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Chicken Changes

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The chicken changes continue here and I know people are curious to know who has and hasn’t made the cut. A month ago I had six hens laying and now I’m down to three laying. Fortunately, these three are all still laying, despite the fact that it is winter. Frodo is up to 15 days laying in a row, so is due to go broody at any time. Kitty has only missed one egg in the last 16 days, although she briefly tried out broodiness yesterday, and Lizzie has settled into a weirdly repetitive pattern of laying for two days then missing a day, but her eggs are large or even jumbo sized with huge yolks. Georgiana still hasn’t started laying yet and probably won’t until late winter or early spring, so I don’t yet know what her capabilities are. On the weekend, two chickens found a lovely new home: Mary and one of the new black Orpington pullets. There are two more I have been trying to sell: the other Orpington and Mr Bingley. Yes.

It has been very difficult trying to decide who to keep and who to sell to get my numbers and costs down. I had to make a document with photos of all my chickens to help me decide. I knew that Mr Bingley was going to have to move on sooner or later since I was determined to make a move on breeding purebred Australorps, but decided to bite the bullet since I had a rising food bill and a nice young cockerel coming along. Well, I thought I did. This is where it got complicated! I had a sudden realisation that PB was not a sweet-natured, slow-maturing cockerel but was turning into a large, huge-footed, easy-to-handle hen. Either that or PB is going to be some sort of hooster, which doesn’t bear thinking about. I swear she tried to tid-bit me one day! While I had wanted her to be a him so I could breed some purebreds in spring (or when ‘he’ matured), it is not so bad because a) it is nice to add a sweet purebred hen to my collection and b) Mr Bingley is probably allowed to stick around for longer. I guess I’ve learnt not to count my cockerels before they crow. My breeding plans are now to acquire some fertile Australorp eggs whenever some become available in order to hatch a cockerel. Option 2 is to buy one if a good one becomes available but I would much rather hatch and raise one myself, especially if I have a few to pick from.

Keeping or selling

Keeping or selling? The harsh process of finding out the value of each chicken to me. In the Keeping section: Frodo is my number one, followed by Kitty then PB (although these two may swap places now that PB is a girl), Georgiana, Lizzie and the Wyandottes. I am curious about Kitty and Georgiana’s usefulness for breeding and would like to know Georgiana’s laying capabilities, otherwise she might be further down the list. In the Selling section we have Mary, the Orpingtons and Mr Bingley. Mr Bingley is of the least financial value to me right now plus in a small flock I really need new genetics to ensure healthy chickens. Obviously, his emotional value to me is higher than this and he is still useful for keeping everyone in line with new chickens around. The bottom line is there’s not much point hatching any more of his eggs as I would have to sell all the offspring (can you imagine me not keeping any?) due to needing genetic diversity in my flock.

Mr Bingley

I don’t know how to say goodbye to my beautiful Mr Bingley, but I know I have to if I want to move forward with breeding purebreds on a small scale. It’s kind of a relief that PB isn’t a boy now, as Mr Bingley might get to stick around for a while longer.

PB

It has become clear that PB is a huge-footed, awkward-bodied pullet. She is going to be a big girl! Now to give her a proper name…

And what of the new Wyandottes? Well, goodness, they are too precious. I feel a bit sorry that Mary lost out to some newbies, as she was a good, healthy hen. She was my only daughter of the late Legolas, but she was a lot more shy than Legolas and didn’t have the outstanding personality that I had hoped for. It was a lot to ask trying to get that personality out of a single offspring, and being the most mixed-breed of my chickens, Mary just had the least pull in light of my future breeding plans. The Wyandottes, however, have personalities that are right on-par with Legolas. They are friendly and so easy to hold, which, combined with their pretty colours, ensured them a spot on the ‘Keeping’ list. With that, I am giving them names: the silver laced girl is Lorelai and the gold laced girl is Sookie (pronounced SOO-kee for the uninitiated).

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The Wyandottes: Lorelai and Sookie.

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There’s a chicken sitting on my hand. Can’t do that with the Australorps!

The Wyandottes and the remaining Orpington have been integrated into the main flock. I know it is dangerous to my selling intentions to have the Orpington in with the others but I couldn’t leave her in a pen all by herself. The integration went even better than I expected. After a few days of being in pens alongside each other I took the two Wyandottes into the run where the coop is, while the others were kept occupied out in the pen with kale to nibble and logs and cable reels that had been moved to reveal fresh digging ground and bugs. The Wyandottes got a bit of time to explore and find where the food and water vessels were while I stayed with them. Then Mr Bingley showed up. He made kind noises towards them and showed them how to scratch around a bit before one of his hens called him back with needy noises. The gold-laced Wyandotte had googly eyes for Mr Bingley.

Then all the others came around into the run and everyone met each other in a surprisingly non-dramatic way. Well, I suppose Lydia wasn’t there… They just kind of stood around for a while, then the sprightly wee silver-laced Wyandotte took a crack at Frodo, the now 2IC hen. She wasn’t too phased, even when the Wyandotte jumped on her back, and calmly put her in her place. Kitty, 3IC, pecked at the Wyandottes a couple of times and I poked her back to discourage her. After the older chickens started to dissipate without much eventfulness, 13-week-old PB had a crack at the Wyandottes. Her biggest tussle was with the silver-laced girl, which is to be expected, seeing as PB was at the bottom of the pecking order and the silver-laced girl has a dominant nature. Nothing got too heated though and after sitting out in the pen for a while watching the older chickens carry on as usual and knowing that Mr Bingley was there to keep everyone in line, I left them to it. The Orpington joined the flock later in the afternoon after her buddy left. She is almost as big as Georgiana and was more interested in foraging around, so her introduction was even less eventful. She has quite a dominant nature too so it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming days. The integration was a good distraction, especially for Mr Bingley, from the fact that Mary had disappeared off with her new family.

