Saturday, 3 September 2011

Clipping the Wings and 300 eggs!

As I mentioned in my last post, Custard our Alpha Chook was discovering the fun of flying! Unfortunately our fence is quite low, and she had been spotted perching on it. Not good when we live close to the road, and next door have got a nutty Dalmatian called Inca. Not that she'd know what to do if she caught a chicken, and I'm sure she'd come off the worst, but we don't want to risk it... So my soon to be Father-in-Law clipped the wings. He's much more confident at handling chickens that me or my other half, and got the job done almost before we knew it. Managed to get a few photos though... And I was Googling again (after the event) and found this interesting site, which explains how to do it, what you need and discusses the ethics of chopping feathers, and I must admit I would prefer not to have clipped wings, however, it is really down to health and safety and for the girls own good. We do have plans to build the girls a big run, rather than having them taking over the whole garden, as my baby is an almost toddler now and I really don't want her playing with chicken poop. Not for a few years at least when she can clean out the coop! ;-) So when they are in the run the fence will be too high, and possibly have a lid on so their feathers can grow back and they'll be able to flap again in there.

Custard showing off her liking for heights, And she can get much higher...


And After.

And celebrating 300 eggs this week. We have had one loss, where a broken egg was snaffled by Bennie in the coop before we could remove it. Hoping she doesn't make a habit of it. So here is the egg usage graph for eggs laid between the 15th May when they arrived, until 31st August 2011.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

An Odd Egg and Courgette Cake

We had our first strange egg laid yesterday. Not bad going in 12 weeks between the three girls (over 250 eggs!). I have had a good Google around and found some information about shell-less eggs from this website. These can be caused by a number of reasons, the main ones being lack of calcium in the diet, or a sudden shock leading to a glitch in the shell forming process. I gave the girls oyster shell grit as usual and added Life Guard tonic to their water. Today we have had three perfect eggs with strong shells, so I am hoping this is a one off.

So what are we doing with these scrumptious eggs? Below is a picture of the Chocolate Courgette Cake (with Chocolate Butter Cream filling) that used up 3 eggs. It was really tasty and an excellent way to use some of the many courgettes we have at the moment. I will post the recipe later as a separate page if anyone wants to have a go... We also made melt in the middle chocolate cookies to use up 1 egg.

And what have the girls been getting up to? 

We were out the other evening and back a little after the chooks bedtime; unfortunately the wind had blown the door to the run closed and they couldn't get to bed. We felt really awful, but we found two of them roosting on the roof of the run looking a bit put out. Omelette was hiding in the ivy bush at ground level. We very quickly got them tucked up into the coop so they could settle down for the night. Since then Custard has been climbing to new heights, standing on the run, and the recycling bin. These birds are not as dumb as people think! We will have to watch them closely in future; our fence is no higher than the run!

Below are a couple of pictures of them enjoying their shared dust bath next to the curry bush. They spend hours in this spot and the hole is getting quite deep. We secretly joke that they are tunnelling to get into next doors garden, where the grass is apparently greener!

And in this picture, Custard (Alpha-Chook) meets her "sister", Lauren was very interested in her and did make a grab for her floppy comb, but we told her to play nice (and moved her out of arms reach)... Just wait til she's walking girls...

Here is Custard posing for her close up. She is the only one that doesn't mind being handled too much, which is why all the pics are of her. Omelette and Bennie seem to get stressed at being handled still.

Custard with me, having a cuddle...

I'll include the egg stats next time, when we celebrate our 300th egg :-)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Our first egg-centenery... and a chicken update.

I'm please to say that we have had our 100th and 101st eggs laid for us by Team Chook. So what have we done with 101 eggs???

 This amounts to 2.73 eggs per day on average. The 33 eggs we sold has made us £8. Not enough to buy the next bag of feed for the girls, but we didn't get hens to make a profit from, although it would be nice to have loads more chickens in the garden and eggs to sell! The eggs have been eaten in cakes, on sandwiches, in omelettes, and boiled, scrambled and are delicious every time! I think I'm going to have a go at completely home made egg mayonnaise when we have our next surplus...

