chickens · Life in the Countryside · The field

Moving the chickens

So after we had the hedges and the grass all cut back recently we decided to move the chickens out of the orchard and into the field. There were a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly the grass in the orchard needs some time to recover from the girls pecking at it and creating dust baths so we’re going to reseed it and give it a bit of tlc. Secondly, it was a right pain trying to mow around the chicken pen as there wasn’t really enough space to move the electric fence easily so you had to mow a bit, then move it, then mow a bit then move it etc. If they are in the field then we can just mow half the field, move them permanently and then mow the rest. Thirdly, we were actually missing having the orchard as a place to spend time in. We really liked the orchard and had a couple of barbecues there last summer and wanted to get back to it being more of a social area to spend time in as a family. So our plan was simple, move their Eglu and then remove the fence and herd them into the field. We figured that the chickens would follow their home as it moved. By gosh we were wrong. So first we moved the Eglu, the chickens were mildly interested in what we were doing but mainly focused on pecking at the area where the Eglu had once stood. C and I tried to bribe them to come out of the gate in their fence using meal worms. No luck. So we started taking down the fence, again they showed a mild interest in what we were doing but then just decided to explore the rest of the orchard. 


So my father in law began to mow the orchard to even up the grass where the fence had been removed. Admittedly they did move away from the mower, but only a little bit and still stayed determinedly in the orchard. By now they were getting a bit more confident and were exploring the full reach of the orchard, but still stopping short when it came to moving towards the field. Now we had kept Jessie inside whilst we did this as we thought she’d be a bit of a hindrance (I did want to keep C away too as she was equally a hindrance but you can’t really lock a toddler in a cage) but we then thought we could use her to help encourage the chickens into the field. She has only seen the chickens from behind the electric fence before and so we figured she would relish the idea of chasing them. If only we could manage to get her to chase them in the right direction. The result…she had a mild interest in the chickens but was more interested in exploring the orchard. We tried leaving them in the hope they would go by themselves but we were worried about them not managing to get home before it got dark and we know there are foxes about (hence the electric fence). Eventually we used all of our resources (me, my husband, my father in law, the dog and some netting) to try to trap one or two at a time so we could then carry them to the field. I don’t have any photos of this because I didn’t have a free hand to take photos! We managed to get five up there but Dorothy (remember her, the elusive let’s hide our eggs chicken) decided to hide in the hedge between the orchard and the field (which she couldn’t get through because of the fence). We ended up leaving her and coming back a couple of times and we eventually managed to pick her up and get her there but it was hard work. This is their new home in the field.


They seem to have settled in quite nicely. Once they’ve been there for a couple of weeks then we’ll give them the chance to free range even further into the field. 

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chickens

Chicken sitting

So at the end of August we are having a week away as a family and my mum is coming to house sit. Now house sitting for us isn’t exactly the most straight forward with our daily chore list and eclectic mix of animals, so I thought I’d start with a how to guide for the chickens as actually they are the most straight forward. 

Eggs:

As soon as you wake up, normally about 7am in our household, their door needs opening and the sliding door to the nest needs sliding open so they can get in to lay their eggs. It doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly 7am but you don’t want to leave it too long in the heat of summer. Our girls normally lay their eggs in the morning and will make a right old noise to let you know when they have laid one. You can collect the eggs as often as you like but they only need collecting once a day, I find just after lunch you normally have all the eggs laid. We normally have six eggs a day, three normal coloured ones, one white, one blue and one dark brown. You may be lucky enough to get an extra large egg, normally a double yolker, but if you get an egg without a shell then dispose of it as it won’t be safe to consume. The girls like the dark and quiet when laying so if you go to collect and one is in there then close back up quickly and leave her to it or she might get quite stressed. 


Food:

The girls have a food container and a water container which need to be kept topped up. I tend to use an empty milk carton to carry the water down from the house (although any of the outside taps will do). They won’t normally go through all of their water container each day but if it’s especially hot then they might do. Their food is kept in the right hand metal bin (rats can’t chew through metal) along with the scoop. Again, it is best to keep it topped up daily even though how much they end up going through will depend on how much they forage from their pen. They also have a little pot of grit and shell which needs to be topped up from the plastic tub in the feed bin. This should only need doing once a week or less. This is vital to help the girls form the egg shells so if you get any dud eggs then always check the grit first. I tend to do the food/water top up first thing in the morning before I let the girls out as you won’t have them bombard you then! The food container is hooked up to head height (for the girls) and the water at ground level.


Cleaning and maintenance:

As with most pets, the cleaning out of the chickens is the least fun part of having them. We bought our Eglu as it is easy to keep clean. We do a big clean once every couple of weeks where we properly jetwash the inside. But every couple of days it is a good idea to clean out the poo tray. Just remove the tray and empty into the nearest compost bin. Then refill with the straw from the nest area and top up the straw in the nest area from the left hand metal bin. Finally sprinkle the roosting bars and the besting area with some red mite powder, from the same bin. That’s it really for keeping them clean, if their water bowl is dirty then rinse it out but it should be fine. 


