Yellow Chicken House

Chicken Keeping – The good, the bad and the egg-ly!

‘My Human and I’ – a poem for chicken-keepers who have loved and lost a feathered friend

Cuddling a chicken

Saying Goodbye to Shelley the Chicken

Last year, I said goodbye to a much-loved chicken of mine called Shelley Shufflebottom. She suffered with Egg Yolk Peritonitis which unfortunately did not respond to treatment despite my best efforts. I felt a special bond with Shelley who was enormously tame, affectionate and who genuinely seemed to adore being close to me.

 

Chicken Bath

 

She was gentle, inquisitive and gave me endless hours of entertainment with her quirky personality. She loved being given bubble baths and especially blow dries during which she would fall asleep as the warm air ruffled her feathers.

 

 

 

Her playful nature has given me endless inspiration for my greeting card designs and chicken art. A quick glance at some of my illustrations featuring her gives an insight into the kind of hen she was.

 

Shelley on a Spade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, I have struggled to express my sadness at her passing away through the medium of illustration and have pondered for some time on how to pay tribute to this special girl. I finally settled on the idea of writing a poem, which came to me in the middle of the night seemingly at random. I was lying in bed unable to sleep about a week ago, thinking of all the wonderful chicken-loving people I have connected with and spoken to since bringing chickens into my life and of how many times I have realised that others too experience grief at the loss of their chickens…then it came to me. The words just fell out of my head and I used the notes app on my iPhone to jot them down before I fell asleep.

I wrote the poem from Shelley’s perspective as I like to think she had some understanding of my struggle to help her. To put this struggle into context, I should point out that I noticed she was ill on the morning I was moving house and re-locating from Aberystwyth to Norwich. I felt the build up of fluid in her abdomen as I lifted her into her travel box in preparation for a 300 mile journey. When we arrived in Norwich (after a gruelling 8-hour drive), I found a vet that specialised in ‘exotic’ animals and took her there the following day. I should say at this point that the vet I used was fantastic and so understanding of the importance of chickens (All Creatures Healthcare). At no point did I feel like Shelley was being treated as ‘just a chicken’, but instead as a loved pet. These vet visits would turn out to be a weekly occurrence for over a month. Her abdomen was drained of the fluid that was weighing her fragile body down and she was put on antibiotics which were administered by myself or Martin twice a day. Her dosage was increased and draining repeated as she showed no signs of recovery.

She grew weaker and weaker and eventually stopped walking, preferring instead to sit in her house or if she could muster the strength, stagger out into the sun and lay down in its warmth. My other hen Speckledy, who had previously faced a lot of bullying from her companion, would tentatively go over to Shelley during these rare moments in the sunshine and would sit down beside her. One day, I actually came out to find them sitting together with Speckledy sleeping with her head against Shelley’s back. I so wish I had taken a photograph of that moment.

I would go out every evening and lift Shelley out of the nest, placing her on my lap and we would sit for an hour or two enjoying the fading sunlight. She would snuggle into me and close her eyes as I stroked her wings and rubbed the side of her head, which for some reason she loved.

I’m unsure of why chickens evoke such strong emotions in me or why I feel such an affinity to them but what I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

When someone buys a greeting card from me with artwork which has been inspired by Shelley, I am so grateful that she lives on by bringing a smile to others just as she did to me. I hope the following poem I have written will help to illuminate to others how deeply our lives can be touched by chickens and will resonate with those who have had to go through the experience of losing a feathered friend.

 

 

My Human & I

 

When you became my human, there’s no way I could have known,

The happiness and love I would come to feel in my new home.

I’m not sure if all my chicken-friends experience that same fate,

But one thing’s for sure, I won’t end up on a plate.

You stumble out of bed each morning to let me out at dawn,

You let me free-range on what was once a tidy lawn.

When I make my water muddy, you roll your eyes and clean it,

You tell me I’m a messy girl but you smile so I know you don’t mean it.

You find me so funny and I always make you laugh,

I know the way I run must look a little daft!

You’ve given me a house that keeps me comfy in all weathers,

You’ve given me the chance to feel the sun upon my feathers.

But all good things must end, although I’d love us to stay together,

If love was an elixir, then maybe I would have lived forever.

When it became clear that my health was in decline,

You did everything you could, but it was just my time.

You took me to the vet and you talked about my pain,

They told you it would do no good to put me through treatment again.

You knew those words were coming and a tear rolled down your cheek,

I lay on the table watching you, my body exhausted and weak.

You stroked my feathers gently and I leaned against your hand,

You whispered that you wished I was able to understand,

And how hard it had been to make that final choice,

Your hand continued stroking me and there was a tremble in your voice.

I closed my eyes for the last time and you stood tearfully nearby,

The last thing I heard was you saying goodbye.

