Water games

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What is it about animals and their drinkers? It’s as if water tastes so much better from each others’ bowls and receptacles than their own. Not only do Araucanas Mabel and Audrey take every opportunity to sip out of the ceramic dish for the dogs, as previously reported on this blog, but I’ve also caught Beau doing the same. When I was at the lovely Baileys store in Bridstow, Herefordshire, at the weekend en route to the Hay Festival (where CL staged two sell-out small business events – click here to read all about it), I decided to buy him a miniature Mason Cash version. Naturally, he isn’t remotely interested and continues to frequent the canine original.

It’s come full circle now with Megan sneaking a slurp from the hens’ drinker. There’s probably a very good reason that I shouldn’t let this continue – perhaps chickens can pass some ailment onto dogs – so I’ll discourage it in future, but I couldn’t resist snapping her in action. Does anyone else have animals that interact like this? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Celebrity henhouses

I can’t resist sharing the details of Country Living‘s cracking, chicken-themed charitable project – you read it here first! In collaboration with the RHS, CL has teamed up with business Flyte so Fancy, which hand-crafts beautiful coops in rural Dorset, to commission six celebrities to decorate a henhouse, reflecting their individual personality and style. Among the famous des-res designers involved are Philippa Forrester, Sophie Conran and Kate Humble. Very soon they will each be taking delivery of a wooden Long Legged Hobby Henhouse (below) and putting their stamp on it.

Flyte so Fancy's fabulous Long Legged Hobby Henhouse
Flyte so Fancy’s fabulous Long Legged Hobby Henhouse

You can see the results at RHS Flower Shows Hampton Court and Tatton Park (click here to buy tickets) and bid for your favourite in an online auction (details to come soon), raising money for CL’s Charity of the Year The Addington Fund, which supports British farmers and their families, and the RHS’s Campaign for School Gardening. So if you are browsing for a new chicken property, hold off until late July when a designer henhouse could be yours, plus these worthwhile causes will benefit from your bid. We’ll keep you posted with further details at www.keepbritainfarming.co.uk and why not check out Flyte so Fancy’s Facebook page and Twitter account to see the latest news on their handcrafted coops?

Aside from all that egg-citing activity, the flock at home have been up to their usual antics. If ASBOs could be given to chickens, I reckon our neighbours would have a fairly strong case for slapping one on brown Araucana Mabel, due to her increasingly near-deafening squawking. It’s no so much the clucking having laid an egg, it’s the screeching and bellowing from her run. The more those two free-range around the garden, the more they want to do so and having roamed from Saturday to Thursday last week when I was based at home, she now sees it as her and Audrey’s right to protest loudly at the gate of their run where they are kept safe during the week when both James and I are out at work. Here she is, good as gold, having got her way, drinking from the dog bowl – her and Audrey’s favourite activity.

Similarly, the hybrids at the end of the garden are not simply satisfied with wandering around the half-acre scrubby bit of land, currently quite wild with masses of comfrey, nettles and long grass, and crawling with all kinds of insects for the hens to glean, but look longingly through the gate between this and our lawn. A proverb about the grass being greener springs to mind!

The hybrids are keen to cover some ground
The hybrids are keen to cover some ground

Hen weekend

It’s the time of year when James and his mates head off on a walking trip (this year in Snowdonia) so I had a long weekend, taking Monday and Tuesday off as holiday, to look after our two chocolate Labradors, Amy and Megan, and German Shepherd, Darcy, as well our 15 hens and Beau the Bengal cat, of course. We had a lovely few days together and I thought I’d take leaf out of the school show-and-tell tradition and share our mini-break here in pictures…