 

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The black Orpington is pretty much as big as Georgiana (right). She doesn’t stand for any nonsense and looks out for her Wyandotte buddies if they’re getting towered over by the biggies.

As chicken bed time started to approach I kept an eye on the chickens out the window. I knew I would have to assist the newbies with where to go. As the others milled around the coop, filling their bellies and starting the entrance proceedings, the three newbies were out pacing the fence trying to get into their old, adjacent pen. When I went in there the Wyandottes came up to me and just stood there in front of me waiting for me to scoop them up. Aw, bless their little hearts! The only chicken who has done that before was little Half Pie, the peck-injury chick from my first hatch, during his reintegration. I placed the Wyandottes in the coop then went and caught the Orpington, who thought she could find her own way home, thank you very much. The second night the newbies didn’t quite make it into the coop past the big scary chickens again. I found the three of them trying to find a place to settle under the woodshed shelter, managed to scoop up all three at once and put them through the coop door. Once they are in there they’re alright, it’s the getting in there in the right order without offending anyone that’s the tricky part. They’re ‘supposed’ to go in first, before PB, being the lowest in the pecking order. They’ll get it eventually.

Thus, we are back to all the chickens in one pen. I have one Orpington left to sell, before I change my mind, and a Mr Bingley, who will hopefully be sticking around for a while unless a nice home is found for him in the interim. The only thing I’m unsure about is whether Lorelai is actually a girl or a boy. Her curling tail feathers, long legs and slowness to feather up at the back end have me a bit nervous, as I really like her, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

Lorelai

You better be a girl, Lorelai, because I like you!

Homestead Update

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Well, things have been certifiably nuts around here of late. I have been sick and fatigued off and on as I try to figure out what food or foods are causing me issues. That is making it difficult to get things done and it seems time is whizzing by while I’m scrambling to get a grip. On top of that, I am looking to go back to the workforce soon, which is not something I was planning to do just yet. And as a last kick in the pants our only car suddenly became in need of major work, which isn’t worth it, so we have been trying to get our heads and pockets around acquiring a new car. Here are some updates on different things going on at Twiglet Homestead.

The Chickens

The first thing of note is that Lydia is no longer with us. She was my second egg eater. I tried to retrain her and had some success while she was in the big cage, but as soon as I put her back with the main flock, she went feral with her laying and wouldn’t lay in the coop. She laid under the shelter, ate her egg then alerted everyone else, including me, to what was going on. When I ran over some other hens were pecking around in Lydia’s hole, but, fortunately, Lydia appeared to have eaten the whole egg, as she was wont to do, so the others didn’t cotton on. But that was it. No more time and effort trying to win a losing battle with this determined egg eater. No more endangering my other hens with that habit. I could not keep her somewhere all alone. A couple of people offered to re-home her but they were too far away. There was no place for her here. I had to get The Husband to do the deed. I just couldn’t face culling Lydia. I did, however, manage to add one more chicken to our freezer collection… It is sad. Lydia was my good little layer, full of character, loud announcements and cheekiness. I had been through a lot with her: bumblefoot ops, making foam shoes, doing many, many foot dressings, watching her get demoted from top hen spot for being over-dramatic and having her pout at my feet, seeing how nutty her offspring could be (ahem, Mr Collins…). She was the only hen I’ve taken to the vet, where I learned some excellent information. She recovered so well. She was great entertainment. She was my most consistent layer. Unfortunately, she just became consistent with egg eating too. She will be missed.

Lydia

Farewell, Lydia, you crazy, cheeky chicken.

I’d like to say onward and upward, but, with our above issues, the flock is going to see some more changes. I need to cut costs and there are tough decisions going on, especially if I am to hatch some eggs in spring. Who will stay and who will go? It is a harsh decision-making process. We shall have to wait and see.

Chickens at the fence

Don’t look at me like that, chickies, I have tough decisions to make.

Ok, enough bad news already! One good thing is that the hens are still laying, some of them just a tad less frequently as the daylight hours decrease. They’ve laid 5-7 eggs in the last week. Some people’s hens are off the lay for winter so I’m totally stoked to still have some eggs! Lizzie has become almost as a good a layer as Lydia and her eggs are bigger. Kitty is a good, sensible layer, Mary has become a sensible layer too and Frodo is an awesome layer when she’s not being broody. Also, PB is doing well. He is 13 weeks old now and hasn’t succumbed to Mareks as yet, so things are looking good. The thing is, although he is big, I’m really not sure about his maleness once again. If he is a boy he has an extremely pale and small comb and wattles for his age. I have been watching him a lot and I really don’t know what to think right now! Maybe in another week I’ll know. Georgiana is PB’s buddy but PB sometimes gets to hang out with the others too. The new girls are doing well and getting handled while they’re easier to catch in their temp ‘quarantine’ pen, which has now been moved right next to the main pen so everyone can get to know each other before the great integration. The little silver-laced Wyandotte is my favourite, with a chilled out, friendly nature and lively foraging abilities. At first I was a little worried about how she would cope being the smallest, but she is a goer! She is actually the dominant one. It is funny to watch the wee thing dominate a big Orpington, however, I’m now concerned that she may be a boy. Blagh. Not another mind-battle! My suspicions are due to curly tail feathers, slow-developing rear-end feathers and upright posture. If she is a he I can swap her for another pullet but that would be a shame and it would mean more quarantine. Since Wyandottes are a new breed for me I will just have to wait and see.

