Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Visitor to our Garden

My Mister can be very liberal with the throwing out of seeds to our 5 hens in the mornings.  And this is what I think has prompted some new visitors to drop by.
This is a pheasant, fairly common around these parts, but before we kept hens I'd say that I'd only ever seen them in our garden once before.  This week we have seen three.  The first one had fairly short tail feathers with one bent downwards.  The second one was very noisy and soon jumped up onto the fence when he saw me looking out the window.  But this guy in the photograph, he was still there when I came outside with my camera as he was hopping on a sore leg.

Pheasants really don't want to be near people so he soon flew right up high and over the roof of our house.  This is a male pheasant, the girls are much smaller and very beige and dull coloured.  There are many pheasants around here as the large estate owners like to have their friends up from the city and go game shooting.  So they employ a game keeper on most estates who raise pheasants in the estate woodlands so that there are plenty around for the table.  Unfortunately they are not very smart birds and tend to walk right in front of cars all the time.
I saw a black one when I was driving today, on the side of the road.  I always keep my eye on them as they can be standing so still one second and then they dart right in front of your car the next.  I always honk my horn to try and teach them, just to do my bit to lessen the carnage at this time of year.

My hens didn't go near him, but they didn't seem too afraid either.
Whenever I go into the garden now, or even just look at them out of the window, they all gather towards me.  It is because Mister keeps giving them meal worms by the handful everyday and they are associating seeing one of us with food dropping from the sky.
It is a bad habit that I am going to have to break him of, as their poos are becoming very brown and very smelly from all the meaty worms he is feeding them, and of course it is me and not him who cleans out the hen house every week!
Here is my favourite photo taken this week, it's Bluebell.  Australorps have the loveliest eyes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Integrating two new hens into a small flock

After the death of our second-in-command Scots Dumpy hen, we were down to three Australorps: Rosie, Queenie and Olive.  We decided to get two hens to replace her, as introducing just one hen without a companion would be very stressful and would make her an outsider and a victim for a very long time.

Before we went to collect two new bantam Australorps, we prepared the 'wee hoose' for our new arrivals.  This is a small guinea pig house from a pet store that we store flat packed into our shed.  We also set up a caged area within visual distance of our hen house.  I kitted it all out with clean bedding, a perch, waterer and feeder.  It rained a lot during the first week of the new hens being here so we also put some corrugated plastic sheeting over the cage to provide extra shelter.
the wee hoose

We left our two new girls in this wee hoose for a week.  The first night, our top hen Rosie was squawking and marching around the yard.  We think she was calling to the new girls to hurry up and come inside the big house, so sweet of her to be marshalling the troops before the impending dusk!  That only happened the first night, from then on the other three hens would come over and see the new girls whenever they wanted to, but unfortunately it rained a lot that week, so they only came over when we sprinkled the wheat seeds near the cage in the evenings.
the wee hoose with the big house in the background
I used this first week to get them used to feeding from my hand through the cage.  Bluebell was the more confident one and started taking meal worms from my hand on day two.  Sunny took about five days to get used to my hand coming into the caged area.  I used this opportunity to put coloured rings onto their legs.  Sunny's legs were too big for the yellow ring so she got an orange one instead.  Bluebell now has a blue ring.
Sunny on the left and Bluebell on the right

After that first week, we then opened up the cage and let the new hens come out into the garden with adult supervision for a couple of afternoons.  This was really to watch out for any potential violent behaviour from our three established hens.  Once we could see that our older girls are really only interested in seeing the two new young girls off, and chasing them away, so that they can be by themselves, we then let them have free wander of the garden all day with the others.  We always leave the cage open though in case they need to retreat.  The new girls were laying eggs happily inside the wee hoose too.  But every night they have tottled back to the wee hoose to sleep and have only shown curiosity in the big house when the other three are far away.
L-R: Olive, Queenie and Rosie, staying far away up the other end of the garden
After one week of cage living then one week of integrated daytime, I decided it was time to start introducing them to the big house for sleeping.  Once it was dark I went out and scooped up one hen and placed her on the perch in the big house, followed quickly by collecting the other one.  On the second night I collected one hen and when I turned around Sunny was heading over to me, not wanting to be parted from her friend.  So I herded her into the run at the bottom of the big house and locked her in.  She made her way up the ramp and I closed the pop door, then reached in and settled her onto the perch.  On the third night I herded them both into the run area and they went up the ramp themselves.  And at last, from then on they went to bed with the older ladies every night.
I still need to reach in and put Sunny up on the perch sometimes, but this could be because they've gone to bed and it is still light enough for the others to see her.  Sunny is at the bottom of the pecking order and so possibly they are making her wary so she stays on the floor of the house.

All in all, 2 and a half weeks later and my hens are a flock of 3 and 2 and just sometimes a flock of 5.

Here is a little video of them, demonstrating that the three older hens chase the two new, younger hens away.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Colours to tell them all Apart!

