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Finally, a qualification…!

chikkencourse

No, no…that’s not my rooster. It’s the header photo from a course I’m taking.

That’s right, y’all — I’m taking a course in Advanced Chickenology from the la-de-da University of Edinburgh. They came mucho recommendo from one of the chicken forums I follow. At last, the prestigious credentials I’ve always craved!

Actually, it’s worth following the link. There are a number of online courses on offer for not a lot of money, and I gather you can audit a lot of them for free if you don’t care about grades or a certificate.

But I gotta run. I brought a bunch of work home and I’m all behind schedule AND IT’S BATH NIGHT!


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April 27, 2016 — 10:01 pm
Comments: 7

We R Flock

flock

The big girls keeping the little girls company.

It doesn’t work so great in black and white, as the big girls formed a big, floppy, happy boneless chicken pile in the warm sun, every girl trying to get her beak under her neighbor, so they look like headless piles of feathers. They do this like babychicks trying to shelter under a mamachick; I think it’s the chicken version of kittenish play.

Make no mistake: once the little girls are free, there will be peckings and squawkings and jockeying for position, but this is how the socializing process starts.

The main thing I’m worried about is the little girls flying up into a tree. They fly well when they’re little. I cut myself to ribbons getting Maggie and Coco out of a blackberry bramble once.

On a related note, Vita’s butt totally looks like a delicious artichoke.


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April 19, 2016 — 9:11 pm
Comments: 5

What’s next, selfies?

mirror

The new girls recreating the “Mama, I’m pretty” scene from Gypsy.

Oh, the mirror was a big hit. There was all kinds of peeping and pecking. I can’t leave it in the box unsupervised on account of it has sharp edges (and vets are expensive) but tomorrow I’m going shopping for bird toys. Preferably ones without small bits that can be pecked off and eaten. Chickens will swallow anything, and these don’t have grit in their diet yet.

It’s still too cold for them to be outside most of the time, so they’re inside in a big cardboard box getting really bored. Yes, chickens are smart enough to get bored, even little ones.

Oh, as promised: the story of the chicken fart.


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April 6, 2016 — 6:56 pm
Comments: 14

You can get one for £5 in Tesco

rosieseye

So Rosie has a runny eye. She has from the beginning. Not at all uncommon in chickens, it could mean any number of things, serious and not so serious. As she was happy and lively and eating well, I chose to ignore it…until it finally got pretty gunky and awful. Field trip!

Every time we go to our local veterinary practice, it’s a different guy. Or woman. Usually a foreigner. This fella seemed English, though — and, even better, he declared he loves chickens and doesn’t see enough of them in his practice. Good start.

He thinks it’s a scratch that got infected, so he took her in the back and cleaned her up (I could hear her screaming bloody murder) and gave me eye drops.

I’m putting drops in a chicken’s eye twice a day. FML.

If it graduates to a sinus infection, though, it means an operation. He took great pleasure describing said operation in the most graphic of terms, until he seemed to realize he was being creepy. I’ll spare you the details — unless she actually has the operation. In which case, for all that money, I’m by-god getting a post out of it.

There it is, though — the bad eye all cleaned up. And it only cost me a little more than it cost to buy all three chickens.


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April 5, 2016 — 6:23 pm
Comments: 14

Grocery shopping

shopping

So, the girls met Satan this morning. Also, grass. They liked grass better.

There were a few hours of sunlight before cloud descended (Atlantic gales for the rest of the weekend, boo) so we had another episode of Learning to be Chickens. A good time was had by all –including Jack, who crawled all over the cage, making them peep and flitter.

firstegg

Also, the very first egg of the season — on Good Friday! How cool is that?

My girls don’t lay between October and March. It has to do with hours of daylight. I could make them lay all Winter if I provided a couple of hours of artificial light, but I think laying eggs is pretty hard on a chicken. Since mine are more pets than practical, I give them five months off a year.

