Spring in the Garden

Spring in the Garden

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Chickens can lay more than one egg in twenty four hours.

According to wikipedia chickens cannot lay more than one egg in 24 hours. I'm sure it isn't good for them, especially as their life-span is closely related to the number of ovum they use up, so laying too many double-yolked eggs will shorten their life, or so I have been told by someone who ought to know.

I'm sure it is neither normal, nor desirable, but Robin has proved it is possible for a chicken to lay more than one egg in 24 hours. I noticed she was in the nest box last night, although hubby had collected 3 eggs in the morning. One of those eggs had a very thin shell, though, and it was cracked. The egg I collected about twenty past seven last night was smooth and pale, but the shell was thick enough.

This morning I collected two eggs from the nest box, presumably from Amber and Betsy. Later on I noticed Robin pop up into the nest box, but she came down again and nothing was there. This happened again. Then about quarter past twelve I realised I'd forgotten to replace the roosting bar after cleaning the floor of the chickens' sleeping quarters. When I went to do that I noticed Robin was missing and could hear her in the nest box again. At ten to one I found a smallish, pale and very warm egg in the next box. Unfortunately this one also had a cracked shell as it was so thin. Poor Robin, I hope she sorts herself out soon.

Update, 20th May 2009. We have been getting a very regular supply of three eggs a day from our three pullets for the last couple of weeks, so it seems this was just a teenage blip. To be honest Robin seemed to just start laying with no problems from the word go, so she was due a short spell of irregularity, I suppose.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Eggstaordinary problem?

We were worried about Amber last night. She'd been fine up to six o'clock or so, and earlier she had been jumping up on top of the run and jumped up and pecked my finger trying to get some lettuce. After dinner I noticed she was just standing there looking like she was in a day dream. The other two were busily pecking and scratching, but she was just stood there looking subdued. Her undercarriage looked lower than the others' too. When we put her back in her run she decided to have a drink, again she was slower than the other two, but eventually she was drinking more quickly and ended up drinking more than her sisters. She managed to get up to bed OK, though.

I wasn't sure what I'd find when I let them down this morning, but Amber was as eager to tuck into her mash as the other two and looked absolutely fine. When I looked in the roosting area, however, I found not one, but two, soft shelled eggs amongst the droppings under where Amber had slept. Not surprisingly she didn't lay today. We just had two normal, large eggs from Robin and Betsy, which fit nicely in the egg compartment.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Chicken keeping course

Saturday hubby and I set off bright and early for a one day chicken keeping course at Middle Farm in Firle, East Sussex.

It was a very informative and enjoyable course, which I would recommend to anyone thinking of keeping chickens, or who, like us, has only had chickens for a short while and still has lots to learn, assuming you can get to Middle Farm by 10am, that is.

After a cup of tea or coffee our tutors, Tania and Bonnie, started by giving us a brief history of the chicken and description of various breeds followed by being told about how to buy chickens, where to put them when you've bought them and how to make them comfortable and safe. Feeding, maintenance and the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of health problems were also covered. There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions throughout the day.

We were taken out to look at the various chickens kept at Middle Farm before our last indoor session before lunch. They have some lovely breeds, some of which are cute or funny, but fairly impractical, such as these guys, know as Polands. Some breeders tie their top knots up, others trim their 'fringes' because otherwise they can't see where they are going very well.

Lunch consisted of a filled baguette with salad and a cup of tea, which was very nice. There was time to wander around for a bit before the afternoon session began. This included a brief lesson in how to 'despatch' a bird, although none of us were interested in keeping chickens for the table and we would probably all take our terminally ill birds to the vet when that became necessary.

It wasn't long before we went outside and were asked to inspect a chicken's feet and 'vent', which is the technical name for a chicken's behind. Their feet have a soft pad underneath, which can be cut and infected. Mites and other parasites are likely to congregate around a chickens backside as it is nice and warm, so that's a good place to look if you want to check for an infestation. In fact this area is a mine of information about a chicken's health. Just above the vent is a special gland from which chickens of both sexes obtain oil with which to preen themselves. I now know what that little lumpy bit is at the back of the chickens I put in the oven!

We also had a demonstration of how to clip a chicken's beak and toe nails, although I hadn't realised this is always necessary and I'm still not entirely sure it is but we'll be keeping an eye on 'our girls' to see if the top of their beaks get
overly long or their toe nails start to curl like a Chinese Emperor's finger nails. Tania and Bonnie used these Light Sussex as their demonstration models, the poor old cock being used for the most undignified bits:

Then it was our turn to have a go, using the Partridge Pekins to practice on and their nails and beaks are very fine and soft. I got to pick up the rooster, who had lovely, long, silky feathers on his neck.

