Sunday, 20 May 2012

Fox attack!

A few days ago the senior hens were having their usual free roaming session around the garden while Lucky (our cat) was having his afternoon  nap, when I noticed that one of the hens (JD) was missing. I went down to the hen house to check the nest boxes - she was not there. As I walked back up the garden I noticed a few black feathers on the grass, and my heart sank. There were a few more feathers in under the hedge, but no sign of JD.

I can only assume that JD was taken by a fox. At this time of year vixens have many young mouths to feed and venture out during the day in search of prey. I know that it is all part of nature, but it is still upsetting to lose a hen like this. JD was one of the most senior hens - I had her for almost three years and she was probably a year old or more when I bought her. She was a lovely hen, a real character, and I will miss her. It goes without saying that this has put an end to the hens free roaming sessions for now - I don't want to lose another hen to the fox.

Otherwise all the young chicks are doing well. I've been letting Chirpy (now 16 weeks old), Sooty, Sweep and Blondie (all nearly 14 weeks old) out into the pen with the senior hens under strict supervision. At first the senior hens were not impressed and sent Chirpy running for cover! Hopefully they will learn to tolerate each other and sort the pecking order out without too much trouble. I'm pretty sure that Sweep is the only female out of the four younger hens, and I have to say Chirpy has been giving her some unwanted attention lately, which is why I decided to start letting them all mix with the older hens. It should hopefully take the pressure off Sweep and also give Chirpy some other females to chase after (if he is man enough to try)! Chirpy's crowing has also improved dramatically (don't know where he has been getting lessons) but he still seems a bit self conscious about it. There's no sign of Blondie or Sooty starting to crow yet.

Coco, Nano, Pinky and Perky (all now 10 weeks old) are also doing well and have daily access to a large enclosed run. The Quail (now nearly 8 weeks old) are laying two or three eggs every day and seem to be perfectly happy in the greenhouse. At least in there they are safe from the fox, but I'm thinking about making them a movable ark so that they could get out on the grass at least during the day when the weather is good.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

First Quail egg!

I can't believe that it's been 6 weeks since my last post! Sorry it has been so long, and even though I have not hatched any more chicks I have been very busy looking after all the chicks and adult hens and have built a brand new hen house and run in the garden to accommodate my growing flock.

Today is a special day. Much to my surprise I found an egg in the Quail's run, and seven weeks ago the Quail that laid it was still an egg herself!

The Quail have now moved into the large indoor run which I built to house the chicks. They are absolutely gorgeous little birds and the range of sounds they make is quite incredible. I think I have two males and four females, but I'm by no means sure about that yet. I was really amazed to find an egg in the run today. Unlike chickens, Quail do not use nest boxes (or perches) - they just lay in their bedding, although I have noticed that they make little hollows in the wood shavings where they sit. I have provided them with a covered area at both ends of the run, one of which is heated, and I have still been putting the heater on at night because the weather has been so cold. The Quail seem to spend most of their time under the covered areas - see the photo below. They are very timid little birds.

Pinky, Perky, Nano and Coco have now moved out into a proper hen house and are doing really well. Coco is a beautiful bird and is very tame. The Rhode Island Red (RIR) chicks seem a bit small for their age but they are only 9 weeks old and have got a good bit of growing left to do yet. Here is a photo of Coco (looking very inquisitive!) and one of the RIR chicks - I'm afraid I can't tell them apart!

Blondie, Sooty and Sweep are now 12 weeks old and have access to the outdoor run that I made for them. I'm still not sure of their gender - I think that Sooty and Blondie (see photo below) are possibly both male.

Sooty has grown some lovely reddish brown feathers on his neck and back and is a really lovely bird and Blondie has incredible yellow eyes. They both have the typical Araucana comb and crest, and Sooty has a definite "beard". I think that Sweep (see following photo) is possibly female. She does not have a crest but has a beard and some brown edging to her neck and chest feathers. The main thing is that they all seem to be getting on with each other very well so far, what ever they are.

And then there's Chirpy who at 15 weeks old is nearly fully grown. He has started to crow (not very well it has to be said!) but I expect he will improve with practice. Chirpy is still very tame and likes to be handled. He really had grown up to be a handsome fellow (see photo below), and before too long I'll be thinking about introducing him to the "senior" hens. Not sure who will get the biggest shock!

Finally, here's a photo of the "senior" hens relaxing in their newly extended pen. The only one not in the photo is JD, but I expect she had egg laying business to attend to.

The hens have been laying really well - on average about 4 eggs every day!. Provided the weather is not really bad, they get out of their pen for a few hours every day to roam free around the garden and farm yard, which they really enjoy.

That's all for now from the hen house!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Quail chicks hatching!

The Quail chicks started to hatch on Monday of this week, 17 days after the eggs were put in the incubator. Over the next day or two we had six lovely chicks hatch.

The speckled shells on the Quail eggs made it quite difficult to spot when an egg was starting to hatch and on a few occasions the chicks seemed to appear suddenly out of thin air. One moment there would be just eggs in the incubator, but five minutes later there would be a new chick. They also seemed to be able to hatch and then reassemble the empty shell so that it was actually quite difficult to see which egg the chick had come out of.

The newly hatched Quail chicks are so very tiny and cute. They are up and feeding in no time and are lively little critters. When picked up as shown in the photo above they have a frightening habit of jumping out of your hands - I swear that they have spring loaded legs. I've learnt my lesson and now cup my hands when picking them up so that they can't make a bid for freedom.

In the meantime all the other chicks are thriving. Chirpy, Sooty, Sweep and Blondie have been moved out into a hen house in the garden and are loving the extra space. Pinky, Perky, Coco and Nano have been moved out into the chicken run in the greenhouse and have settled in very well. The "senior" hens are enjoying the sunny weather and are "laying like machine guns" (a phrase an old Cornish friend of ours used to use).

