Bantams in trees

Since we got our new bantams, and they managed to get out of the ark, I’ve been wondering where they were sleeping.  The other evening I was late home and so was feeding everything in the dark, and I got my answer.  The bantams appear to be nesting in one of our trees:

They seemed quite happy, and let me get quite close while taking their photos.  It’s clearly where they sleep every night as there is quite a bit of poo underneath.  Now the mystery is, if they are laying eggs, where are they laying them?

Update – Chickens

After our disaster earlier in the year we took a while to get some new chickens.  It was just too depressing, and we decided we needed to get our fencing sorted before we did anything more.

Our two remaining brown hens were fairly reliably laying, so we rarely had to buy eggs, which was positive, but we still wanted more.

We had a man in to redo our fencing properly.  I’ll write more on fencing a few days, but suffice it to say this was the real thing.  He said he thought our fox-proof fencing was actually OK, we just needed to get our electric tightened and add an extra row just off the ground, which he did for us.  It also helped that he fixed the rest of our fencing, as we had much less which was shorting out across the full length.

So last month we decided to get some new chickens, and after looking around, and exclaiming at the price, we decided to go back to bantams.  We started with bantams, and I always felt they had lots of personality, and with their smaller eggs having more doesnt give quite the same egg overload (as I can happily eat four or five for lunch, and it’s the same as three or so normal eggs).  We got five, four hens and a cockerel.

There’s still some debate on cockerels, and I’ve read a couple of articles saying they can be dangerous.  My view is that they make the hens happier, and that all animals need to be treated with respect, if they feel threatened they can become violent.  So I’d still suggest keeping one, and just being aware of them.  Which is not to say that I’ve not heard of some fairly evil cockerels (attacking their own hens and being vile) – but if you get one of those, then there’s an obvious answer, and there are always more cockerels.  We’ve never had to pay for one…

The cockerel is a Japanese bantam, then we had three silver laced wyandottes (reminiscent of Bella Bella, who I describe in my book – see link on the left.  I promise – no more plugs.  Probably), and a brown one.  At first they were very skeptical of us, and hid in our rather large amount of nettles.  After a week or so, and having cut down half the nettles, they became friendlier, and while they’re not yet eating out of my hand, they’re not far off.

The first night we locked them in the ark so they’d know it was home.  Unfortunately it was dark and we didn’t close it properly, so they got out easily the next morning.  This means they’ve found another place to nest, somewhere in the remaining nettles, and we aren’t currently getting any eggs from them.  I’m not sure what to do about that, but I’ll figure something out in due course…

The cockerel, getting in amongst the ducks for food:

Three silver laced wynadotte hens in front of the ark they spurned:

Egg Watch!

It’s been a while since I’ve moaned about the lack of eggs from the ex-bats.  That’s because for the last couple of weeks they’ve started laying with avengeance!  We’re now getting between ten and twenty-one eggs a day. Every day.  I’m backing to trying to work out what to do with all the extras!  Still, they are lovely.  Interestingly some of the ex-bats are laying in the chicken ark, where the original hens live, and some are laying in the shed we set up for them.  I haven’t determined if they’ve actually moved in, but there’s obviously not enough space for all of them!

The hens all look in great shape too, and it’s now impossible to tell apart the two original brown non-ex-bats from their more recently added companions.

Also, we should probably stop calling them ex-bats, as really they’re full recharged now!

Ex-Bat MIA

The chickens move around a lot, which makes counting them rather tricky.  However, I think there are only eighteen of the ex-bats left.  I’ve counted several times and not counted the nineteenth.  I’ve scoured round the orchard area, but not yet found the body.  This could mean a number of things:

  1. The body is under a particularly big tuft of grass.
  2. She flew off.  Possibly south, after all it’s been rather chilly.
  3. She’s hiding from me – unlikely given how excited they get about food.
  4. A fox got her – unlikely as all the others are still there.
  5. I can’t count – possible given how much they move about.  Really, they jitter all over the place, climb over each other and all sorts.

I hope she hasn’t really gone missing.

Also, the ex-bats are still not laying.  Not a single egg in two weeks from them.  The others are laying quite happily, between two and four a day.  I guess I can’t complain as I wouldn’t know what to do with any excess eggs.  Still, it’s the principle of the thing!