The girls have been enjoying their freedom with us still, although we have decided that they need to be confined to their own area of the garden in a few months time in a very big run rather than taking over the whole garden all day. This is because soon my 7 month old baby will be wanting to toddle around the garden and chicken poop is not good for her to play with, and I imagine the chickens may be a little scared of her. A couple of days ago her cry scared them so much they ran straight into the kitchen and weren't happy about being evicted!

Here are some more pictures of the girls...

All three ladies having a meeting in the corner of the garden.

Benni showing off her bald spot in the rain

Benni again looking a bit damp

Custard experiences the joy of a dust bath in the sun

Custard (Right) and Omelette sharing the same dust bath

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

Well, I am not about to start discussing the great philosophical question of which really did come first, although, I believe that the egg must have come first as dinosaurs and reptiles laid eggs, and these came before the chicken. However which came first the chicken or the chicken egg is a different matter. There's the joke to consider about a chicken and an egg laying in bed one of them smoking, but that not only is a little cheeky, it also condones smoking. Anyhow, in my life the chickens came and then they laid eggs. This post is a closer look at the miracle that is an egg...

 View the source of this diagram by clicking this link

Eggs are amazing creations. They take between 24 and 26 hours to make. They are made from the inside out. The chicken releases a yolk from her ovary, and is held in the funnel for 15 minutes to allow for fertilization (which would occur if there was a Mr Chicken around). It then passes to the magnum where the white forms after 3 hours. The yolk rotates as the white (or albumen) is added and fibres form to make the chalazae which holds the yolk suspended in the centre of the egg.

The shell membranes take 1 hour 15 minutes to form in the isthmus. The egg is now its full shape and size. It passes along to the uterus to form the shell after 19 hours, its colouring and protective coating are added here. After a few minutes in the vagina the egg is laid through the vent.

Random facts about eggs:

  • A hen has 2 ovaries like all female creatures, but only use the left one. The right one stays dormant.
  • Like human females, a hen is born with all the ova (yolks) she will use in her life.
  • Size of eggs increase as the hen gets older.
  • Laying is known as oviposition.
  • A hen has a 30 minute break after laying, then the whole process starts again.
  • The egg moves through the hen small end first, but it rotates just before laying and comes out large end first.
  • The colour of the yolk depends on the hens diet, for yolks that are more orange she should eat more grass and plants.
  • Egg shells are made from calcium carbonate.
  • Eggs are 40.5*C when laid.

Eggs are very versatile and I love being able to collect them each morning. Considering that our girls are "spent" commercial laying hens, we have had at least 2 eggs every day between 3 of them. And we have had 3 eggs on a lot of days. I'll work on some egg stats for another post. We've not managed to get a huge surplus of eggs, we have sold a few and given a few away and eaten loads! Yummy :-)

Chickens: A photo update

We've been spending a lot of time looking out of the window at our hens, and they are flourishing. In just over 3 weeks they are behaving like real chickens; its like they've never been in battery cages. The following videos and photographs show their eggsploits of the last week or two!

All the ladies have been out free-ranging for at least 8 hours a day since they settled in with us; and have mostly been taking themselves to bed. I say mostly, because one night, Custard (who is having a well deserved rest in this picture, watched over by Omelette) didn't go to bed! We locked her out of the coop by accident, and the poor girl was out all night. Luckily there were no foxes around, but our neighbour saw a big ginger cat in the garden in the middle of the night after hearing lots of loud squawking! There were lots of feathers on the grass in the morning and Custard had a very blood-shot eye and really was not her usual self. She kept flopping down on the grass and I was really worried about her, she was the first one in bed that night. I think she had been attacked by a cat, but been feisty enough to fight it off!

But I had no need to worry; she was the first one out of the coop in the morning, as usual. She had her beak in the food bowl within a few seconds and has been completely back to her normal cheeky self and her eye has healed well. In this video she is trying to sneak into the kitchen. In fact, all of the girls keep trying to come inside the house, they are usually crowding around the door within a minute of it being opened.

