chickens · Life in the Countryside

The death of a chicken

As you may remember we have six chickens who are all about 18 months old now. Once they started laying they were pretty consistent although have been less so recently. We suspect that Dorothy has been eating her eggs and we think the girls have been a bit put off laying by their home being moved about a bit and some of the workmen and machinery that we’ve had around recently. Anyway whilst we were away in Cornwall we used the services of a local lady to come and water the garden and tend to the chickens for part of the time as my father in law was away as well. She contacted us to let us know that Henry didn’t seem quite herself. Henry has always been the runt of the group really. She had a poorly leg not long after we got her which took a couple of weeks to heal and she had always seem the weakest. Well to cut a long story short, she died.

The chicken lady said it seemed like she had respiratory problems and was egg bound but whatever it was she didn’t survive. Whilst it is really sad to have lost one of our girls, it is all part of life in the countryside. In fact we’ve been lucky not to lose any of the girls before now to foxes. Chicken health care isn’t exactly available and aside from some home remedies, chickens are generally expected to either make a recovery or not. Simple as that. We have debated whether or not to replace her but have decided not to immediately. Chickens can be rather bullying to newbies and as such it’s best to introduce them to an existing group slowly and in pairs. So we’ll leave it for now as a family of five and may add to our brood in the future.

The big thing that we’ve had to do is to explain to C about Henry. She understands the idea of death but hasn’t had any direct experience of it until now. We decided to be honest about it and tell her that Henry was really poorly and the doctor couldn’t make her better. We also have a book with a story about death which explains it really nicely about a fox going to sleep forever and how his friends remember him. So when J told her he said that it was like the fox in her book. She seemed to understand and wasn’t sad but very matter of fact about life an death. Guess that’s what comes from being a country girl.

chickens · Dog · Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Snow days

It’s been pretty hard to avoid the fact that the UK has been hit by a storm of pretty mammoth proportions recently. All three of us had a snow day on Friday even though J did have to work from home. We’d had a bit of snow so far this winter so C and Jessie had experienced it a bit but this weekend it really came down hard. There is really something quite magical about the snow and the effect that it has on puppies and children. Even though it makes things so much harder it is just quite beautiful. That said I know that the storm has brought great tragedy and difficulty to many people so we are very lucky to have been able to enjoy its beauty.

This was the scene on Thursday night when I insisted that J and I don our wellies and walk out to the field just to look at its beauty. Jessie has absolutely adored the snow and would have spent all day out there had we let her. She has sniffed and dug and bounded all over. The funniest thing has been throwing snowballs and her trying to fetch them back.

On first seeing the snow C did ask “Can we open our presents now?” Which was pretty adorable and made me realise how much toddlers associate snow with Christmas rather than winter. I guess so many Christmas films show snow in them that the association is inevitable. The first thing C wanted to do was throw snowballs at daddy (which I strongly encouraged) and then build a snowman. It turns out that getting a toddler to build a snowman with a dog’s help isn’t as easy as you think but our garden is now proudly home to two snowmen (largely through the efforts of J but I did help).

C was so excited about putting the coal for the eyes, although we were lacking a carrot for a nose as I had just used the last of them for our roast dinner so we had to adapt with extra coal and an apple. I’ll be interested to see how long they last and I think C will be quite sad when they melt. I themed our Christmas Eve hamper this year on Raymond Briggs ‘The Snowman’ and when she watched the film she was really upset when the snowman melted.

I think the highlight of our snow endeavours for C was sledging. We already had a sledge in one of the sheds which J’s dad have over-excitedly bought a year ago when they said it was going to be a bit cold (no snow appeared that time). We don’t have any hills in the garden so C had to settle with being pulled around the field, which she adored.

In fact to get her back inside we had to bribe her with the promise of hot chocolate with marshmallows. She later described her favourite part of the day as being sledging. Being ‘trapped’ at home was actually quite nice in many respects. We had milk in and used the bread maker to keep ourselves stocked up with fresh bread. I baked a lovely coconut and raspberry sponge which was lovely still warm from the oven and even better the next day with custard. I had been running the freezer down in preparation for the big move so it wasn’t quite as well stocked as usual. However, we were still able to rustle up some lovely meals; roast dinner, egg and chips, beef bourguignon and new potatoes, Boursin topped ciabatta pizza and of course porridge or eggs and toast for breakfast. It has really reinforced to me the importance of having a well stocked freezer as a family. When we have the work done my aim is to have a large American fridge/freezer in the kitchen and two additional freezers in the sheds. And maybe a chest freezer too if we start producing our own meat.

I’m not sure how our veggies in the raised beds will have faired with the snow. We have strawberries and asparagus in there as permanent additions and our leeks which we planted back in October half term still in a bed too. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the big thaw to see how they have coped.

The fire has proved invaluable in this weather. Some of our water pipes did freeze inside the house due to lack of heat but once we put all our electric radiators on they thawed by Friday morning. We’ve actually been quite toasty.

