Friday, January 4, 2019


After Maud died in spring 2018, I amalgamated my two little flocks of bantams into the bit walk in run. There are Lulu and Velvet the white and black bantam silkies, and Mapp and Lucia the lemon sabelpoots and Porsche the porcelaine sabelpoot. They soon settled in together, with Lulu and Velvet the most dominant and little porsche the bottom of the pecking order.

The weather has got colder, and a couple of weeks ago I noticed that Porsche was looking pale and not herself. Feeling her, she seemed thinner than the other sabelpoots so I gave her three days of chicken nutri-drops. That made an amazing difference. Her comb went a good shade of red, her eyes were bright and she seemed right as rain.

During 2018 I've felt really on top of keeping the chickens healthy. Now that they are all in the WIR it is much easier to keep their bedding clean. Every morning I go in and poop-pick and also use a trowel to fluff up their aubiose bedding. When it rains, water does get in despite the rain coverings, and the bedding can get damp, but if I fluff it up it dries really quickly. I can then easily sweep it up every few months, when it starts to look a little used and the chips are beginning to break down into dust, and put down fresh. I do this particularly with a view to stopping the chickens from getting muddy feed. The feathered footed sabelpoots in particular are very susceptible to collecting mud and poop on their feet and feathers. When the weather is fine, I let them out into an enclosed run with a little green eglu so that they can dustbathe and scratch around which they really enjoy. Now it is winter, I top up a seed tray so they can dustbathe in that and they seem to like it.

The WIR is quite fun for them. There is a nice perch, two blocks of wood for perching, a chicken swing that I have seen the sabelpoots using as well as the regular hentastic treats I put out for them.

As I've been spending lots of time daily with the hens, they have become more and more tame, so it has been really easy to pick them up and feel their condition. Imagine my horror today when I decided to give their feet a really good check (I'm always woried about scaly leg with the feathered legged breeds) and I saw that one of the lemon sabelpoots had what looks very much like bumble foot. The other has got round clods of mud on her toe nails! I feel like I have been so neglectful. How could this have happened. They must wait until I've gone, then quickly poop and then stand in it!

[photos to go here]

I've phoned Scotts in Bedford and made an appointment with the exotic vet for Monday at 10:45. I hope they can treat it. The Sabelpoots are all a bit shirty with me today as I've been poking and prodding them alot to check what is wrong, also it is bitterly cold, so I'm going to leave it until tomorrow then wash and blow-dry their feet. Then they will have Sunday to recover before I take one of them to the vets by car. Hopefully she won't get too stressed.

I guess this sort of thing happens to the best of us. It just goes to show the importance of checking ALL aspects of your chickens on a regular basis.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

RIP Vera

About a week ago Vera started to look a little peaky. She was a little unsteady on her feet, though her comb and wattles were still a good read colour. I picked her up and felt her, but she didn't seem overly thin, or lumpy in any of the wrong places, so I decided to see how things went. After two or three days she began a big moult so I thought maybe this was the reason she wasn't on top form.

She tended to stay in the roosting area in the morning, so I would look in on her and she would begrudgingly go down the ramp. Always a little unsteady, but otherwise seeming fine.

Last night she was lying under the bottom of the ramp. She seemed to be just resting, but I suspected the worst. At this point, I suppose were I able to despatch a chicken, this would be the time to do so. However I have never learned to do that. She didn't seem to be in any discomfort, just lying down, and the other chickens were ignoring her and certainly not bothering her, so I left her be. This morning I came down to a dead chicken.

I often wonder what is best. I could have taken her to the vet, but I have done that in the past, and the journey to the vets has pretty much finished the chicken off. On the whole, if they don't seem to be in any distress, it feels kinder to just let them drift off.

RIP Vera

Friday, July 29, 2016

Feeding eggshells to your chickens

There are many articles and blog posts about giving calcium supplements to your chickens. Egg laying is a real drain on calcium, and all chicken keepers will have encountered the odd wierd softie in the nest box, or inadvertently put their finger through the shell of an oh-so-fragile egg.
Dry the eggs fully
Some people give eggshells to their chickens, so I decided to have a go and share my experiences via my blog.

