Yellow Chicken House

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

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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The Changing Face of a Garden with Chickens

In previous posts, I have mentioned my love of a company called Omlet. They have transformed chicken keeping into a brightly-coloured and immaculately marketed hobby that has arguably influenced a nationwide trend of backyard chicken keeping. It’s a revolution! The middle classes can educate their children about the food chain whilst simultaneously enjoying the smugness of a sense of sustainable living, no longer a slave to inferior, supermarket eggs. Not a farmer? Not a problem. This trend means people like myself, who would have previously believed myself to be ‘incompatible’ with chicken keeping, can now enjoy a slice of The Good Life in the comfort of my little back garden. I can gaze in wonder at the eye candy on the Omlet website; little blobs of award-winning plastic, sitting on immaculate, neon green lawns, enticing me with their aesthetic beauty, whispering “buy me, buy me….”
Despite being a self-confessed animal lover, avoiding eating most meat (all but fish) for the last 19 years (wow, has it really been that long!?), I had always thought of chickens as being devoid of personality. Had I not stumbled onto Omlet’s friendly, happy website, my perception of chickens may never have changed. However, as much as I love Omlet’s idealistic portrayal of the urban chicken house, I have since learned from experience that the reality of maintaining a lawn with free-ranging chickens is a little less pleasing on the eye than the Eglu marketing ploy. I suspect the photographer had forgotten to remove his rose-coloured lens cap before beginning the photoshoot. Here is the latest edition to the Eglu product range:

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Notice the suburban dream lawn – the cleanliness – the lack of chicken poo….

Not that I expect Omlet to start featuring fertiliser heaps and mud trenches in their marketing plan but I feel it’s important to note that a tidy, respectable garden like the one shown is possible but not inevitable when there are chickens present. When Martin and I moved into our house, the garden was very overgrown and untidy, overflowing with weeds of all shapes and sizes and with an inpenatrable wall of nettles lurking ominously at the back. Before buying the chickens, I spent a good couple of months battling against the mess and disorder left behind by the house’s previous occupant. Once I’d done as much as I thought possible, I bought my Eglu Go in a happy shade of yellow and placed it on my poor quality lawn:

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The chickens immediately began devouring every weed, every blade of grass, everything green in sight. I set up a fence to keep them contained to the lawn and allowed them free reign to enjoy the bulk of the garden. I watched proudly as they kept the weeds as bay and relentlessly scratched at the ground, fertilising it as they went.

Fast forward 6 months and the pride had begun to wane. In hindsight, I should have restricted their space accordingly to allow for proper rotation and recovery of the ‘used’ areas. Instead, I allowed the following to happen:

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I must stress at this point that having chickens does not automatically lead to a colourless, grassless garden. My garden simply became that way because of a lack of proper rotation of grazing space and naivety. In effect, the chickens ‘cleansed’ our garden of all weeds and pests, churning up the earth and allowing me to remove rocks and litter with ease. Unfortunately they also destroyed all desirable aspects of my garden too. My fault, not theirs.

After the extreme, wet weather conditions of late 2013, the garden became a muddy, desolate wasteland. All foliage had been eaten and the earth was soaked through. The chickens hated it just as much as I did. They winced in disgust with every step and their poor little feet were caked. I did my best to improve their conditions at the time but realised a more long-term solution was required. At this point, Martin had begun building the new chicken run (see previous post) so I began digging up the blank canvas of the garden and re-seeding the space of the previous lawn. I joked afterwards to Martin that I would give it a couple of weeks before my lush, thick lawn would show itself. He laughed and told me not to get my hopes up, which makes this picture all the more satisfying…..

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I have often heard tell of the untold values of chicken poo as a fertiliser but never seen it’s effects with my own eyes … until now. I sprinkled a few cheap grass seeds onto freshly-tilled earth and hoped for the best and the above happened!
The chickens now live in their coop and additional run, which I have modified into a chicken playground (more about this is my next post) and they free-range for an hour each evening under strict supervision. It does drive the girls crazy to be able to see the grass but not be able to reach it, for which I compensate for with as many stimulating, interesting in-coop activities. My girls seem happier than ever and my garden is the best it’s ever been! Now I just need Martin to start growing veg and the garden will be complete.

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No eggs today? I blame the sonic boom in Aberystwyth!

