Henny Hen Hen…

After the Fearsome Mr Fox encounter a few weeks ago, we really had to find the enduring little Naynaynay Number Four some company.  By all accounts, chickens do not fare so well alone, being social creatures.  Nay was looking a little nervy (well, a little more than her usual nervy self) and was tucking herself away in the coop alone each night in a forlorn manner.  So we contacted a local breeder, since the next hen rescue seemed to be some months away. 

Two weeks ago we finally welcomed two rather spectacular blacky-green Australorps to our little patch.   Kaz was as pleased to see them as he was to welcome the last lot, especially since he has discovered just how much he loves the chickens…

They are only a few months old, so they are not yet ready to lay.  We were assured that they would be mild mannered and easy going, though possibly a  little intimidated by our bossy older hen.  We kinda smirked at the suggestion that timid, permanently pecked little Nay could ever be bossy. But it is a classic textbook case of the-bullied-turns-bully… She spent most of the first few days fixing the poor youngsters with her one remaining evil eye and rushing at them for a little peck every chance she got.  And though they do keep each other warm at night, she seemed to waver between needing to take charge of the territory and asserting her space in the coop – so bedtime was a little fraught to begin with.

We have a month to help them settle in together.  The little 6x4ft run seemed a bit tiny when the rather grand sized young birds were there on their own…and so the weekend we got the new girls, the doctors honed their man-skills to construct a larger pen by cobbling together materials found in the copse.  But the next day we got home to find that the athletic Australorps had escaped Naynaynay’s brutish behaviour and the pen in one nifty hop over the coop…so we are back to taking the risk with Mr Fox and hoping that a broader area to roam about in may enable them to establish their pecking order with a minimum of feathers flying.  They all seem to be sticking relatively close to home…so fingers crossed! 

The first real test was three nights alone this last weekend – we went on holiday!  The girls all survived, and we found them here under the hedge on our return:

It is wonderful to have such beautiful young birds in our garden.  For the time being we are trying to make friends with the very wary newcomers and shall reserve their naming ceremony until we have had a better chance to get to know them.  Let’s hope they fare much better than the last little flock!

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Fearsome Mr Fox

A week or so ago I was having a bit of a bad day…  Kazuo was ill (and that is another long and ghastly story, for another day perhaps) and things just didn’t go at all according to plan…

Last Monday morning we called the chickens for their post-breakfast treats (toast crusts) and only our half-blind little treasure, Naynaynay Number Four, turned up.  I thought that a little strange. An hour or so later, a friend drove up the drive to meet us for an outing to Elie Beach/The Cocoa Tree Cafe in the East Neuk.  That was when we discovered that Mr Fox had finally made a broad-daylight foray into our little world.

When we got the chickens, we had seen a fox prowling about our yard late one night, so made a particular effort to ensure their nighttime home was fox-proof.  But we got a little over-confident about how they would fare during the day.  We don’t have any real fencing, so they have been free to roam far and wide, which they have loved.

They loved their freedom so much that about 6 weeks ago they began laying elsewhere, and we searched the hedgerows and the copse and could not find their stash anywhere.  Then Mrs Cluck disappeared – and at that point we were fairly certain the fox would get her at night.  A week later she reappeared.  Skinny and out of condition, but nonetheless, in one piece.  We were astounded.

But last week, with oats surrounding us in the fields about hip-height and new fox cubs to be fed, I suppose the inevitable happened. The bravest of the girls were happy to roam up and down the drive.  On Monday morning, I assume that Mr and Mrs Fox snuck out of the field into the drive, made a snatch and grab, and left three little piles of feathers where the hens would have been.

It was a sorry sight, but I was relieved it was not actual bloody carnage.  And I comfort myself with the thoughts that (a) these girls got a good 6 months of totally free-range chickeny life they would never have had otherwise, (b) the little foxes need sustenance too, (c) we don’t have to subject these three fiesty happy creatures to more constraint when we move into our village cottage in October [we will need to build a run since we will be in the village].

For now, our half blind survivor poor little Nay is a nervy, lonely girl and I’ve been making an effort to keep her company outside for an hour or two each day so she gets a little roaming time.  But this weekend we hope to get her some company so that she doesn’t die of fright.  Who would have ever thought, back in January, that she would be the sole survivor of our little rescued flock?  It is a little Aesop-esque this tale of our chickens…

We’re Have I Been All This Time…

Longest break I’ve taken in a while…somehow, at the end of a week at the keyboard, it is kinda hard to make time to pop in here.  Silly me.

Weekends have taken on a new measure of quality family life now that our time all together is really limited to breakfast and dinner/bath/stories/bed.  We ALL look forward to those weekends.  Since I last checked in we have had a few adventures.

April was our Scottish Summer this year I think.  So one weekend we took advantage of the delightful weather and strolled along the Fife Coastal Path

with our new friends Tomandsuzie (not to be confused with Tomandclaire) and our wee tots to the Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem.

