This has felt like the busiest weekend in a long time. Some of our Friday visitors stayed over, and the others joined us on Saturday morning before heading off to visit a local park. We spent much of the rest of Saturday sat under our festival shelter, reading and dozing.
Saturday was a big day for the new chickens - we let them out to properly free range for the first time.
There are no chicken-proof fences between us and that view, and when they headed into the long grass I was slightly concerned we were never going to see them again.
But chickens are home-loving creatures, and never seem to stray too far. We spent a lot of time outside, and they spent most of the time hanging round with us, with a wary eye on the other chickens (who are still giving a nasty peck occasionally, but are learning to tolerate them at a distance).
Yes, I did let them into the veg patch for a while - I thought it would provide a nice distraction for the older ones, and encourage the new ones not to go too far away. It did confirm why I usually keep them locked out though.
So they pottered about, and Bessie had a bit of a sunbathe, which was very nice to see as she's clearly not feeling well at the minute. Poor old Bessie. Vets on Wednesday, so she just needs to hang in there until then.
When they'd finally gone into their run for the evening, I took my bike out again. I confess it's the last thing I felt like doing, but I'd enjoyed the ride the previous morning and promised myself I'd go again, trying a slightly different route.
Down the normal trail for a couple of miles, yes, but then off onto the quiet back roads.
I was tired, but I was so very glad I went.
Sunday was a day of parks. I got up early to join a group of women for my first run with other people since lockdown began. Up until the middle of March, I'd been doing a 5k programme with a local running club, and we were about to start going further when all activity stopped. We've kept in touch, and a couple of the women had been running together in the last couple of weeks. This was the first time I'd joined them though - five of us ran all stretched out around the local park rather earlier in the morning than I'd usually be running, and it was great.
After that, an exciting trip to Sheffield. I had lunch in a park with a friend and her children, and then met another friend and we ended up in another park near my old house.
Such a lovely afternoon, and so very nice to see people, but by the end of it the sun, and the driving, and probably a bit of dehydration had caught up with me and I had rather a nasty headache.
I got home to find Peter had been cleaning and shifting things in the chicken run, which now feels nicely spacious with plenty of places to perch and hide, and somewhere for both of us to sit too.
We had two more small eggs from the new ladies (no sign of any from the older ladies this week I don't think).
There are a few more raspberries on the bush, and I should probably pick those before the chickens notice them.
Back to work today, although I confess I am extremely ready for a week or two off now, if only to recover from the weekend...
I'm writing this on Friday morning, and remembering just how much I used to love having Fridays off. I usually try to take a few Fridays off throughout the summer (like today) but it's just not the same as having a four day week every week. I'm working towards having Fridays off again, and as far as I'm concerned, it can't come soon enough.
Anyway, yesterday was another long working day, although less arduous than the rest of the week. A colleague and I arranged a virtual 'writing retreat' for ourselves - nothing fancy, we just checked in by video at set points in the day and shared what we were doing. It was SO nice to see her, and it really did feel like we were working together (even though we were working on completely separate things), and I got lots done.
It was still a long day though. We finished our writing stint at 4pm, and I remembered a deadline I'd missed at lunchtime (oops). Then I realised I was taking today off, so there were a couple of things I wanted to finish before the weekend. Before I knew it, it was 7.30, and a friend was ringing for a much-needed chat.
After that we went to the supermarket - not exactly my favourite thing to do but needs must.
Anyway, the most exciting thing that happened yesterday was that we had our first egg from the new chickens! Bonnie I think - I saw her coming out of the hen house at lunchtime. Well done Bonnie.
It's slightly smaller and less speckledy than the ones from the older hens, but it's recognisably an egg, and it was even laid in the nest box!
In less exciting hen news, Rusty has started pecking the younger hens while they're trying to get into the hen house at night. This is most vexing, as they'd all started to go to bed together nicely, regardless of their animosity during the day. Last night she was so persistent that I had to take her out of the hen house and chuck her into the outside run while the others went to bed, then plonk her in separately at the other end of the hen house when everyone else had settled down. Hope they sort it all out soon because I'm quite bored of chicken squabbling now.
Anyway, we have visitors coming this afternoon. Peter spent a couple of hours yesterday building a shelter, but now apparently the wind is blowing in the wrong direction so it's going to have to be rebuilt. I might ban all future visitors until the weather is more reliable.