Getting to know each other

“Stop digging, the human’s looking!” “No, human, we are definitely not digging a tunnel to the other side… La la la…”

New girls looking

Hello, other chickens!

 

The Garden

Much of the vege garden has been put to bed for the winter. I have been putting used chicken bedding on top of the empty beds to help suppress the weeds, protect the soil and add some organic matter for next season’s crops. There are still some crops slowly chugging along. Growth has slowed down a lot as the cold finally hit and the wet weather has continued to give little time for the soil to dry out. Just when things get sunny, the rain bounds back in again with complete disregard for my gardening needs.

Vege garden 1

The parts of the vege garden not containing crops have had used chicken bedding (wood shavings and poop) tipped on top. I will see how this works out.

Vege garden 2

There is actually still some green stuff in there! The kale is getting rather stripped as I keep feeding it to the chickens – they love it. We still have kale in the freezer from the season before when I whizzed and froze HEAPS. I put kale flakes in my scrambled eggs and we chuck it in mince dishes, rice, curries and fritters, among other things.

So, what’s still growing? There are a few carrots left. There is beetroot, which I have grown for the first time. I’ve never been a beetroot fan but in the last couple of years I’ve tasted some nice dishes with fresh beetroot in them. There are leeks. Huge leeks. A leek can go a long way so we’ve been putting them into all sorts of things: fritters, patties, various meat dishes, soup… There are still spring onions and lettuces. There is still a swathe of parsley. And there are the brassicas: bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. Annoying critters are still eating some holes in them so we obviously haven’t had enough cold weather yet. The first few frosts took down my capsicums though. And guess what? I bought my seed garlic early this year! I got some Printanor, the main good culinary variety grown here and some elephant garlic, which I haven’t grown before. It is bigger and milder than normal garlic and is actually a different species. I need to figure out when to plant them. After last season’s rust disaster I’ve been thinking an earlier planting might give them more time to get growing well, but I can’t plant them if the ground is too soggy.

I have been slowly picking away at the weeding around the garden but haven’t had much time for more exciting things like planting. The Plum Tree Garden has been weeded and is looking tidy, if a little plant-bare. The Maple Garden has a downright terrible population of weeds. It looks pretty good at a glance, thanks to the ridiculously well-growing native sedges and other plants in there, but a closer look reveals swathes of weeds lurking underneath and swamping the ground covers in there. I have started picking away at it, even though I’d rather walk past with a hand shielding my eyes saying, “La, la, la…”

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree garden looks tidy, because I’ve just finished weeding it. It just needs more plants. And we need to finish chopping down the unproductive yellow-fleshed plum tree on the right. And plant the almond tree. After we dig out the blackcurrant planter box which has become rooted into the soil. Oops!

Wood Projects

We bought a ‘new’ dining table a little while back and need to sell our old drop-leaf table. The top of it was really looking worse for wear so I have been resurfacing it, just casually, as if I’ve actually done anything like that before. It may not be perfect, but it’s been a good learning experience and it looks heaps better than it did before, which will hopefully be reflected in a better price when I sell it. I have a lot of other projects to do around the house but it’s one day at a time at the moment. I will post about some smaller projects later. Meanwhile, an exciting trailer load has appeared in our yard. The Parents’-in-law found a bunch of wood framing instead of the usual pallets, and I have great visions of using them for a chicken pen, perhaps even a chicken tractor…

Dining table

The old dining table has been getting some attention.

Crafts

I am working on The Little Fulla’s green knitted jersey at the moment. Progress is very slow due to lack of time sitting still. And the fact that I chose a cabled pattern, so knitting it requires concentration and peering at a chart. Concentration is not one of my strong points at this current point in time. Let’s just say there have been more than a few re-done rows. Meanwhile, the great knitting and crocheting women of The Husband’s family have been yarning up a storm with all sorts of lovely projects popping out.

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The Little Fulla’s snail-paced jersey. The colour in this photo really isn’t right but it shows the cabling pattern well. I may or may not be about to undo a row that I did slightly wrong…

Let’s hope the madness dies down soon. Tomorrow we go car hunting…

The Changing of the Guards

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My flock has been on the move in the last two weeks, with goings as well as comings. Things are getting all-over-the-place. After the culling of Jane, I was left with an egg-eating Lydia to deal with. I spent quite some time trying various things to change her habit because I didn’t want to cull her, being one of my favourites and very useful up until the egg eating began. My efforts began with keeping a close watch on her, putting fake eggs in the nestboxes and putting dish liquid- or mustard-filled eggs in the nestboxes, to little avail.