The chickens have struggled in the weather and we have done what we can do for them but until it thaws properly it will be a bit touch and go for them. Their eglu is insulated and designed to withstand snow so they are fine in there but they really didn’t like coming out of it so we moved their water and food temporarily into their coop and are just going to have to wait it out and see how they do. We’ve still had at least three eggs everyday so they can’t be doing that badly but I’m prepared for the fact that we may lose a couple. Fingers crossed though.

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. 

Life in the Countryside

What a difference a year makes…part one

It is now just over a year since we moved into the cottage and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve in a year. Both J and I have moments when we just want to walk away from the cottage as there is so much to do and it can feel stifling at times. Sometimes it seems as though what we have to do is unsumountable and that we will never get to the end of it so I thought it would be quite cathartic to have a look back at how far we’ve already come to help gear us up for the next phase of our work. I had originally planned this as one post but having started to write it there were just way too many pictures for one post so I’m going to spread it across three or four weeks. So this week we have the orchard.

The orchard before:


The orchard after:

When we first moved in the trees in the orchard were looking a bit sorry for themselves and the fruit trees hadn’t been picked properly for years so weren’t fruiting that well. The big pile of rubbish next to the garage was the furniture that we cleared from the house, totally filled with woodworm or infested with mice. That went on the fire. 


When we came to empty the solar (the building behind the pile of rubbish in the first picture above) it had a wasps nest inside and the floor collapsed so it had to come down too and onto the fire it went. The horse chestnut tree (centre of the second picture above) was diseased so has been removed and the stump is now a climbing frame for the chickens.


 Where the pile of rubbish was now stands a concrete slab large enough to fit three sheds (due to arrive in the next few weeks) and there is a gravel drive leading up to it (excuse the chicken in the middle of the drive).

 The massive composting pile of garden waste (picture three at the top) had to be removed and we had another fire or two. That took a long long time.



Now the far corner of the orchard is where I’m planning on building C a cafe/shop thing out of old pallets as its a nice shaded area. The rest of that cleared space is mainly occupied by the chickens, you can see the behind the fence of the photo below where I have a nice space for C’s cafe.


I mentioned earlier that the trees in the orchard needed some serious pruning. J has taken charge of this even though he really has very little knowledge on the subject. The two apple trees in the orchard had  a number of lower branches pruned back although I confess that was mainly to make it easier to get the mower round as the branches hung very low but it was also quite overcrowded. The plum tree also had a bit of a prune too. This has given us much better quality fruit yields this year. 



J has built two pens to store leaves and create leaf mound. 


The pampas grass that was in the middle of the orchard has had to be hacked back a bit after the chickens starting using it as an alternative nest. That still needs some work doing to it.



There is obviously still a bit to go in the orchard. The trees will get another good prune soon and hopefully will keep improving as the years go by. The pampas grass needs either cutting back and tidying up or digging up. There are a number of damson trees which have grown up in the centre of the pampas which need removing as there are too many crowded into a small space. I need to create a nice shaded play area for C in the corner and build her a cafe/shop. We have another couple of trees to plant in the orchard, another plum and another apple, in line with the existing apple trees. The sheds have to be bought and assembled on the concrete slab and the edging to the driveway needs to be finished. That’s probably about it for the orchard for now although that may change in time. Not bad work for year 1 in the cottage. Next week I’ll have a look at the recreation area which is the area I’m probably most proud of. Be sure to follow us to make sure you don’t miss it. 

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

The Eglu

So it’s been a couple of months now that we’ve had the chickens and their coop so I thought it would be a nice idea to review it in case anyone is thinking of acquiring a brood of their own. J had been the driving force behind getting chickens and he had picked out a coop that he thought would fit into our lifestyles. J and I both work, him full time and me part time (at the minute) and so our time at home is precious and somewhat limited. Having just gone through potty training with C, I wanted to keep poo cleaning up to a minimum and I wanted it to be quick and easy to do. I was also keen not to avoid as best as possible the smell which seems to linger around chicken coops I’ve encountered before. I had originally stipulated a long time ago that I didn’t want chickens until C was three as then she would be old enough to know not to pick up the poo. Looking back I don’t know why I thought that three was the magic age when she wouldn’t pick up things she shouldn’t. I’ve now discovered that for C the chickens doing a poo is exceptionally fascinating but thankfully she doesn’t seem to want to pick it up.

Anyhow I digress, the point is that I demanded it was toddler proof and quick and easy to keep clean. So J found the Eglu. Whilst most coops are made from wood, Eglue makes its coops from plastic. That means they can easily be hosed/wiped down and no risk of poo getting stuck on wood (ew). The plastic is also apparently better to keep free from red mite which tends to plague chickens. A plastic coop avoids the issue of a wooden coop needing repainting every year or rotting after a few years and needing totally replacing. So although the Eglu Cube is more expensive than your standard coop it should hopefully work out cheaper in the long run. The Eglu cube has space to house up to ten chickens depending on their size and we’ve found it fits well for our six. It has a seperate laying area to roosting area so can easily be shut off at night via a sliding door keeping the girls roosting nicely on their bars. Underneath the roosting bars there is a slide out tray which pulls out to easily remove the girls nightly poos, of which there are many!