We now have three hens that are all black bantam Australorps and it can be difficult to tell them apart from a distance.  It is easy when we're outside with them, as Olive is the smallest and has scaly, lumpy legs.  Queenie is the largest and has an unusual pronged part to her comb, and Rosie is the most confident and always seems to be around us.
The trouble is being able to tell who is who from a distance, knowing who is all by themselves, missing or who comes down the ramp last in the mornings.  So we've put coloured rings on their legs.
Rosie has a red ring - rosy red makes sense
Little Olive has a pink ring - wee baby girl pink

Queenie has a purple ring - purple is an ancient regal colour
Our two new Australorps will arrive on Sunday, and they will be getting a coloured ring too, I've ordered a multipack of assorted rings online.  Thinking up new names that are linked to colours should make name choosing much easier -
Yellow = Daisy, Sunny, Gloria,
Blue = Bluebell, Sky,
Orange = Marigold, Amber,
Brown = Bronwyn,
Green = Verde, Ivy,

Please share if you have any ideas - I'd love some help!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Can't believe it's another death in our garden

Just when you think everything is going swimmingly, another surprise is in store.
Our longest lasting hen who has been with us for three winters, Bizzy Lizzy our Scots Dumpy came down from the hen house last week with one eye closed.

Two days later she was hunched down and then the next day she couldn't walk on her right leg and was barely able to limp.

You can see her limp leg poking backwards in this photo.
We kept an eye on her over the weekend and helped her to food, water as well as in and out of the house, and took her to the vets on Monday.  They ruled out an injury and suspect it to be something neurological.

She was given two steroid injections and a 5 day course of antibiotics.  Over the five days she did show some signs of improvement.  She seemed to want to stay with the other hens, and she was able to use her leg a lot more, swinging it forward and walking more smoothly although not putting actual weight on it.  Her eye opened up, but she doesn't seem to have any control over the lower lid.  Towards the end of the 5 days on antibiotics she deteriorated and so on our final trip to the vet we had to say goodbye.
Her other lower lid no longer seemed to close and there was no evidence of her being able to open her beak by herself and when she did aim for a seed she missed it by an inch anyway.  Her comb had dropped to one side, and her head and neck were always tilted to one side.

It was sad to say goodbye and I shed some discreet tears in the vets, but it was for the best.  Her condition was advancing despite the medication.  The vet doesn't think it is the sort of thing that the others will catch, most likely an infection that got into her nervous system.  She must have been in pain and discomfort so I am glad that she no longer has any pain.
Her better eye.  Walking a bit better, although limp leg is
still towards the back and not carrying any weight.

She did have a good life here with us, despite being our bossiest, broodiest, flightiest and least tame hen.  Thanks for all your naughtiness Bizzy Lizzy, you taught us a lot about the various natures of hens.
Bizzy Lizzy, Scots Dumpy, in better days

And so, another phone call to the breeders of our two newest hens, and we're off to collect two more Australorps on Sunday!  We'll have 5 hens at one time - the most we've ever housed!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Integration Process is Complete

Our two new girls Queenie and Olive have names!  One because she's a big lady for a bantam, and she is the only hen we've ever had who has had the chance to be a mother.  The breeder we bought them from said she had hatched and mothered 10 chicks.  Olive is so named because she is small and black.
We have let them out together with Rosie and Bizzy Lizzy quite a bit the last few days and have opened up both their wee house and the big house in the evening so that they could choose where they felt comfortable sleeping - and both Queenie and Olive, after attempting to fly up into a tree, followed the other two into the big house!  Yay!  

So that is the slow integration period now officially over.  We'll let them all sleep together and spend the days together but will leave the wee house available for another week, just in case they need somewhere as a retreat.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Integrating New Hens

Our two new hens seem to be enjoying their new surroundings here with us, and our other two hens are showing signs of getting used to the new girls being here.  They still don't seem to know to go inside at night time, so I've had to use a long stick to corral them into the wee house.  And there is still a lot of squawking in the mornings.  I think I will try to make the wee house a bit darker.
The other day we caught the new girls taking a dust bath and then Bizzy Lizzy our flighty hen went over and had a dust right beside them!  She is usually a pretty antisocial bird, so perhaps the netting fence that separated them gave her some confidence.

It has rained a lot lately, so with a bit of a dry spell I decided to open up the netted area and see how they get on mingling together in the garden.  We sprinkled lots of seeds and meal worms to keep them occupied.
Bizzy Lizzy was surprisingly unfussed by them but Rosie seemed to act a bit like a sheep dog, going up behind them and trying to divide them to get one alone to chase and peck, then circles back to chase the other one.  So we don't think they're quite ready to live together at the moment.

We have decided to call the larger of the new girls Queenie, now just to come up with one more name.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The New Hens and Eggs in Winter!