One morning The Husband found a hen eating an egg in the coop. He showed me a photo of who it was. It was Mary. I just about died. When I went to see what the story was, Mary arched her neck and screeched at me like a dragon as soon as I lifted the nestbox lid. That was not what I was expecting! From what I can guess, she accidentally broke an egg while she was climbing around in the nestboxes turning broody. Fortunately, she only ate a little of the egg and hasn’t repeated that clumsy accident or formed an egg-eating habit. Phew. But that was it for Lydia being in the flock. The danger was too great. I promptly caught her and put her in the Bachelor Pen, aka the Fattening Pen, with Mr Collins, who had only just moved there himself.

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Lydia. If she wasn’t so smart my efforts to change her egg-eating habit might have worked.

Lydia laid an egg in there and didn’t eat it, I think because I turned up soon afterwards, but that is the only time she hasn’t eaten one since. I had to remove her from there as she was bullying Mr Collins. They were a bad combination: oh, the pair of them! A feral-minded little cockeral and his dramatic mother. As a last ditch attempt to avoid culling her I sought advice from my Facebook poultry group. Answers I could try were a roll-away nestbox and curtains to darken the nestboxes. Despite trying various things and settings for Lydia, she remains too smart for her own good. She will not use ‘that thing’, she will lay anywhere where there is bedding or just ground and then eat her egg before loudly singing the egg song, announcing the presence of NOTHING. I will see her nesting but when I come back to check I am either too soon or too late. I am currently seeing if anyone is keen to re-home Lydia to avoid the alternative option. Either way, she puts me another hen down. Mr Bingley has been most disturbed at the removal of Lydia, his 2IC, on top of missing broody hens, which is making things a bit stressful on the flock.

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Mr Bingley knows he is pretty.

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Mr Collins. Don’t let his prettiness fool you, he was the nuttiest, screechiest, most flighty chicken I’ve had.

Meanwhile, Mr Collins had to be culled earlier than anticipated to make way for some new arrivals. I forgot to mention that Frodo was in the broody breaker too. I had chickens here and there all over the place. My attempts to make one of the other hens broody only resulted in semi-broody episodes, then Frodo went broody hard-out as I was making new plans to buy in pullets rather than fertile eggs or chicks, which were in scarce demand at this time of year and would take too long before they could be companions for PB. With Jane gone and Lydia probably soon to be gone I had to get more females. And soon. With Lydia out of the flock I was able to remove the fake eggs, but not before Mary turned into a formidable, screechy semi-broody, followed by a full-on broody. Boy, that hen’s got a screech on her. She rivals Mr Collins’ screechiness. Her bark is worse than her bite though.

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Broody Frodo. No surprises here. I wasn’t prepared to let her hatch eggs so soon again and considering I want her to hatch some in late winter/spring. However, Frodo did lay for 18 days straight, which is the longest she’s laid before going broody and a brilliant amount of eggs for her! I’ve never known how good she is at laying because she always goes broody.

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This is normal Mary. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of screechy dragon-lady Mary! She is half Plymouth Rock so I wasn’t expecting her to go broody as much as the others.

Anyway, back to poor Mr Collins. He was a beautiful young thing, but so nutso, so feral. His behaviour was influencing PB too much, so I made the decision to remove Mr Collins. His pen was right next to the main pen, so he could still have some contact with the others. PB is going to be a bit lonesome for a little bit, although he still hangs out with Georgiana sometimes. The good thing is he’s now acting like part of the flock, albeit lagging a safe distance behind, instead of hiding in the bushes in Mr Collins’ scared little boys club. PB hasn’t crowed yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time… He’s still a nice boy and although he needs work out in the open, thanks to Mr Collins’ freaked-out ways, he sits very nicely in my arms and eats food off my hand while he’s having snuggles. And he’s not going to be lonesome for long…

Hot on the heels of Mr Collins’ departure and some pen cleaning and moving in the horrible rainy weather, The Little Fulla and I went on a little trip to a magical place. And now I would like to introduce you to two new members of my feather family. They are a new breed for me. They are beautiful. They are oh-so friendly that the Australorps are going to have some competition in my heart! They are a silver-laced Wyandotte and a gold-laced Wyandotte. The gold-laced girl is about 13-14 weeks old. The silver-laced girl is a few weeks younger but is a very lively forager who keeps up just fine.

I am seriously gushing over these girls! I’ve been admiring laced Wyandotte colours for a little while. The breeder also had blue-laced and buff-laced Wyandottes. The adults looked stunning and there were a lot of pullets to choose from. If they had cost a little less I seriously would have gotten more. I was only planning to get one, but then, Lydia… According to chicken maths, if I lose one hen, I can replace her with two. And thus, we end up at my next chicken trip, the next day…

Now, I would like to introduce you to the other two new members of my feather family: two 13-14-week-old black Orpingtons. They are so beautiful too! They are elegant, gentle and soft. So floofy! They remind me of dear Sam, the blue Orpington who was one of my originals. She had major health issues but she was such a sweet hen. Sam and Frodo’s relationship was as Sam and Frodo as you could get. I am getting myself into so much trouble. Too many beautiful chickens! So much for focusing on one breed. They do make me happy though and give me something to focus on in the midst of health issues. I’m currently in the midst of a food intolerance investigation, but that’s a story for another time when I’ve narrowed down my excluded suspects. I’m doing a lot better at the moment.

