Thursday 1 January 2015

Chickens on the loose

The last week of December and Tim achieved his aim of clearing and digging "the Maggot" - our pumpkin / courgette / melon / squash bed - before the year end. This involved carting piles of soggy partly-decayed hay to the other end of the potager, where next year's Maggot will be, and giving the cleared ground a first go with the grelinette to loosen the soil and let the frost get in and break it up. This area will become next year's potato beds.

This healthy exercise uncovered a lot of chafer grubs (the larvae of chafer beetle species) and earthworms. We are learning more and more about chickens in general and the behaviour of ours in particular. We have discovered that they love pumpkin seeds, cooked potato, chickweed, bitter cress ... and chafer grubs and earthworms.

Tim makes a mash for the chickens every few days, composed of Grower pellets, vegetable peelings, and the cheapest possible pasta. When Tim handed out the mash on Sunday, he decided to leave the hen run door open. Tentatively the trio took their first steps outside.

Trust no-one

From left to right, meet Vinnie, Blanche and Alice. Vinnie is developing rather fine wattles and comb, and holds his tail high in the classic cockerel posture. He has a fine ruff around his neck which he fluffs out at any possible opportunity.

Vinnie with the vegetation from the Maggot bed in the background. His ruff is visible in this picture.

The trio stretched their wings and had a good flap. As Orpington crosses they are heavy birds and need a good run-up to fly. Alice is very like her brother. They are built a lot like a true Buff Orpington, which should be a burly, solidly-built bird, but show birds of that breed are a uniform golden brown, with no white on them. Back-yard Orpingtons are built much more along Highland Games Champion lines, without the long trailing feathers. Breeding for showing has reduced the egg-laying capacity of the breed, but crosses like our three should be producing by next spring.

Alice. All three birds have white primary feathers (the long feathers of the wing)

Orpingtons have a thick layer of fluffy body feathers which give them the appearance of wearing baggy trousers. It also helps to insulate them against the cold. We have erected a rather gaudy windbreak that we used when we went camping, to provide a little cover from the wind.

No wattles, no prominent comb, a hen bird in harem pants

Finally Blanche, the adventurous one, always out of the run first. When our big tom cat came to investigate the newcomers, Blanche went on the attack, to Baron's surprise. She then made the mistake of turning her back on him before he had completely slunk away. But he withdrew, crestfallen.

Blanche having a good scratch in the compost in search of titbits

Hello! There's something interesting over there....

Girls together

You put your right leg in ... no, Alice, the other right...

One thing they will have to be deterred from doing is picking the buds off the raspberry canes. I'm sure they'd rather have a few raspberries, given the choice, but to a chicken brain, a raspberry bud in the beak now is worth two on the bush.


Vera said...

At one time we had a huge compost pile,and then we got chickens and the compost pile vanished, scattered into non existence by the working of those chicken feet!

Lester likes Orpingtons, especially the cockerels, but I thought them lazy (we have had three) and I much prefer the bog standard barn yard cockerels, who show a lot of interest and energy in looking after their hens, which I found our Orpington cockerels never did. But on the other hand, they were gentle and polite and just wanted a quiet life, which was so opposite to the barn yard cockerels we have had.

No cockerels here at the moment, and I miss the nonsense which accompanies having one around, but we are waiting until we get a proper chicken hut done, which might be a while yet!

Wishing you and Tim all the best for 2015. Vx

Susan said...

I'm so glad you are enjoying your chooks. I forsee hours of fun observing them in 2015 for you. Happy New Year and wishing you the best possible health and much chicken based happiness.

Colin and Elizabeth said...

There is nothing better than a trio of chucks to brighten up your day! We loved having them! The destruction of the compost piles, which Colin had put in place ready to spread over a given area, caused no end of grief for him. The hens loved it!! Chafer grubs.... yum, yum .. and as for pasta: Well what could be better?? Cherries perhaps, or cold potato, or worms..... Enjoy every minute of your new friends and let us know when those first eggs arrive as you'll be in for a treat! Happy New Year to all your "family"! xxx

Tim said...

Thanks one and all and best wishes for a super 2015. RonRon the alien scientist pseudocat met them just now and they were wary but not really worried about her. Blanche walked straight past her. Those cats are going to get an inferiority complex.

GaynorB said...

Bonne année to you both, and your growing collection of animals. You will enjoy observing and photographing the chickens, and they will no doubt enjoy the varied diet.

We look forward to seeing them in the Spring.

Carolyn said...

Best wishes for 2015 to you and all the animals and your garden.

I enjoy reading about your garden successes and challenges. This year we hope to get back into gardening. If you know a way to cause chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels, and mice to pack up and leave home forever, please let me know.

Tim said...

Carolyn, best of luck with your garden in 2015. I'm not entirely kidding when I ask can you maybe hire or borrow a grizzly bear or a small wolf pack, or a few coyotes? A wolverine? We've run the top predators out of inhabited areas wherever we as a species have settled, and the little critters have got out of hand. Sonic devices have failed to keep mice out of our pantry - they aren't worth bothering with. We've had a bumper year for rodents of all kind, especially voles who have burrowed under our vegetable plants and eaten them from beneath. I just picked up a celeriac that was no more than a hollowed-out shell with just a burrow going down where the roots should have been. The kestrels, the buzzards, the tawny owls, the fox and the cats do their best, but we're missing wild cats, wolves, the big species of eagle, brown bears, lynx, genets...
That said, my former colleagues in Omaha, Nebraska, reported the discovery of a mountain lion living in a dry storm drain next to their office building! Pauline

Jean said...

Handsome creatures, and marvellous names!
I look forward to meeting them soon.

Pollygarter said...

Vinnie crowed for the first time this afternoon. He's definitely male. That means...