Archive for May, 2010

Moving the Chicks

May 30, 2010

The problem: how to move the chicks from their cage in the conservatory to their run outside.

The solution: Not as straightforward as you may think.

The first few times we managed by carrying the cage up the steps and onto the grass, putting food in the run and then opening the doors. The chicks would dash out as one and start pecking.

In the late afternoon it was the reverse procedure: put food in their cage, open doors and whoosh – the little gannets would be in like a shot.

However, it’s not easy to negociate a cage full of chicks up and down steps and after I twisted my knee and both Jay and CC declared that they were fed up with carting chickens about and walking in chicken poo left by the hens, I had to come up with a means of doing it by myself.

I tried a cardboard box but the ones already in made a bid for freedom when I tried to add another one. While looking for a taller box in the garage I spotted the cat baskets and chose the plastic one with a heavy lid.

I managed to get four of  them in by ‘baiting’ it with catfood and they were not averse to going into their run. Quite a lot of catfood later, all eight were happily playing outside in the run.

Then, not long after lunch, the sky turned grey and the wind got up so I thought they ought to come indoors. Now I’m too big and far from sufficiently agile to get into their run and physically put them into the cat basket, so I put some food in it, folded back the roof of the run and lowered the basket.

They made a rush for the food but were suspicious of the funny angle at which the box was tilted. (It is a bit too high for them to jump into easily so I tipped it forward, holding onto the lid).  After waiting in vain for four of them to get inside long enough for me to close the lid, I attempted to ‘catch’ two of them and amid squawks of protest I carried the first two back to their cage.

Once in the conservatory I opened the basket and both of them jumped out, going in opposite directions round the conservatory. My first thought was to shut the doors and then it wasn’t too difficult to capture them. It was very lucky the the only cat present, namely Chloe, didn’t decide to help me chase them.

After that I decided that I’d bring them back one at a time. The others were wary of the basket by now and kept their distance so I put in an upturned box with food on top. I can’t reach the ground by leaning down so that’s the only way I could get hold of them. Then each noisy little bundle was carried back to be reunited with it’s brothers and sisters.

It took a while but I managed another three using this method. The final three were not going to come anywhere near the upturned box. They all gathered at the other end of the cage making rather distressed noises. The sky was getting blacker. Rain was imminent.

I put more food in a dish and opened the door at the other end of the cage. As they approached I managed to grab one and  that left two. After a bit of gentle persuasion I caught another but the little chick left all alone was obviously most upset until I came back for it.

Whew! I didn’t actually time the exercise but it seemed to take forever. They are growing quickly. I just hope they’ll soon be old enough to live outside in their new henhouse.


May 22, 2010

Following the visit from the two ‘chicken experts’ we decided to try giving the hens the freedom of the garden one evening when the cats were indoors.

They loved it in a very non-excited way and calmly pecked their way round the grass,  ignoring the vegetable patch completely.

The following day we let them out in the morning, together with the cats,  under close supervision, and, to my surprise it worked wonderfully well. Yes, the cats were ‘interested’ but the hens weren’t remotely phased and if a cat approached too close for comfort the hens  flapped their wings and that was enough to give the cats the message. Later it was lovely to see Toby stretched out on the grass beside two hens.

This meant that their run was now available for the chicks and as soon as it warmed up we transferred them to their new playground.

They had a whale of a time,  running,  jumping and, above all, wallowing in the dirt. Yes, they all rolled themselves in the earth and had dustbaths.  Now they are a dirty grey colour.

Bossy Nurse

May 20, 2010

We have two daily nurses who come and  help Whale and they do alternate weeks.

Although they are a partnership they never seem to agree on what to do: one will swear by Econazole cream while the other insists on using it in powder form:  one thinks a sore place should be left dry and covered up but the other smothers it in cream – etc.etc.

The same nurses used to look after Yvette’s husband but after several altercations and a major row Yvette has taken on another practice.

On the whole, I’m not too unhappy with them but one is a much more of a pain than the other – she is bossy.

Yesterday she told me off for eating some bread when she came at about 9 : 30.

“But this is my breakfast. I like to do most of the chores before eating.”

“But you’ll be having lunch in two and a half hours.”was her parting shot.

This morning, however,  she really excelled herself.

“Brrr. It’s cold in your house. And it smells. You should put those chickens outside.”

“I didn’t think they should go out until they’re six weeks old and . .”

I was going to explain that we have another run on order but they are out of stock and so it won’t be here for another week.

Vero wasn’t listening,  she was dialling a number on her phone.

