID=MTM1MjI=&sID=MQ==&bckToL=VHJ1ZQ==&qcf=&ph=VHJ1ZQ==

Some years ago, I went to a talk by Charlotte Hollins at Fordhall Organic Farm www.fordhallfarm.com  – and she was asked a question about the higher price of organic meat.   Her answer has stayed with me.  She said:  “Organic meat is better for you – and it also tastes so much better.”  She suggested that replacing some meat with vegetables at each meal, and having a vegetarian meal once a week would even out the cost, so for the same budget you could include organic meat.  So that’s what we do – I now have a selection of dried and tinned beans which I add to dishes like spaghetti bolognese  and lasagne, replacing some of the meat – and, amazingly, the family are quite happy with the result – and it’s better for us.

My crop rotation doesn’t include sheep, pigs, cows or goats but it does include hens, ducks and rabbits – and the manure they produce enriches my compost bin, replenishes my soil with nutrients, and grows wonderful pumpkins.  This year I have allocated a fallow patch for clover – which the rabbits love to eat –and I am leaving some to flower for the bees when I dig the rest in ready to plant cabbages.

s_dsc0282s