Bennie (left) has been laying away from the coop, she made a nest at the side of the shed, which isn't a good place as there is lots of junk around there (you can see pieces of wood with old nails in them), and it is now fenced off. She was really disgruntled about being moved and she tried everything to get back into her special area. And while she was looking for somewhere else to nest she almost laid an egg in the kitchen, we could tell by the tone of clucking that there was one on the way! Thankfully then she found the nest box in the coop and she now regularly lays there! Unlike her sisters who lay next to the perch in the coop. They lay where they're supposed to sleep and sleep where they are supposed to lay.
We know where they sleep now because we open the nest box to do a full beak count every night after Custard's nocturnal adventure. They all cuddle up together in the nest box, with their beaks facing inwards; they look so sweet in there.

Bennie eggsplores the garden

From L-R: Custard, Bennie, Omelette

Investigating the new fence that prevents access to the veggie patch.

Bennie having a good scratch in the dirt

Lovely rain water to drink, so much better than the fresh stuff out of the tap...

From back to front: Bennie, Custard and Omelette

Custard being checked over after her "night out".

Omelette enjoying her first dust bath...
And relaxing after the dust bath; she was sat in  there for ages!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Chickens: A Week in the Life of a Happily Retired Hen

Its a week today since I went to collect our new girls. I am amazed at how well they've settled in, they seem to be flourishing; they all have very different "hen-alities" which is like a personality but for chickens! 

They are behaving like real chickens, pecking at the grass and after 5 days they have learnt to go to bed when it gets dark! I think the pecking order has been arranged with minimal fuss, although we did see Custard throwing her weight around a couple of times. We managed to get their coloured leg rings on so we know who is who, only to find out that we don't need them anymore as we can recognise them by their individual features. Custard is the largest girl, the most ginger and has a really big, floppy comb that moves like Michael McIntyres hair when she walks. Omelette has the smallest comb and seems to be the shyest of our ladies, but also the noisiest. Benni seems to be the middle hen, she is confident and keen to explore and it looks like she's friendly with the other two.

On Friday we let them "free-range" in the garden for a while for the first time, and this is their story...

Custard and Benni eggsperience their first taste of freedom outside of the chicken run.  At this time Omelette was in the coop making an eggstremely loud screeching noise. I'm not sure if she was warning us off, or trying to convince the other girls not to go out.
Getting braver...
"Come on Omelette, its not that bad out here"
Omelette, finally braving the outside world.
Omelette exploring the vegetable patch; after walking through the onions, she forced her way through the potato plants pretending to be a pheasant running through the undergrowth.
Being "moved along" away from the veggies by her new Daddy! Notice how they are both walking in step!
Custard gets to know Daddy a bit better while she has her leg ring fitted.
Custard and Benni having a stroll together around the garden. They were  inseparable on this first trip out.
Benni in blue and Custard in yellow. Wonder what they were talking about!
Custard checking out the perimeter! We wondered if they could be plotting a Chicken Run-esque escape attempt...
Today we got up extra early to let them out and clean the coop, before our other little girl woke up! So free ranging again, and Custard did in fact manage to escape into our neighbours garden through a tiny gap in the fence, which has now been fixed! Luckily, Inca, their frisky Dalmatian was not up and out! Although I'm sure Custard would have fended her off. She gave us a display of feistiness earlier when a blackbird landed in the garden. I would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of the fierce, flapping charge that she did across the full width of the garden!

And now the Week in Eggs....

  • Sunday           3
  • Monday         3
  • Tuesday         3
  • Wednesday    2
  • Thursday        2
  • Friday            3
  • Saturday        2 (so far...)
Grand Total = 18!!!

We've eaten 4, and sold 5, and made £1.50, which will go towards their food and bedding...

Think we are going to enjoy looking after these girlies :-)

Sunday, 15 May 2011

C:Day - The Chickens Have Landed!

We have chickens!!

Yesterday was C-Day. I drove to the lovely little village of Sand Hutton about 7 miles North East of York, past the asparagus farm and the pig field to a massive barn full of 600 ex-battery hens looking for new homes. I registered in the farm shop and bought a 20kg bag of feed ready for my new girls. I met Wendy from BHWT, who I'd been emailing about the hens over the past couple of months, she was very passionate about re-homing chickens. I donated £15 for my three, and was told about the Facebook page that has loads of hen fanatics sharing their stories, and providing advice for the novices like me! We walked around to the barn, and I was expecting lots of bald, sad looking chickens, but was surprised to see a mass of feathers, and hear loud happy-sounding clucks! I handed over my cardboard box and had it returned to me full of chickens!

