Chickens very much love the sunshine, and given half the chance will lay about and sunbathe. They mostly seem to do this when we're nearby and, presumably, give them a feeling of safety. They lie down and spread out a wing and a leg, and look for all the world like they're dead. It's quite alarming.
We're spending quite a bit of time sitting outside with them now the nicer weather is here, and they quite often doze off while we're there. It's especially sweet in the evening, when we shut them in their run and often take a cup of tea and sit there ourselves for a while. They potter about at first but slowly settle down and often a couple will shut their eyes and have a rest.
Most of the time they're not resting though. Most of the time they're wandering about looking for treats, or lying in wait outside the back door, or marauding around whatever outdoor project we're trying to do, making a nuisance of themselves.
I wouldn't be without them now though. They give an air of cheerfulness to the place, and I do so love to see them pottering round the garden. I can hear one now squarking outside the front door, hoping to be let in to find a stray apple core (not that there are ever stray apple cores lying around our living room, oh no).
Chicken keeping is much more fun in the summer though. They can spend more time outside, and we can spend more time outside with them. Much better all round.
Poor, long-neglected blog. But we won't dwell on that, instead we'll have a little poke around what's been happening in the garden over the last couple of months.
March started with frogspawn - not technically in the 'garden' as we don't have a pond (yet), but just outside the garden in a field. However I'm afraid it came to a not-too-happy end, as the sunshine was swiftly followed by frost, and then snow.
Since then though, the garden has been progressing nicely. In mid-April it started to feel like spring and arrived, and I got to work on the raised beds. We found a giant pile of old printer paper in the loft, slightly damp around the edges, and put it to work keeping the weeds down.
Our lovely neighbouring farmer brought us a pile of cow manure, so that got dumped on top, and then the chickens had a lovely time mixing it all around.
The plum blossom came out, and then was blown away again a few days later so I'm not sure how that will work out.
I moved the raspberries that I stupidly planted in the top of a field last year, and I finally got round to planting out the apple tree that I grafted about ten years ago, and that has been sitting in a pot ever since.
Poor Mildred managed to get herself into the leaf mould pile and then couldn't get out - I shouldn't laugh but there was no harm done and it was rather amusing. She wasn't impressed.
A friend helped me put up the plastic greenhouse (it blew down in October and I'd just thrown it into a shed). I planted a load of seeds, and then went away for a week with work. Sadly, the wind picked up and the whole thing blew down again.
I liked that little greenhouse, and it was great while we were waiting to acquire a more permanent solution, but they really are more suited to sheltered urban gardens than windy hilltops. I've now put the shelves from that up inside the glass greenhouse (which had no shelves), and we'll repurpose the plastic (which is now quite ripped) for something else.
So the seeds are all planted (again), the beds are prepared, the apple is now in blossom too, I've planted a load of bedding plants, and the compost bin still hasn't been fixed. Getting there... (slowly).
I've been working at home a lot since Christmas, and I'm spending a lot of time sitting down.
When we lived in the city, working at home wasn't a problem - it wasn't every day, and there were plenty of other places to walk to. Here, we are just a little bit too far away to walk to anywhere, and so if I want some exercise, I have to consciously go for a walk.
This isn't really a problem, of course - it's just that going for a walk feels like it requires more planning than just nipping to the shops. Walking boots for a start, and maybe even a rucksack and a map.
Well, thinking like that was getting me nowhere. Instead, I abandoned the rucksack, and the map, and all thoughts of 'hiking' or 'trekking', and decided to keep things a little more simple (that's usually a good plan in life, I find).
Each morning I get up, dress quickly, make a cup of tea in my travel mug, pull on my wellies, let the chickens out - and keep going up the drive.
It's nice and simple. I'm already out of the house, I already have tea (with a lid), and there's no planning required. I have to let the chickens out reasonably early, so my walks usually start before 8am (they were starting closer to 7am until the clocks changed).
It's lovely and peaceful out there at that time in the morning, whatever the weather (and there has been quite a variation in weather so far this year).
Of course it's been more pleasant since the better weather arrived (I hope I'm not speaking too soon - the wind and rain are howling through the windows this evening).
I have a few little loops of a mile or so round the lanes and footpaths. I refuse to go much further without eating breakfast. A mile is enough time to wake up a bit, finish my tea, and arrive back home refreshed and alert, ready to start work.
Now the lighter nights are here, I'm hoping to incorporate an evening walk too as a nice way of ending the working day and getting a bit of fresh air before making tea.