Bedtime, treats and electric fences:

The girls will put themselves to bed at dusk so once they have done that you need to slide the door to their nest closed (you can do that earlier in the day if you’ve had all the eggs) and then close the door for them. We tend to keep the electric fence on whenever we are not there and even at night. Apparently foxes won’t go within a metre or so of it. It doesn’t really harm us if we touch it, but remember to clip the fence back and wire it up when you leave them or it won’t work. If we’re working out in the garden we often turn it off, especially if C is around. Now whenever you go outside towards the girls they will run out to meet you, often attempting to fly as they do so! What they are after is a treat. There are dried meal worms in a tub in the left hand bin, they will eat from your hand, but if you’re wanting to do chores then just throw them and they will race for them. Maximum one handful a day to keep them on a vaguely balanced diet and so they don’t always expect to get treats. 


Looking at it here this seems like quite a lot, but actually I think the chickens take up about 10 minutes of my day maximum, unless I choose to hang out with them! 

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The bloody egg

So this weekend I found an egg from Dorothy (why is it that she is always the one causing us complications) which had blood on. And not just a little bit of blood, a lot of blood. I gave her a quick check over and she didn’t seem to be bleeding at all, neither did any of the others. I quick look on google helped to reveal some possible options. She’s gone back to having perfectly clean eggs since then so it looks like I’ve found the answer, especially as she is a relatively new layer. Eggs can be quite big and chickens bums can be quite small. So, you know, it can kind of hurt a bit sometimes. There are lots of blood vessels around that area of a chicken so it kind of makes sense. As someone who gave birth to an eight pound eight ounce baby I can certainly sympathise. Hopefully she’s all better now until her next drama no doubt!

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Chicken on the run

So today C was at her grandfather’s whilst I was at work. I picked her up at about half two and then we went for a swim and a soft play and tea at a local leisure centre. So it was just after 5pm when we arrived home and as usual we got straight out of the car and started to walk down the drive to go and see the chickens. And who should be running to meet us but Boss!


Goodness knows how she had got out but she was very confidently coming to meet us. Cue myself and C trying to coax her back up the drive and towards the chicken pen (where the other five girls were excitedly watching the spectacle of me and a toddler chasing her). 


We managed to coax her towards the pen and finally back into the run, though it was a miracle that the others didn’t escape whilst we did that. Thankfully some meal worms kept all the girls happy. We think that the girls have been climbing up onto the tree stump and flying over the fence. Once we have a gate across the drive onto the road then we’ll probably let the girls free range a bit more when we’re around. But for now it looks that we need to keep a closer eye on them!

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Cannibal chickens…the saga continues

So since we discovered Dorothy was hiding her eggs in the pampas grass we hacked it back and had hoped that she would go back to laying in her usual area. It did seem to go well at first and we were back to having all our eggs laid in the nest. Then the other day when collecting there was some dried egg yolk on one of the shells. However, there was a small crack in one of them so I presumed that was the source of the spilt egg. However, the next day there was more yolk spilt and no egg from Dorothy. We had a suspected egg eater. We spent the weekend monitoring and trying to remove eggs as soon as possible and we then thought we had an alternative scenario. Magpies. When popping to see the girls one morning I found a magpie in the run trying to steal some of the chicken pellets (food). On another day I found a broken egg shell a little bit outside the fencing; I suspected a magpie or other bird had stolen it and dropped it. 


So, we moved the chicken fencing so that the pampas grass was not part of it (so Dorothy couldn’t lay her eggs there anymore and would get back to laying in the coop) and started to be vigilant about shutting the run as well as the coop door at night to keep explorers out. The problem seem to be solved and we started to have eggs from all six girls back in the coop and no evidence of spilt yolk anywhere. 

Then this evening I was wandering past the fencing and saw what looked like Anna laying an egg. I raced around to rescue it but unfortunately it was a dud. Sometimes a chicken will lay an egg without a shell, this is more common when they first start laying or when they are coming to the end of their optimum laying age. They can’t be eaten as the shell protects the egg from contamination but is an interesting thing to see. Below is one I found once on the edge of the pampas grass. 


However, today before I could get to the dud egg the girls had started eating it. I managed to shoo them away and throw what I could over the fencing and have covered the area as they kept pecking around to try and prevent them getting a taste for it. This has thrown up another question – was the original yolk discovery from a dud egg that was eaten? Is this what the girls do with dud eggs? I guess I need to spend another weekend of monitoring the girls!

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Cannibal chickens

So unfortunately today we discovered that one of our chickens has eaten an egg. Yesterday when C and I collected the eggs one of Anna’s eggs had a crack in and there was some dried egg matter on the eggs. As usual the eggs were all on top of each other so its not unusual for one to get a crack in it occasionally. No egg from Dorothy, but its not unusual for the girls to have a day off a week. I cleared out the straw and disposed of the cracked egg and made the nesting area ready again for the next day. Today I had already collected one egg first thing before work and C and I found four more in the nesting box. And unfortunately there was not only no egg from Dorothy again but also there was dried egg on the other four eggs in the box and on the straw. It looks like Dorothy’s egg has been consumed. Bugger!

