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.

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

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!