Then we made some essential modifications to the chicken coop so that the girls could get up and go to bed without our help (esp helpful now that it is light around 4.30am and dark at 10.45pm)…and so that a helpful undergrad could come in and feed them whilst we made our first UK road trip to visit Tomandclaire in Manchester.  During this balmy weekend we managed an outing to the local RSPB reserve…

…and HeatonPark which had the added bonus of a tiny farm and a playground.

The following weekend was the Royal Wedding – and though none of us are particularly royalist in persuasion…there is something kinda lovely about a wedding…so I managed to make a cuppa and turn on the TV for some of the proceedings – though I did have a lot of interference from the easily distractable male members of the family.  We followed up the festivity with our first BBQ of the season – though the weather was not so great then, and has not really picked up since.  Sigh…

Later on we even managed a spot of garden planting.  As per usual, the little herbies are doing great.  But after an unseasonably warm April, May has been so cold that not much else has survived the transfer to the cold little garden patch .  Apart from the fabulous radishes we harvested this week.

The big news of the month was QPR (the Doctor’s football love) were promoted to the Premier League.  Whilst sport is still really something I do not understand…this was an event worth celebrating – with chocolate cake and bubbles!

And the other big news was the big-boy bed.  We took the sides off the cot…and Kaz has pretty much settled into a rhythm of sleeping in his own little space.  We have to lie down by him now to get to sleep…but that usually happens pretty quickly.  He has fallen out several times, and one night I stepped on him in the dark (oops) and another night he fell over all his toys trying to get out the door in the dark…but slowly we have made adaptations and sleep IS happening.  Now onto potty training…

Our final news is the galvanising into action on the house-hunting front.  We have been out most weekends looking for a permanent home.  A frightening and enlightening process.  We think we have narrowed down the area we would like to live in…and this charming village has caught our eye…

…Kaz has so far loved going to see houses, esp when we come across a playground en route

…but it will probably take us most of the summer to find something we are sure about…so no move imminent yet!

So…a big update.  Sorry it was so long…and I was absent for so long…hope to mitigate that in future.  It all got a bit hectic there for a while.  Happiness to you and thanks to those of you who kept popping in to see how we are doing.  I will try to be back here more often in future!

How Are Those Chickens Getting On?

Eleven weeks ago we brought our little brood of rescued battery chickens home to roost in our yard.  Since then they have thrived in ways I never imagined – though we did hope, from the British Hen Welfare Trust paraphernalia that we had read that they would eventually do so.  Akira is faithfully waking earlier and earlier to let them out to roam about as close to dawn as possible, and they linger about either in the house or nearby at dusk so that we can shut up shop for the night.

The girls spend their days scratching, pecking, dust bathing, pooping and sunbathing about the yard.  After a couple of weeks of keeping them in or near the coop, we let them roam free just before I started work at the University.  Pretty soon they found the outer limits of the property – and can often be found somewhere on the driveway scratching around as we come home from work in the early evening.

We feed them a high-protein ex-bats feed that has enabled them to feather up rather remarkably, and they all look luscious and feathery (apart from bossy Mrs Cluck, who is only now sprouting new neck feathers).  There was a brief hiatus of moulting in February, and they went off the lay a little.  But now they each lay an egg daily…so we are having to find alternative means of distributing the excess!

At first they were not so clever in the adverse weather, but it was pouring with rain yesterday morning and they had all taken cover under the hedge by the time we left for work.


It took a few weeks to establish the pecking order, but we think they have it sorted now.  Being able to free range means the lower order chooks don’t get pecked at much, and Mrs Cluck (who is definitely in charge) gets first choice of food, and calls the alarm when things look scarey, but otherwise seems to do little to assert her power these days.  One of Mrs Cluck’s recent funny habits is coming to the front door in the evening, triggering the sensor light in the dusk, and hanging out enjoying a little extended ‘daylight’.  Today she killed and ate an ENTIRE shrew…so she will either be in a bad way in the morning, or she is truly the most omnivorous one!


Feathery Frou Frou keeps a bit of a low profile.  She drifts about with Mrs Cluck and Floppy Comb most of the day and has feathered up rather beautifully.  her comb is also a lovely vibrant red.  Secretly, I think she may have been the egg-freeloader for a while, but she seems to just follow the crowd most of the time and is also a little more wary of us.


Floppy Comb is probably our favourite.  She is a gorgeous gingery-golden colour and has an inquisitive and very cheeky nature.  Floppy is the most likely to take risks and try new things.  She comes running whenever we appear outdoors and even jumps up on the living room windowsill to say ‘Hi’ if she spies us in the lounge.


Little Naynaynay Number Four is looking pretty and feathery (apart from a wee bald patch on her head – probably the permanent result of endless battery-induced pecking) and although she has a funny habit of facing the world with her blind eye – and thus never really knowing what is going on – she seems to get by in her own chickeny little way.  We were not sure she would make it, but she has been the most consistent layer, and seems to love having enough space in which to thrive.