The newbies are currently in a temp pen together, where they will be ‘quarantined’ for about two weeks. This means I can observe them and treat anything if it comes up before they meet any of the others, while they get used to eating new food, grass and other goodies they find on the ground. So far, they have been very pleasant towards each other, which is a nice change from some of my dramatic Australorps. Names are yet to come. I can’t wait to introduce them to PB. He’ll just have to wait a wee bit longer.

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Flock Decisions

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I have been thinking a lot about flock management lately. Now that I know every chicken isn’t going to keel over and die from Marek’s disease or something else, I need to start making more pragmatic decisions about each chicken and their usefulness to the flock as a whole. For the size of our property and the size of our pockets I cannot have a huge flock and I cannot keep chickens who are costing more than they are worth. I am looking at each chicken and considering:

  • What is their purpose? (Eg. laying, breeding, broodiness…)
  • How useful are they? How well do they fulfill this purpose?
  • What is their personality like?
  • What are they like to handle?

All these aspects affect how cost-effective they are and what traits they could pass on to future offspring. Yes, I am becoming a more pragmatic chicken keeper.

I am heading in the direction of having purebred Australorps, because I like them and there aren’t as many in NZ compared to some breeds. This would mean that when I raise chicks and sell them I can make more money, especially with regard to roosters. I’m not going to get rid of my mostly-Australorps though, unless they aren’t up to scratch, because I love them and I’m not that pragmatic.

Two nights ago I made a tough call. It may come as a surprise to some but not to others. I culled my first hen for non-life threatening reasons: Jane. I always considered Jane my weakest female and her personality didn’t make me particularly fond of her. She was the lagger of her hatch. She was shy, weird and hard to handle due to excessive flapping and clawing, which, unlike the others, seemed to get worse with more handling. But she wasn’t mean and she never pecked me. She was the one that had transient paralysis from Marek’s disease when she was young, which I pulled her through. She had sour crop, which I pulled her through. She had bumblefoot, which I thought I had pulled her through. She had an egg-eating phase in her early laying days and recently returned to that destructive behaviour. Most of the time she was a poor layer, as well as a neurotic layer. Every time she started laying again after a break or a return from chicken hospital, she got really weird about the coop and made a big fuss, trying to lay in the woodshed or even in the run until I shut her in the coop to lay. If Frodo was broody that freaked her out even more. I blame her for at least some of the fluffing around that has occurred at laying time, as Lydia used to lay very sensibly in her own nestbox until Jane started making a big hoo-ha: “I cannot lay in the coop because another hen is IN THERE!” Jane was not like her namesake.

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Goodbye Jane.

I often caught myself trying to reason with getting rid of Jane. Poor Jane. She just wasn’t worth her weight in food and medical costs. She was making up numbers, ensuring that Mr Bingley had enough girls to keep him occupied when my flock was in danger of extinction and I was reluctant to bring in new stock during the Marek’s learning curve. The final nails in the coffin for Jane were the resurgence of egg eating and the resurgence of bumblefoot. Jane’s feet struggled to heal from bumblefoot despite having the least case of it of my three hens that were affected. Her feet had trouble toughening up and what I thought was a pressure sore, like Lydia had, turned out to be, or turned into, a bumblefoot lesion. That really did my head in. With Lydia turned to the dark side of egg eating too, I would not keep two egg eaters to deal with in my small flock and neither would I spend any more money on ointment and dressings for Jane’s unhealthy feet. Lizzie had a resurgence in bumblefoot with the rough, brown skin stage, which she probably got from Jane when Jane was running around without dressings in an attempt to toughen up her feet. Lizzie’s feet are responding well, though. It’s not that I can’t deal with bumblefoot​, but I am no longer going to spend large amounts of time and money trying to fix a chicken that isn’t a valuable asset to my flock.

And so, Jane is gone. Some might call it harsh, some might call it sensible, but it was a huge call for me to make. What I have been feeling since then is mostly relief, I think relief that a big chunk of my chicken ‘workload’ has gone. It is a vastly different feeling to when I said goodbye to Legolas. Legolas was a useful, until that point healthy, very friendly, calm hen, who I was so fond of. I’m taking this feeling of relief as as a sign of making the right decision. Jane didn’t give me a farewell present, she ate her egg on her final day. A nice consolation is that the flock is actually working a lot better without Jane. She was ranked lowest of the older girls and now the older girls and younger girls are more cohesive. (Except Georgiana, who has been exiled to hang out with the youngies until she is mature enough to capture Mr Bingley’s attention.) Everything is calmer and the laying dramas have toned down. Mary has not turned into the new neurotic Jane that I was worried she might after her first few egg-laying days. Mr Bingley has reigned her in well and she is becoming sensible. Mr Bingley is doing a lot better too and is growing his lovely feathers back.

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Georgiana still hasn’t started laying yet and Mr Bingley isn’t interested. C’mon Georgie!

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Mr Bingley is looking a lot healthier. He’s a happy boy with so many lovely ladies.

Now I have more decisions to make with regard to additions to the flock. One of my reasons for hesitance in culling Jane was again the numbers game. If PB is a boy, and now that I have formulated some plans I’m finally admitting that despite the fluff and the small comb, he is allowed to be a boy, I will need more girls to keep the two roosters occupied. The ideal ratio for a large breed rooster is 1:5-8. I have six hens now. So, if I want to keep the flock together as a whole most of the time, I really need another four hens. I am at the least in need of a Jane B.