Might have to fix my wellies first though - one of them appears to have sprung an unhelpful leak.
As usual, I am woefully behind on all the things I intended to write about here. I'm taking a week off work soon so will endeavour to catch up (in between finally getting round to sowing some seeds of course).
In the meantime, here's a cardigan I knitted for a friend's baby. Far too late for either birth or Christmas, needless to say, but there we are. I do love a bit of self-patterning yarn.
And yes, I did finish it off on a train. I can't even remember where I was going, it was that long ago.
I'm delighted to report that the new ladies are settling in nicely. Fences have been removed, squabbling has largely stopped, and while there are still two distinct factions (old and new), there is at least some peace in the chicken run (for now, at least).
Rusty is proving to be our new quiet adventurer. She doesn't say much. She's usually the last out of the hen house in the morning, and from what I can see is the bottom of the pecking order. But she's often the first to try something new (although she's only eaten out of our hands once).
Beaky likes to stick her beak into everything, and has an endearing habit of flicking food everywhere. Bessie is affectionate, and is the only one who will voluntarily sit on your knee.
Mildred and Maud have stopped bossing the new ladies about, and have moved largely to ignoring them. They've also stopped laying in their favourite garden bush, and have taken to laying in the coal shed instead. Mildred was even investigating the boot of the car the other day.
The new ladies have been exposed to quite a lot of weather since they've been here. Their first week the sun shone, and they enjoyed their new-found freedom to wander.
Then it got rather wet and windy, and they spent most of their time not coming out of the cosy chicken run.
Today it's snowing.
Beaky managed to fly up on to the arm of the garden bench - but then didn't want to get back down again. I've had to scrape the snow off some of the grass near the chicken run for them (yes, I'm a softie).
Mildred and Maud are old hands now. They were exactly the same the first time they saw snow (Maud wouldn't stand in it at all), but today they just strode off like it was no big deal.
They're heading for the coal shed, which they've recently decided is a more desirable laying spot than either the nest box (too many new chickens hanging round) or their usually preferred garden bush. I caught one of them in there this morning, so I must go back and check how many eggs are nestled among the coal and kindling.
As I often do at this time of year, I've started running again. Not very far, not very fast.
My running is precarious at this time. I find it very easy to give up again, and so it's useful to make it enjoyable rather than 'just exercise'.
This morning I knew I'd be driving past Tittesworth Reservoir, so I went out in my running kit and planned an out and back route up one side.
The weather wasn't as bad as I'd expected, so I ended up going all the way round. Some running, some walking, and a lot of stopping to take photographs.
It was breezy and cold, and the sun flitted in and out of the clouds, but I quite like that kind of weather for a run, it makes me feel like I'm having an adventure (albeit a very mild one).
I'd done just over 4.5 miles by the time I got back to the car, and I was cold and windswept. The cafe was open, but I saved that for another day and came home for a cup of tea and a hot bath.
I could get used to this running lark (again).
The garden is slowly starting to wake up. At the minute it feels manageable, but I know it won't be long before I'm overwhelmed by mowing and weeding and too many seedlings and Things To Do.
January was rather gloomy and snowy, and I didn't take many photographs. I did turn the compost, and spent an afternoon barrowing the almost-finished stuff to cover a layer of cardboard on the not-very-raised beds. The chickens were a menace, following me from place to place and eventually I attempted to confine them to one bed, thinking they could turn over the soil for me while I worked.
Needless to say, that didn't work, and first one, then another, then all of them escaped and went back to following me around.
I also planted an edible windbreak, consisting of damson, crab apple, blackthorn (sloes), gooseberry, blackcurrant, and elder. It's not very picturesque at the minute, but I have high hopes for a gin-filled future.
February has been somewhat brighter, although of course three weeks of that month were taken up with chicken rehabilitation so not much happened in the garden at all (apart from fortifying the chicken run). Still, towards the end of the month I did manage a few hours of working outside (and even more once I had the thrilling idea to put the table and chair inside the greenhouse.
Of course, the new chickens arrived towards the end of the month, and had their first few days here bathed in sunshine.
The snowdrops are dying off now, and the daffodils are starting to arrive along the drive. We're now two days into March, and today I spotted buds starting to appear on the willow and the fruit trees.
I'm not really prepared though. I never did properly sort out my rainwater collection plans, and when the plastic greenhouse blew down in the autumn I just threw the whole lot (including plant pots) into the garage, so that's going to be a job sorting that out.