We cleaned their house out a few weeks ago, and now that they spend all their daylight hours outdoors, the whole set up seems to be rather low maintenance and quite a happy addition to our little rural hideaway.


Our big challenge now is to find chicken minders for any holidays we plan to take this year.  An advert in the student job shop has yielded a few interested parties – so I am feeling hopeful that having chickens will still mean the best of all possible worlds.

The best part of this endeavour has been that Kazuo is devoted to the chickens.  He finds them hilarious, charming and a little funny.  He is so happy now that the long evenings means time with the chooks when we get home from town each day, we have to drag him away for dinner! They think his fingers look like worms and Floppy Comb makes a bee-line for the little person to have a peck at his fingers whenever he is out and about.


What to do with lots of lovely eggs…Bacon and Egg Pie!

Last week I found this lovely little enamel bowl in Twice, a charming little store in St Andrews.  It was just the perfect place to keep all our new-found egg bounty. It also prompted a friendly conversation with another BHWT hen rescuer…they are everywhere!  The hens seem to be laying an average of two eggs between them daily.  This is about twice as many eggs as we are accustomed to eating over the course of a week.  So by the end of the week, the egg bowl was FULL.  Kazuo asked to ‘see the eggs please Mama’ at the end of every meal…and I knew it was time to start using them up.  What better place to start than a Kiwi staple, the Bacon and Egg pie.  Of course, not being a carnivore, I did not have a recipe.  So after trawling the ever-so-helpful interweb,  I discovered a recipe from Blokes Who Bake that was perfect for the ingredients I had on hand.  Here is the (apparently) tasty bacon from Balgove Larder all chopped up on the eggs and ready for topping:

The pie got another sheet of pastry on the top, and here it is ready for 20mins in the oven:

The Blokes who Bake recipe was a little vague on quantity, so here is what I finally ended up with:

Bacon and Egg Pie

2 Sheets of pre-rolled Puff Pasty (Yes, it is nice and easy to make one’s own, but I am in practise-for-working-mother-mode right now)

100g grated cheddar cheese

10 eggs

5 rashers of bacon, lightly cooked (fried in this case) and chopped in to medium sized cubes

liberal application of salt, pepper and dried basil

Lay out the first sheet of pastry in a greased pie dish (I used a small casserole as I am yet to acquire a pie dish!) layer the cheese, then break the eggs to cover the base of the dish (add more eggs if your dish is bigger), add liberal seasonings, top with cooked bacon, lay the second sheet of pastry over the top and pinch it to seal.  Cut some breathing holes on the lid pastry.  Pop into the oven at 200degC for about 20mins (or until crispy and golden).

Hey presto – eggs used, carnivore satiated. Last night the pie was accompanied by smashed Charlotte potatoes with olive oil and lots of seasoning. 

Eggs!

Our girls survived the night and a really frosty, sleety morning.  We are making constant modifications to their world and ours to accomodate them and we hope that poor little Naynaynay Number Four will last the distance, she is looking very much the bottom of the newly established pecking order.

But the big news this morning was: Eggs!  Here is Kazuo proudly displaying the first one that we found after breakfast:

He’d never held an egg before, so sadly, it came to a bit of a sorry end at the close of this photo shoot.

But by the time I returned from the shopping at lunchtime, there was another warm little brown egg in the nest box.  Well done girls!

Our Girls

Today we brought our rescued ex-battery hens home from the farm on which they spent the first few intensive-laying months of their lives.  We found them through the wonderful work of the British Hen Welfare Trust.

These are their first few moments being settled into their new house Akira assembled for them a couple of weeks ago:

They are scrawny girls who have never walked anywhere in their little lives, so they will mostly stay in and around the coop for a couple of weeks while they get strong on the special feed we are giving them.  Hopefully they will also re-feather fairly soon too. Although we will be away on a daily basis, we are aiming to let them learn to roam about the yard as often as possible. One poor chook is very much on the plucked-chicken side of things, and seems blind in one eye – so we hope she will manage to thrive under our novice husbandry.

Kazuo has been SOOO excited about the ‘ex-battery-clucks’ for some weeks now – so it was fantastic to give him some soon-to-be-cuddly new friends.   Since dogs and cats and hamsters and gerbils are off the agenda due to allergies, these are our pets.  They will be known as Mrs Cluck, Feathery Frou Frou, Henny Hen Hen and Naynaynay Number Four.  Hopefully they will also reward us with a few eggy treats in the weeks to come.

Kazuo had trouble containing his enthusiasm once the chicks were in their run.  It may take some time for him to realise that they are a little wary of his happy interrogations.  But two brave  girls ventured out of the run not long after their arrival (they were more sturdy than I expected, which was quite amazing given their previous lifestyle) and although one was soon scared back inside by Kaz, the other had a curious little exploration of the yard before bedtime.

Welcome girls, we are glad you have come!