If PB is a boy and survives the Marek’s period, which is now upon us, I would like to breed him to Frodo in spring to hatch some purebreds. This would entail putting PB, Frodo and at least one other hen in a breeding pen for a little while. But I need to do something else before then to provide more females. My current plan is to let one of my hens go broody. If Lizzie goes reliably broody (she’s tested it out off and on) I will source some fertile eggs for her to hatch. If Frodo goes broody (haha as if there’s an ‘if’…) I could try sourcing some chicks to put under her at night for her to raise. It is too soon to put her through the whole, long broody process again. I can’t be too picky about eggs or chicks at this time of year, as there aren’t a lot available. I will settle for any purebreds that are big enough to run with my chickens and are from a good source. Once I have hatched and raised some more Australorp females I can sell the excess females. The other option is to just hatch some more of my own eggs. I’m just wary about getting attached to them and having too many close family members!

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Frodo just likes babies.

With fake eggs sitting in the nestboxes to help deal with the egg eating, broodiness is proving to be an interesting adventure. Lizzie sat on her egg broodily for a long time one morning. This morning Kitty also sat on her egg broodily and tried to peck me when I touched her. I hadn’t actually thought of Kitty as a broody option because she hasn’t been laying long. She would probably make an excellent mother as she is my calmest, least hand-shy hen, but she does like to talk about it. She is just lovely. In the nestbox beside Kitty, sat Frodo. Frodo full-on broody screeched at me when I touched her tail. But they were both out later on so no-one has committed yet…

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I’m so glad I kept Kitty – I just love her.

Mr Bingley Returns

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Mr Bingley has finally returned. I want to say returned to Netherfield, and I even pondered changing the name of the pen to Netherfield Park, but let’s just leave it as The Cedar Pen for now. Mr Bingley was in chicken hospital in the garage recovering from sour crop. He didn’t have it as bad as Jane did but, being a rooster, he was a little more difficult to treat. He is a good boy but he started pecking me at one stage so I’m not sure how he’ll be towards me from now on. Hopefully it was just because he was sick and didn’t like being cooped up in a cage.

While Mr Bingley was away, the hens got rather frisky and some challenged each other. I saw Frodo having a stare-off with Lizzie, which Lizzie won, Frodo took on a noisemaker role again and Georgiana was having more licence than usual to chase the chicks. There was one interesting episode that occurred while Lizzie, the boss hen, was laying. The two chicks were having a sparring session. Kitty came over and joined in. Georgiana came over and started chasing them. Lydia, 2IC, came over, swiftly pecked Georgiana on the neck, and that was the end of all that. I was surprised, as this was the first time I’d seen Lydia do something responsible with her leadership. It is a far cry from her days as a fight starter. She is the smallest hen but she packs a punch. At the moment, the hen’s pecking order goes: Lizzie, Lydia, Frodo, Jane, Kitty, Mary and Georgiana. Mary used to be at the bottom but her status has been on the move since she came of age and caught Mr Bingley’s attention. When Mr Bingley left, Georgiana was keeping her distance from him and the other hens like a shy teenager.

Mr Bingley’s return to the flock was fascinating to watch. The first thing he did was dance for and mate with Frodo. Interesting. Then he had to re-establish his dominance and let the girls know that he wasn’t going to take any nonsense. The hens all flocked around him like a pack of schoolgirls, checking him out and vying for his attention. The big surprise was Georgiana. She couldn’t get enough of Mr Bingley. She got as close to him as she could and lapped up any attention and morsels that he gave her. However, Mr Bingley has not maintained an interest in her and she is back to hanging out with the two youngies or off to the side. Mr Bingley has been very busy looking after all those needy females.

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Mr Bingley gets mobbed by females.

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Mr Bingley didn’t get much breathing room on the day of his return.

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Georgiana (back), who hasn’t started laying yet, was totally smitten by Mr Bingley.

Another interesting thing to note is that 8-week-old Mr Collins has kept crowing his little crow and Mr Bingley’s response is to do nothing. Maybe that puny little chicken is not a threat to him or maybe Mr Bingley is too busy with his girls, but whatever the case, peace is good.

Another Hospital Admittance

Another chicken event that happened was that one of the hens pulled up ill and lame one afternoon. It was Frodo. She had been standing in the same spot for ages, looking very sad and droopy. When I went to check on her she was limping badly on one leg. It didn’t take much to catch her at all. My heart sank. Frodo is my most precious hen, being my only purebred female (little PB’s gender still being unknown), my faithful broody mumma and the only hen I’ve had from the beginning. I couldn’t see or feel any leg injuries. This was almost deja vu with last time Frodo was unwell with what I think was a toxic reaction, except this time her comb was still red. That actually made me more nervous, as I suddenly realised it could be Marek’s, with leg paralysis, like what happened to dear Legolas. It was still a little early for the heightened ‘Marek’s period’, which usually kicks in when the chicks are 9-10 weeks old (they were 8 weeks old), but I was scared. I syringed vitamin water into her then put her in the hospital cage. She ate a lot, drank a lot and ate a lot of grit, so that was good. In the morning, what do you know, Frodo had bounced back to her normal self. Phew! There was no sign of limping. And so, a toxic reaction is what I’m suspecting again. I caught it early, as Frodo had been full of beans earlier that day.

