Chickens, Grass and lawncare, Uncategorized

Chickening out

I’m a bit feather-brained at the moment.

We have three chickens – Minnie, Polly and Iona – they’re our first little flock and we’re extremely fond of them.  I have previously documented their arrival here and since we got them they seem to be quite happy in our back garden.  They’ve recently started laying again after a bit of a break over Christmas time and their eggs are delicious.  My current favourite lunch is poached egg and avocado on a nice bit of thick bread, with a good cup of tea.  YUM.

Our hens live in the middle of a back border in a second-hand Eglu (thank you, Gumtree) and have a small run outside of the main coop and wire run.  We have experimented with free-ranging before, but for various reasons I have always gone back to restricting them to their bigger run and keeping them out of the main garden.

The reasons included – bird flu restrictions (the advice was to keep them under cover and away from wild birds for several weeks), poo on the grass and paths, fears they would eat some of my plants – plus one of them worked out how to escape and, having had a taste of freedom, would get out at inconvenient times.

However, I recently bought and read this book…

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…which has reminded me of my original hopes when we got the hens – that they would be an important and valuable element of our garden, not destroying it but contributing to it.

This book has been around for while, it’s not a new release, but it’s still very relevant.  The author, Jessi Bloom, is an experienced chicken owner and writes with passion and enthusiasm about how easy it is to integrate chickens and gardens.  She gives advice about housing, planting, training and looking after hens.

The main message I took away from reading this book are that chickens can not just live in your garden, but can actually be beneficial too – I already compost their poo so that the nutrients will return to the soil, but the book also made it clear that hens can reduce pests and weeds and be useful garden helpers.

It’s helped to calm my fears about letting the hens loose.  If there are young plants you don’t want them to eat, these can be protected.  Yes, there may be occasional damage but it’s avoidable and not a great tragedy if it does occur.  Let’s face it, the nature of gardening is such that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can simply try again.  And yes there may be some poo on the grass but at this time of year it’s not a big issue and a quick sweep of the lawn in the spring/summer should see it clear for the kids to play on.  In fact, I might even get them to do the poo-picking!

And so, our ladies have been released.  They are free-ranging part-time (afternoons, when we’re home to keep an eye on them) and seem to be loving it.  They’ve already established the New Favourite Dust Bathing Area – under a conifer I recently clipped so that the hellebores underneath would have a bit more breathing space.

I do have plans to introduce new plants to the back garden but now I’ll be more mindful of how to protect these until they’re established.  I feel more comfortable that what’s already there will survive a small amount of treading or scraping and if it doesn’t, well, it can be replaced.

This back garden area will eventually be an area of woodland planting – tough, hardy, resilient to a bit of ‘chicken love’, and I hope they really will keep the pests down and the weeds at bay.  For now, I’m enjoying seeing them run across the garden, wings outstretched, or run up to me hoping for treats and just kicking about making their little ‘boop-boop’ noises.  They’re good garden companions.

In fact, they’re so good that I’m now keeping my eyes peeled for a second coop – either for raising chicks or for a new flock.  I was warned that chicken-keeping becomes addictive and it’s true.  Hence why I’m feather-brained – I keep wondering if it should be Pekins, bantams, ex-batts, Auraucanas, Buffs….

 

 

 

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Chickens, Garden Birds, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Nature & Wildlife, Secret Garden, Vegetables

Catching up…

Well it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post.  Thankfully, part of the reason for that has been some lovely weather – when the sun’s shining I’m not inclined to stay in the house and stare at a computer screen, I want to get outside and garden!

Some updates on what’s happening out there:

Sad news first – the blackbird nest which was in the ivy on the back wall has failed.  I went out one morning about a week ago to discover it was on the ground.  I don’t know what happened, perhaps it simply collapsed, or perhaps a fox or bigger bird came along and attacked.  I investigated briefly using a stick (it was hard to reach!) and couldn’t see any eggs but it was surprisingly solid to try to turn over.  Here’s a photo of Mrs Blackbird which I took literally the day before the nest came down…

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I felt quite sad for the pair – they spent so long building the nest and she’d been sitting in it for a few days before it failed.  However, it seems that this is common with blackbirds as their nests are so open and therefore vulnerable to predators and the elements.  The good news is that I think they are now building another nest inside a large conifer nearby.  Will it be third time lucky?  We’ll have to wait and see.

I have been watering like mad over the past few days.  The sunny and warm weather means the veg beds have been looking parched and the seedlings (cosmos, marigolds and zinnia) which are now outside in the growhouse need a drink almost twice a day!  They’re getting quite large now and I’m hoping to start planting them out in the next few days.

The raised beds are looking good – every one now has a little row or sprig of green appearing, with the peas/carrots/lettuce bed looking the most healthy of all.  I have high hopes for the peas, especially after they did so poorly last year.  The potatoes are now all sprouting, after my worry that they were nowhere to be seen, and even the little leeks are popping up…

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…I noticed these yesterday morning and could have sworn they were about a centimetre bigger by the evening after a day of sunshine and a liberal hosing!

I’m also making a fairly sizeable change in the front garden; I’ve removed a large ceonothus and another unidentified shrub which have been taking over a large section close to the driveway.  I plan to extend the rose bed and perhaps also use the space for bedding and dahlias.  It was a bit of a gamble as they took up quite a lot of room, but the space looks nice and clear now and is another corner to play with, so I’m happy.  Sorry no before/after photos because I forgot to take them!