Our two new hens have been settling into their new environment fairly well.  They've been pecking at their house door in the mornings, eager to get out and enjoy the day.  We can hear it from our bedroom window so I've been getting up early to let them out so as to give them a gentle and calm way to start their day.  I wouldn't want them to become anxious.  It has been really wet and miserable for their first days at our house, so I put a large piece of chipboard over the top of their cage to provide a little shelter, but they spend all their days out under the rain, I haven't spotted them using the shelter at all.
Our other two hens, Rosie and Bizzy Lizzy have been doing a lot of squawking at the new girls in their caged area.  Bizzy Lizzy is a flighty hen (she's a Scots Dumpy) and has been doing some new alarm call noises that we've not heard before.  And yet she seems to spend a lot of time near the new girls cage anyway?
Rosie is keeping her distance but as she is already laying eggs again, perhaps it is just that she wants to stay near her house.  I have even resorted to keeping her in the house with a rubber egg to remind her of what her body wants to do and where it needs to be done.  Last summer we had to hunt for eggs hidden around the garden in mystery nesting spaces, and we don't want to go through that again!
The littlest of the new hens laid her first egg for us today - and it is much darker than any of the other Australorp eggs we've ever had.  It is smaller too.  Eggs still amaze me!  Like little gifts from our dear pets.
Eggs from Left to Right:
Rosie - Australorp x2 eggs, new bigger Australorp lays a light brown egg, new smaller Australorp lays a little brown egg, Bizzy Lizzy - Scots Dumpy, a shiny white egg.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

News - Some Sad and Some Happy

Our darling little white hen has been an excellent patient these last few months, every second or third day I've have cleaned her scabby wound, but sadly she has now died.  Last week whilst cleaning her tail I was finally able to remove the huge scab.  Once wet it came away quite easily, apart from two feathers that were still attached to both her and the scab.  I think that when I pulled the scab away and these two feathers were plucked out too, that the shaft hole that was left behind allowed a pathway for the puss that her tail was so swollen with, to finally get inside her blood stream.  Upon removing the scab her flesh was so tight and red and you could see she had some large swollen yellowness underneath the skin.  Her comb and wattle went very pale, so I kept her warm inside until her feathers dried.

I wish I had taken her straight to the vet once the scab was off, but we were just so happy that she was finally back to some sort of normality, that I didn't think it was necessary at the time.  Apart from the swollen tail and pale comb she looked so much better.
Two days later she was back outside with the others, and when we came home we couldn't find her at first, but after a quick search we found her passed away, hiding under some foliage.

RIP Whitey Didee

Nursing our little Whitey Didee has been one of my favourite experiences since keeping hens.  She became so tame and seemed to enjoy being petted and picked up.  I got to see her close up and got used to feeling a hen's body quite intimately.

So Now for Some Happy News

Being down to only two hens didn't seem right to us, the hen house is really too big for them to stay warm with only two bodies to cosy up with, and I have never been able to get Rosie to sit on a perch, so poor Bizzy Lizzy was sleeping on the perch all by herself.
We went on holiday for two weeks and took our hens to a hen hotel in Fife, Scotland, and asked the breeder if she had any bantams available that she could introduce to our little flock of two, and then we'd be able to bring four hens home.  Unfortunately she had two but wasn't sure if they would turn out to be roosters, and by the time we came home from holiday she was sure they'd be roosters, so we brought our two little girls home and tried another avenue.  I am a member of the UK Australorp breed club and we receive a booklet every year that includes breeders details, so we found a couple that live about an hour away and arranged to buy two new black Australorp bantams from them.  They are 2012 Spring hatches.
Scaly leg girl on the left, big girl with unusual comb on the right

One has an imperfect comb, with two prongs quite close together and she is too big to be called a Show-perfect bantam, and she is the only one of our hens who has ever sat on eggs and hatched out chicks - apparently she was a Mum to 10 chicks!  At the moment her feathers are still missing from her tummy and her rear feathers are also plucked - they do this to make it easier for the rooster - but they'll grow back.
The other hen they gave us is small and has had a wire brush applied to one of her feet - she must have scaly leg mite - I really don't want to introduce a new illness to my garden, but we didn't really get offered our pick, as they seem to breed for showing and were giving us the ones that they couldn't use, and I guess she'd probably get put down if we didn't take her.  Apart from her sore feet, she looks just lovely!  We bought some vaseline on the way home and I already have some scaly leg mite spray at home so I've started treating her already.

We brought them home and are keeping them isolated for their first week.  I've doused them with mite powder and set up the wee house and cage to keep them in view of the others but separate.   Both Rosie and Bizzy Lizzy had a face-off up against the netting on the first day.  At night our new girls didn't seem to realise what the wee house was for and instead snuggled up with each other next to the waterer outside, poor wee things.  So we picked them up and popped them into the wee wooden house and closed the door.

Now to start thinking of names!