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Chick roll call

I'm very pleased to say that all the chicks are doing well. There are eight chicks in all, currently being kept in two groups of four. Let's start off with the smallest (and youngest) chicks which are nearly 2 weeks old.

Nano was the last chick to hatch and was a very small chick, but has done very well after getting off to a slow start.Nano is darker than the other Rhode Island Red chicks and colour-wise is quite similar to Chirpy was like at that age.

Pinky and Perky look very similar and are almost impossible to tell apart. They are both strong healthy chicks, and I have a gut feeling that they could both be cockerels.

Coco is gorgeous, and a good strong chick. Her feathers are a beautiful dark brown colour and her down is like soft fur. Now let's move on to the older chicks, which are 5 weeks old.

Sooty is a lovely chick, but a right little sod! He is absolutely full of beans and at times can be quite aggressive. He looks very much like his Araucana father and is very flighty.

I would say that Sweep takes after her Light Sussex mother, although I can see the Araucana coming out in her too. She is a beautiful chick with the odd black feather and rather unusual grey legs.

Blondie is quite a timid little chick and is slightly smaller than Sooty and Sweep. She is a lovely chick with pure white feathers pretty much all over. She is very close to Sweep and does not like being separated from the other chicks.

Finally, here is Chirpy, now all grown up at the grand old age of 7 weeks. He is very tame and friendly and has not shown any aggression towards his smaller companions. He has a lovely temperament, which is just as well as I think he's going to be a big cockerel.

There you have it! Our lovely chicks that we have hatched this year so far. It has been a real joy watching them grow and develop from helpless little balls of fluff into fully fledged chickens and it is amazing how each one has his or her own little personality from the very beginning.

Our adult hens have suddenly moved into full egg production and we are getting on average about four eggs a day. This is a sure sign that the days are getting longer and that spring has arrived. The Quail eggs are still in the incubator and are due to hatch in about a week from now. I haven't candled the Quail eggs because it is difficult to see any detail inside the eggs because of their speckled shells. We'll just have to wait and see how many Quail chicks hatch, however I understand that it can be quite a lengthy process and the Quail eggs can continue to hatch for anything up to a week!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Cute Chicks!

I emailed the lady I bought the eggs from and she has told me that the dark coloured chick is a Chocolate  Wyandotte, and so we have called it "Coco". The chicks are all doing well, but the little chick that hatched last is still by far the smallest, and we have called him/her "Nano". We can't really tell the other two apart so at least for the meantime we are going to call them "Pinky" and "Perky". Nano is on the bottom left of the following photo.

I've notices that both Pinky and Perky are growing what look to be white wing feathers! I would not expect this if they are Rhode Island Reds, but I'll just have to wait and see how they develop. Ahh the joys of hatching your own chicks!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Four lovely new chicks

In the end four out of the remaining five eggs hatched and we now have four beautiful Rhode Island Eggs chicks.....well almost! Three of them look like Rhode Island Red chicks, the fourth is a bit of a mystery. Either the eggs got mixed up, or there was strange cockerel about! To be fair the lady I bought the eggs from did say that six were Rhode Island Red eggs she wasn't sure what the seventh was. I think she said it might be Light Sussex, but I don't think so!

The little one in the middle of the three light coloured chicks was the last to hatch and is a very small chick. It's amazing how much the Rhode Island Red chicks look like chirpy did at that age, so I guess Chirpy has quite a lot of Rhode Island Red in him (as you would expect since his mum was an ex battery hen). I have not given the new chicks names as yet...any suggestions anyone?

Time to wash out the incubator with disinfectant and start some more eggs off. This time I've gone for Quail. I bought the eggs online and they were delivered in the post in a purpose made expanded polystyrene box. Amazingly they all arrived intact and after letting them stand overnight I put them in the incubator today.

They certainly are beautiful eggs. I had to set the incubator 0.2 deg C warmer for the Quail eggs - 37.7 deg C instead of 37.5 deg C. They should start hatching in about 16 or 17 days.

Indoor chicken run update

Chirpy and the other three chicks certainly enjoyed having a bit of extra room and settled in well to their new accommodation. However, on Wednesday evening when I turned the infrared lamp off, it quickly became apparent that the chicks needed more warmth in their new home. As a temporary measure I put one of the Ecoglow heated pads in to the run to provide some extra warmth, but I spent quite a sleepless night worrying that the chicks would be cold.

I need not have worried because the chicks were fine. Chirpy spent the night on the perch, but the three younger chicks snuggled up together under the heated pad. I installed the Ecoglow heater pad permanently in the chicken run above where the tubular heater is to create a cosy space for the chicks which is heated from below and from above (see photo).

The heated pad is sitting on two wooden runners and I slid the heated pad to one side and blanked off the space at the other side with a piece of plywood cut to the right size. Finally I put a piece of fleece blanket on top of the wooden shelf under which the tubular heater is. The chicks love it. They have the choice of sitting under the heated pad, or if they get too warm they can sit over the other side, or get on to the perch. The following photo shows (from left to right) Blondie, Sweep and Sooty in their "cosy space".

Last night the chicks (and I) spent a much more comfortable night. Chirpy spent the night on the perch again. All the chicks love their new home, and Sooty has been jumping from one perch to the other like a trapeze artist and basically trying to outdo Chirpy at every possible opportunity. Chirpy has been keeping fit by going back and forth, running from one end of the run, flying over the feeder and landing up the other end of the run (and scaring the living daylights out of the other chicks in the process)! Blondie and Sweep are quite happy to leave Chirpy and Sooty to it and have a sleep in their cosy space.