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 :-)