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

Pet chicken having a cuddle

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 in the 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.

 

Cute chicken card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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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Moving House with Pet Chickens

When chickens become part of the family, it can be a huge source of worry if you live in a rental property as I have recently discovered. Up until now, I have lived happily for the last three years in a rented house with a lovely landlord and landlady who have been incredibly friendly, efficient and professional. They welcomed us and our cat into their property and have let us keep our three chickens in the back garden in an Omlet Eglu Go with an adjoining homemade run. When we initially moved in, the garden was neglected by the previous tenants. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the garden had been used as a dumping ground for rubbish and an inordinate quantity of dog mess (hidden in various containers for some inexplicable reason!). The grass (what little was there) had grown so long, it had collapsed over onto itself and become a mulchy, rotten mess underneath. Furthermore, upon pulling up the various weeds and removing piles of rotten wood, we uncovered various bottles and broken glass buried in the soil. I can’t help but wonder if the house was home to a secret alcoholic at some point. Anyway, after much hard work, we cleared the rubbish and chopped back the weeds as best we could…then we bought the chickens and the rest was easy. We let them free range for several months and they cleared the ground of weeds, painstakingly examining every granule of soil as they went for tasty niblets and bugs. I set about planting a lawn which turned out splendidly (see my previous post for details)!

My partner was recently offered a great new job in Norwich which means it’s time to relocate. I’ve personally lived in Aberystwyth for 10 years since arriving here in 2006 as a student. I fell in love with the town as most people do but can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be brave and embark on a new adventure, just me and Martin going into the unknown together.

This should be an exciting time but it’s actually been fraught with anxiety for one main reason – I have to find a landlord that will accept pets. In every other respect, Martin and I are the ideal tenants for a prospective landlord. We’re clean, tidy, never miss rent payments, have professional full-time jobs, don’t smoke, don’t receive housing benefits and have no children. Yet because we fall into the approximate 45% of households in the UK that have pets, we are automatically written off as unacceptable by the majority of landlords. Despite the unfair odds stacked against us, we are determined to move house with our pet cat and chickens and have been exploring the options we have obsessively.

So how do we increase our chances of finding a rented property that will accept our pets? My approach has so far been in the preparation stage. I have researched potential rental areas and prices in various areas in Norwich to try and understand what we can afford and where. I have also written a pet CV which is basically a informative document describing our pets, our reasons for moving and our willingness to provide references to prove how grown up and responsible we are. I must admit, it is frustrating that you can be a long-term couple (aged 33 and 28), one with a PhD and academic research profession and the other with a degree and a full time professional consultancy role, part-time business-owners, excellent credit score holders, successfully adulting for a combined 25 years, and yet we aren’t automatically trusted to rent a house because we love animals.

I understand why landlords have their own  frustrations. They worry about hefty cleaning bills from pet hair, spraying, furniture damage and fleas. But animals are not to blame for those issues, their human owners are. Humans allow the accumulation of pet hair through a failure to brush and hoover. Humans fail to spay/neuter their animals and train them to pee nicely in a box. Humans fail to provide adequate scratching posts and stimulation which can potentially lead to destructive behaviour. And humans fail to treat their animals for fleas and other potential health problems. I am more aware of a landlord’s concerns than your average tenant because I would be mortified if a landlord were to assume I am somehow dirty or untrustworthy as a result of having pets. Consequently, I do everything I can to work against that stereotype and keep my animals in impeccable condition. We have offered them additional deposits to put their mind at ease (even though they would never need to use them) and have invited them to see the animals and experience first-hand how they are treated. I would argue that most pet owners make better tenants as they understand the apprehension of landlords towards them and strive to alleviate those fears.

Our plan is to house hunt well in advance of moving, even paying for the two houses to overlap for as long as we can afford if necessary. We feel like we can’t be picky and are obliged to take the first property that will accept us, which seems unfair when we tick all the other ‘desirable tenant’ boxes. Finding the right property is merely the first obstacle. Once we find it, we need to physically move the animals 300 miles to the other side of the country. I’m guessing that my cat and chickens will not travel quietly together in my car so we are considering the logistics of transporting them seperately. I also need to ensure that they are all comfortable and relatively stress-free during the 6 hour journey meaning plenty of rest stops, food and water, reassurance (for me as much as them!) and a smooth transition from car to home environments. The chicken run will need to be pre-constructed which is where the Omlet walk-in run will come in useful. It is unobtrusive and can be put up and taken down easily which should be a major selling point to a new landlord. I’m not constructing any kind of permanent structure which could irk new neighbours or breach planning permissions. The Eglu is attractive and portable meaning easy removal if necessary. Predators are also a major concern as I will simply be unfamiliar with the new area and the dangers it may hold. Omlet – your ‘fox-resistant’ run had better not let me down! I will also be getting Martin to install motion-detection infra-red cameras to monitor any potential predator action in the new garden.