Still, the rosemary in the greenhouse has flowers on it already - I'm delighted as I raised it from cuttings from the rosemary in our old garden (which never had flowers - perhaps this one is drier and warmer). That will need planting out somewhere at some point.
But not now. We're forecast rain and strong winds for the next few days so we've battened down the hatches in the chicken run, and I intend to stay inside and cosy by the fire (a real fire, now that I've reclaimed my study from the chickens).
I bet the garden will look very different by the end of March.
Yesterday was a big day.
I collected three new hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who had intervened to prevent them becoming pet food (or baby food, or soup).
The new ladies started enjoying their freedom straight away. Bessie immediately lay down in the soil and started flicking it under her feathers, and Beaky rapidly followed suit. They've been in cages for around 18 months so they'll never have dust bathed before, so it's lovely to see them enjoying themselves.
Bessie is the largest, and has the most feathers. She was the first to dust bathe, and the first to jump the temporary fence into Mildred and Maud's territory. She was the first to try the food, and the first to try flying up on top of the temporary shelter to roost.
Beaky is the second largest, with a bare patch on her chest. She's the scruffiest, and like Mildred (who was the scruffiest of the previous batch), seems to be making up for her lack of feathers by bossing the others around. She quickly followed Bessie across enemy lines and started a fight with Mildred and Maud.
Rusty is the smallest and quietest hen. She's darker than the others, with a bare patch above her tail. Beaky keeps pecking at her whenever she passes, and I've made sure there's three bowls of food so they all have equal access (although when I was there earlier, Rusty did nothing but eat whenever she had the chance). She's clearly at the bottom of the pecking order, and I'll keep a special eye on her.
Mildred and Maud don't seem too impressed with their new pals so far. They've done a lot of shouting, and a good deal of glaring through the fence. They didn't take kindly to this afternoon's accidental invasion into their space, and engaged in quite a dramatic battle with Beaky and Bessie which involved two pairs of chickens flying into the air and dramatically bumping chests, and Mildred ending up with a mouthful of feathers.
Mostly they're ignoring the newcomers though, and just delivering an occasional peck through the fence to show who's boss.
We only have one hen house, so they're all sleeping in together, which took quite a bit of arranging last night. I had to wait for Maud and Mildred to go to bed, which was later than usual as they were pacing up and down complaining about the intruders until long after dusk.
Eventually they went to bed though, and once they'd settled, I gently placed the new (rather confused) ladies into the hen house with them.
There was quite a bit of fidgeting, and a bang and a squark - one of the new hens had perched on the partition between the nest boxes, which wasn't really designed to take the weight of a large hen, and which had collapsed onto Maud who was sleeping the other side of it. When I opened the door, Maud looked very bewildered, so I evicted the new lady from the nest box, put Maud back in next to Mildred, and waited til all went quiet.
When I peeked in again, all five ladies were on the perch in a row - and the same happened this evening too.
So I'm hopeful that they can learn to live together, in spite of initial squabbling. I'll be in the chicken run in my pjs at dawn again tomorrow to make sure there's no fighting in the hen house and to supervise breakfast, but I hope they'll settle down soon. The new ladies need to be kept in the run for a few days to learn that it's now home, but Mildred and Maud can come and go as they please, and I hope that by next weekend they'll be showing Bessie, Beaky and Rusty where the best dust bathing spots are.
Well it's been an odd few weeks, and I haven't really felt much like posting here with everything in such disarray.
Our chicken ladies have been living in my study while they recover (and while we fully stoat-proof their run), and this has not been a satisfactory arrangement for anyone.
It's been awful to see Mildred and Maud so traumatised, but slowly, over the course of a couple of weeks, they started eating again, wandering around again, making a noise again, and by last weekend were a pair of menaces again.
Once it got to the point where having two chickens living in the house was as annoying as you might imagine it to be, we felt comfortable letting them wander outside unsupervised. Before that, we'd been out with them, but they were cowering every time a blackbird flew over and spending most of their time hiding in the coal shed.
Now though they are wandering around as normal, dust bathing in the sunshine and playing in the compost.
We have been covering their run and house with quarter inch mesh. Their run is eight foot tall, with wire dug into the ground, and hopefully completely fox proof, and this extra step should ensure that nothing larger than an earthworm can get in (and any self-respecting chicken can make short work of an earthworm).
