Just to prove once and for all that Chesney is in fact a cockerel, he’s begun letting everyone know, early each morning. Not sure the crowing is quite assertive enough to stamp his masculinity over the flock yet, but his efforts are nonetheless congratulated. Although for how long I’m not too sure..
You can hear his progress here: Chesney Crowing
A couple of days ago I headed up to Suffolk to collect two new Buff Orpington hens to add to the brood (and to replace our sadly fox-eaten hen). They were bought from ‘Henhouse’ (www.hen-house.co.uk), a great family-run supplier of free-reared chickens. The place itself was amazing to visit, with breeds of all kinds mixed together, free to roam the extensive grounds of the property. While there, I couldn’t resist bringing back a friend for my now come-of-age and lonely Thuringian cockerel. It’s been tricky trying to incorporate him into the henhouse along with the other two, as they’d peck him relentlessly, and so particularly because of him being so small. As his mum was the chicken lost to the fox he’s had a bit of a sad and lonesome life so far.
So I found a suitable friend for him in the form of a ‘Silver-Laced Wyandotte’, a similarly coloured but smaller breed, and put all six of the chickens in together. Naturally he fell in love immediately, and hopefully this new found masculinity will put him on the road to top of the pecking order. Once he’s learned how to assert himself over the four enormous Orpingtons..
Although a job somewhat overdue, the short stretch of sunshine a few weeks ago meant that I was able to finally collect up last year’s hay and store it away. Removing the outer exposed layer, I was really pleased to see how well aired the contents of the stack had been, enabling the cut to dry out and soften in the mound. It’s amazing actually, considering just how wet the preceding months had been. I believe there is more of a traditional art to stacking hay in this way that, through strategic rather than haphazard layering, further enables it to dry out without soaking in rain water. I’m happy enough with this year’s lot for now though.
I was fortunate to have the kind assistance of Lucy Scott of Lost in London Magazine (a must for all country-at-heart Londoners: www.lostinlondonmagazine.com) for the afternoon. And so together we filtered the best of the grass into the smaller shed, where it will remain over the coming Autumn and Winter, gradually being put to use as chicken coop bedding.
Once the stack was empty I thought it was only fair to let the hens come down to have a scratch around the remaining base for any last hangers-on, before finally mowing it clean. However, the ground won’t remain bare for long; the cycle begins all over again this month as the meadows are cut once more and are stacked to dry out for next year’s hay.
It was a sad day last Tuesday when a fox finally braved the fence-line during the afternoon and left it’s trademark trail of destruction. There are fox holes dotted all around the wooded area of the garden, and I’ve seen and heard them on numerous occasions, however this is the first time one has come over the fence into the wild garden in broad daylight. The destruction itself could have been worse, but only a little. One chicken survived, another lost it’s tail (feathers mostly) and the third had to be killed. She was so badly torn up during the fox’s attempts to take her back over the fence with it that there was no possibility of recovery. The saddest part, however, is that this was the hen nurturing our one and only 1-week old bantam chick.
It’s a horrid experience for any chicken owner, but it’s so much of a common occurrence for poultry keepers that it was almost expected. I think our super free-range approach was in the end a little too loose, and although we were always sure to put them away before dusk, we may have become complacent with maintaining some form of presence around the coop. In this instance I had been away for the day visiting this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, and the combination of a tall, protective meadow and the abnormal residing quiet, meant that the fox was able to slip in unnoticed until the last moment.
I have since taken down the meadow in the wild garden (as mentioned in the below post regarding the pond) to expose the area a little more, and am keeping a much closer eye on the remaining two hens.
As for Chesney, our tough little bantam chick, it’s a case of some optimum fostering and making the best out of the situation. I’ve taken to having him (or her; too early to sex still, but really hoping it’s a him, just to have a little cockerel keeping everyone in shape) out with me whenever I can be in one place for longer then ten minutes, which like most gardeners, isn’t as often as I’d like. He’s already scratching for bugs and even has little attempts at stretching his wings, but always prefers to be in and under my shadow, much like he would have done around his mother. It’s a difficult situation, as being alone, without company and without a parent is very unnatural for any newly born creature and I can’t help feeling a little responsible. At least with incubated chicks the numbers are usually larger, despite not being raised under a hen. Chesney still has to spend the majority of his time alone in a box with water, chick crumbs and a nest, but I’m doing my best to entertain him until he’s big enough to join the others.
I’ve now moved our broody into the tortoise pen so that she is more comfortable and away from the other two. The tortoises are temporarily bunking in with me in the shed.
My bantam-breeding friend Alex has sent me some fertile mixed bantam eggs in the post and I’ve now placed them under the hen, removing all but two of the original infertile eggs, just in case it confuses her. Frustratingly she doesn’t seem to want to feed or drink herself so I’m taking her off the nest once a day for 10-15 minutes to have a drink, feed and a quick scratch around.
I’m still uncertain whether it will be possible to raise bantams under an orpington, but time will tell. 18 days to go..