Today didn't turn out quite as I'd imagined. This morning I dispatched the Cream Legbar cockerel that had started being aggressive with the other birds and because we value every life on our smallholding, we had planned to eat it, but I had no stomach this morning for plucking and cleaning a bird, so sadly I just disposed of him. Luckily we still have his brother (pictured above), who is not aggressive and looks after his girls.
Winter is starting to bite and while the promised snow hasn't arrived as yet, the wind is starting to pick up and I'm a little worried about whether the makeshift covered runs will stand up to the strength of the gusts blowing across the chicken field.
The pop hole that leads from the chicken palace to the covered run in the field has been closed and secured so at least that small flock of Jersey Giants and Australorps will be safely inside away from the 'arctic blasts' that have been hinted at.
The two boys in the separate house in the field on the other hand, are somewhat exposed to the elements and I haven't worked out yet, where to put them to keep them safe from the winds.
Normally I wouldn't worry, they are hardy birds and can cope with a bit of wind and rain by hiding under bushes, behind straw bales etc. but obviously during lockdown they are confined to their run which offers little shelter from the wind. I put up windbreak fabric yesterday to provide some protection to their run, but even that struggles when icy wind is gusting at up to 55 mph across the field.
The chickens in the chicken condo don't really notice the wind too much, it's enclosed on three sides and the one side that isn't enclosed with wood and plastic is covered completely in chicken wire faces into the rest of stable block so is sheltered from the worst of the elements.
Mr J and I popped out to the local store to do a top-up shop and in the hour or so that we were out there was an incident in the chicken condo. We have been integrating the ten week old chicks into the flock by leaving their nursery pen lid open. They've enjoyed sitting on top of their nursery pen for the last few days and occasionally been brave enough to explore on the floor. When they do the girls peck them a little, but I've seen nothing too nasty and anyway, the chicks can run away and hide under their nursery pen (which is raised on a long pallet) if they've felt overwhelmed by the attention of the rest of the flock.
At some point, something happened in the condo and the little red female chick has run under the pallet. My guess is that she received a particularly hard peck and hid and sadly she has been killed. I found her dead with her tail feather clearly visible from the side of the pallet. The other chickens weren't having a go at her or pecking her by that point and when I pulled her out from hiding, it was obvious the damage has been done by something other than a chicken.
So I locked the other two chicks back into the safety of the nursery pen which has heavy duty chicken wire all around it and beneath it. Tonight we have moved the two remaining chicks into the chicken shed to sleep with the flock. Usually we would have done this at eight weeks old, but as the chicks were late hatchers we had decided to keep them separate for a little extra time. Anyway, even though I was planning to add them into the chicken shed on Saturday night, we have moved it forward to tonight and keep our fingers crossed that the flock are kind to them.
Then we moved the nursery pen, I half expected to find a family of rats having a party below the nursery run, but no, there was no sign of rats having been living there. I guess one had hidden there and just took the opportunity of a meal when presented with it. We have now raised the nursery run even more onto large blocks of wood to ensure that unwelcome visitors can't live underneath it. I will set up the electric rat zapper under the nursery pen in the hope to eliminate a problem for future chicks. Mr J and I are wondering if we need to resort to little boxes of poison in small blue boxes, neither of us want to do this, we don't want toxins on the premises, but nor do we want rats and the electric zapper hasn't caught anything over the last couple of weeks.
Monty and Tabitha are beginning to be more comfortable with going outside and we've spotted Monty waiting quietly in the back of the stable where we keep the wood pile, so hopefully he will start earning his keep by keeping the rodent population at bay.
We are concerned however, that if we use a rat poison then the cats will eat a poisoned rat and that will harm them. Equally, if a rat dies anywhere in the chicken spaces, we don't want the chickens to eat a poisoned animal. It's a dilemma, but one that we need to address pretty rapidly.
When we came back inside to warm up and have a cuppa, Tabitha, one of the cats had decided that on top of the wood burner might be a good viewpoint from which to survey her domain. Hopefully she will have enough sense not to try this once we've lit a fire in it.
It seems that today is a peculiar one with the animals on the smallholding. I am now going to cook supper, have a bath and head for bed and hopefully tomorrow will be a more positive day.
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