Having washed our hands after handling the birds, it was time for afternoon tea and a generous slice of cake.

This session also explained that a cock bird is not necessary to keep hens in lay, something which a surprising number of people don't know. The male is only needed to fertilise eggs for breeding, and if one is borrowed, the eggs laid for about a month after his visit will be fertilised.

We were told how we could go about selling our eggs if we wanted to, and we were also told how we could hatch new chicks if we were so inclined. This part of the course included a visit to the incubators to learn how they work and what features they might have. Then for the best bit. We each got to carry a little fluffy day (or two) old chick to be with all the new hatchlings under the warm lamp. The chick was stood on our hands and we had to cover it with our other hand to stop it hopping off, so it was impossible to take a photo at the same time. Here they all are together, though.

We had a really great time and came a way with significantly less gaps in our knowledge of the day to day aspects of keeping chickens.

If you happen to be near Firle, then there is a lot to see at Open Farm for families with children interested in livestock. Apart from about ten different breeds of chickens there were also ducks and geese and a peacock. There were lamas and sheep in a shed, at least two breeds of pigs and we could have seen the cows being milked about 4.00 pm.

There is also an excellent farm shop as well as a shop selling mead, cider and non-alcoholic drinks. Numerous plants were on sale including herbs, vegetable seedlings and border perrenials. We picked up a bag of Marriage's layers mash and some oyster grit from John Piles' animal feed shop, also at Middle Farm, and another person on the course bought a couple of black rock POL chickens from him.

Last, but not least is the King of the Barn, whose name I've forgotten

and the rooster reserve which offers a home to retired cocks and spares to replace those who die in service or are no longer up to the task.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

How the garden is looking mid April

I've not had much time to blog lately as my spare time, and a bit more, has been taken up with the garden. There is so much to do at this time of year.

Over the Easter holiday hubby did something he's wanted to do since we moved in almost. He built a pond in our garden, which is not an easy thing to do on a slope. He's still not sure how to finish the top off, but he has now put in a couple of plants, some pond weed and a solar-powered fountain.

A few months ago we both planted strawberries, which came mail order from Garden Organic. Hubby chose Hapil and planted them in a strawberry pot on the patio,

and I chose Honeoye, which I planted around my blueberries, an idea I got from the organic garden at Loseley Park. Mine arrived about a week later than hubby's. You may notice the brown plastic pieces of 'cat scat' around them, which are to deter whatever it was that was digging in this bed after I planted them. They do seem to have worked.

The broad beans are doing well, but it would have been better if I'd planted some spares in pots to fill in the gaps. Hubby has now planted some peas, which are look good so far.

I've decided to experiment with asparagus and have planted a couple of crowns. I've put in some cabbages, which I've covered with a mini fleece tunnel as the ones we planted last year were stripped by the pigeons and I've also planted some onions and carrots and am trying out a barrier against cabbage root fly.

I've also got some potatoes in plastic bags. The first two are growing fast and the third I just planted this week.

The garlic I planted early in February is looking good, especially the lot I put in patio bags.

Just over a week ago I sowed various seeds, which have now come up, and this week I sowed a few bell pepper seeds. More about them later, and about where I decide to plant the globe artichokes I started off earlier this year.

Monday, 13 April 2009

A Giant Egg

The eggs our pullets lay are variable in size, but they are usually medium to large. Occasionally we get an extra large one, which doesn't fit in the egg holder in our fridge door very well. The other day we had one which was too big for an egg box. When we weighed it, it was about 120g or 4 ounces and 7.5 cm or 3 inches long. I took a photo of it next to an extra large egg. You may even be able to see that the shell was a bit wrinkly. It turned out it had a double yolk and it made lovely scrambled egg.

We did check and Amber, who laid it, seemed absolutely fine, but it was a bit worrying. She gave egg-laying a rest today, and who can blame her.

Chickens eating spinach video

As it was sunny today I made another short video of our chickens, as requested by their fans. This one is about three and a half minutes long.

To begin with Amber is all alone because Betsy and Robin were too busy with their heads in the mash to notice me and it then took them a while to work out how to get out of their run and partake of the spinach.

If you listen carefully you will hear some gentle clucking and occasional peeping, but latterly there is a pigeon cooing and various other birds enjoying the sunshine.