The eggs mounted up over the week as I wasn't selling them in the CL office - though, the dogs had one a day, on their breakfast or dinner
The eggs mounted up over the week as I wasn’t selling them in the CL office – though, the dogs had one a day, on their breakfast or dinner
My sister Kate and I discovered masses of mint growing in the undergrowth along with comfrey at the bottom, rather wild part, of the garden
My sister Kate and I discovered masses of mint growing in the undergrowth along with comfrey at the bottom, rather wild part, of the garden, so I hung some in the henhouse in a probably vain attempt to make it smell sweeter!
Darcy (pictured) and Megan thoroughly enjoyed swimming to retrieve sticks in the river near our house
Darcy (pictured) and Megan thoroughly enjoyed swimming to retrieve sticks in the River Blackwater near our house
The potatoes (and surrounding weeds) are coming through nicely and it's been a job keeping hem covered up
The potatoes (and surrounding weeds) are coming through nicely and it’s been a job keeping them covered up
Beau enjoyed snoozing in front of the woodburner on a regular basis
Beau enjoyed snoozing in front of the woodburner on a regular basis
Audrey and Mabel brazenly drank from the dog bowls and even came into the utility room at one point before being ushered out
Audrey and Mabel brazenly drank from the dog bowls and even came into the utility room at one point before being ushered out
Darcy took me to Dedham for the afternoon on Monday. We walked to Flatford Mill and enjoyed having Constable country almost entirely to ourselves
Darcy took me to Dedham for the afternoon on Monday. We walked to Flatford Mill and enjoyed having Constable country almost entirely to ourselves

Chicken MOT

Audrey sunning herself among the dandelions
Audrey sunning herself among the dandelions

Henkeeping for the most part is pretty simple. You do little more than let the flock out in the morning and shut up the house at the end of the day, feed and water them, collect those all-important eggs and clean their coop at the weekend. But there are a few extra jobs to be performed once every few weeks, such as worming (easy with herbal and spice pellets from a company such as Verm-X – you mix them into their usual ration of feed) and keeping on top of red mites (all-natural Diatomaceous Earth is brilliant for this – we use one called Diatom. Simply puffed around the surfaces in the coop, it eliminates the parasites).

Audrey and Mabel wait for their treatment
Audrey and Mabel wait for their treatment

Then there are those more intimate, one-on-one monthly treatments which take a little more time such as applying louse powder (there’s a lovely-smelling type by Barrier) directly to each bird, around the vent area. We’ve discovered the best time to do this is at dusk when the hens have put themselves to bed and are docile enough to be handled. It’s a pretty smooth operation these days as we take the opportunity at the same time to treat scaly leg mite (this nasty pest burrows under the scales of chickens’ legs, making for some discomfort), which involves dipping their legs in surgical spirit (poured into a suitable tall container such as large yogurt pot) and then smearing them in petroleum jelly (which helps kill-off the mites)! As you can imagine – and fellow henkeepers will agree – it can get a little messy, but it’s good to blitz these tasks in one go! We managed to treat Audrey and Mabel last Monday evening and have booked in the hybrids for their monthly service next weekend.

The hybrids follow James back to their run for a handful of corn
The hybrids follow James back to their run for a handful of corn

Ten things to love about hens

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1 Fresh eggs!

Obviously. The fact that they lay those little beauties still seem miraculous each time we collect them.

2 Their greeting

They’re always happy to see you – it feels good when they rush up towards us when we approach (though I think the handfuls of corn may be the incentive).

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3 Soothing effect

Despite their constant activity, mentioned above, they have an unparallelled relaxing effect when you pull up a garden chair and watch them for a while.

4 Nests

They make a round hollow in the straw, which looks so pretty.

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5 Strong work ethic

They’re straight out of the pop-hole when you let them out in the morning and you hardly ever see them idle.

Photograph by Cristian Barnett
Photograph by Cristian Barnett

6 Bravery

Happily free-ranging around the plot, they square up to the dogs, drink out of their water bowls and look them straight in the eye.

Megan and the flock
Megan and the flock

7 Curiosity

The flock are interested in everything we do. Often, when we clean out their house, they come in and inspect what we’re up to.

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8 Wholeheartedness

They never do things by halves. Whether it’s dustbathing or grazing, it’s always a proper job!

9 Hardiness

Their willingness to go out in all weathers, keeping calm and carrying on, is unparallelled.

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10 Silky-soft plumage

I love their beautiful feathers – sometimes I even lift up the lid of the nesting box where the Araucanas sleep to stroke them!