It takes a bit of planning. I normally throw the eggshells into the kitchen compost bin, so I had to train myself out of that.

Each time I use an egg, instead of throwing it away, I drop it in the sink. I then wash the inside out thoroughly. If you leave too much of the membrane inside, it can be difficult to crush the shell - it sort of sticks together. 

Crush the eggshells
It is important to dry the eggs before attempting to crush them. Some people bake them in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. I simply leave them out for a couple of days before putting them into a plastic freezer bag.
Crushed eggshells
Once I have enough eggshells in the plastic bag, I crush them using a rolling pin. This can take a little while, but it is worth it. I then put the crushed shells into a washed out jam jar and add them to my hens' food every couple of weeks.

My hens eat layers pellets with added vermix alternating with omega mash which they love. Sometimes I mix the mash with the pellets. They don't seem to notice or care if there is eggshell added or not. However I do notice the eggs have good strong shells. I haven't had a softie or delicate shelled egg since I've been doing this, but without having a control group of chickens that I do not feed eggshells to, I can't be absolutely sure that the extra calcium is causing this.

I recently read an interesting blog post from The Prairie Homestead on how to feed eggshells to your chickens which suggested feeding the eggshells to your hens in a separate container from their usual food so that the chickens could choose if they needed extra calcium or not. I may try this. I don't want to overfeed them with calcium.

Update 21 Dec. 16 - I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but using a blender speeds up the crushing. It does generate a lot of dust, but it saves all that rolling pin work :) Also, since giving the eggshells in a separate container, I find my hens gobble them down, so they are clearly keen on the extra calcium.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Red Mites!

Found, to my horror, that I had red mite in my pink Omlet cube housing four hens. I had cube and a separate pink eglu with separate run and 3 bantams. I dusted hens in diatomaceous earth, moved them to a clean red eglu that I also treated with poultry shield (PS) & diatom earth. This eglu is at the other end of the garden.

 I also checked the pink eglu and it appeared clear but I cleaned it with PS and dusted with diatom earth. I dismantled the cube & sprayed with PS that appeared to kill the mites. By this time they were everywhere and I was creeped out so I went inside, changed, washed my clothes and showered.

3 days later I checked both eglus. There were about 10 dead mites in the diatomaceous earth in the poop tray of the pink eglu. I suspect I may have introduced them myself when I was dealing with the cube. The red eglu appeared clear. I cleaned and retreated both eglus with PS and diatomaceous earth. I jet washed the cube and left to dry.

Next day I sprayed with poultry shield. Each time I checked, I would find a few more mites that I would kill. Meanwhile my bin was teeming with mites from the bedding I'd disposed of! Yeuch.

So I covered it with poultry shield which seemed to do the trick.  I am reassembling the cube bit by bit, spraying for mites as I go. I don't plan to put the hens back until November, but I would like it to be clear. I plan to use red mite concentrate on my birds, but have been using diatomaceous earth only so far. The four hens now in the red eglu are looking much better, nice red combs etc. However I'm sure that some of the mites will have moved across with them.

As I sit here in the garden, I have the odd mite (grey) wander across my iPad or arm. I checked the deckchair and there were two under the canvas fabric. Has my jet washing spread the mites across my lawn? Is it normal to have some level of mites in the environment and can I keep on top of them by cleaning my hens assiduously every 3 days?  I've read conflicting discussions. Can red mites live on me or on my cat? I've been washing my mite infested clothes, but can they survive water? Can they only lay eggs after a feed, and could they get a feed from me or my cat? When I catch them on my iPad, they are grey not red. Have I triggered some form of technologically adept red mite? Are they using my Twitter account to tweet their followers? :)))

I've had chickens for 10 years without red mite. This is such a shock. Yeuchy Yeuchy  Yuck Yuck

 I've been using a pink eglu cube for the past year and I wonder if it needs a more thorough cleaning regime. I've ordered every red mite product under the sun and read all manner of advice. The most helpful seems to be for advice. In particular this pageon  how to kill red mites and this blog post on how-to-get-rid-of-red-mites which described step by step how to clean and this page which lists the top 8 products, many of which I now have.

watch this space

Friday, March 4, 2016

Scary Cat!