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Frodo is my steady girl. She may not have been so steady in her younger days but we understand each other now. Except when I try to touch her babies.

Egg Stealers

Yet another thing going on with the chickens is an egg issue. Both Jane and Lydia have been caught red-handed eating eggs. This is very bad! I’ve had a few issues in the past with egg eating, which I never got around to writing about. In the early days of laying for Lizzie, Jane and Lydia, I found a few egg messes in the coop and eggs missing after I’d seen a hen in the nestbox. Naturally, I suspected Lydia, because, well, Lydia. But one day I caught Jane sharing her egg meal with Mr Bingley in the coop. I used a combination of blown eggs filled with dish liquid and hard fake eggs to sort that out. Plus collecting eggs often.

Back to recent times, I thought Lydia’s reduction in laying was due to the decrease in daylight hours as we head towards winter. Apparently not. There have been a couple of times when I’ve seen her in the coop but then there’s been no egg. I thought she was just bossing around Mary or Kitty. Apparently not. Yesterday, Jane ran out into the pen with egg shell dangling from her beak, making a big noise about what she’d found. Lydia quickly grabbed a piece off her and the others were gathering fast. I ran in, grabbed the egg remnants off Jane, then went for Lydia, but Lydia had already eaten her forbidden morsel. Now I know both of them are at it. Today, Lydia ran out into the pen with some eggshell and ate it before I could grab it off her.

This is going to be tough to deal with. The hens don’t sing or yell the egg song until after they come out of the coop, and by then, the egg could be gone. I kept checking Jane again and again as she sat in the nestbox today. After a while, it became evident that Jane was actually exhibiting broody behaviour. Although she didn’t squawk, she raised her hackles fiercely and pecked at me fiercely when I tried to move her. Sheesh, one day egg eating, the next trying to be broody. She did actually lay in the end and didn’t eat the egg. Phew. I am watching her very closely. Jane will never be allowed to hatch eggs so if she becomes fully broody she will be straight into the broody breaker. Even if she wasn’t an egg-eater, Jane is my most neurotic hen (Mary has settled down somewhat) and she has tested my sanity too many times. If I ever get unemotional enough to sell or cull hens that aren’t useful enough for laying or breeding, Jane will be the first to go. That sounds harsh, but, now that I have a good number of chickens and not a whole heap of space, I do have to start thinking about drawing lines, especially when egg-eating is involved. Lydia is lucky I like her so much and she is a very good layer. This is going to be a tricky issue to deal with and I must nip it in the bud or I will end up with more egg-eaters and no eggs.

The Youngies

While we’re talking about the feather children, we better have another look at the youngies. They are 8 1/2 weeks old now. I have almost given up handling Mr Collins because it’s probably doing more harm than good. He freaks out all the other chickens with his terrible screeching when I get him out of the coop at night and he struggles so badly that it’s hard to pat him or do anything with him, even at night! His sole purpose in life is keeping PB company until he is big enough to go to the other side of the rainbow. If more chicks had hatched I was contemplating culling any Lydia boys as soon as I knew they were boys. Now I really know that Lydia + boy = beast of terror. Well, at least his existence has been good for PB.

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Mr Collins scares the crap out of me already.

PB is still being mysterious and I am still changing my mind a lot about whether PB is a girl or a boy. However, my gut keeps going back to girl. PB gets a little more agitated than when he/she was younger but doesn’t seem to be raging with hormones and will still eat from my hand and sit in my arms nicely. Looking at all PB’s feathering, I think girl, but his/her feet are big. And PB is big overall. As for PB’s comb, it was big initially, but it hasn’t changed much recently. I have also noted that photos on the breeder’s website show Australorp hens with large combs and wattles, bigger than any of my girls. This doesn’t really help give me any clarity though! I just hope PB isn’t going to be one of those weird mixed-gender chickens that pop up sometimes, like a ren or a hooster…

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Mr Collins (left) and PB (right).

Easter at Twiglet Homestead

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Belated Happy Easter to one and all! Things have been all go here at Twiglet Homestead. Easter was a flurry of family time and catching up on housework, tasks and projects that had fallen behind in order to get the big Cedar Chicken Pen project completed; all wrapped up in a bundle of soggy ground. I managed to make hot cross buns. The first batch were what I like to call rock cross buns thanks to an overheated proving session in the oven, but the second batch were large and tasty. Somehow I even managed to make my own Easter eggs for the first time. They weren’t perfect specimens but they were tasty.

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The hot cross buns didn’t last long around here.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been going on around here. It rained A LOT. Ground got very soggy. The Father and The Little Brother-in-law helped out with outdoor tasks. Lots of family visits. I’ve been doing small projects and bits all around garden: weeding, cleaning up vege garden, pruning, selective mowing… Ground is still soggy in places but sun is shining. The Husband hurt his back again. I finally cut my hair after 4 months. Mr Bingley got sour crop. I was about to help Mr Bingley throw up when The Husband arrived home and threw up on lawn. Weirdness level: high. I’m not sure if PB, purebred chick, is a boy or girl now. His/her nutheaded hatch mate, Mr Collins, is surely a boy. Mary, daughter of Mr Bingley and the late Legolas, started laying. Even more of a difficult layer than Jane. Laid first egg in woodshed after sneaking around wire. Repeated attempts to fence/block off woodshed resulted in much hoo-ha and grand finale of Mary on garage roof. Mary finally went in coop to lay. Drama queen Lydia started singing egg song VERY loudly outside and inside coop in Mary’s face until she was removed from the scene. Must make compost bins so The Little Fulla stops pilfering rotten feijoas from the compost heap. Knitting slippers for The Little Fulla. Need to harvest more feijoas, figs and walnuts. Need to make Vege Plan for next season. Need to finish pruning fruit trees while sun is shining. Need to properly close off woodshed from chicken access. Need to write comprehensive list of all things that need doing…

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Mary is shy, subordinate and agile – all signs point to a nutty layer.

