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! 

chickens

Introducing the ladies…

So now our chickens have well and truly settled in I thought it was time to introduce them properly.

My two are Belle, named after the title character in Beauty and the Beast, my favourite Disney film of all time, who is a Blue Bell (see how the name suits her) and Henry. Henry is a Cou Cou Maran. Henry is a rather bizarre choice of name and it most definitely is not short for Henrietta. J and I have chosen to only have one child for various reasons and our boy’s name was going to be William Robert Henry, but I was going to call him Henry. So it kind of fits well that I name a chicken Henry. And it is no coincidence that Henry and Belle are the most aesthetically pleasing of our bunch. Well they do say that children take after their parents…

This is Henry.

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And this is Belle.

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J struggled with naming his girls. He had originally planned to call them Sage and Onion. But then quite liked the idea of calling them Annie and Clarabel (for those not au fait with children’s characters they are the carriages of Thomas the Tank engine). Then we had the whole Clarabel sounds too like Belle so he moved into calling them after grandparents which is aparently a common thing to do. So was born Dorothy after his mum’s mum. Dorothy is a tri-coloured leghorn, she was the last of her type left at the poultry seller and should lay cream coloured eggs. The Boss gained her name after  her arrival at the cottage garden. She started trying to assert herself as top of the pecking order right from day one and there could only be one name for her then. The Boss is a Rhode Rock and in the right light her feather take on a green tinge.

This is Dorothy.

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and this is the Boss.

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It was a right struggle to get C to name her girls. I think she didn’t quite get the idea of giving things names. Whenever I asked her what we should call the chickens she just kept saying “chickens have eggs in the house”. Even when we got to the poultry seller and were picking the chickens and giving them their names she still didn’t quite get it. We named her first one Elsa (from Frozen for those who have the good fortune not to have obsessed toddlers). Then when we got out her second one and asked her what it was called she said ‘C’. So hooray we finally had her name something. She did then have a total meltdown that we couldn’t choose anymore chickens, six chickens for a family of three aren’t enough apparently.  On the drive home (very short thankfully as we had a car loaded with chickens and accessories) we did discuss that naming a chicken after herself could prove a total disaster if (or more rather when) they had to visit the Kingdom For Chickens in the sky, or KFC for short. So we swiftly renamed her Anna (Elsa’s sister from Frozen). Elsa is a Whapley brown (named for the area where she was bred) and she should lay dark brown eggs. Anna is a sister of sorts as she is a Whapley Blue who should lay light blue eggs.

This is Anna (with Elsa trying to sneak into her picture).

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And this is Elsa.

Still no eggs yet at five days in, but it would be early for them to have eggs yet anyway (especially Henry who is a few weeks younger than the rest) and it tends to take a week or so for them to settle in.