RIP Ex-Bat Hen

Not the most cheerful time of year.  A couple of days ago when I fed the chickens I noticed that one of the ex-bats was rather listless.  She was out with the rest, but didn’t want to move around very much, and certainly wasn’t pestering me for food, unlike the others.  I threw some to her and she pecked at it, but was soon mobbed by the others.  I wondered if she was a slow riser, or bothered by the cold, but didn’t think that much more of it.  That night all the chickens were fine, clustering round me and demanding to be fed.  That seemed to confirm my theory that she was a slow starter.  Yesterday all was fine again, and so I stopped worrying.

This morning one of the ex-bat hens was outside next to one of the trees, and quite dead.  It wasn’t clear what killed her, though something had decided to have a little go at her after she was dead, possibly a rat or something like that.  It might not even have been the same hen, and was just a coincidence, but it’s still not much fun.

Chickens can be disposed of on the property and we usually either bury them or cremate them.  Given how cold it is and how solid the ground is, I’ve gone with cremation.  I hope her last month was pleasant, even if her life has been cut short.

They’re now properly free range!

I know quite a few of my recent posts have been about eggs.  I’m not obsessed honestly.  But it is one of the ways we’ve been using to measure how settled our ex-bats are.  Other ways include watching them run around the orchard – which they do now with wild abandon, watching them eat ‘normal’ food – which they do most excitedly, except when they’re pecking my wellies in the hope that they are edible, and watching them re-feather – where they are showing some real progress.

The acid test however is the eggs.  To remind you, this is what they looked like originally.  Here’s a picture of my lunch eggs yesterday:

I challenge you to definitively identify the ex-bat egg.  Answers on a post card please!

 

Eggs or Feathers

According to a more experienced poultry keeper that’s the choice our chickens have to face. And they’re choosing feathers. The ex-bats that is. Many of them were a little de-feathered when we got them, and now they have the chance to grow new feathers. The energy, and nutrients, required to grow new feathers leave the chickens with little left for eggs. So the eggs stop. Once they’re all fully feathered the eggs should start again, which is good.

As you can see there is a little way to go for some of them:

To be fair she’s one of the worst, many of the others have much smaller patches which are covered over by their other feathers.

At the moment we’re getting one egg a day from the ex-bats, and two or three from the old hens. Which is probably the lowest amount of eggs we eat a day. Some days we eat up to seven or eight, if baking and suchlike is included. And I prefer to use fresh eggs if at all possible!

All the chickens were out when we fed the animals today, and it was nice to see the cockerel looking over them all, and making sure they were all ok.

Eggs, eggs, everywhere!

The ex-bats have been providing us with between five and thirteen eggs every day.  The other hens have clearly noticed, and worried that they might be replaced they’ve started laying as well, giving us two eggs from them a day.  This is more eggs than we can eat, even though I really do like eggs.

The ex-bats haven’t really got the nesting concept yet, so they lay their eggs anywhere.  There was one outside the door yesterday, and I’ve found several more around the shed.  Within the shed there is one corner they seem to be favouring, but otherwise it’s a little random.  The problem with this is that their eggs often end up wet, or covered in poo, or both.  Egg shells are a little porous so when they’ve been wet it’s advisable to either eat them quickly or throw them away, otherwise bacteria might grow in them, and make them somewhat dangerous.  This is one of the reasons we have a nest box in the ark for the old hens, and we keep it cosy for them with a fairly thick carpet of woodshavings.  It means they’re out of the weather, and generally the only thing on the outside of their eggs (when they bother to lay them) is some shavings.

Yesterday I decided to see if the ranging had started to make a difference to the ex-bats eggs.  They’ve started to peck at the grass, so I figured it might be having an impact on their yolks.  When we first got them their egg yolks were rather pale, as expected, and I was hoping that they would start to head towards the vibrant yellows we get from the yolks of the old hens.  I also had some shop bought free range eggs (for reasons obscure).  So I cracked one of each into a pan to see the results.

The one at the bottom left is from our old hens.  Lovely colour.  The bottom right is a shop bought free range egg, not really in the same league.  The top one is from our ex-bats.  It’s not yet as bright as our old hens, but is already, I think, a little brighter than the shop-bought one.