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Mr Collins (left) is a boy, or I’ll eat my hat, But PB doesn’t look as boyish anymore. What are you going to be, PB?

Also, The Husband got curious and bought some scales. My giant pumpkin weighed 42kg!

The Opening Ceremony

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Welcome to the grand opening ceremony! What an exciting event we have here today! You may not know what all the fanfare is about but you will in a minute. Alright, everyone get ready – here come the VIPs!

That’s right, folks, today you have the privilege of witnessing the official opening of the second chicken pen, henceforth to be known as The Cedar Pen. (Unless the cedar tree gets the chop. But it won’t for now.) This event is the culmination of months of tree pruning, ivy clearing, stump removing, fencing, old fort sawing and nailing, raking and rubbish removing. Countless hours have been spent preparing this place for the chickens. A proper job has been done of it. No temporary pens over here anymore. Not only do the chickens now have an alternate pen to give the other one time to recover, a decent chunk of the garden has been ‘dealt with’. It has gone from one of the bushy, overgrown corners that I was hoping to avoid for a while, to a useful area. I would like to plant some more chicken-friendly, non-escape-promoting plants in there at some point, but that is more of a fun job for later.

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The Cedar Pen is on the left of the garage and carport.

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There was a lot of wire netting in this project.

And now for a little history of the chicken pen area to see how far it’s come in two years:

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When we acquired the property, there was a mish-mash fort and a lot of bushy stuff over there in the corner.

For the record, rubbish findings in this area, aside from the usual and numerous pieces of plastic and twine, included a ball, a frisbie, a hunk of black plastic sheeting, a pair of half-degraded undies, a plastic container, a dinosaur figurine, a collection of shiny, flat blue marbles and a stainless steel set of two cups and one plate.

The chickens are absolutely loving having new ground to dig around in and a new place to explore. Mary and Georgiana were late to the proceedings. Contrary Mary got scared and that scared Georgiana, so they scuttled to and from the coop to the orchard until I closed off The Orchard Pen. Those two make each other bonkers sometimes. It is just lovely to be able to watch the feather children out the window, all happy. Except for the rainy part. The next lot of rain has hit us, bringing more surface flooding. Yikes! Thank goodness I finished the pen when I did. At least I won’t be worrying so much about their feet now that they’re away from the old, decimated, poopy, wet ground of The Orchard Pen. Jane is so excited about the new pen that she was still foraging in the steady rain yesterday.

 

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Frodo and chicks discover the new pen.

 

The other day, The Husband was asking what all my chickens names are. He got a bit lost somewhere along the way after the Bennet girls started to appear. I rattled off my Pride and Prejudice crew: Mr Bingley, Jane, Lizzie, Mary, Kitty, Lydia and Georgiana. “Now, I just need a Mr Darcy”, I said, with a smile. He knew that I might already have a Mr Darcy in a little chick that I like to call PB.

“What about Mr Collins?” He said.

“I don’t want a Mr Collins!” I replied.

“Haven’t you already got a Mr Collins?”

Pause.

“Yes! No! Oh, no…”

The other chick, Lydia’s ‘Junior’, is almost certainly a boy, and is totally a Mr Collins. He’s a nutcase! The temporary name ‘Junior’ has all but disappeared because I can’t stop thinking of him as Mr Collins now. I have been mostly handling the chicks during the day but have moved to evening handling because chickens are more calm in the evening. A couple of nights ago I got Mr Collins out of the coop for some handling and he screamed blue murder, disturbing all the other chickens and quite possibly the neighbours. I got a bit of a shock after having just handled PB, who was nice and calm. I took Mr Collins away and even took him in the house for a little while to give him some decent handling. Most of the time he cheeped loudly, “Cheeeeeep, cheeeeeep!” He is almost 6 weeks old and is not sensible at all.

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Mr Collins has his mouth open because he’s cheeping, of course. Settle down, dude!

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PB is lovely AND pretty.

Now that I have completed The Cedar Pen, I’m not quite sure what to do next. As in, there are so many things that need to be done I barely know where to start. I have trimmed the hedge along the front fence, started weeding, harvested more walnuts and figs and made hot cross buns. And now I must get going, for the weeds are mocking me, the fruit trees need more discipline, there’s an barren plum tree to fell and the vege garden needs some love. Oh wait, there’s an ex-tropical cyclone coming. This morning I awoke to the news that yesterday’s surface flooding was just from a rain band and the actual storm was hitting this afternoon/evening and was purported to be a 50-year storm. It now sounds like it might not be as bad where we are but I’m still praying! There are poor people on the east coast still suffering from the damage of last week’s flooding who are in the line of the storm. Ok, I’ve battened down the hatches. Time to tackle some indoor tasks and projects. Opening Ceremony over!

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