I’ve gone to that place now, where the sun always shines.

Don’t cry for me my human, for I am flying high.

By Sarah Brookes

RIP Shelley Shufflebottom

 

 

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Moving the Chickens into the Omlet Walk-in Run

After we finished building the walk-in run (and we’d tested it by walking in) it was time to introduce the chickens. We transported them all the way from Aberystwyth to Norwich (300 miles!) after dismantling their Eglu Go, hoping it would go back together the same way again (spoiler alert: it did!). We arrived and Martin set to work rebuilding the Go inside the run. I had previously ordered the converter kit which is basically a metal frame, wheels and a ladder which raises the ‘Up’ house off the ground. We fitted the house to the ‘Up’ frame which was very simple to do – it essentially just sits on top and feels very sturdy. We did have a tense moment when we looked at the sizing of the run in relation to the house when on the frame as we thought it may be difficult to slide out the droppings tray. It is a tight space but after a test try, we found that there is room to slide the droppings tray out within the 2m x 2m run as long as you position the house diagonally with the ladder angled towards a far corner.

Omlet Eglu Go Walk in Run

The Completed Coop

There are several things I have done to the run to enhance it for the chickens’ enjoyment.

  1. Sandbox

I bought a cheap plastic planter tray and drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I then filled with play sand which I hoped the girls would use as a dustbath. The reality was not quite what I had imagined. Shelley began enthusiastically eating the sand like it was sugar which spurred on Speckledy to do the same. Eventually, eating sand became boring and Speckledy began using it as a preferred place to stand and poop. To date, no dustbaths have occurred in the sandbox.

2. Hentastic Hanging Feeder

Speckledy is obsessed with the herbal sticks that fit into these feeders. Shelley enjoyed the crumbs that Speckledy would peck off but wasn’t actually willing to do the manual labour required to make the crumbs.

3. Attractive Leafy Plant

I wanted to create the illusion of natural shelter so I thought a tall yucca-type plant would do just the trick. Speckledy seems to enjoy standing underneath it plus the coop looks a lot nicer with a bit of greenery.

4. Border Fencing

I wanted to create a place to perch and came up with the idea of a a little section of wooden border fencing. Sadly, this wasn’t one of my brightest ideas as the fencing doesn’t have the smoothest of edges and is probably not very comfortable for little feet to grip. I can’t see this being a permanent fixture.

Speckledy

Speckledy hiding behind the border

 

 

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Omlet Walk-In Run Part 4

Just the roof to goThe end is in sight. The door was quite impressive and the mechanism was smooth and easy to manoeuvre. It’s going to be fantastic having the stable-style doors so that I can throw scratch into the chicken run without allowing them to rush past me, scattering across the garden right before I’m due to go out.

I got to work securing the upper panels with Martin’s help.

The poles were secured in place – all that was left to do was secure the side panels followed by the roof panels to finish. The sun shone brightly as we started to visualise the finishing line and the celebratory beer that would inevitably follow.

It definitely helped to have the two of us holding things in place for each other. I think I would have struggled to put this all together by myself.

The upper levels are basically attached with the same plastic clips with one main difference – the upper panels are comprised of wider mesh.The Upper SectionIMG_0308

We decided to place the run towards the back of the garden on the left for several reasons. The ground is fairly flat in that area so the anti-dig skirt sat flush against the bottom of the ground. The trees from the garden next door are growing well and hanging over our fence, creating a lovely bit of shade for the girls to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.

Lastly, due to the positioning of the trees and the height of the fences, the run will only be visible to one of our three overlooking neighbours.

One of the risks with rented accommodation is the fact that our neighbours could object to our chickens in some way. Luckily, the Omlet run is quite discreet and isn’t overtly for chickens – it could easily be a rabbit/guinea pig enclosure – and my girls are elderly and quiet so unlikely to cause any issues to anyone. A chicken run doesn’t have to be an eyesore – the dark green colour of the run blends in well with the garden. Coming soon in part 5 – ‘furnishing’ the new run and most importantly – the girls’ verdict!

The roof is on!

The roof is on!

 

 

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Omlet Plastic Connector Clips

The clips are a little fiddly if you’ve never used them before – there is a knack to using them and it involves squeezing the clips from the right angle. It’s a little difficult to describe but when we were initially squeezing the clips, it was proving to be a little difficult for me. I quickly realised that the pressure on the clips needed to be applied to the wider end of the curve.

See our video of the ‘squeezing process’ here to see how easy it is once you get the hang of it:

 

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Omlet Walk-In Run Part 3 – It’s starting to take shape!

Omlet Walk in run build

It’s taking shape!

Omlet walk-in run door

Attaching the door

It’s beginning to look less like a bunch of metal parts and more like a chicken run!