I will test again in a week or so and see how they look then!

Merging Flocks – almost a plan

Our plan with the ex-bat chickens has always been to let them roam in the poultry orchard.  We aren’t planning on merging them properly with our existing hens, we think they will exist as two separate colonies, the ex-bats in their shed, and the old hens in their ark.

The BHWT guidance for merging flocks (BHWT Website) is quite useful, but doesn’t quite cover our situation.  Still I planned on taking note of the pointers in it, and slowly letting the ex-bats out, and only while I was with them, until they were confident enough to survive on their own.  We’d also already got one thing right, the ex-bats had been in sight of the old hens for more than a week.  I hoped all else would go as well.

As ever, things didn’t quite go to plan.  The first problem I’ve already mentioned, (Morning Excitement).  Then the following day during the evening feed I noticed that either the chickens or the wind had pushed the cage off center, and several chickens had got out.  I managed to get them back in fairly quickly, and did my best to wedge the cage closed.

When walking up to the shed to give the ex-bats yesterdays morning feed, I saw that the cage had come free again, and that there were quite a few chickens out.  I opened the door to collect eggs and replace the water, and by the time I’d managed to get that done I’d managed to displace about half the chickens outside.  Realising (after a short futile bit of waving my arms around and gentle encouragement) that I wasn’t going to get them back in, I decided to leave them out, and see how the day went on.  I planned on checking them a couple of times to make sure they were ok, and that the old hens weren’t bullying them.

Through the day all seemed fine, and the only time I saw any conflict was when one of the ex-bats wandered over to where the old hens were eating and tried to take some of their food.  There was a brief exchange of views and the ex-bat chose discretion.  Last night I was planning on putting the ex-bats away and shutting them up.  They were planning on staying out as long as they could.  I tried to round them up, but it was futile, and in the end I closed the main door and left the cage loose so they could all get back in.  I thought they’d probably put themselves to bed.  Just to be sure, Alex and I went out with a torch once it was properly dark and searched around to make sure none were stuck outside, and do a quick headcount.  They had all managed to make it back inside, and all was well!

This morning I was greeted by a great sight, more than half of the ex-bats were happily out and about, and really starting to explore their surroundings.  This picture doesn’t show it all, because it doesn’t include the four who were hanging around my feet trying to work out if I was edible!

Ex-bats settling in

We’ve had the ex-battery hens for a few days now, and they’re starting to settle in a bit.  I think we’re lucky they’re so young as they definitely are moving around a lot more than I expected, and starting to show some of the curiosity we see with our other chickens.  They’re still a bit nervous when we go in to collect eggs, and top up water and such like, but they’re definitely getting braver.

Eggs!

We weren’t expecting much in the way of eggs to start with.  One of the ladies at the pick up place said that she’d had seven hens and was getting two eggs a week.  Scaling that up for our twenty would imply a half dozen a week.  Not much to write home about really.  But this was a rescue mission, not a hen production mission, so I shouldn’t complain.  I was hoping it might get up to a half dozen a day so that we’d have plenty of eggs to eat and cook with.

The first day there were no eggs, not much of a surprise considering the stress of their strip.  The next day we had eight eggs.  Yay!  Then ten.  Woohoo!  Then two.  Boo hiss.  Then today, nine.  Woohoo again!  The eggs aren’t proper free range style yet, so not very yellow, because the hens are still mostly based in the shed.  This is so they know it’s home and to get them settled down.

Extra space

We did give them a little extra space after the first couple of days, by adding a cage as a small outside run.  This was to get them used to the outside, without giving them full ranging abilities.  As they’d spent their entire lives in cages in a barn we knew they wouldn’t be entirely sure what to do outside, but they’d need to learn some way or other.

For the first day or two after we’d added it there were only a few hens in it, the most courageous of those we’d rescued.  Today when Alex fed them it was almost filled with hens.  It looks like they’re all starting to like the great outdoors.

I’m going to read up on the rules for merging flocks so that I can let them start to range freely.  While I don’t actually want to merge them – the ex-bats will continue to have the shed, and the others will have the ark, I do want to minimise the stress of their introductions.  Especially with the ducks as well.

Now I’m off to have my breakfast.  Eggs of course!