At this stage, the stress and worry is intense as so much is unknown about how things will work out. It has been suggested to me that I re-home the animals in order to become one of the no-strings attached tenants that landlords so crave. But anyone who has ever owned and truly loved an animal will know that re-homing is simply not an option. I understand that some people are left with no choice perhaps due to health reasons or financial difficulties but I feel justified in saying I’ve worked hard to ensure that my commitments to my pets can be honoured. I provide them with the best food, the cleanest conditions, the safest environment and the joy of human companionship. The stress of moving house with pets is a small price to pay to ensure that they continue to have the life they deserve.

 

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And then there were two

Shelley and Cookie

Shelley and Cookie; a beautiful friendship

After the death of Cookie, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the remaining two girls to ensure they are coping after their loss. As Cookie held the top spot in the pecking order, I’m not quite sure what to expect in terms of the altered dynamics of the flock. I do know that Cookie and Shelley were particularly close, perhaps because they were both Warrens or because they came from the same hatch. They shared a bond which was evident in their understanding of each others actions, seemingly working in harmony during foraging and particularly the bedtime routine. In sharp contrast, Speckledy aka Buffy is clumsy and was clearly an irritation to the other two who seemed to ‘get each other’. Speckledy would blunder past the other girls into the hen house at dusk, missing the subtle cues from Cookie that she was overstepping the mark. Cookie would then strut into the house and chase Speckledy back out while Shelley quietly watched on then made her own way into the house. I doubt that my description of this little routine fails to do justice to the simmering tension and grave seriousness of the situation. I used to sit in the background, sipping a glass of red wine and watch fascinated as these three little hens bickered. Having spent many evenings watching this little political charade playing out before me, I suspect that Speckledy was not deliberately challenging Cookie’s authority but was instead too carried away with her own needs to consider the repercussions of the pecking order.

Cookie and Speckledy; a love/hate relationship

Cookie and Speckledy; a love/hate relationship

On their first evening without Cookie, Shelley sat very quietly on the lawn, glancing around nervously. I sat down nearby and she jumped up on the bench and just looked at me, clucking softly. Speckledy paced the lawn, whining loudly and poking her head under bushes and behind things. The light was fading fast and the girls would normally  spend those precious few minutes guzzling water and munching on grass. They left it as late as possible before shuffling towards the chicken house, neither one appearing to be taking the lead. Eventually, Shelley took the first step into the house and Speckledy followed suit. Clearly, the absence of the top hen has left its mark.

I’ve decided not to replace Cookie for several reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced that a third hen would benefit the remaining girls and I’m conscious of the further upheaval that it could cause. My partner and I are currently preparing to move house which will generate stress in itself. Secondly, I would find it difficult to have another hen around so soon after losing a girl I was so close to. Finally, I have recently learned first-hand about the difficulty of living in rented accommodation with pet chickens (a subject which I will be writing about in more detail imminently). As long as Speckedly and Shelley continue to pootle along contentedly together as a twosome, I am happy to continue with a little flock of two.

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Saying goodbye to a pet chicken

I recently had to say goodbye to my pet chicken Cookie. I opted to have her put to sleep after a four day blur of progressively grave symptoms and the professional advice of a vet following a diagnosis of egg peritonitis. Keeping chickens as pets has turned out to be a wonderful hobby but death in the flock was always an inevitability for which I suspected I would be emotionally ill-prepared. I watched her little eyes close for the last time and choked back tears of sadness for the fragility of her short life mingled with a sense of gratitude that her 3 years on this earth were spent with me. I realise that to some people, a chicken will never evoke this kind of emotion let alone crying in a public place. Other concerned pet owners in the veterinary surgery waiting room watched on with a mixture of curiosity and pity for the cat they assume is in my blanket-lined pet carrier. Food to most but feathered friends to many, chickens can teach us things we never knew we needed to learn.

To be brutally honest, Cookie was not my favourite hen. In my garden flock of three, she held the top spot in the pecking order and battled her way up despite being the smallest. At times, her sharp warning pecks and threatening glances towards the other chickens alarmed me but I reminded myself that this was nature. She was the first hen I ever held and I was captivated by her little chipped beak and searching glare. She vocalised her frustrations with a high-pitched, drawn out squeak which implied a sense of vulnerability when for the most part, she was a tough little cookie who took no nonsense. She would furiously peck the back door to be let in, at which point she would barge head first for the cat bowl and destroy the leftovers. My partner would spot her and start ushering her out while she clucked indignantly, cursing him for thwarting her carefully laid plans. My other two chickens have always needed me in a way that Cookie didn’t. Speckledy has needed to be coaxed out of her broodiness and has endured several painful moults which left her nearly completely bald at times. Shelley has endured respiratory illness, lash eggs and a persistent dirty bottom which has led to frequent baths and blow-drys. Cookie, on the other hand, has always been just fine. Cookie dedicated her life to proving how strong and dominant she was, which is why I found her decline so hard to accept.