Today has been a good day. This is the second vase of roses from the bunch our friends gave us last week, and I'm very much having them on my desk.
I worked part of the day sitting here, then moved to the sofa, where I tucked myself under a blanket to read some stuff for work, and it was so cold and rainy I would have definitely lit a fire if the chimney wasn't full of twigs from the jackdaw nest.
Much excitement this evening, when we visited some friends for the first time since lockdown. Since the guidance changed a couple of weeks ago we've had a few visitors here, but not been to anyone else's home. This was doubly daunting/exciting as it meant a trip to the city, where we've not been for nearly four months.
It was a welcome bit of novelty sitting in someone else's garden, although strange at first. So nice to see faces in real life, rather than through a screen.
Of course, us being out for several hours meant the chickens had to cope with being shut in the run together - we don't leave them roaming free if there's the remotest chance we'll be back near or after dusk, just in case. None of them were impressed - the older ladies at first refused to go into the run and had to be carried, and then all three of them set about chasing the new ladies and looking menacingly at them.
We did what we could, creating all kinds of perches and through routes and places to hide for the new ones, and lots of different food and water bowls, and plenty of treats. Eventually we had to just trust that they'd work it out between themselves.
We got back around 9pm - two of the older ladies were fast asleep in the hen house. Rusty and the three new ladies were out - I suspect Rusty had been in bed, but heard the car (and the new chickens) and came back out - she has form for doing that. All four of them immediately ran outside and started scratching around and behaving like it was first thing in the morning.
We sat inside the run, and within five minutes all four of them had come back in, and the three new ladies went straight to bed. Rusty then arrived, and we picked her up and put her in the other end of the hen house with the two snoozy older ladies - no point letting her go in straight after the new ones and be stuck by the door, or wake everyone up with her jostling. After a few minutes, all was quiet.
I suspect they'll all be glad to be out of the way of each other again tomorrow though.
After yesterday's complaining, I made a conscious effort to drag myself back to cheerfulness, starting (of course) with a nice cup of tea. Far too windy to drink it outside, but it was very nice to feel the sunshine through the living room window, and I've enjoyed having these roses which some friends gave us last weekend.
I spent quite a lot of the day outside, with no particular plan, and the rest of it inside letting my face recover from being buffeted by the wind.
I realised I'd missed National Meadows Day on Saturday. For the last couple of years I've been to open days at local meadows, but that wasn't possible this year, so I wandered into the middle of ours to see what was growing.
Lots of things, as it turned out, but it was so windy it was difficult to take a photo of them. I'll write a separate post about managing our meadow I think - each year I learn more and I'm getting a better idea of what needs doing and when.
The gooseberries were starting to ripen - not the red ones I planted, but the green ones on the edge of the field, which I've missed for the last two years because the birds spotted them before I did. I've harvested a few (they're now in the freezer) and will keep checking. The blackcurrants are nearly ready too.
While I was out pottering round the garden, I turned the compost (and oddly enough later had a conversation with my sister about compost bins for her garden).
The first bay wasn't full, but it was becoming a bit of a tower and has had a lot of hay and chicken bedding added lately, so I shifted it to the second bay and mixed it up a bit. Some of the middle was quite dry, so hopefully the rain will give it a bit of a soak today.
I also spent quite a bit of time with the chickens, old and new. Peter's built a temporary outdoor run attached to the main run so the new ladies can get used to the fresh air without roaming completely free yet.
It also means there's plenty of space for a bit of 'enforced mingling', although at the minute the two factions prefer to stay quite far apart from each other.
The new ladies are making themselves at home and seem quite comfortable with us, and when they're on their own, but are very wary of the older ladies. The older ladies are also fine when on their own, but are quite put out about having imposters living in their space. Bessie seems to be on the mend now she has her implant, but Rusty has been acting a bit too quiet for the last couple of days, although she did lay this soft-shelled egg yesterday which might explain a few things.
We had a bit of a downpour in the afternoon so I came inside to tidy up a bit, and found one of these tiny fairy eggs that I'd collected a few weeks ago and shoved on a shelf near the back door and forgotten about. I love these - we've only ever had four in nearly two years of chicken keeping. They're shaped just like a normal egg but tiny.
I've added it to the collection I keep on the windowsill.
