All change

Ever the gentleman, Jeffrey steps back from the corn, even though he loves being fed from the scoop itself. Such a star.
Ever the gentleman, Jeffrey steps back from the corn, even though he loves being fed from the scoop itself. Such a star. Note our chocolate Labrador Megan sniffing around for eggs in the background

It’s time for an overhaul at the Smallholdings. We’ve been keeping our main flock in the same, albeit large, run for what we realise is seven years. A combination of all the rain we’ve been having and the mild weather this autumn means it must have become the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of ailments and pests. We’re also battling very persistent rats. When we first installed the coop and fenced the area, it seemed more than large enough for our layers, but we were soon proved wrong when the grass was scratched and pecked away and the pen became pure mud. And, of course, our flock grew as demand for eggs increased among friends, family and colleagues, adding to the wear and tear.

The catalyst for making changes now is that it turns out that our black Araucana had Marek’s disease – and we now realise that Rhodie, who James had to dispatch a fortnight ago, had the same complaint. We’d misdiagnosed water on the brain, but her symptoms – which included disorientation, weak legs that eventually gave way and a dropped wing – all point to the same illness. Unfortunately, there is no cure, so we decided the kindest thing to do was put our young black Araucana out of her misery last weekend, too. So Sunday evening was rather gloomy for both James and I – we loved that friendly little hen. Still, the silver lining was that we had discovered a very helpful forum through which we found out what the complaint was. Despite my misgivings about the helpfulness of such online groups, we joined Backyard Chickens and posted our question. Just a couple of hours later, we received a reply from two knowledgeable users. This will prove very handy in the future, too.


As far as the Smallholdings’ makeover is concerned, we’re considering a range of options, from moving the flock up to our spare henhouse and just letting them free-range around the garden every day to buying a shed and putting it on wheels to move it around our plot (helpfully, James runs a garage so has access to the right tools for dealing with axels and such). Of course, both ideas have the disadvantage of not having a secure fencing-dug-under run, but with that you can also end up in the mess in which we find ourselves now. I know there are ways to get round this problem, such as digging over the soil with a disinfectant but, realistically, I can see that job remaining regularly undone on the weekend list of chores. We like to think that – while touching all things wooden, of course – the scent of our three dogs and the secure fencing around our perimeter will mean foxes and other predators aren’t a problem. If anyone has some views about this, I’d love to hear them.

On the bright side of things, Jeffrey continues to crow beautifully but remains friendly and fond of a stroke or two. His porcine neighbours seem to be evening up a bit weight-wise, too. Bully pig is looking almost as large as Porky pig, while Naughty pig still has a little way to go (held back by his brief illness, no doubt). So, no need to isolate Porky in a kind of health farm setup after all. We managed to fence in the elder tree they were uprooting last weekend. It wasn’t the most pleasant job in the rain but was a fairly simple case of driving four fence posts in the ground and tacking three strands of barbed wire to them. It seems to have done the trick and hopefully saved the tree.

IMG_20141120_145826A couple of dry days have improved life on the Smallholdings no end – not so much slipping around in the boggy ground for the porkers, chickens or us – and tomorrow James and I will be hatching plans for moving the hens. Onwards and upwards, as they say. Happy weekends all.

2 thoughts on “All change

  1. Hi Ruth,

    So sorry to hear of your chickens that became unwell, I do wonder about the land that mine are on as our house is in a permanent location. We do give them a good depth of woodchip that gets replaced a couple of times a year, so hopefully this helps to keep infections at bay…

    Good luck with the moving plans!


    1. Thanks Sara. That sounds sensible – imagine it keeps much of the illness at bay. I think it’s Virkon disinfectant that’s recommended for digging into the ground every so often, too – something we’ve never got round to. Still, plans are afoot to remedy the situation! Thanks for all your support on Twitter and WordPress, much appreciated. Best, Ruth

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