Chicken in the garden

Beautiful Cookie at her best.

The first sign was a change in her personality. I took the girls a treat of chilled cucumber on a warm afternoon and held it out to them in a tempting gesture before lowering it to the ground. Ordinarily, Cookie would hop up and down to compensate for her small stature alongside the other bigger hens but on that day she stood at the back, feigning an interest but lacking her usual characteristic impatience. I watched her closely from that point onward and noticed the onset of reduced appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, floppy comb and a very swollen abdomen. She had exhibited similar milder symptoms in January so I had taken her to the vet and given her antibiotics which resulted in an immediate improvement. Minimum fuss: typical Cookie. I assumed that this occasion would be the same and retraced my steps to the vet who gave her an anti-inflammatory injection and a course of antibiotics. I returned home and administered the medicine, expecting the same fast recovery…but it was not to be. In the space of two short days she progressed through several increasingly distressing stages of decline.

An hour before what would become her final trip to the vet, I lifted her from the nest where she was sitting and placed her on my lap and we sat in the late afternoon sunshine. I stroked her feathers and offered her favourite treat – a lump of chilled cucumber with the skin peeled off. She looked at it then looked up at me slowly, her pupils wildly expanding and contracting and her emaciated body occasionally twitching, then simply bowed her head. Despite my best efforts, I had been unable to get her to eat or drink that day. She lowered her head and allowed it to go limp on my arm and I cried, knowing that this must be it and yet not wanting to accept that there was nothing I could do.

The following hour passed by in a blur. Words such as ‘euthanasia’, ‘kindest thing to do’ and ‘it’s just a matter of time’ swirled around the room and I found myself experiencing a vivid daydream of taking Cookie home, waking up the next morning and seeing her bursting beak-first out of the chicken house after a miraculous overnight recovery. Then I remembered where I was and realised that the vet was looking at me sympathetically, awaiting my answer to the question no pet owner wants to be asked. I mumbled something about never having done this before. Being the emotional wreck that I generally am, I returned home to seek the support of my partner who accompanied me back to the vet for the final moments. Afterwards, we wandered out into reception and waited to pay. I opened my purse and took out a credit card. The staff browsed the computer to find the price of a chicken cremation but couldn’t find it. “Just put it through as cat cremation” offered one, reasoning that it was a small animal. I stood numbly, listening to them and wondering why chickens don’t have their own cremation category on the computer. Do people not often bring their chickens to be put to sleep? I pushed my card into the machine, mumbling something about how I was sorry for being so upset. The member of staff reassured me that it was surprising what people got attached to, even animals as small as gerbils.

I have always known that human beings are selective in their love for animals but I have never been able to understand why a cat is valued more highly than a chicken. Why do people eat chicken but shudder at the idea of eating a cat? Both are sentient beings and can fulfil the role of a loving pet. Earlier, I had been approached by a concerned old man in the vet’s waiting area who asked me if I was okay and “is that your cat?” I replied that it was my chicken and he chuckled and shook his head. Why did his concern evaporate when he realised that the poorly animal was a chicken?

When Cookie was randomly chosen from a crowd of other hens, she could not have comprehended the life of love and comfort that she was destined for. Her slight appearance and chipped beak didn’t hold her back; she fought her way to the top of the pecking order by sheer brute force. But in her final days, all she wanted was a warm lap to snuggle into and a comforting hand to stroke her feathers. I am often asked why I care about chickens so much and why I invest so much time and effort into my girls’ happiness and the answer is simple. Chickens collectively give so much to humans without consent or understanding and yet require so little in return for their own happiness. There are supposedly 19 billion chickens on Earth but the welfare of many commercial birds in the meat and egg-laying industry is disappointingly low. The British Hen Welfare Trust highlights the plight of hens in the egg industry, namely that ‘farmers respond to consumer demand and for decades consumers have put cost above welfare, which has led to 16 million hens laying cheap eggs for us in their tiny cages.’ (http://www.bhwt.org.uk/egg-industry/) I don’t believe that any animal should suffer so that humans can save a few pennies off their weekly shop.

pet chicken died

Goodbye Cookie

Chickens are misunderstood by most, often disregarded as a food product or egg-laying machine which becomes disposable the moment the eggs stop coming. I’ve marveled at the way chickens live for the moment with a boundless enthusiasm for the simplest of things. I have watched them squeal with delight at the sight of me approaching them with a handful of treats and I wonder how these little sensitive creatures can be so under-appreciated. Cookie’s life may be over but her time on this Earth was filled with love and affection.