More rain, so I sorted out some clothes, and cleared up the kilo of dried mealworms that had vibrated itself down the side of the freezer when the washing machine was on earlier in the day (I'd also left my watch in the pocket of my jeans so that was not a successful wash overall!)
Eventually it stopped raining, so back out to do a bit of tidying in the greenhouse, which I'd neglected for so long that the thistles had started growing through the handle of my watering can.
We caught a mouse near the back door (probably harvesting the rest of the mealworms from under the freezer) and drove a couple of miles to release it in the Mouse Layby up on the moors (where we release all our mice into the wilds).
Once the chickens were all shut in, I made a start on digging my experimental french drain. There's a really soggy area in the field next to our edible windbreak, which gets even more soggy when trampled by the cows, and drains across the gateway, making even more mud. I'm hoping I can drain some of it off into a space in the garden which can stay damp most of the year, and soggy for some of it, and which will hopefully stop the field (or at least the gateway) getting too wet.
Bit of a project, at least when you're being stubborn and doing it on your own with a pickaxe. But I thought I might as well take advantage of the wall having fallen down to lay a bit of pipe underneath it.
I don't really know what I'm doing, of course, but other people have laid french drains before so it can't be impossible, right? I'll figure it out.
So, altogether not a bad day, and it did lift me out of the funk I'd dipped into. The sunshine played a big part in that, of course, but so did doing something, reading, growing, digging, pottering. I must remember all this next time.
June has been a month of both worrying about the chickens, and causing the chickens to worry (by introducing new chickens) - and July is looking set to be the same.
First up was Bessie. Bessie went quiet a few weeks ago (always a bad sign), and seemed to be heaving her whole body each time she took a breath.
We gave her a warm bath, and had a good feel of her abdomen, which seemed to be swollen. After keeping an eye on her for a day or two with no improvements, we took her to the vets.
Our local vets are lovely, but they know very little about chickens. This is common among vets I think - until fairly recently people just didn't keep chickens as well-loved pets. Chicken medicine isn't as advanced as for dogs or cats, and our vet had a prod and said 'there's definitely something going on in there, I'll give her some antibiotics, but I don't think it'll do anything and there's nothing else we can do.' I suspect if we'd agreed he would have put her down there and then, but on the whole we prefer to nurse them ourselves, so we brought her home.
Bessie was still running around though. Not as quickly, but she was still eating, still hanging around with the others, and didn't seem at all ready to die, although she was clearly quite ill. After a bit of searching, we found a specialist chicken vet...
And so this is how we ended up driving for an hour and a half to a tiny little Cheshire village to have Bessie seen by an 'exotic pets' specialist. This lovely woman drained half a pint of fluid from Bessie's abdomen, took blood tests, and gave her more antibiotics and some hefty diuretics for good measure. After a week we took her back - nothing wrong with her heart or liver, but she'd accumulated more fluid, suggesting something wrong with her reproductive system, so she now has a hormonal implant (!) to stop her producing eggs. So far she seems fine, but we'll keep an eye on her.
We'd got our names down to collect some more rescue hens at the end of June. Three chickens isn't really much of a flock, so we were going to add another two, but when it seemed like we might lose Bessie, which would have meant losing three chickens in three months, we decided we needed a break from the short lives of rescue hens, so instead we found some young ones.
The new ladies are adorable - but introducing young chickens to battle-scarred older ladies is proving rather different to introducing new rescues. Last time, introducing our current lot to Mildred and Maud, there were squabbles, the new ladies gave as good as they got, and everyone reached a truce within a few days.
This time, the older ladies just have to look at the new ones, and they run flapping to whatever high surface is available.
Still, we're getting there. The new ladies now take themselves to bed in the evening, in the same house as the others (although they tend to wait until we're there for backup). We do supervised mingling, but they've not yet been left to mingle on their own, as the young ones (they're 16 weeks old, so not quite laying yet) are still a bit scared. The older ones are mostly ignoring them.
Anyway, I've not introduced you! This is Chippy.
Chippy is affectionate - she was the first to peck food from my leg, and the first to jump up onto my knee (and my head, and my shoulder). In the evening when she's ready for bed she always jumps onto me, and I have to gently explain that I'm not going to spend the night in the chicken run just so she can have a comfortable perch.
Next up is Bonnie. The top half of Bonnie's beak is shorter than the bottom half - I'm not sure why as they haven't been clipped. She seems to be able to eat and drink just fine, but we'll keep an eye on her.