Now there can be several reasons why a chicken might turn cannibal: they could be stressed, bored, lacking in a nutrients, thirsty or accidental cracking. Now we have had some very hot weather in the UK this week so that could have made one of the girls act out of character. The disruption that we had last weekend with discovering the girls had created a new nest and then having to open it up could have made them act out of character. Who knows. So I’ve made sure the food, water and grit/shell are all well topped up and thankfully tomorrow is the weekend so we can monitor the girls all day and remove the eggs promptly and hopefully discover who the culprit is and stop the cannibalism. Goodness only knows how though!

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The egg mystery…

So this week we haven’t had as many eggs as usual. The girls haven’t been themselves really, J had to chase two of them into bed the other night as they had climbed on top of the hen house and were refusing to get down and go to bed, even though it was gone 11pm and very dark. And we’ve had workmen around a lot with getting my cabin built and the final few bits of outside work sorting the patios etc which can be quite noisy and unsettling for them. And it’s been really hot this week which can tend to make chickens lay less. So although I was a bit perturbed by the decreased eggs I figured it was just one of those things. 

Anyway yesterday I let the girls out in the morning as usual before heading back in to make the morning coffees, and then at about 9:30 we went out to check and see if there were any eggs. However, we could only count five chickens, Dorothy was missing. The fence had been on the whole time and I was sure that I’d counted six chickens tumble out of their house that morning. We looked around the hen area but no sign of her or any evidence of any predator attack. It looked like somehow she had flown over the fence and escaped. After a good search, including a root around the pampas grass, we headed back inside but J and I kept popping out alternately to check and see if she had returned. And lo and behold she had reappeared about an hour after we were first looking for her. Now that really bugged me but we suspected that she had been hiding in the pampas grass and we had just missed her. We had things to do for the rest of the day so didn’t give it much more thought. However, today we were having a Father’s Day barbecue and I just went out to check the girls didn’t need anymore water before we started cooking as it was a scorcher today and Dorothy was missing again. 

I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing chickens and eggs and so called J to come out and bring an old walking stick with him and we began hacking at the pampas grass. We found what looked like an entrance point to the centre of it where through their scratching about they had managed to create an archway into the centre (see below).

So we tried to clear some of the vegetation so we could get a better look inside. Not exactly easy as the leaves are actually quite sharp and so J got his hedge trimmers out to tackle it. Finally I managed to spy some eyes peeping out at me from across the other side of the pampas grass, Dorothy appeared to be laying an egg (see below you can just about make out her eyes and beak).  

Now I am not happy with the idea of my chickens laying eggs randomly somewhere else, they could easily encourage rats or other pests. We started giving it a good trim right above where she had been sitting desperately trying to make our way into where she was. Thankfully she rose and scuttled out and we could then clearly see eggs. Now that is eggs plural (see below) so it wasn’t just a one off occasion. She had been using her newly established nest for a while. 


As a reminder Dorothy lays our white eggs, but our discovered horde also had some normal looking ones so she has clearly had some friends also sharing her private nest. We managed to get the pampas grass cut back enough to get into them and in total from there we collected a dozen eggs. Seven white and five normal coloured. It certainly made it our biggest daily haul to date. Now we just need to find out a way to make sure they go back to using their actual nesting area!

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Belle escapes

So the other evening I went out to do the usual evening chores whilst J put C to bed. I walked up to the chicken pen and turned off the electric fence before remembering that I’d forgotten to turn on the tap for the hose in the field. I popped back to the cottage to turn it on and by the time I got back I discovered that one of the girls had taken advantage of my absence. Belle had somehow made her way outside of the fence, I presume that she had flown over. Now as J was inside still I had the job of getting our least friendly chicken back into the pen.


I kept lifting up the fencing to try and encourage her to creep under but instead she kept moving further away. Finally, thankfully, she saw sense and rushed past me into her pen. Hopefully she won’t brave trying to escape again!

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A blue egg!!!!!!!!!!

We finally have our first blue egg! We’d been out as a family today and were fairly late in checking on the eggs (about five o’clock) and what an amazing surprise greeted us. 


We finally have five of the girls laying and look at what an eclectic mix of eggs they offer us on a daily basis. I even said to J that I couldn’t imagine ever going back to shop bought eggs again. As the girls get longer into their laying cycle their egg yolks have become increasingly orange and more flavoursome. You certainly don’t get the same standard from the supermarket. So the blue egg is from Anna and we are just waiting for Elsa to start laying which will no doubt be sometime soon. 

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Double yolkers 

So this morning J, C and I went to check on the egg situation to find that we had three eggs. Not only that but two of the three look to be double yolkers! We’d already had one double yolker during the week which I’d been kind and saved for J to have poached for breakfast on Saturday so to find two laid for us this morning was a right treat. When we went down to the pen Boss was in the nesting area so we hung around the pampas grass and tried to coax the rest of the girls to eat ‘special treats’ (aka any general garden waste that C gets to feed them). Boss was sure making some noise in the hutch which we took to mean she was telling us she was laying, but when we saw the size of the egg it was no wonder she was yelling about it! The picture below shows one egg which the supermarkets would class as medium, one which they would class as large and the double yolker. Hopefully you can tell which is which!