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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Christmas Chick

Doris would like to kindly wish you
Merry Christmas from all the girls!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time For My Close-Up

She loves the camera

As you can see in the background behind Gladys, the ground is very much brown and dry with nothing growing. We've managed to keep most of the new plants alive through our horrible heat wave and only lost 4 or 5. The maple didn't enjoy the weather at all and a couple of other bushes are a little worse for it, but hanging on. I am hoping that our grapes may be edible this year though.

We've recently had our November rains... in December, so hopefully we'll have plenty of water over the Summer with the tanks close to full again. We will probably have to reseed the lawn as it has been eaten, but it wasn't doing very well anyway after last summer so I was happy for the girls to eat it.

The orange tree is still the favourite hang out place closely followed by the back step, where the girls wait patiently for someone to want to go outside in the hope of getting some food.

Gladys is the only girl who stands still long enough for some nice close-ups. She also has the floppiest comb which changes colour from deep red to very pale depending on the temperature.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lavendar Trampoline

In the Lavendar
Lavendar Bush Trampoline

Elsie has discovered that if you bounce on the lavendar like a trampoline, you can get to a few strands of grass that has been growing deep in the centre of the bush.

My lavendar is looking a bit crushed and hollow in the centre. This is the joy of having chickens...

Friday, December 4, 2009


A DUCK! And a magpie
A Duck! ... and a Magpie

This little guy usually heads for our neighbours yard where another duck who only has one wing has been adopted and lives happily. Today this guy ended up in our yard and really wanted to make friends with me and the chickens. He tried to come up to see what food I had, but Gladys wouldn't have more competition and shooed him away.

Before long he'd been bailed up by three magpies and herded into the chicken coop! The magpies are not scared of much around here and I counted at least 8 which is only a small percentage of the local flock. I helped the poor duck get rid of the magpies and he headed out again and found the bird bath. He had a bit of a paddle until Gladys decided that wasn't allowed either and three hens chased him out of that too. He finally gave up on our yard and headed next door where he can play in relative peace and quiet.

A quick update on the tiny egg from last post. It DID have a yolk!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Tiny Thing

Teeny Tiny Egg
Teeny Tiny Egg

This is the tiniest egg I have ever seen. I can lay it sideways in the egg carton and it still sits on the bottom. I am looking forward to cracking it open and seeing if it has a yolk or not.

I admit that we just came out of a fortnight worth of hot weather and the girls didn't eat as much as usual. Elsie laid this little egg and she also has the excuse of being approximately a month younger than the other girls.

Now that it is cool again I hope we'll get a bit bigger eggs again. There isn't as much green about the yard either so we've bought them some sunflower, oats and linseed to suppliment their diet. What spoilt chickens!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heat Wave Over!

Waiting... for food?
No, you can't come inside!

The weather has finally subsided into Spring again and we have had light rain. What a relief!

I just walked into the laundry to grab the vaccum cleaner and there were all six girls sitting or standing on the steps. I had to grab the camera. I think they are so used to an afternoon siesta after 2 weeks of extreme heat that they don't know what to do with themselves today. Hazel is completely asleep... Gladys and Elsie are sitting and the other three are wandering back and forth.

Apricot Lily
Apricot Lily

We also have a beautiful lily flower that appeared in the pond this morning. There is another bud sticking up and a massive production of leaves so it is doing really well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Too Hot for Chickens!

Swimming in a Heat Wave
Swimming Time!

Spring time heat waves are not fun. I hope this means it will be a mild Summer because I am ready to head into Autumn right now! We're up to day 6 or 7 with temperatures up to 40°C with at least another week to go.

Hazel doesn't mind getting her feet wet and is standing in the bird bath water. They haven't worked out how to bath like the magpies, but a couple of the girls will get their feet wet on occassion, while they are spending most of the time burrowing into the dirt around the orange tree.

Their egg laying has dropped off to between 4 eggs on average and they are smaller as well. I would love to bring them all into the house where they could be in the cool airconditioning.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stacks ON!