Bonnie is sweet and also affectionate - she was the first to hop onto my leg like this and sit down. She also seems the most inclined to get to know the older hens - her and Bessie even had a few beakfuls from the same food bowl this morning. She's quite adventurous, and was the first to attempt to follow the older hens into the hen house at night (she rapidly came out again after a bit of squarking, but they're getting there).
And finally we have Bunty.
Bunty looks very like Bonnie (aside from the beak), but is rather more highly strung and a bit nervous. She's showing a tendency to strut, and I wonder whether she'll evolve a Mildred-like bossy character in the end.
The world must be a strange place for them right now though. Plucked out of the shed they shared with many others, transported in a box, and plonked in with some rather haughty older hens, it's no wonder they're a bit wary. Their combs are still growing, and they're not laying yet, although they should start to in the next couple of weeks, and maybe by then they'll have settled down a bit.
We're spending as much time with them as we can, although the weather has been vile this week. They've got a secure outdoor area now, so they can spend a bit of time outside, although they only seem to come out when we're there. I might let them wander further afield today, supervised of course - although they're still quite jumpy and I'm not entirely convinced it'll be easy to get them back in.
And now the new ladies are settling in a bit, we're starting to worry about Rusty, who seems a little under the weather. Her breathing was a bit rattly for a couple of hours the other day - maybe she caught a cold? She's had some apple cider vinegar in her water (I tried garlic, but she refused to drink it), and I've ordered some kind of (probably useless) chicken cold remedy. We'll keep an eye on her, and take her to the vets next week if she doesn't get better.
They are a worry these chickens. Well, if you take as much of an interest in their little personalities and individual wellbeing as we do, that is. At least we're learning a lot about chicken health, as we don't seem to have had two with the same thing wrong yet. Fingers crossed that all the various ailments clear up soon.
I've finally made a start on growing some veg.
Somehow I never quite get round to sowing seeds until the end of April, and that does feel quite late, but we're pretty exposed up here on the hillside so I tell myself I'm not too far behind.
For the last couple of years, I've been trying to use up some of the stash of seeds I've acquired rather than too many new. Last year I got sidetracked (by what? I can't even remember) and barely grew anything, but this year I've got several things on the go and am determined to make at least some of them work. Those above are rainbow chard and curly kale, and I've also sowed leeks, beetroot, and turnips.
These are my stash from the Heritage Seed Library membership my sister bought for my birthday. They're all in now except for the carrots. I've not grown carrots before and have in my head they're rather picky, so I'm going to sow them directly into large pots I think, rather than our pretty heavy soil.
I need to work on my recording system - these photographs are the only current record I have of which seeds are which, and if I start moving trays round or repotting I'll have no idea. I think I can sense a 'garden organisation' project coming on next winter...
Also in the greenhouse is the fig tree that was also part of my birthday present from my sister. I'm hoping I don't kill it. I've now fitted plastic replacements for the three glass panels that broke, so it's nice and warm in there. Fingers crossed.
Outside the greenhouse, I'm preparing the beds. The first year we were here I tried to grow food up in the corner of the meadow, and where the edible windbreak is now. Last year I made beds in the garden area (but then never really planted much in them). This year I'm making more of an effort.
I've laid out a square where the old beds were, and surrounded it with chicken wire. We'll have a gate on two of the corners (for easy access from both the house and garden seating area, and from the greenhouse and water butt), but these will be kept closed once the plants are in to keep out the chickens, and also hares, rabbits, and occasional stray sheep.
The fence is just chicken wire, but if necessary we can always attach wind barrier fabric to create a bit more shelter. I'm not planning to do that just yet, but we'll see.
I'm very much a fan of no dig gardening (not least because it involves me not having to dig), and ideally I would have created this area last autumn and mulched the whole lot, and now be looking at nice rich soil.
Sadly, I didn't, and I'm looking at a thick thatch of grass and dandelions. So we're taking the grass off and removing most of the roots, but not doing any kind of deep digging. You'd think the chickens would be a help at this stage, and they do a little bit of scratching, but mostly they just stand with their heads exactly where you want to put the fork, so the whole thing proceeds rather slowly when they're around.
Still, we are making some progress, with two beds cleared now, the fence finished (no gates yet), and stones put round part of the outside to block the gap between the fence and the ground.