Britain is not constrained by that whole ‘separation of church and state’ thing, so Easter is one of the major holidays. I gots a 4-day weekend, starting today. Also, our clocks change this weekend, a thing I find unaccountably painful. I think I’d rather lay an egg.

And so ends the Week of New Chickens. Maybe I’ll post about something else next week. Maybe I won’t. I’m really hating politics at the mo.

Good Easter weekend!


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March 25, 2016 — 9:59 pm
Comments: 17

We learned a chicken thing today!

perch

So, I put a stick through their box today and this happened. Immediately. Completely expectedly.

Chickens were originally creatures of the forest floor, which you can see in many of their behaviors — like clinging onto branches. Like all roosting birds, chooks have a flexor tendon that automatically locks their feet closed when their knees are bent. Hence, they can fall asleep clinging to a stick and never fear falling off.

When they’re little, they’re especially well able to fly. I spent an uncomfortable afternoon one day when tiny baby Coco and Maggie flew up into a tree and disappeared into a tangle of blackberry bramble. Blood was shed.

The new girls haven’t figured out perch is for sleep yet. Which is a pity — the whole point of the exercise is that no chicken should have to sleep in her own poop.

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March 24, 2016 — 9:31 pm
Comments: 8

Oh, HELLS, no say the fat old hens

biggirls

We had an afternoon of glorious sun yesterday (the first for a while and the last for a while), so I took the little girls out in a bird cage for their first sight of the sun. They were born in a dark incubator and reared in a windowless shed, so this was something pretty spectacular in their chickeny lives.

allgirls

The big girls took one look at the cage and vanished into the henhouse. It was probably the cage, not the chicks, that spooked them. I don’t think they’ll recognize what the chicks are until they’re all pecking around in the grass together. And then it’ll be like the Sharks and the Jets.

Nah-nah-nah nah nah.

An interesting note on chicken society. Violence, the white-ish hen at the far left, is the smallest in the flock. Her sister (from the same hatching, but not the same parents) Vita, the hen at the far right, is a big, beautiful bird, half again bigger than Violence.

But Vita is and always has been the bottom of the pecking order, and how. Violence, after the death of Lucia, became head chicken. And so Violence has grown a little, Vita has shrunk a little — and look at the difference in their combs! Vita has a little baby comb, but Violence has a big, fat red flag on her head proclaiming her Queen Shit of the Chickens.

The size and color of a chicken’s comb tells you a lot about their health and place in society and can change very fast when conditions change.

When the babies are mixed in, Violence and Mapp will probably give ’em a few judicious pecks and then settle in as a flock.

Not Vita. This is her chance not to be the bottom hen any more. She will be ruthless and cruel to the little ones until her new place is firmly established.

To be honest, I don’t mind. It’s been awful watching the others pick on her all these years. No hen likes to be bottom hen, but most self-respecting chooks will squawk and get out of the way of a good pecking. Not Vita; she’ll lie still with her beak in the grass and let them punch her until they tire themselves out. Horrible.

She’ll have to be watched, though.

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March 23, 2016 — 8:48 pm
Comments: 7

Your chicken questions, answered

questions

Too many questions to answer in the comment thread below, so I’ll squeeze a post out of ’em.

The original two were Mapp and Lucia after two characters in a novel set in nearby Rye. The next two were Vita and Violet, named after Vita Sackville-West from nearby Sissinghurst (it has a famous garden we love to visit) and her long-time lesbian love Violet Trefusis. But we call Violet Violence on account of her dreadful anger management issues. The next two were Coco and Maggie, for no particular reason.

We were going to continue with famous Edwardian lesbians, but we worried we’d run out of them, so we decided notorious Edwardian women would do. These three are the Dolly Sisters, Rosie and Jenny, and Colette.

Chicken math: Lucia, Coco and Maggie have fallen off the — I almost said proverbial, but I suppose it’s literal — perch. So, flock of six. Which I have decided is just right.