“There’s a lady in the village who keeps chickens. I’m asking her to come and see you and tell you they should be outside”

Well, normally I’d be pretty cross but,  actually I didn’t mind the chance to ask advice about feeding them and also the poules pondeuses. All the same – I think she has a cheek.

Vero arranged everything and then lectured me about us all going down with some dreadful lung infection if the chicks weren’t put outside forthwith. She went on at length and very loudly so that she woke Bear and he could be heard muttering from the bedroom. She doesn’t understand English but I don’t see how she could avoid getting the gist of what he said.

About mid-morning the lady came round with her elderly mother. They were extremely pleasant and obviously adored chickens – and all sorts of poultry as they have guinea fowl, ducks and geese as well.

She reasssured me that the chicks could eat most things now but that they should be kept out of draughts. All the same they could go out on warm days provided they came in at night. But they’ll still have to wait for the run to arrive.

She seemed to think that the hens needed a cockerel if they were going to lay eggs but I’m not sure she’s right about that. However, I do agree that they would be happier having the free run of the orchard when we can organise a way of fencing it off.

I wonder what Vero is going to complain about tomorrow.

Roll on the weekend when they change over and it’s Julie, who is much more calm and relaxed.

Chicks’ Progress part 2

May 13, 2010

There’s no doubt about it, they are growing fast.  Their curiosity is developing and they love investigating anything new  in their cage.

I’ve given them a perch and they are now adept at jumping up on it and even taking a flying leap from the perch to the top of the heater.

One advantage of them getting taller is that I can raise their food and water dispensers so they can’t poo in them so easily.

They have also acquired some older sisters.

Yes, the lady who had promised to get me some ‘poules pondeuses’ finally came round and apologised for taking so long.  It would have been  most ungrateful to say I no longer wanted them so we quickly prepared the henhouse, bought some ‘grown up’ chicken feed and installed four black hens in the back garden.

Since Monday they have produced seven eggs, bless their little hearts, but it is not going to be easy to learn which is which. Daisy is quickly identifiable because her comb either hasn’t developed or has been pecked off but it’s going to be hard to see distinguishing features on the others. They all have shiny black feathers flecked with copper coloured ones and, so far,  no-one appears to be either a bully or hen-pecked.

Perhaps they should have different coloured leg bands?

Too much of a good thing?

May 13, 2010

Last year when we nearly ran out of wood I phoned Pascal and asked if he could deliver 2 steres to tide us over. Maybe  there were crossed wires or language difficulties but he  brought 4 and it woulsn’t have been easy to send some back.

However, our other woodman had already taken an order for 5 stere to be delivered ‘in the Spring’.  Sure enough, he rang last week to announce that the wood would be coming on Friday evening.

Jay and I worked hard to put all the remaining wood outside at the back to make room for the delivery. Some went along the wall

and the rest was plonked on the bank.

That evening the delivery was emptied outside the garage

but we were too tired to move any more than was necessary to close the garage door.

The next morning I started at 8 o’clock and did the first layers but Jay and  CC  took over to do the ‘high bit’ and finished just before lunchtime.

But there were still the extra large and oddly shaped logs left so I used some as decoration:

and made a ‘wood sculpture’  in the corner of the front garden. OK, it’s just a heap of old logs but I think it’s much more attractive than Tracey Emin’s bed!

The Chicks’ Progress

May 5, 2010

They’ve only been here a couple of days yet I’m convinced they’ve grown already. They are certainly more sef-assured and protested vehemently when I put them in a cardboard box while I cleaned their cage. I was warned that even small chicks create a pong but I didn’t know they would use their food and water dispensers as a toilet. They need cleaning  several times a day (the dispensers not the chickens) and this results in a certain amount of wasted pellets.

They haven’t really learned what they can or can’t eat and now that the wood chips have been removed they try to eat their droppings and tear up the newspaper as well. I put in some groundsel for them to play with and they do enjoy pecking at it.

There hasn’t been any evidence of bullying so far but some of them are flexing their wings and jumping on top of the heater.

As for the cats, they have been much better than I thought. They are interested but not agressive.

However, I’m not confident enough to leave them unsupervised in the conservatory with the chicks at night.

I could spend ages peering at the chicks and find them fascinating but the rest of the family remain fairly indifferent.

Perhaps they’ll have a change of  attitude  but for now they are asking,  “How much longer do they have to stay indoors?”


May 3, 2010

Yes, they’re here at last – eight little bundles of fluff – and a few feathers.