I'll put stones round the edges of the beds too once we've cleared them (not for any good reason other than distinguishing them from the path, and because we have a lot of stones), and I'll top dress with some mulch of whatever kind I can find or make (compost, wood chippings, old hay etc).
It feels good to have a dedicated space to grow food, and I'm currently thinking of it a bit like a mini allotment out in the garden. I've got some flowers growing in various tubs that I'm going to plant in here too, and some herbs. I might try to grow sweet peas up one fence, and actual peas up another. I'm looking forward to having a defined growing space that I can (hopefully) keep in some kind of order, and I'm also hoping that keeping the chickens out, at least until the plants are bigger, will mean that things have a chance to grow without interference.
As always though, we'll see.
I can't quite believe I'm having to say this, but just three weeks after we lost Mildred, Maud has gone too.
Gentle, kind Maud. I never once saw her peck anyone, or anyone else peck her. It was like she was outside of the pecking order, and the others followed her lead because she was so sensible, not because they had to (although a swift peck from Mildred was often forthcoming if they didn't).
Maud never pestered for food, never pushed to the front, she understood there would always be enough. Our little flock gravitated around her, always heading back to wherever she was. She was the least treat-oriented chicken, eating a balanced, sensible diet at all times - although this did mean she could not be easily bribed, and between us we have spent hours trying to reason with her when she didn't want to go back into the run.
Like Mildred, she didn't like being picked up, and unlike the younger chickens, wouldn't usually jump on your knee in the hope of an apple core. But if you sat on the grass in the sunshine she'd often join you for an afternoon nap and a bit of a preen.
I have barely any pictures of her without Mildred. The two were inseparable after the stoat attack that killed our other two original chickens. We nursed them back to health, and while they eventually accepted the three new chickens, they spent most of their time together.
When Mildred was ill, Maud spent all her time sitting by her side, and looking back we wonder if she just didn't feel too good herself. She's always been slower than the others, more sedate, less likely to run at you from the other end of the garden. Whenever we brought Mildred into the house, Maud came too and the pair of them could nap in the living room for hours at a time towards the end, occasionally waking up for a bit of food.
Chickens are good at hiding when they're ill, and for a week or two after Mildred died we thought she was just sad at the loss of her old friend. Eventually though we took her to the vets, who confirmed our suspicions that she was ill herself. She didn't respond to steroids or antibiotics, and slowly got more and more sleepy as (we think) her liver failed.
On her last evening, after a day in the house with us, being plied with treats (most of which she ignored, but she did perk up for a bit of yogurt), we took her up to the run with the others. They went over to greet her, and she had a bit of a peck around with them, and then took herself off to her favourite spot in the hen house. When I went to close the door an hour later, she was still there, head under her wing (with one eye peeking out at me), the others surrounding her in a cosy feathery pile.
She didn't make it through the night, and I found her in the same place in the morning, head resting on the wall.
We buried her under the fruit trees near Mildred, Hermione and Luna, all four of our original chickens back together.
It's strange being down to three chickens. The hen house feels very empty, and I keep casting my eyes around looking for the rest. When we first got our new ladies, five seemed so many more than four, and so much harder to count, but three seems such a small number.
I think we'll get more when the British Hen Welfare Trust starts rehoming again, whenever that might be. Yes, we get upset when they go, and yes, it would be nice to go for an impromptu weekend (or even week!) away like the old days, without worrying about them. But the amount of fun we have getting to know their little beaky personalities and their favourite treats, knowing we've given them a chance to know a different life to the one they've had before, outweighs all that.
In the meantime, the three remaining chickens have been informed that they are not to get ill, as we just can't take any more chicken tragedies right now.
I've not done anything crafty for a while, so when we decided to hold a virtual Easter egg hunt for my nephews, I took the opportunity for a bit of crafty messing around.
Have you blown eggs before? I don't think I have, and it was harder than I thought. Still, eventually they were all done, and an omelette and a sponge cake made with the leftovers, and a skewered them all ready for decorating.
How to decorate though? I stumbled across a tutorial for marbling using nail varnish - I've not linked to it because I can't find the actual one I used, and there are plenty of them out there. First, assemble your nail varnish (is it just me who attracts old pots of nail varnish in colours I swear I never bought).
Next, take over the entire tiny temporary kitchen with your paraphernalia.