They mostly seem fine now, but two chickens does not really make a flock, and so we are collecting three new ladies from the British Hen Welfare Trust tomorrow. The new ladies have been living in cages, so are likely to be more threadbare and scared than our previous ladies, who had been in a large barn (they'd still never been outside though). It'll be a big change for them, and a big change for Mildred and Maud, who are likely to be extremely bossy (especially Mildred - Maud is a bit more relaxed about things generally). We'll have to supervise interactions to start with.
Speaking of supervising, our existing ladies have been keeping an eye on our chicken run renovations, to make sure they meet the required standard. They don't seem remotely bothered by all the banging and hammering - a sure sign they're back to normal. In fact they're often found standing on a hammer, or trying to peck at whatever I'm trying to hammer.
This is Mildred yesterday, inspecting the quality of my work. Not sure she's impressed.
This is one of my favourite photos of Hermione, taken just last Sunday when she picked up a shopping list I'd dropped in the snow and carried it around for a while, before deciding it wasn't quite to her liking.
On Tuesday morning, the ladies were uncharacteristically quiet when I went to let them out. Normally there's a kerfuffle, jumping off the perch, squabbling about who will come out first.
That morning when I opened the door, none of them came out.
Fearing the worst, I stuck my head in the hen house. Hermione and Luna lay dead on the floor, and Maud and Mildred cowered at the back with blood on their necks.
I tried to tempt them out, but they wouldn't move, so I ran back to the house for Peter to bring a box. We brought Maud and Mildred inside to see how injured they were, and I went back outside to see if I could figure out what had happened to the other two. The hen house was still locked - the only gap is the air vent, which is less than an inch high. Surely nothing could get in there that could kill a chicken?
I spotted the culprit as soon as I went back outside - the white stoat I'd been excited to see the week before was sneaking around the two ladies I'd left on the bench. I chased it off, and brought them inside too.
Not many vets know about chickens, as it turns out, so we trekked for 20 miles to see a lovely man who confirmed that Maud and Mildred, while badly shaken, only had superficial injuries. He advised us to keep them warm and comfortable, and try to get them to eat and drink something.
Birds in general are quite vulnerable to shocks - you often see them keel over if they fly into a window. But apparently chickens (and pigeons, as it happens) are quite resilient, so the vet was hopeful they'd recover in time.
We set up a temporary hospital wing in my study - and you have no idea how grateful I am that we have that room available. We plied the ladies with treats, but they mostly just stood and stared. It's awful seeing them like this - they're normally so inquisitive and pesky.
The following morning they were still alive, and the room was unsurprisingly beginning to smell. We shifted the makeshift hospital, removed the old curtains we'd thrown down the day before, rolled up the rug, and put down several inches of chicken bedding. Things are a lot more fragrant in there now (although I won't be working in there while they're still using it).
Each day the ladies look a little brighter, although they're a long way from normal. They mostly just stand still, usually next to each other. They will eat out of our hands, but don't seem to touch food when we're not there. Maybe we've become honorary members of the flock (or maybe they just think we'll be on look out duty).
I don't know how long they'll be living in there for. As long as it takes. I can't in all conscience put them back outside while they're still like this. If the weather clears over the weekend we'll take them out for an hour, to see if they regain some enthusiasm for scratching and pecking, but if they're just going to stand and stare, they're much better doing it inside where they can be safe and warm (apparently warmth is the best thing for a bird in shock).
Longer term we'll have to get them some friends - chickens are much happier in a flock. But we won't be doing that until we've fully stoat-proofed the hen house and run, and until these two are showing more signs of life. Initial chicken introductions can be savage while they work out the new pecking order, and that isn't what these pair need right now.
We buried Hermione and Luna among the fruit trees. They were out there just last week, making a nuisance of themselves, scratching around in the mulch and jumping into holes as I dug them to pull out the worms.
We knew there was a chance they'd be eaten eventually, but always figured it would be when they were out roaming free, which they did most of the time. These ladies spent the first 18 months of their lives locked in a barn with thousands of other chickens, and had never even seen daylight when they came to us. They'd reached the end of their commercially viable life and were destined to become pet food. We didn't want to fence them in.
It never occurred to us that they'd be killed overnight while shut 'safely' in the hen house. We'd seen stoats, and knew they might take eggs, or even chicks, but even the local farmer said he'd never heard of one killing a fully grown chicken (although now we know it does happen we've seen other accounts of it too). At any rate, we didn't think anything would be able to get through the tiny air vent.
At least they had five months of freedom and sunshine. RIP little feathery pals.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new forray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.