We did make a bit of a mistake when initially building the run which may have been due to our over-excitement and rushing ahead (Martin – I’m looking at you!). I spotted that the pieces had started to be attached together back to front i.e. the overlapping vertical and horizontal lines of mesh were inconsistent or ‘back-to-front’. This made the lining up of the panels ever so slightly uneven which niggled away at my perfectionism. Naturally, I insisted that Martin dismantled the first 20 minutes of progress and start all over again. I forgot to mention in my introductory post – it helps to have a patient boyfriend as an accessory to the construction process. He’s reading this and shaking his head, half in exasperation and half in agreement.

We found it easiest to open the boxes as we went along rather than opening everything all in one go. The instructions work from one box of parts to the other which keeps things tidy and prevents parts from being mixed up with similar parts.

Omlet walk in run

A corner close-up

Putting together the omlet walk in run

Plastic clips and poles

The run is essentially made up of a series of flat metal parts and poles, held together by little plastic clips. The clips intrigued us when we first encountered them during the build of our Eglu Go.

We were concerned by the way the plastic turns white when you bend it, which we worried was a sign of weakened structural integrity.

Turns out our worry was needless as the original clips on our Eglu Go are still going strong after 4 years.

Omlet clips

Bendy plastic clips

The clips are a little fiddly if you’ve never used them before – there is a knack to using them and it involves squeezing the clips from the right angle. See our video of the ‘squeezing process’ in the next post to see how easy it is once you’ve got the hang of it.

 

 

 

 

Omlet walk in run

The base is complete

Even with a short-trimmed lawn, the anti-predator skirt blends in well and is barely visible. The anti-dig skirt is one of the main reasons I bought this run because I am terrified of facing the horrible prospect of losing my girls to a fox or any other predator.

Occasionally on very warm evenings, I like to leave the door of the Eglu house open, both to allow the chickens to get up at their leisure and to give them a bit of extra air circulation in hot weather. I know they’d be fine with the door closed but it’s nice to have the option of leaving it open at times.

The first half of the run took shape quite quickly in around an hour (including our little mistake).

Coming up in part 4 – the construction of the roof.

 

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Omlet Walk-in Run Part 2 – Construction Commences

Assembly Instructions

Instructions and delicate bits

Omlet Instruction Booklet

Omlet Instruction Booklet

We arrived at Norwich on a sunny weekend – ready and raring to go with the construction of our new Omlet Walk-In Run. The run was packed into a total of 5 boxes that were large and flat – some heavier than others, and they slotted easily enough into the back of the car with the seats folded down. The boxes were clearly labelled in alphabetical/numerical order so we got stuck in.

 

I’m very much a ‘study the instructions before proceeding with caution’ kind of girl whereas Martin will already be intensely wielding a screwdriver, recounting tales of successful DIY conquests and successes of the past. I located the instructions and all of the ‘little bits’ to ensure that everything we needed was there – it was, much to my relief.

Omlet pieces on lawn

Sections blending seamlessly into the lawn

Omlet Walk in run packaging

Opening up the boxes

The instructions advised us to lay the initial parts out on the lawn in front of us which is exactly what I would have done regardless. I set the pieces out like a jigsaw puzzle while Martin circled it thoughtfully, occasionally muttering ‘this is much less flimsy than I thought it would be’ and ‘look how well it blends into the grass.’

 

The instructions were quite straightforward to follow and we worked together to make sure we were putting it together perfectly, almost as if we were planning to write some kind of blog about it or something… 😉

We did notice that the instructions were very specific about how to lay things out, where to put things etc. We could see that the run has been designed to be put together in a very specific way and the instructions reflect that. Despite our best attempts, we did actually overlook a tiny detail in the instructions which led to some lost time. If you’re a perfectionist, join us for part 3 where I will cover this in more detail.

IMG_0282

 

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Omlet Walk-In Run – The Big (ish) Build Part 1

Pet Chickens in the Garden

In the old garden with my pet chickens

I’ve long been an admirer of the Omlet walk-in run but haven’t been able to justify buying a new chicken run after my partner Martin built me a lovely bespoke one. However, we recently decided to move to Norwich from Aberystwyth so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to re-evaluate the setup of my flock. Norwich is known for having lots of urban foxes (so I’m told) so I was keen to invest in a run that would put my mind at ease and keep predators out.

We did consider the possibility of dismantling our existing run and re-assembling it in the new garden but were put off by the time and effort this would entail during an already stressful time. I’ve been really happy with my Eglu Go for the last 4 years which is still in brilliant condition so I decided to go for it and start afresh with a brand new run.