The process itself is quite simple. Tray of cold water, and nail varnish. You have to move quickly - the nail varnish sets within a couple of seconds. Drop it onto the water, quickly swirl, then dunk your egg.
I think in the tutorial I saw, only the front half of the egg was dipped - I tried to coat the whole thing, which was far more difficult.
The first couple I did weren't great. The nail varnish was setting too quickly, and the colours were too pale to show up properly on a brown egg.
Once I got the hang of it though, and found some more vibrant colours, things improved. Metallic seemed to work well, but not glittery - the glitter made it too heavy on the water and it just sank.
I was pretty pleased with the final results, although my hands were a mess.
Six small eggs is not quite enough for an egg hunt, but I'd had my fill of marbling, so decided to try something a bit more straightforward, and paint some cardboard egg shapes. I found a tray of old children's paints in a drawer (why do I have those?) and set myself up in the garden. After a ropey start (I'm no artist) I remembered Peter bought me a book about how to paint roses and castles, as in traditional narrowboat art.
It's actually more straightforward than it looks, although I struggled to get the required swoops and swirls with my dried up paints and cheap brushes.
I fared a bit better with my castles.
Overall I was pretty pleased with my efforts after my initial uninspired start.
Our virtual egg hunt was fun, and later in the afternoon we found ourselves on a real egg hunt - our ladies have found a new, exciting laying spot. Can I take you to the back of the lean-to, where the hay bales have all fallen in an undignified heap?
Yes, it seems the ladies have been scaling the dizzy heights of that bale, and laying in a little depression in the top.
It's probably a pretty good vantage point up there (although there are better views than the inside of this outbuilding, which is full of furniture and garden tools). Finding an egg round here is pretty impossible though - the only way we manage it is by first following the clucking chicken...
A couple of weeks ago Mildred started looking a little unwell. Nothing specific, just slower, less boisterous. Her comb shrank, and started looking purple and dry. We spoke to the vet on the phone and they confirmed what I feared - that it was some kind of heart condition, impossible to treat in a chicken, and that she was likely living her last few days.
Mildred and her old pal Maud started coming inside for afternoon naps. They were the final two of our original chickens, the other two, Hermione and Luna, having been killed by a stoat over a year ago.
Mildred was still pottering round with the others, but she was definitely getting slower. On Monday, she looked very stiff and old, and we took her to the vets to check that our diagnosis was right, and that there really was nothing we could do for her. Sadly there wasn't, so I spent the week out in the sunshine on the swing seat with her snoozing nearby, and the others pottering around too.
On Thursday morning she didn't come out of the hen house, although she seemed ok when we carried her to her usual spot by my chair, and later got up and walked over for a drink. By the evening though she looked very tired, and even refused a worm that Peter had dug up for her (we did manage to tempt her with a tiny bit of sponge cake though).
On Friday morning she could barely lift her head, and we knew it was time. While we were waiting for the vet to call back, she lay in the sunshine, and Maud stood with her, bowing her head and making soft clucking noises.
The vet was very kind (and didn't laugh at me for crying over a chicken). Of course we couldn't go into the consulting room given the current situation, but Mildred was never one for a cuddle anyway, and by that point I don't think she knew where she was anyway.
We buried her under the fruit trees where we buried Herminone and Luna, in what has become affectionately known as the Memorial Windbreak.
Anyway, this is all very sad, and I came in here to write something cheerful about Mildred's life, not just to be miserable about her death (which, as chicken deaths go, wasn't a bad one).
Mildred came to us on 2nd September 2018, along with Maud, Hermione and Luna, all named after witches in children's books (Harry Potter, and The Worst Witch). We got them from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who rehome chickens from commercial egg farms when they have outlived their 'usefulness'.
They were our first chickens, and we were quite daunted. Mildred wasn't daunted at all - she strode around the place pecking the others, head held high despite her lack of feathers.
We always suspected that Maud was in charge, but that Mildred did all the on-the-ground work of crowd control. We never saw Maud peck anyone, but also nobody ever pecked Maud, not even Mildred. Mildred was definitely second in command though, and was always willing to dole out a swift peck for a minor infraction.
She mellowed a bit after those first few weeks, but never lost her haughty look.
When a stoat sneaked into the hen house and killed Hemione and Luna, Mildred and Maud were traumatised, and came to live in our house for three weeks while we nursed them back to health and fortified their run. I feel like we bonded with them a bit more then, as we gradually encouraged them to eat, and to get back outside.