She had the kind of life that all chickens deserve to have.

Fly high little hen, you will be missed.

 

 

 

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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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Be Inspired by Chickens

My chickens inspire me each and every day to create greetings cards that celebrate the joys of chicken keeping and rural living. I’m currently working on a series of designs featuring a cartoon version of my Warren Cookie. As you can see, her vacant expression is quite true to life. A greeting card version of Welsh Cookie will be available soon at http://www.yellowchickenhouse.co.uk.

  

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My daily routine as a garden chicken keeper

We had an amazing run of good weather this summer and I tried to spend as much time as possible in the garden with my feathered friends. With the lawn fully re-grown, the garden became my favourite place to be every evening as the sun was setting.

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I am often asked if keeping chickens in the garden is time consuming and it’s a hard question to answer. In short, no, they take up several minutes per day to carry out basic checks and necessary tasks such as topping up food and water vessels. But on the other hand, yes. As pets, they are time consuming because I feel compelled not just to feed and water them, but to interact with them and make their lives interesting and enjoyable.
My daily routine involves a morning check of food and water, collection of eggs and a very small scattering of oats. They are then left to get on with their day while I go to work. I will sometimes pop home for my lunch break when I may nip outside to check water levels in hot weather. During the evenings, I like the chickens to have an hour or so outside of their run to enjoy the lawn, compost heap, and to stretch their legs. Their run is fairly large and has various ‘interesting’ things for them to do, such as a ramp leading up to a second floor, hanging toys and grit blocks, but I still like them to have time to explore further afield. I tend to go out about an hour before the sun sets. They become quite animated when they can see me through the kitchen window getting my wellies on. They crane their necks to get a better view and pace back and forth at the door of the run, clucking and wailing impatiently. I let them out onto the lawn which they start devouring with a kind of frenzied enthusiasm. I then begin my jobs which are:
– empty, clean and refill all water vessels (there are 4 currently)
-top up food containers (I generally only give them what they need to avoid mould developing)
-rake the earth to fill in any holes and top up with shovelfuls of fresh earth and weeds/turf if needed
-pull out droppings tray from the Eglu and scrape into compost bin
-check nest for eggs and ensure wood shavings are clean and dry, replace with fresh shavings if needed

With the routine jobs completed, I then spend the remainder of the evening with the chickens. I pick up each one for a cuddle which they seem to enjoy, particularly Buffy the Speckledy. I use that as my opportunity to check them over for any signs of illness. Although I’m not very experienced with what I should be looking for, I have found magazines such as ‘your chickens’ really helpful for guidance on signs of illness. As far as my own chickens are concerned, signs I have found concerning over the last few months have been several small cuts on Buffy’s face and comb (no doubt inflicted by Cookie after a domestic spat but that’s a blog post for another day) and a dirty vent on Shelley. The vent issue was a strange one and I wasn’t sure what to do. I do believe, from my limited observation, that chickens have personalities and Shelley is generally the scruffier of the 3 girls. Could it be possible that she’s just not as concerned about her personal appearance as the other chickens?
Upon closer inspection, I could see that her droppings had gotten caught in her fluffy bottom feathers and had built up and gotten mashed in, causing a kind of messy dreadlock effect. I was reluctant to cut the matted feathers away as winter is approaching and I’d hate for Shelley to have an inadequately feathered bottom in the cold weather. So I made up a bowl of warm water and got a clean flannel, ready to carry out the strangest chicken-related task of my life so far. I settled Shelley down on my lap and began cleaning her up. Thankfully, it was not a difficult job and the feathers loosened up easily. Shelley was a little confused at first but didn’t struggle and actually seemed to be enjoying the attention. The other chickens clucked around my feet, craning their necks to get a better view, no doubt wondering what on earth I was doing to their friend. She continued to sit on my lap for a few minutes afterwards until eventually, she hopped off to rejoin the other chickens. Hopefully, ‘bottom baths’ will not become a regular feature in my evening routine and I’m glad to say that Shelley’s bottom feathers have been clean and fluffy ever since.
As I write this, November is almost upon us and the nights are getting dark. I’ve weather-proofed my coop to ensure the feathered ladies have a dry environment but I’m looking into a last-minute possibility of laying wood chips in the run to reduce the potential discomfort of mud over the coming months.

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