 

 

The boxes were clearly labelled to demonstrate the order of unpacking. We ordered the run a few weeks before moving so that we could get it all set up and ready for the girls upon arrival. We travelled to Norwich one sunny weekend and built the run in approximately 1.5 hours. Putting it together turned out to be much easier than I expected so I took lots of photos and intend to explain in a series of bite-size posts how I managed it. More to follow soon. Join me for part 2 here: https://yellowchickenhouse.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/omlet-walk-in-run-part-2-construction-commences/

chicken run, walk-in run

The Walk In Run has arrived!

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The Anxiety of Keeping Pet Chickens

I am a huge advocate of keeping pet chickens particularly given the extensive (and growing) range of products on the market for giving hens the home and life they deserve. I have kept chickens for almost 3 years now and can honestly say that they have enriched and benefited my life in a number of ways. Firstly, and most obviously, they have given me fresh eggs which is a huge novelty in the early stages as well as being a great talking point when you have visitors over. But more importantly, they have helped me to develop a renewed appreciation for the simpler things in life. I have sat on the lawn and watched my girls painstakingly examining every grain of dirt at their feet in the hope of finding a worm or some minuscule insect which makes all the hard work worthwhile. I can call out “CHICKENS” and watch them half running/half flying towards me in anticipation of some treat. I have sat in the garden, sketchbook in hand, and tried to capture their playfulness, curiosity and calming influence which has ultimately led to the creation of greetings cards and gifts featuring my chicken-inspired artwork.

However, there is a darker side to chicken-keeping which is easy to overlook in the early stages. For those of us who see their hens as pets rather than just feathery egg-machines, chicken-keeping can be a huge source of worry and anxiety. It is an unpleasant reality that chickens can and do get ill, particularly as they age. I am finding it harder and harder to overlook the fact that my girls are getting older and consequently slower.

Cookie is currently showing signs of an unknown illness for which I intend to consult a vet tomorrow.

cuddling a chicken

Cookie has never been much of a ‘lap chicken’ but illness seems to have changed her

Buffy just experienced her most serious and painful looking moult yet.

Shelley spends more and more time resting and takes the steps down to the lawn rather than attempting the steep jump that she used to.

I have also come to realise how valuable it is to have trusted friends who will care for your hens when you need to go away. My hens are as important to me as my much-loved pet cat so it is hard for me to comprehend when I am asked what I will ‘do’ with my chickens when they stop laying. I will ‘do’ as I have always done – love them and care for them in the best way I can. I am woken in the night by the slightest noise…the clatter of a branch against the fence…the scraping of an empty plant pot grazing the ground as it is carried around by the wind… My mind immediately spins into action – are the chickens okay? I have an Eglu Go from Omlet which is reassuringly fox proof but still, the worry of predators is a constant presence in my mind. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much and therefore restricting my girls freedom? These are questions which I have found to be open to fierce debate amongst chicken keepers.

In my small flock of three, I have experienced respiratory illness, scaly leg mite, problematic laying, blood

speckledy chicken moulting

The worst moult yet…Buffy bares all.

on egg shells, violence, bullying, worms, lash eggs/pus, severe moults, abnormal stools, persistent broodiness and soft-shelled eggs…problems which have arisen from 3 hens in the space of less than 3 years! I have found magazines such as ‘Your Chickens’, ‘Practical Poultry’ and online bloggers such as The Chicken Chick to be a valuable source of information when dealing with these issues and would never give up on my girls no matter what the issue – but the sense of worry is inevitable from such things.

I am not writing with the intention of putting anyone off keeping chickens – quite the opposite. I would urge anyone who is considering welcoming chickens into their life to understand the emotional impact that hens will have. If shown kindness and and compassion, they will welcome you into their flock with a level of affection you may not have thought possible. If you grow to love them in the way they deserve to be loved, they will worry you on a daily basis. You will close their little door at dusk and commit yourself without resentment to waking at sunrise to give them their day. You will fret about the muddiness of their coop and question how it is possible that they can muddy-up their water within minutes of all your careful sanitising and refilling – but you will refill yet again and enjoy watching them drinking appreciatively. You will get to know their little personalities and feel a sense of concern when the hen at the bottom of the pecking order gets a peck to the face simply for trying to get her share of the feed. Perhaps you will be like me and sit in their coop to get a ‘real’ perspective on their environment in order to make improvements – or perhaps that’s a step too far (crazy chicken lady alert!).

Cuddling a chicken

Shelley loves a good cuddle in front of the TV

Keeping chickens as pets is a huge commitment if you are an animal lover. Hens may be ‘disposable’ in the farming industry but as pets they are fragile creatures who need us more than we may realise. I would urge anyone considering chickens as pets to be prepared for the challenges you may face when keeping these beautiful animals, but also be prepared to never look back! They will likely capture your heart – just as they have mine.

 

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