I'm not sure they were too impressed when we brought home our three new chickens a few weeks later, but gradually they settled down and became a happy little flock (with Mildred still doling out the occasional much-needed peck, of course).
Mildred was a dignified chicken, no silly flapping or ungainly jumping like the younger ones, and I confess I did laugh a little bit when she once jumped into the leaf collection and couldn't get back out (I didn't laugh much though, as she gave me a very stern look).
Before she came to us, Mildred didn't live in a cage like our younger chickens, she was a barn hen. Barn eggs apparently make up only about 1% of the total of eggs consumed in the UK - caged eggs provide cheaper eggs of course, and it seems that people concerned about welfare will go for free range. Here are a few pictures of hens in a barn system (from an industry publication, so this isn't 'worst case scenario'). The hens do have places to perch and lay, but they never have access to the outside, and may be living with 10,000 other hens.
Mildred had longer with us than she had in the barn, and for that I'll always be thankful.
Strut on, beaky pal.
Clearly there's been a whole lot more on the homestead than I intended in March. Between strikes and the pandemic I spent ONE day physically at work in March, and even that wasn't in my own office.
I'm very fortunate that it's been pretty easy for me to switch to working full time from home. I've worked a couple of days a week from home for years, so I'm already set up, and after an initial flurry of messing around, the work itself is all set up too. I did find after a week and a half that my shoulders and back were getting rather sore from sitting in the same office chair all day every day, so I had a good clear out in the study and created myself a standing desk.
Since we've been spending more time at home, we've also done a bit more clearing of other rooms - I finally tackled this dreadful mess that had accumulated around my chair in the living room.
What a tip! It's all been pulled out and sorted, and there's been a thorough hoovering and cleaning of the whole thing (although it seems I didn't take an 'after' picture).
Now the weather is warmer, the evenings are longer, and there's nowhere else to go, we're getting on with some outside jobs too. More progress on the compost bin I've been building (on and off) since January.
I was all ready to declare it finished at this point, but Peter convinced me that we should raise it off the ground (yawn) so we made a start at the end of March, and I've finally finished it this weekend and painted it (but that was April so photos of the finished thing will have to wait!)
We've also been tackling some of those 'really should do something about that' jobs this month. We finally took our giant rubbish pile to the tip (before they closed), and I shifted a pile of mud that's been outside our gate for months - with a little help from the chickens of course.
Speaking of chickens, poor old Mildred is ill. She started looking a bit slow last week, and her comb (a good indicator of chicken health) looking a bit tired. She's gradually got worse over the last few days. I spoke to the vet on Thursday, who confirmed my internet-fuelled suspicions that it was likely to be something wrong with her heart or liver, neither of which they can do anything about.
We've been trying to make sure she eats and drinks, and feeding her plenty of treats. We've been bringing her and Maud (our other older chicken) inside when the weather is cold or windy, so they can have a bit of a rest in the warm. It's quite endearing to see them having a snooze together on the carpet.
I'll ring the vet again in the morning. I was trying to avoid taking her in as she has a good sense of her personal boundaries and will NOT thank me for picking her up, let alone putting her in a box and taking her for a drive. I don't want to traumatise her, but at the same time I do want to make sure we've done everything that we can. Fingers crossed.
Peter built a new shelter in the garden, affectionately named Chicken Henge, which has now become a favourite haunt of Mildred and Maud. I can't think of a more fitting use. This is Beaky having a first look.
I also cleaned out the greenhouse (and I need to replace three panes of glass now as the window has blown through). I've not planted any seeds yet, but I did finally get round to repotting my houseplants, which were in an appalling state.
March definitely came in like a lion and went out like a lamb round here. We started with hail stones, but the rain of the last few months seems to have eased and the ground is drying out. The last two weeks have been dry, and even a bit sunny at times. I'm even starting to be able to imagine a time when I might be outside in sandals (not just yet, mind you).
Yet again I've made the mistake of looking back on my post from last month to see whether I've done anything that I said I'd do. I did make progress on the compost bin, but the bedroom still isn't plastered, and I've not even started building the fence round the veg garden yet.
Still, we're now five days into April, the compost bin is finished, and I've made some progress on the field wall that I'm rebuilding, so I'm hopeful April's post might look a bit better...
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.