My hens are all getting on very well on the patio. I enjoy being able to see them out of the french windows. I can keep an eye on what is going on. Butch (my ex-stray) potters around with me as I tend the hens, and they take no notice of him at all. Periodically a large grey Bengal Tiger comes around, rippling muscles and a predatory stare, and all the hens go beserk! They clearly recognise this cat as a danger.

A few days ago, the hens started squawking and Butch immediately became alert and ran over to the window where he growled at the grey cat who was stalking the chickens. Nothing more happened.

Lulu watching from the door of the cube
Today I heard loud howling and looked out of the window to find Butch standing between predator cat and the large eglu cube. All the hens were hiding inside the cube - the little sabelpoots were in their eglu run huddled together keeping very quiet. Lulu, my bantam silkie, was peeking nervously out of the cube door. There was a clash and butch and grey cat fought (much white Butch fur flew) then they parted and butch stood his ground. I took the two photos as the grey cat stalked away. It looked for all the world as though Butch was defending the chickens. Do cats do that?

Grey cat slinking away

The hens seemed very grateful, and eventually came down and started pottering about their business.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Well, I've lived here for three years now, so I supposed I've done well. Spotted a void under the skirt of the run for the 5 hens and sure enough, there seemed to be a distinct rat trail into the run. This was confirmed a few days later when one morning, waking up before dawn but with the poultry lamp still shining red into the run, I spotted a rat making regular trips to and from the hens grub bowls. Was it one rat going to and fro, or was it a series of rats. Initially I thought it was a single rat taking multiple trips, but when I looked, there was simply a route under the eglu into the run - there wasn't a rat burrow, so I now think there was a series of rats attracted by the food.

So, I bought some more bait. However I know from chatting to a pest controller that rats are very intelligent and take ages to become confident in a new bait box. So I did the most sensible thing. I moved my five hens into the eglu cube on the patio next to the three sabelpoots in their eglu. Then I removed all the food from the end of the garden. So there is now nothing more to attract the rats.

After a few weeks I will fill in the entrance run and see what happens. I expect all rat movement to reduce and for them to move on to where there is more food. I may well keep the hens on the patio. At least the rats cannot get anywhere near the food and therefore will not be attracted and will not breed!

In some ways it is a shame. Rats are such intelligent creatures. But they have no place here as they breed really quickly so it is up to me to make sure that they don't have access to enough food to make their numbers grow.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Winter weather is here

Spend a lovely 3 hours today pottering in the garden sorting out the chickens. I'm now down to 7 - Maud and her little trio of bantams, Lulu, Velvet (silkies) & Vera (wyandotte) in the large walk in run. Then in a separate run on the patio, I have my lovely babies Mapp & Lucia (lemon sabelpoots) * Porsche (porcelain sabelpoot). I keep them on the patio because they have very feathery feed.

Last weekend I spend an amusing hour or so washing their feet one by one. They had got all clogged up with poop which had solidified in globs on the feathers. I didn't want them to get poorly feet so carefully washed each one and dried them with the hair drier. I then popped them all in the pink eglu 'hospital' run which is also on the patio.

Then I moved their eglu cube and swept and shovelled everything away to the compost, moved it to a new position on the patio and today restocked it with wood chip.

This morning it was slightly frosty. The patio run water had a small crust of ice - easily breakable, but the big run water was more frozen. So - today I did a full clear out of the big run with my new rake - restocked with clean wood chipping, changed all the water and poopy trays and installed the infra-red poultry heater for the big run.

Snow is forecast overnight. I'm a little worried about my new chickies, but I've shut their door and will check their water first thing. I am wondering about buying some heated pads that you warm up in the microwave and which purport to last 10 hours. I have only one poultry lamp, so the little cooks are at risk of frozen water. However being nearer the house seems to keep the water warmer. I'll see how it is tomorrow.

I sometimes marvel at how much fun it is simply letting all the hens out to run loose in the garden whilst you potter about. Maud seems to get on really well with the newbies, so I could probably put them all in together if the weather gets really cold.