James officially declared war on vermin at the weekend by plugging the gap under the gate that leads to the hen run with coping stones. Digging out the soil beneath the entrance and carefully installing the concrete blocks, leaving virtually no gap for a certain variety of pest to get in, he’s hoping that now the rats that were resident, and who’ve been taking the poison, are the last of their kind.
The flock can’t resist a bit of fresh earth being turned over and The Hen That Never Grew Up was typically bold and shadowed James as he unearthed more worms and bugs for her to feast on, not remotely bothered by his spade darting back and forth. She really is a delight – far friendlier than the other hybrids and, as her name suggests, so small in comparison that she looks like she stopped growing early.
While she foraged in the soil, the rest of the flock sheltered in the dust-bathing station which James and I made a couple of years ago but had seen being used on only a handful of occasions. Puffing up their feathers, they huddled together for shared warmth.
On the subject of heat, we’ve been trying the method of deep-littering the coop – ie not scraping out and composting the girls’ droppings, but adding a fresh new layer of wood shavings or straw on top to generate a higher temperature and keep the edge of the cold in the henhouse.
As well as chilly, at times, it’s been pretty wet and we noticed a leak which has made the place a bit damp around the edges. Checking the roof felt, nothing seemed amiss, but on closer inspection, the coop needed another coat of paint as the original had worn away, so James and I brushed a new one on last Saturday afternoon in next-to-no-time – amazing what you can get done in a couple of hours. This did mean that we didn’t have time to go and choose our Christmas tree – or decorate our own house for that matter – so we postponed these enjoyable tasks until tomorrow. We’ll use off-cuts from the fir tree to decorate the chickens’ abode, too, some sprigs of holly and perhaps some tinsel, too.
I had little more than some extra foodie treats lined up for my girls this Christmas – perhaps some more apple-bobbing, masses of peelings from the big lunch itself and a few handfuls of corn every afternoon. But then I came across this rather fun idea from free-range brand The Happy Egg Co – a pin-up cockerel calendar for hens. Now before you scoff at the idea, it is designed to calm your birds, based on research that has shown chickens are calmer when male birds are around. Still, I’m yet to be convinced that it works – I’ll have to try it out. They company is giving them away calendars via Twitter and Facebook and is putting the calendars up on all its farms from January. Let me know how you and your girls get on if you try one out…
Working from home today, I was here at the right time – just as it became light – to observe the morning habits of the hens. The girls are usually more than ready to emerge from their quarters when we surface at around 8am at the weekends, while during the week we open up the houses’ pop-holes at around 6am when it’s still too dark to tempt them out. So it was interesting to note the difference between the behaviour of our pure-breed Araucanas, Audrey and Mabel, and our gang of hybrids. The two flocks are kept in separate coops, one near our house and the other down the end of the garden.
While our lovely assortment of hybrids were waiting by the door and nearly sent me flying as they burst out and headed towards their breakfast of lettuce and layers’ pellets, Audrey and Mabel clearly weren’t even thinking about leaving the warmth of their nesting box for some time.
Similarly, I realise they tend to head to bed long before the rabble down the end down tools for the day. In conclusion, it seems to me that our pure breeds are out and about for less time than their mixed-breed counterparts. Have any other henkeepers out there made similar observations?