Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hens cautiously apporove their new home

Our new brood is settling in safely ... but slowly.

To start with they were understandably nervous in their new environment and stood in a corner in a tight huddle.

They gradually started to inch around their pen. They looked small and lost in it. They aren't yet fully grown but still were surprisingy tentative. In the first day of their arrival they only managed to explore perhaps half the pen which is 30 feet by 30 feet.

And they didn't take to their food either. I'd started them on a mixture of Layers Pellets and Chick Pellets, with the idea of gradually easing them on to just the Layers Pellets. But they didn't seem to fancy either. And didn't even get as far as finding the food trough on that first day. They did however, do a little scratching in the soil and leaf litter and found plenty to eat there.

I had to lift them up and put them into the hen house that firs night and they didn't really want to go. The next morning I took a peep before letting them out and they hadn't used either the roosting bars or the nesting boxes but just huddled together in a corner. It took them around 10 minutes to come out that morning.

But later that day I saw some of the food in the trough had been eaten and they'd managed to get to the other side of the pen. Again, I had to lift them into their henhouse that evening.

The next day, however, they went straight to the food trough and an hour or so later I saw them on the branches my daughter had turned into an obstacle course for the previous brood to play on.

They seem to stay out later than their predecessors, waiting until it is dark to go into the hen house. And I had a shock last night when I went to shut them up at half-time in the France-Wales match  - about 5.45pm when it was just dark.

Three were huddled in a nesting box but one of the Marans was roosting on top of the door frame to the hen pen. I'll have to look into clipping their wings or put some loose wire across the top to stop them sitting there.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New chickens arrive after fox attack

We collected four new hens the other day from a supplier in Neath; two Light Sussex and two Cuckoo Marans, all large fowl. They're around 17 weeks and so probably won't be laying for a month or two.

They look to be nice birds, still with some growing to do and some settling in to their new home. And I'm looking for two or three more, including a cockerel.

They've come to replace the birds we lost to the fox last autumn. It was a sad end for them and initially down to human error on my part. We often let them out into the garden if we were around and they usually made their own way back to their pen in the evening before dusk and we'd lock them up again.

But one fateful day I forgot that they'd been out and so didn't go to lock them up and, as it did most nights, the fox came through our garden ... just on the off chance...

And this time it's luck was in and our's and our chickens' was not.

It took three and left two more for dead, including Harry the cockerel who I had to finish off to spare him his suffering. But one very traumatised hen survived unscathed.

We were just about to go away for a few days and I didn't want to leave the hen on her own as she was really missing the company of the others. So, as the hen pen and hen house still seemed to be safe, I decided to pick up another hen to keep her company before we went away.

I found a very pretty Silver-Laced Wyandotte just about at point-of-lay and brought her back to join our lucky survivor. Then we travelled to Ipswich for a few days, leaving our willing neighbours to feed them.

I also had a cockerel lined up to collect on the way home - a Gold-Laced Wyandotte in need of e good home and was trawling the internet to find replacement birds to rebuild our small brood. But it was not to be.

While away the fox returned. This time it delivered a frenzied attack on my chicken pen. The scratching at the wooden hen house was reminiscent of a Hammer Horror werewolf film but it stood firm. There was also sign of it trying to dig under but rocks and roots made that impossible.

Undeterred, however, the fox that it finally chewed its way through the chicken wire - proper 19 gauge 1.5 inch galvanised wire specifically for chicken pens. And it then chewed another hole to get out with both hens.

So I've reinforced the hen house, looked for weak spots and attended to them and put 16 gauge welded mesh around the existing wire to keep the fox out. And with our new arrivals we've returned to the practice of actually shutting them up in the hen house every night.

So far so good ... but watch this space.