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I was in the middle of an appointment with a customer at work at approximately 1pm this afternoon when a huge bang shook my office in Llanbadarn. Neither myself or the customer knew what to do or what had happened! I glanced out of the window pane in my office door to see other members of staff looking startled and confused. We attempted to carry on as if nothing had happened in a typically British way. Later on, I discovered that within minutes of the bang, rumours had begun to circulate. Had someone fallen off a roof? Was it an explosive device? Had a lorry tyre burst? NO. A fighter jet had apparently broken the speed of sound in an urban area. My poor chickens must have been TERRIFIED! I got home after work and went outside to check on them / offer treats / give cuddles and felt relieved to see all 3 of them scrambling towards me as I approached. After scattering a handful of oats in the run, I opened the eglu to collect the eggs and found…….no eggs. Coincidence?

A quick glance at Facebook / Twitter that evening confirmed my suspicions with various news articles:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/huge-bang-believed-sonic-boom-6793877
http://www.itv.com/news/wales/update/2014-03-10/suspected-sonic-boom-felt-in-aberystwyth/

As well as my chickens, I also have a beautiful cat called Rexham. He has been unusually clingy tonight but after lots of cuddles and attention, he eventually settled down:

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New chicken coop extension

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After all the recent bad weather in Aberystwyth, I’ve been keeping my chickens quite literally ‘cooped up’ in their standard Eglu 2m run. I usually allow them to free range in my garden while I’m out at work but recently, they’ve been getting better and better at escaping into the neighbours’ gardens on both sides. Our neighbour Johanna had a fencing panel blown down in stormy weather, giving the chickens potential access to further gardens and the continued destruction of all available plant life. This led my ‘handy with a hammer’ boyfriend Martin to embark on his ‘most ambitious DIY project yet.’ He’s quite conveniently written all about it, so I don’t have to!

http://www.martin-vickers.co.uk/procrastination/coop Homemade extension to the Eglu chicken house

I have to say, I absolutely love the new extended run and feel much happier about leaving the chickens during the day all thanks to my lovely boyfriend and my friend Johanna! Now I just have to think of ways to make it as interesting and stimulating as possible to ensure my girls are happy. I’m considering hanging boredom busters, a mezzanine floor with ladder access, a swing, a dust bath, a disco ball and a beware of the chickens handmade sign! Does anyone have any ideas?

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Thunderstorm Rescue

It’s fair to say that the UK has seen some particularly bad weather over the last few weeks with storms, gale force winds and severe flood warnings. Here in Aberystwyth, the promenade has taken a serious battering from the onslaught of stormy weather causing huge amounts of damage and destruction.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-25614474

My chickens have been (quite literally) blown off their feet by the bad weather. The endless rain has turned much of their free-range area into a mud bath which I reluctantly squelch my way through every morning to let them out for the day.

In previous posts, I have mentioned that my chickens are prone to the occasional bid for freedom into the neighbours garden in search of wild bird seed. Last week, Cookie managed to escape the Omlet chicken fencing (apparently by digging a hole underneath it!) and make her way over into the neighbour’s garden. The weather was reasonable at this point but rapidly took a turn for the worst. The sky went black, lightening flashed, thunder clapped and the heavens opened. Martin spotted the stray chicken looking shell-shocked and helpless over the fence from our kitchen window and called me downstairs. Despite wearing just my dressing gown, I pulled on my wellies and dashed out into the storm to rescue my chicken! Fighting against the driving wind and rain, I leaned over the fence, beckoning the frightened chicken towards me. After a minute of indecision, she came towards me and I grabbed her through the gap in the fence. Wrapping her up in my now drenched dressing gown, I ran slipping and sliding down the garden towards the yellow chicken house, where the other chickens had already run to safety. I crouched down at the entrance with Cookie who apparently did not want to get out of my dressing gown! I could tell that she was frightened and shaking so I crouched there for several minutes, holding the chicken and getting soaked to the skin while the storm raged around me. Buffy popped her head out of the house and made a whinging noise which got Cookie’s attention, at which point hopped down and ran into the house. I then closed the door to the run attached to the house and rushed back inside my own house to get dry.

Once inside, I headed upstairs to get changed. I then heard a huge bang. I looked out of the window to investigate and was pretty shocked by what I saw – a large roof fascia from the house overlooking my garden had been blown off by the wind and landed (nail side down) across the chicken free-range area, taking down part of the fence with it. Had I been standing under that beam when it fell, I could have been seriously injured. Luckily, I had locked the chickens into their Eglu run so they were not in harm’s way. Disaster averted!

The stormy weather appears far from over though. As I write this, 100mph gale force winds are forecast for today and the rain is lashing down outside. My chickens are sheltering under a bush in the garden, probably dreaming of a time long ago when they could dust bathe in dry soil, sunbathe on a mud-free lawn and chase butterflies on a light summer’s breeze. Let’s hope those days aren’t too far away from us…

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