Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

The two certainties of chicken-keeping – Death and foxes.

Fox with a gun

Damn my clumsy paws

There has been some soul searching after we lost all three chickens to a fox. I don’t in anyway blame the family who were looking after them, as I clearly didn’t fully explain the ramifications of not putting them in before dark, and I sympathise with how terrible they feel and the efforts they made to find the chickens. However initially, I did feel that this wouldn’t have happened if we were at home. Once a fox had been able to get to the chickens he was bound to come back, and he was able to get to the chickens in the first place because they weren’t locked up before dark.

However, if I’m honest, there have been times we have been late putting them in at night and we have been lucky. It is also naïve to think that foxes only attack during the evening. Given that the other two chickens were killed in broad daylight.  The farmer who supplies us our chickens wasn’t at all surprised that the fox attacked them during the day. He clearly thought we were thickies for thinking otherwise.

Anyway, what has worked for the past year will not work anymore. Lala and Cassie are in the uncomfortable position of having a fox know where they are and we will have to be more careful if we are going to keep them safe.

They have a large run and coop, so they should be happy kept in there when we are not around. Our other chickens had free range of the whole ‘farm’ area, but this will not be the case for the newbies. From now on chickens will be in the run unless we are around. Although this is no hardship now, I’ll be extending the run over the weekend to give them more space while in captivity.

I’m aware that foxes are wily and cunning. I’ve read my Roald Dahl and I’ll be disappointed in any fox who doesn’t mock up a scale model of the garden including all defenses before he attacks. I know they can bite through wire, chew through wood and dig like crazy… erm, foxes, but I refuse to become paranoid.

I will do my best for the chickens, without surrendering and unreasonable amount of time/money to the project. Lala and Cassie aren’t on their own, but they remain, just chickens, and let’s not get weird about this.

I feel this is an apt time to put in a quick note about my feelings towards foxes. They haven’t changed. I knew foxes were rather nasty creatures before this and I still know it now. I have always been opposed to fox hunting, not because I think foxes are cuddly, beautiful creatures who need protecting, they’re not. They are, in many cases ruthless pests who need culling, but I don’t think the way to do it is to invite your friends round, get dressed up, get on horses and watch your dogs tear them apart. To me it’s about the motive and turning killing into a game is a bit too cruel and ruthless for me to be comfortable. I don’t like killing for fun it in humans any more than in foxes. Let’s be clear about this, foxes absolutely do kill for fun. They did not eat my chickens, they ripped their heads off and left their bodies and they sought them out to do this. They killed them because they can. I don’t approve of this sort of behaviour in anyone in a red coat, be it fox or posh bloke.

Although Foxes are the usual enemy, our farmer told my husband that the worst poultry massacre he’d ever seen was in a coop where a badger had got in. From a barn of 100 hens, only half a dozen were still alive the next morning. Many killed, but many more dying of fear and shock. Chickens do that, never throw a chicken  a suprise party, they are massive drama queens who will keel over and die when faced with a bit of a shock just one of the reasons my birds will never be allowed to see the state of my knickers drawer.

The escapologist chicken

 

Chicken- Isabelle

Chicken checks to see if anyone’s looking

 

On every ‘To do’ list I have made in the past year, there includes the item, ‘fencing’. Every now and then I actually get round to patching up the slightly bodged arrangement I set up before getting chickens in our garden, I think it’s sorted and then a couple of days later Isabelle is spotted scratching up a flower bed having once again made her way out of our Tiny Farm enclosure.

It’s always the same chicken and she always does a runner when no one is about to spot how she’s doing it, so I have to guess where the weak spot is before I can patch it up.

The maddening part is that she’ll remain contained for a while, before she mockingly proves me wrong by reappearing in the middle of the lawn. Oh dear, looks like you got it wrong again, sorry about that.

Before you ask, their wings are clipped. We did it as soon as we got them, but I’m not sure why we bothered. Immediately after they’d been chopped they started jumping up to some impressive heights. They appeared to be showing off. Wow, that’s better those feathers were actually weighing me down. Now I feel free.

We had some break outs when they initially moved in. They’d managed to squeeze through gaps in the hedge which led to a panicked trip round the corner to catch the runaways and shove them back through the hedge where my son was waiting to put them safely back into the run until the gap could be plugged. Stood in the right place, an uninformed pedestrian could have witnessed an eight-year-old produce three live chickens from the middle of a hedge. Ta-Daa.

Since these teething troubles, the girls have clearly chosen to stay put, except for this one hopping hen. Seeing as she never really goes anywhere or does anything on her little jaunts, I can only assume she’s doing it to piss me off.

She’s succeeding. Once again I have to imagine I am an irritating chicken with a death wish, and work out exactly how I would make my escape, before I get busy with the fencing wire and staple gun.

My husband thinks that she’s limboing under the gate, which I doubt, but will patch up anyway to appease him. My son thinks she’s using a crack in the universe which appears in the coop and transports her to the veg patch. This seems nearly as unlikely as the limboing, but I’ve said I’ll seal the crack with a time paradox, just to appease him.

I think she’s talking a run-up and leaping over the willow screen. So that’ll have to be raised another foot, but that’s as far as it’ll go, so if she continues to magically appear outside the Tiny Farm. I may have to consider catching her out with undercover CCTV, or tethering her to the shed, or pitching to Channel 5 a show called “Houdini Hen”.

 

PS. On All Saints Day, I shall be praying to St Brigit, the patron saint of chicken farmers.

Hens and hormones

Goldie, Julia and Isabel

Over the summer we had a bit of a scare with one of our hens. Our grey Speckled Star Julia began to moult heavily. She stopped laying and we couldn’t entice her out of the coop, although she seemed otherwise healthy.

Was she being bullied by the other hens? Did she have some sort of parasite we couldn’t see? Was she ill or in pain?

Pretty early on in our chicken adventure we ruled out ever going to a vet on purely economic grounds. We like the chickens, but they are not pets and paying £35 (which may well just be an initial fee) for a bird which costs £15 to replace, just doesn’t add up.

So we decided that if one gets ill, they’ll be despatched. Still that doesn’t mean I’m getting the cleaver out just because a hen acts a bit funny, so I got online to discover what was wrong and if we should be digging a hole in the garden yet.

Turns out she was broody. She was ripping feathers off her belly so she could be closer to the eggs. That’s why we couldn’t get her out of the coop and why she’d stopped producing her own eggs.

Following advice, we basically left her to get over it, eventually locking up the coop during the day so that she couldn’t indulge in her obsession.

For several weeks the moody, broody chicken continued moping about the place in a slightly creepy Miss Haversham way, but eventually she did come to terms with her barren future and get on with supplying us with breakfast.

A massive relief as I’m not sure that I’m ready to deal with the consequences of our no vet policy quite yet, although the day will certainly come eventually. Then I’ll have another dilemma. Bury or eat?