When I got them home I (with the help and support of my other half) managed to get them into their new home. I was really nervous when picking them up, as I don't think I was firm enough or had a good enough grip around the wing! There was lots of flapping! But they soon settled into their house, and I even saw one of them on the perch; which they have never seen before and aren't normally strong enough to grip on to one. It took about 6 hours for them to be brave enough to come outside into their run. We put some food and water into the coop, because in the farm they don't have to venture very far to reach anything! We also had the food and water containers outside, so they could get used to seeing them there and could help themselves when they were ready to explore. When it was dark we locked them into the coop so they were safe from foxes.

 And this morning there were 3 eggs!! There was one on the floor next to the door, one in the nest box, and one that my other half found that was underneath the food container that had been kicked over at some point during the night. We cooked one this afternoon to try it; I have never tasted an egg just hours fresh and I was amazed at how "eggy" it was. It's almost like supermarket eggs lose flavour for each day they sit on the shelves.

A lot of time today has been spent looking out of the window and watching the girls settling in. Its best not to handle them too much until they've got used to their surroundings. They have been braving the outside, and have all been spotted using the drinker, and feeder. I've seen them all pecking the ground for bugs and grass and getting used to the ramp up into the house. They seem to be learning to be "real chickens" fairly quickly! We've managed to take a few pictures of them, but didn't want to disturb them too much yet! Its difficult to know which is which so we have ordered some coloured leg bands from eBay, which we will use to distinguish the girls from each other.

As it got dark this evening, one of the girls was still out so we had to get her in bed for the night. It turns out that she didn't want to go, and it took a while to persuade her to go in. A few minutes later we looked out of the window and the door of the coop (having not been bolted quite right) was open and we had an escapee! It was the same girl, and she was put back to bed shortly afterwards, and all doors were checked carefully after that!

I'm looking forward to another egg hunt in the morning!

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Chickens Are Coming

Good news, finally, I will be collecting my girls on Saturday 14th May 2011.

I received an email from Wendy at the BHWT to let me know what time to collect them and giving me directions to the farm at Sand Hutton, near York. She also included instructions about the container I need to take with me to transport my hens home; this photo is an example of the box I will need, with the appropriate ventilation holes. 

She also included details of the food that these hens will need. Because they have been fed a certain texture of food and have been subject to battery farm conditions they need to be fed ex-battery crumb, rather than normal pellets as this is what they are used to. It also provides the extra nutrients they need to recover and start looking like healthy hens! Pellets can be introduced later on; they should be offered alongside the crumb until the hens get used to the change.

I'm going to pay a visit to my local pet provisions wholesaler this week to look at what feeds and bedding they have available. The chickens will be happy with wood shavings, shredded paper, straw or hay; I will have a look at what's available before deciding.

I have a little problem too... I have no idea of how to handle a chicken! I have done a bit of research on the Internet and in my book (a birthday present from my 5 month old baby girl - thanks Daddy for organising that!) "Raising Chickens for Dummies". The best way of handling chickens is not by holding them upside down by their feet! The best way is to grasp them firmly around their body, holding them under your arm. I hope I'll feel happy handling them, I've never had anything to do with birds of any kind! 

The book is a little advanced for me at the moment too as a very novice chicken keeper. It goes into a lot of detail about rearing chickens from eggs, right through  to the slaughter and butchery process if you wish to raise chickens for meat. It provides lots of tips though, that I hope will prove useful as I become more experienced, or maybe keep more chickens. My Other Half has been trying to find an allotment, and if he does, I am sure it will have chickens, possibly a duck or two and at least one bee hive on it! Read about his bid to find an allotment on his blog by following this link to Beekeeping & Home-brewing.

The British Hen Welfare trust is a registered charity and asks for a donation for each hen (the average is about £4 each). This donation can be gift-aided (if you are a UK taxpayer) so the charity will benefit from an extra 25p for each £1 donated from the government. 

It does make me feel quite excited knowing that somewhere there are 3 hens that are in awful conditions that only have 4 days left before they get to retire, to have grass, space, daylight, care and attention as individuals.

And hopefully we'll have so many eggs I will have to learn to make mayonnaise, meringue and custard :-)