Yesterday I brought their new home down from the loft: it’s the cage Chloe lived in after her operation and set up the  ‘Electric Chicken’  to make sure it worked. However, I didn’t put in any litter and that was fortunate because this morningI discovered that a cat had  peed through the bars. Good start: all the cats were then barred from the conservatory once the cage was washed and ready for its new occupants.

Bear was insistent that HE would drive me to Fismes to collect them but as he’s reluctant to take the motorway nowadays we had to take the scenic route with him refusing to follow my directions despite the fact that he had entrusted me with the map.

We only got lost twice on the way there and once on the way back but it was a long drive. He coped pretty well but showed signs of tiring and would not let me take over. At one stage I did get a bit irritable when I desperately needed a wee but there wasn’t an open cafe to be found. (Whether this was because it was Monday or whether lots of French villagers were having a belated Jour de Ferie I don’t know. French shops often stay closed on Monday mornings but not all day and it isn’t usual for them to take a Bank Holiday later if one falls at the weekend like May !st did this year.)

Anyway, I had to cross my legs while we went through flat open countryside but as soon as we came to a clump of trees Bear stopped and I emerged from the undergrowth feeling much relieved and better tempered.

We found the chicken people more by accident than accurate map reading and the chap led us into his cellar where he kept the chicks in a cobbled together container with a dangerous looking lamp and a cover made from an old window and a piece of door.

However, the chicks looked pretty healthy and active and were quite obviously of different ages. The ‘size ones’  looked incredibly small compared to the ‘size twos’ and I thought they would be a better bet for a beginner like me.  Taking  responsibility for such tiny creatures suddenly seemed a very big undertaking. The bigger ones might stand a better chance of surviving mybeginner’s chicken rearing skills I thought.

“Could I have the big ones?” I asked.

“Well, they’re not the same.” he said.

“You mean they’re not Sussex?”

“Yes, they are but they’re not the same price.”

“How much are they then?”

“3euros 50”.

So, they only cost a euro more than the little ones. Fine: I opened the animal carrier we had bought at the Brocante and he opened the lid of the container by lifting up the window and piece of door and balanced my box on the corner. As he leaned forward to catch a chicken there was a crash and the window fell on his head. Not only that but the door squashed my box and broke the lid.

With barely an apology (or maybe his head was still spinning) he put eight chicks in the lidless container and tied a newspaper over the top. We paid him 28euros and set off home.

Our little passengers were by turns chirpy and silent as I held the box on my lap, keeping it as warm as I could by wrapping my coat round it.

I had left the heater on to warm up before we left but it was adjusted for ‘size one’ chicks so Bear lengthened the legs as I carefully placed the chicks in their new home. They didn’t take long to discover the feeder and waterer but tended to fall over each other in their efforts to eat and drink and they also showed a worrying tendency to peck at the litter of wood shavings. Not content with that, they quickly mixed bits of wood shavings in their food and water.

A quick check on the internet came up with the advice that wood shavings are not good litter material until the chickens have learned what is good to eat. It could kill them if they ate the wood!

I called CC and we got all the chicks out, replaced the litter with an old, soft  towel, put in clean food and water and then put them back in. They were less stressed this time but it’s clear that some are more feisty than others and I’m tempted to think that four could be older than the others despite the fact that the man said they were all two weeks old. He had also said that wood shavings would be fine!

Anyway, they are now all cuddled down under their heater – fast asleep. I wouldn’t dream of disturbing them with a flash photo but here’s one I took earlier.

All together now – ahhhhhh, aren’t they sweet.

But what am I going to do about naming them? I don’t know which are girls and which are boys yet.

Still no Chickens

May 1, 2010

The chicken house is nearly ready – apart from its roof (but it would be too heavy to carry into position with it on), we have eating and drinking equipment at the ready as well as a supply of food and litter. There’s even an electric fence waiting to be put up to keep out predators (not to mention cats)  but no feathered friends.

However, this has given me time to research ‘makes’ of poultry and peruse local adverts so it may be a blessing in disguise.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Light Sussex hens would be good for a start but the only ones I’ve tracked down are teeny weeny chicks living a good two hours drive away. Now I do know that at that age it’s impossible to sex them so I’d have to bring home more than the four I intended to have. So the problems would be where to keep them – like buy another poultry house – and what to do if there are several cockerels. The neighbours might not appreciate crowing and the hens may not want their ‘advances’ day in day out.

I’ve seen an advertisement for four Black Maran hens aged six weeks. That may be a better bet. They lay brown eggs and are said to thrive in damp conditions  (Our region is renowned for its rain) but I had rather set my heart on the handsome  white Sussex with black necks and tails.

Does anyone have any advice or opinions to offer please?