Jack has not met them yet and I fully expect him to be a beast. I don’t think he’d kill them, but I’m pretty sure he’ll chase them. We’re going to control this very carefully; they may have to free range in an enclosed run until they’re all growed up. That will be roughly July or August.

The big chickens met the little chickens for the first time today. They were not impressed. I had the little girls in a bird cage and I think the big girls were afraid of the cage. They vanished into the house and wouldn’t come out. That will change.

It will take all Summer to unite them into a flock and maybe a year before the pecking order is fully established. There will be much pecking.

Several birds can share a nest box. The current house (we’re getting a bigger one) has two, but it’s not at all unusual to find all three birds crammed on top of each other in the same nest box while the other is empty. Chickens, eh?

Yes, I feel terribly conflicted eating chicken. I feel terribly conflicted eating meat in general. I am a terrible slop-bag. I have nearly gone vegetarian several times in my life out of chronic slop-baggery. I swear to gott, I’ll end up a Jain some day.

MEANWHILE! Something tried to dig its way into my chicken run last night and very nearly succeeded! I assumed it was a fox after the chickens, but a neighboring farmer told us digging = badger. He was probably after the chicken food, but I’ve locked the girls up for the night. Badgers, eh?


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March 22, 2016 — 9:17 pm
Comments: 13

She knows she’s beautiful

glamorshot

Unexpectedly…CHIKKENS!!!

I hadn’t intended to buy chicks just yet, but I located a source nearby that had the right kind of girls, ready to go. So…!

I bought two mille fleur and a lavender (that’s the lavender). Mille fleur doesn’t look like much when they’re little, only after their first moult. They’re kind of a speckledy mess right now.

Those of long memory may recall that my bestest chicken ever was mille fleur (who, sadly, has joined the choir eternal), so this is a bit of a science experiment: seeing how much of Lucia’s personality was mille fleur personality.

There is something to this, you know. Different colors (and certainly different breeds) share personality characteristics. It’s uncontroversial in livestock circles; you get into trouble when you apply it to people. Except gingers.

Let’s hope it’s not too powerful a rule in chooks. I already have a lavender, too, and she’s a nasty-tempered little bitch.

These are younger than I’m used to, about four weeks (chicken lady is confident she’s got the sex right, but it’s tricky this young). It’s also earlier in the year and colder, so these peeping little shit-machines will be living in the house for the next month, at least.

I don’t mind a bit.


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March 21, 2016 — 10:38 pm
Comments: 15

beautiful and tragic

doomed

Welp, it must be Spring — I’ve got the itch for more chickens. A chicken jones, as it were. Yes, I have been chicken shopping.

My flock is down to three, which is no kind of flock at all. But I have a bit of a dilemma — my henhouse will comfortably hold four, but you have to add them in pairs, at least (every hen needs a buddy — that whole ‘pecking order’ thing is deadly serious).

I was kind of hoping the henhouse would fall to bits this Winter. I emphatically am not hoping to lose my oldest bird, who is my favorite chikken EVAR, though that too would have solved the problem (they live six to eight years, and she’ll be seven next month; please send a happy thought Mapp’s way). I’m thinking maybe throw caution to the winds and buy a newer, bigger henhouse and add three new chikkens to the flock. If I can find the chikkens I’m looking for.

Him? That fine-looking specimen in the picture? I found him in the free ads. He’s what sucks the fun out of chikken shopping in the classifieds: people desperate to get rid of surplus roosters (“free to a good home, very friendly bird, pleeeeease!”).

I’m always tempted, but not really tempted. See, some sneaky bird from my flock would surely lay a few eggs in the hedge and, next thing you know, I’d be desperate to get rid of a surplus rooster. And it would be kind of startling to introduce my hens to sex at this time of life.

Also, bantam cockerels have a crow that could peel wallpaper.

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February 25, 2016 — 11:36 pm
Comments: 23