It has given us time to have a really good look at all of the birds close up. I usually spend a bit of time each time day in the chicken field observing them, making sure that they are all healthy, happy and watching their relationships with each other. And, most of all, I just enjoy watching their funny chicken behaviour.
Since the lockdown I have been able to watch them from close up rather than at the far end of the field and have noticed relationships developing that I hadn't seen before.
It has given us a chance to discuss what we might do in the future and which birds we really value.
In the Chicken Condo
Much as though we like having blue eggs, the Cream Legbars offer little in the way of entertainment, company or work. They keep themselves to themselves, don't really mingle with the other layers or us and do very little in terms of tilling the ground. They are the first to bed and last out of the hen shed in the morning, they haven't laid an egg from September until one was laid on 6th January (and none since). So I think we will probably reduce their numbers to just two, so that we still have some blue eggs (when they finally start laying regularly again), but our plans to sell hatching eggs of Cream Legbars may just be set aside. The Cream Legbar that sat on a batch of eggs last year will stay with us, she was an excellent mother and having one girl that is a known broody bird is a good idea.
Jack and Diesel, the girls that we got from my daughter will stay, they were our first birds and will have a home with us for as long as they live and with them we will keep a couple of hyline birds that have proved to be regular layers. For now we will also keep the hybrid birds that we have hatched, two white ones with black flecks on their feathers and a cross between Jack and Big Red, who hopefully will lay olive eggs when the time comes.
In the Chicken Palace
Big White will stay, for now, as the White Jersey Giant cockerel as will his three girls, but when the two young birds, which we hatched ten weeks ago, are older, we will replace Big White with one of them if they are males (which I think that they are) as they are a different bloodline to Big White.
There are two Australorp males in the chicken palace together with two females from different bloodlines and a hybrid that is best friend of one of the Australorps and they seem inseparable. We need to decide which of the two males will remain with the girls fairly quickly so that we can separate them and have them as a small breeding flock to increase our own flock numbers and offer hatching eggs for sale.
In a separate house and run are one youngish white Jersey Giant cockerel and one other young Australorp cockerel, the Australorp male that we reject from the chicken palace will join them in this house and run. These are our meat birds. In yet another small house is a Cream Legbar cockerel. Until yesterday he was with the Jersey Giant and Australorp cockerels, but he has been aggressive and injured the young Jersey Giant. So as we know that he will be dispatched before the weekend, we will keep him separate until dispatch.
Having created a secure space in the stable (the chicken condo) and adapted the outbuilding (the chicken palace) that was going to become my garden room and potting shed, there is no point in undoing the work when the lockdown is lifted. We have also invested in a new duck run, which will stay in place when the ducks are allowed to roam their area of the field again. So now we have three secure areas for the birds and we have had a little bit of time to look at how the field is used, we have an opportunity to assess whether we want to return the birds to the whole of the space that they did have or whether we want to use part of the field in a different way.
We could, for example, create pens in the field over the summer so that the birds have plenty of space to run about, but are areas that we could cover if next year there is a lockdown again. This could give them a better lockdown environment if we can find a way to make a runway from their shed and stable to the pens. This seems like a good idea, but it means that the chickens will be less a part of our overall plan to develop the site.
Another option would be to build several mobile covered runs that are easy to move around and in early autumn move them to places that we want tilled and fertilised. Then if lockdown happens again next year, we can put some of the birds in each covered run (with a henhouse attached) and they will be able to work the land even during lockdown. The downside to this is that I will have to clean out several small houses on a regular basis rather than one larger shed.
Now that the Australorp and Jersey Giant girls are coming into lay, we don't need as many hybrid birds as we have at the moment, so the lockdown has been useful to allow me to observe the hybrids and find out which ones are laying most regularly and which lay little brown eggs and which lay huge pale eggs. The hybrids that we don't need will be offered to friends, they are still good laying birds, but we don't need to keep nine of them in addition to Jack, Diesel, three girls that we've hatched, a couple of Cream Legbars and the rare breed birds.
The four ducks we have now sleep in the cycle store shed that we converted in the early autumn and each morning they walk through a short covered tunnel into the new duck pen. It's not ideal and in readiness for a potential lockdown next year, I want to create a better tunnel that I have access to and can walk through. It is likely to not look terribly attractive, but we could grow climbers up the outside to soften the look of it.
I've been able to watch how the ducks are interacting, the young drake is just starting to tread on the girls. His technique looks pretty awful, but then, I'm not sure that I could balance on a moving object that isn't terribly keen to be stood on, so perhaps I am not giving him enough credit for his persistence in trying. It seems clear to me that although there is plenty of balancing going on, there is no 'action' as yet.
We have already decided that we want to raise more ducks this year and earlier in the year than we did in 2016. That way we can fill the freezer and I don't have the rushed job of dispatching half a dozen ducks in the fortnight before Christmas.
When the ducks can run around outside the pen once again, we will be able to use the pen as a safe and secure place for the ducklings to grow until they are large enough to join the flock for a few weeks.
I have also been able to spend some time assessing the land, making notes of the areas that the ducks have dibbled so much that they've worn the grass away completely, the places where the rain doesn't drain away very quickly and the young hedging plants that didn't survive the summer.
Having the birds safely tucked away meant that when Jane and I planted a new hedge along part of the western boundary of our little smallholding, we were able to move around freely and didn't need to keep opening and closing gates behind us. Likewise, when we planted a new hedge along the edge of the chicken field, we were able to easily without upsetting the chickens.
So even though having the birds in lockdown isn't much fun for them or us, I thought it was important to remind myself that even in a bad situation there are some positives to be found.
If you have found any other positive side effects of lockdown, please leave a comment below.
- - - - -If you'd like to receive my blog posts direct to your inbox just enter your email address in the box below and follow the instructions. You'll probably need to confirm by clicking a link in your email inbox and then you will receive my blog each time a new entry is published. You can, of course, cancel your subscription at any time.