The cube is raised off the ground and reached via a non slip ladder which keeps them further away from those dreaded nighttime pests. There is a hatch on the side to collect eggs from and the back opens up as well for ease of cleaning and changing bedding. Whilst we’ve not yet experienced the extreme weather conditions which the Eglu is equipped for (ventilation for hot days and double insulation for horrible winters) I don’t have any doubt that these will prove beneficial. The cube came with a small run, which we extended to a 4 metre run so the girls can at least have some space in times where we have to keep them enclosed in there. Although as you can see Dorothy has managed to get on top of the run somehow! The run benefits from an ingenious flap thing which lies flush to the ground and provides extra resistance for foxes. We went for the cube in the green and it blends in remarkably well with the rest of our garden. The advantage of the cube being raised is that it also provideds a shaded area underneath which we’ve already seen our girls using. Eglu are apparently bringing out an automatic door opener for the Cube in the summer so that will make our chicken care even easier! 


 

chickens

Deep cleaning the chicken coop


Deep cleaning the chicken coop should be done every week or two. Deep cleaning is more than just emptying the tray underneath, it should involve totally cleaning the inside and the outside as required. Now one of the reasons we had chosen the Eglu coop was because it was supposed to be very easy to clean. Well we’ve put it to the test and I can say I totally agree. The first thing you need to do is to remove the tray under the bars and empty it into the compost. This is normally done every few days.

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Then this needs to be jet washed down and left to dry before replacing it. The nesting bars can also be removed and sprayed down and dried too. A quick wipe of the inside and outside and you’re done. The laying box tends to get wiped down and straw replaced when we collect eggs. All in all it took less than 10 minutes excludimg drying time. Not that hard at all really. Just make sure that you close the door when the nestings bars aren’t there so you don’t have any falling chickens.

chickens

Chickens

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So today is the big day when we buy the chickens. J has been the big driving force behind wanting chickens and its a decision which we have uhmed and ahed over for some time. I had grown up with dogs as pets and J had both a cat and a dog in his youth, but neither of us had anything remotely close to poultry. However, living in the countryside it seems as though everyone has chickens and we like eggs so it seemed like a logical decision. In fact J has been picking out breeds of chicken since we first moved in. He seems mainly focused on how they look whereas I’m after productive breeds, in this house it’s not really an option not to pull your weight. After having decided to put getting chickens on hold as we have quite enough to be getting on with at the moment, last week J came home and declared he wanted to buy the chickens now. And being the wonderful wife that I am I agreed. Actually I was quite looking forward to having chickens and six years of being with J has taught me that if I give in sometimes then I’ve got much more chance of standing my ground on his more ambitious ideas. So on Tuesday the chicken coop arrived and being a lovely sunny day C and I began building it. Now my biggest single bit of advice to anyone with a toddler is not to try and achieve anything when you’re with them. Inevitably they will either want to do the opposite just to be stubborn or, as was the case with C, they want to help. And by help I mean get in the way and make things twice as hard. First of all she insisted that Stickman kept doing a poo on the ladder up to the coop, a rather unusual thing to do but as we’re only a couple of months into potty training I figured it was a phase and just rolled with it. Secondly she kept declaring that it wasn’t the chickens house that it was her house. This led to eventually having to manhandle her into the house for bed and myself and J finishing the coop in the evening.

J has found a local poultry seller so today’s afternoon trip was there. He’d already spoken to her on the phone and so she was well prepared for the inevitable barrage of questions from us. I honestly can’t praise her enough, she spent ages with us talking through the bits of equipment we might need, showing us how to pick the chickens up and was very patient whilst J dithered over which exact chicken he wanted. We now are the proud owners of six chickens (two each). As guided by our poultry seller we brought them home and put them straight into their coop with the door closed. We then had to leave them for an hour before opening the door and letting them emerge in their own time.

The first to emerge was Dorothy, a Tri- coloured leghorn (one of J’s). And by about 6:30 they had all emerged, though some required more than a gentle shove to get out. The pecking order has started to reveal itself already, boy is it brutal! Although we had read about it, it was still fairly awkward to watch. It looks like the leader is the hastily renamed ‘the Boss’ who has been following round each hen as she emerges and pecking her periodically to remind her of her place. It’s hard not to intervene when you’re watching bullying happening right in front of you, but everything we read said we have to let them sort it out for themselves. The only time we have to step in is if they are wounded and we need to administer wound spray as the rest will go crazy at the sight of blood. As we speak they are now safely tucked up in bed for the night…fingers crossed for our first egg soon! The picture is the Boss at the front with Dorothy behind her.