Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Moving chickens

 My younger brother came for a cuppa on Monday. He lives in America with his family, but had come back for a long weekend. He hasn't been here since early March, so I was keen to show him how much we've achieved since he was last here.

But first we had chores to do and so, in the morning we spent a short time tidying up in the yard and front garden, putting away gardening tools that I had left around, sweeping the decking outside the back door and picking up some unwanted items left over from projects that we've done during the autumn. We wanted to get all these things put away before the winter winds blow them around the yard and garden and the rain makes the decking too slippery to walk on safely.

Our project for this week was to move the Australorps from their field and give them a new area to graze, peck and scratch. There were two obvious choices of place to which they could be moved, one area is at the back of the piggeries, the other is the front garden. Sitting at the kitchen table looking out towards the front garden it became clear that this was the better option. The grass has grown much too long to use a lawn mower on it and the area is riddled with perennial weeds, actually it just looks a mess. 
 Before we could put the Austalorps in the front garden we needed to make it a secure area for them. We put five feet long bamboo canes along the front of the garden at a distance of four feet apart and secured chicken wire to the canes. We constructed a gate from a short length of flexible chicken netting and moved an empty chicken house into the front garden.

After my brother's visit (with my sister and brother-in-law) we spent a merry ten minutes or so running around after the Australorps trying to catch them to put into the chicken crate, so that we could move them with the minimum of stress to their new patch of garden. Initially they looked less than impressed, but within a short time the boys had started to explore their new environment. 
The three girls of the flock (2 Australorps and their best friend, a hybrid) didn't explore very much, but did make sure that they knew how to get into their house. At dusk, the girls went straight into their new house for the night while the boys all scrabbled and scrambled and climbed onto the top of the house and starting going into their nighttime stupor. Mr J and I scooped up the boys one by one and put them into the house, I am sure that from now on they will also head into the house at dusk. 

On Tuesday the older Australorp hen and her hybrid friend decided that they didn't need to stay in the new enclosure and spent much of the day flying over the fence and exploring the rest of the yard. I think a task for later in the week is to add more chicken wire above the wooden fencing (with the green windbreak fabric on it) to make it less easy for the girls to escape and I need to do this before they teach the boys to do it too. I think (hope) that they won't hop over the stock fencing at the back of the field as they are wary of the sheep that are in the next field.

 We have also moved the little chicks that were hatched eighteen days ago. Until Saturday they were living in a large cage in the kitchen. With previous hatchings we have moved the birds outside to the nursery pen in the stable within a week, but because it is late in the year to hatch chickens, we thought an extra week or so in the warmth of the kitchen would give them a better chance of surviving. They are settled in well and enjoying having the additional space in which to fly, scratch and run around. We are covering the nursery pen each evening with large rugs to prevent the cold winds and frost getting into their pen until they are fully feathered (and possibly for a while after that too). 

I am being much more cautious with this set of chicks as they were hatched so late in the year and one of the chicks had some problems at hatching and is slower in developing than the other two, so I will keep them cossetted and well protected until the smallest one seems strong enough to cope with the winter conditions.
Having moved the Australorps, the field that they had occupied was now free to house the Jersey Giants. On Tuesday morning, I opened the gate between the main flock's field and the vacant field and LIttle White followed me into the field in a matter of moments. The mid-sized two took only a little encouragement to explore a new space and the younger girls that arrived with us last week took a lot of persuading to join the other Jersey Giants. Within a few hours the new family group looked happily settled. They had to be put to bed at dusk as their instinct was to head for the chicken shed where they have been sleeping, but I am sure it will only take a day or so for them feel at home in their new house. 

For the first day in their new field I put the two small white hybrid birds in the field with the Jersey Giants as they have become firm friends, but at bedtime, we allowed the hybrids to return to the main flock. They are likely to be small birds as their father was the bantam cockerel and I am concerned that Little White might hurt them when they reach maturity if he tries to tread on them. We really don't want more hybrid birds with a bantam gene and I want to be sure that any Jersey Giant hatching eggs I sell in the future are actually pure Jersey Giant and not a hybrid cross by mistake.

Eventually the two Jersey Giant chicks (that are currently in the nursery pen) will join the rest of the flock. They are from a different bloodline to Little White and his family so they will be a vital part of our breeding flock.

It's continued to be a sociable time, not only did my brother, sister and brother-in-law visit, but we also saw our friends the tree surgeons as they dropped off some old gnarly wood for us to use in the food forest, James and Dee came for one last visit before their move to the Orkneys, a new friend from the local town came for a cuppa and Kayt popped by.

As so often happens when I get my teeth stuck into a project, I've over-done things in the last few days and plan to spend the rest of the week taking it easy (very, very easy), so with that said, I think it must be time to make a cuppa!
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