Sunday, 16 August 2015

Our Feathered Friends

I've mentioned our chickens a couple of times in posts, but realised I have not yet introduced you!

At the end of September 2012 we had some new additions to our household. Four incredibly cute silkie chickens, a wedding gift from some friends who have a breeding flock.  There are two black ones - the witches (of Terry Pratchet Discworld fame) Nanny Egg and Granny Featherwax, one brown one - Emily Chickenson, and one white one - Princess Layer.

We had been talking about getting chickens for ages (first step on the small holding dream) and my previous birthday had a distinct poultry theme.  I received a chicken house, feed hoppers, water dishes, books on keeping chickens, chicken food, grit, mite spray and an all important scrambled egg pan.  Best of all my mum had reconstructed the bottom of our garden to include a fantastic hand-built chicken pen and a rebuilt shed to keep all our chicken paraphernalia in.


Chicken pen under construction
The pen under construction
I knew something was up as I’d been banned from the garden for the week before my birthday, Arthur got really twitchy every time I got near the door!  However I didn't expect the scale of the work taking place.

The finished pen and new tenants

With the house in and ramp open the run is maybe a bit smaller than I would have liked but it doesn't really matter as the girls spend most of their time bobbing free around the garden.

From left to right: Princess Layer, Nanny Egg, Emily Chickenson and Granny Featherwax
They have been incredibly industrious and hard-working additions to our little family, producing an astonishing amount of eggs, they even laid pretty much all through the first winter.  This last winter has been different though, more wet than cold and they did not enjoy it, hence the egg shortage.  The poor little things look so bedraggled and small when wet, very sorry for themselves.  They have plenty of undercover options in the garden but do seem determined not to let the rain interfere with their daily routine!

During the dryer months though they have been an amazing source of eggs, although it has meant compromises.  Last spring I planted a selection of vegetables in the garden.  The only thing to survive was the courgettes, apparently chickens don't like courgette plants, but they do adore cabbages, runner beans, peas and carrots - although the carrots just seemed to be a bed rather than a food source!

Our first ever homegrown egg
I was also confused as to why one of my rose plants was not growing well when all the others were flourishing until the one day I saw a chicken eating the newly budded leaves of the rose plants!  The rose that was not growing well is the youngest of my roses and as such is smaller and therefore totally available as a chicken buffet, where as the others were flourishing through top growth out of reach of the pesky foragers.

At first I was annoyed by this, but decided to accept that for that year at least, I was not growing plants, I was growing eggs!  And eggs we had in abundance so I guess it was worth it.

The chickens have now moved with us into a new home and have a large area of garden to roam in (the area containing the fruit bushes, they are spoiled hens!), but importantly are behind gates, allowing us garden space to grow things without being eaten, and space which can be kept clean for the (non feathered) girls to play in.

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