Lastly, a chicken update: we are now getting three eggs a day, as Iona has joined her two friends and begun laying – hurrah!  She’s also developing her comb and her voice and likes a good cluck when you go into the run or if she thinks something’s amiss.  Perhaps the quietest hen will turn out to be the noisiest?!

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New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter 

 

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Chickens

Introducing…

Minnie (Minerva)

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Iona (or Iona McFart)

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and Big Boo (aka Polly, short for Pollos Hermanos)

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I realise that’s quite a heady mix of monikers but that’s what happens when you let your kids get involved in the naming process, while also wanting to have your own input! We’ve ended up with a selection inspired by Harry Potter, Spanish words, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black and the brain of a 6 year old!

Still, a week on and we’re getting used to them now – the names as well as the hens.  They chook about quite happily in their run which we’ve now covered with woodchips very helpfully supplied by a tree surgeon friend.  We’re giving them treats every day to find out what they like to eat – so far mealworms, cheese and dandelions are proving a bit hit.  My eldest daughter is visiting them several times a day to feed them treats or pick them up – she’s quite besotted with her new feathery chums!  The smaller daughter likes them too and enjoys showing them off to her friends, but isn’t so keen on raking poo.  They both like collecting the daily egg we’ve been getting though, and my husband is definitely enjoying eating them.

Polly/Big Boo is the sole provider of eggs so far, and is also the Queen Bee.  I think the pecking order has been established and it seems she’s the one in charge, followed by Iona and then Minnie, who seems to be the most nervous of them all and sometimes patrols the run at dusk clucking menacingly at the imaginary threats beyond the fence, before taking herself to bed with the others when it gets dark.  Iona seems the most chilled out and doesn’t seem to mind being stroked or picked up.  They have all already got into the habit of running over at the first sight of a human, but I am under no illusions – they clearly just want food!

It’s Easter holidays for us at the moment, which is one reason why we’ve gone for it with getting the chickens just now, but what with settling in our new friends and doing general family stuff, I’m not getting much time in the garden at the moment.  Which is the reason I’m about to cut off this post and head straight out right now – a rare window of opportunity presents itself, so I am going to grab it with both hands!

Until I return, here are some pics of our new ladies for you to enjoy!

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Chickens

They’re here! 

Just a quick one before bedtime – but I had to share today’s excitement…

  

Three hens, happily scratching away in their new home in our back garden! 

I am super excited and also nervous about their first night – please let them still be there in the morning?! 

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Chickens, Garden design

Project Hen is moving forward…!


We have a coop! An Eglu Go to be precise, and I am so excited.

My head is full of hens at the moment, as I’m working out where to put them, when to feed them, how to make this work for our family life. My girls are also excited about the prospect of some feathered friends and even my husband, who was somewhat dubious to begin with, seems to be getting on board and is keen to come and choose our chickens.

Hopefully we’ll bring some home next week during the Easter holidays, but before then we’ve got to figure out how to make the coop and run fit into the area I have marked out for it.  More pics and details to follow after the weekend I think, when I hope to have the Eglu in place and ready to accept its new inhabitants!

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Chickens

To chook, or not to chook…?

I have hens on the brain at the moment.

I am very seriously considering some for the back garden!

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This has been an idea at the back of my mind since we moved into the house, as the garden is such a good size, there’s plenty of room for a small coop and three or four chickens.   And although I’ve been resisting the thought (just a fad! too dirty! you’ll get fed up!) I keep coming back to it again and again, lurking on chicken keeping forums, searching Gumtree for second-hand coops… I can’t seem to shake the idea and am becoming more and more sure that it’s something I’d like to try and think I’d enjoy.

I’m still weighing up the pros and cons – with any new venture I really do like to wrap my brain around it and try to imagine what doing that thing will be like, how it will affect my daily life, routines, the rest of the family etc.  Here’s the list:

Pros:

  • Eggs!  Lots of them, I hope!  I’d give any excess to family and friends – or maybe have an honesty box at the front of the house.
  • Company in the garden – I’d like to let them free-range sometimes, and like the thought of them pecking about (and hopefully eating all the slugs!) while I’m pottering about.
  • Pets – we don’t have any (apart from 5 guppies!) and I like the idea of caring for an animal and that it would (hopefully) enhance our family life and engage the kids with other living creatures.  The girls seem keen – they say they’d help out and I’d like to think they’d enjoy feeding the birds, handling them etc, even if they would almost certainly be unwilling to clean up bird poo!
  • The aforementioned poo is good fertiliser – goes on the compost heap and enriches the garden at a later date.  So, although poo is really a ‘con’, it’s also a ‘pro’.

Cons:

  • The free-ranging might mean damage to the garden – and would definitely mean poo on the grass, which would need to be removed before the girls would play outside.  (This could possibly be limited by fencing off a free-range area)
  • The poo (see above!)
  • Rats – I fear the idea of encouraging these into the garden, however I’m aware there are ways to prevent them and obviously there are ways to get rid of them.
  • Time commitment – this seems fairly minimal, compared to a dog for example, but I would need to spend time feeding and cleaning them, and perhaps be up and about to let them out fairly early in the mornings, especially in the summer months.  My ‘spare’ time is already precious – do I want to give up a little more of it?  Am I prepared to tweak my daily routine to care properly for these birds?

As you can see, I’m putting a lot of thought into it – too much, perhaps!  But I need to be sure before I take the plunge.  At the moment I’m keen to proceed, and keep waiting to find out something which would put me off, but it hasn’t happened yet.  So, I’m back on Gumtree looking out for the elusive bargain starter chicken coop…I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

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