Stacks ON!
Stacks ON in the Nest Box

This is another photo from earlier in September. I went out one Saturday morning to check on the girls and discovered a line up into the nest box. As one hen finished laying the next would hop in, push the first out and settle in to lay. We had 6 eggs laid within about 20 minutes, and no-one had a chance to sit and admire her work afterwards.

I wanted to post this photo because I hear about a lot of people making extra nesting boxes and finding their girls still only use one or two of them. Usually I will come home and find all of the eggs in one box. The girls only seem to use the second box when the first one is already occupied. You don't need a box per hen because they share quite happily.

Usually our girls lay one at a time throughout the day so two nest boxes is more than enough, but provides choice and a second spot if needed. In the photo above, the girl at the bottom left is hurrying up the one at the top left who has just laid.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hot Chicks!

Hot Chick
Doris Panting

Poor darlings! I wish I could bring them all into the airconditioning. It is currently approaching 35°C but they have the freedom of the backyard and have been going from garden bed to garden bed as the sun moves across the yard. There is a lot of dust bathing going on today. I think it must help cool them down, or it is cooler in their little dirt holes.

At least they don't seem too worried so far, and this is just the beginning of our Summer heat. Their little wings are spread and their mouths are open, but they are moving around happily, come running when I go out to check on them and have plenty of water around the place.

Gladys stealing the best spot

Gladys looks like she is having an afternoon siesta. Look at those eyes closing in contentment! I agree darling. I am tired of Summer already too... bring on Autumn!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick Shade

Beat the Heat/Sun
New Shade in the Pen

Our darling girls haven't had a lot of time outside of their pen this last week and we've been having a warm spring, so I decided to organise something for them to do tonight.

First, in went a wheelbarrow load of clean sand so they have something more to scratch around in. I'm hoping they might like to play in it because they tend to go for the bare dirt to dust bath as soon as their let out when I get home at about 6pm. They immediately started scratching around in it so I am sure it will be a hit tomorrow.

Next I found a couple of hessian sacks and laid them out on the roof of their pen. The weather has been very calm so I don't think there is any fear of them blowing away and they just cover the area with the sand to give them some more shade tomorrow. The poor girls are panting so I think we might have to think about something more permanent for some extra shade in the summer. The grape vines don't seem to give much cover in the midday sun, and they tend not to go under their coop, even though there is space and shade there.

So now I'll wait and see if the hessian sacks are still in place tomorrow morning, and hope that they have fun with tomorrow's "chicken entertainment" (aka the sand)

Those big pots in the background are our strawberry bushes in the vege patch. They are the sweetest and most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted. Mark is doing a great job!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blooming Chickens

Gladys Posing
Gladys Posing for the Camera

Darling Gladys was such a poser today. Noone else was interested in me when I was following them around trying to take a photo, but Gladys stood and looked straight at me for this one. Look at her floppy comb!

You can see in the background that she and the other girls have been busy making a mess in the garden beds and kicking all the dirt over the side. We have to regularly clean up to fill in the holes and tidy up their mess and then it starts again... but they are so adorable, so who can complain.

Gladys is fast becoming a favourite as when she isn't too absorbed in what she is doing to care about you, she is first in line for a pat or food. She is so placid now that when Mark sits with her in the afternoon she falls asleep on his lap! Harriet is still my favourite girl at the moment as she is timid and near the bottom of the pecking order so I try to give her extra treats to make up for missing out on so much.

Yellow Rose - Backyard

Our garden has become an explosion of roses, most of which desperately need a bit of my TLC. Every year I am surprised by my roses because I really don't have much clue how to look after them and they are still doing ok. As soon as they finish flowering I am going to give all of them a good haircut this year, and we're also going to say goodby to a couple in the front yard. Unfortunately roses really don't fit in with my "ideal garden plan".

Well it is time to get back out there and muck out the chicken coop, then I'm off to buy some fish for the new pond.

Pink Rose - Backyard

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Eggs Come From

Do you know where eggs come from? You'd be surprised how many people don't. I love taking photos of my darling girls and their crazy chicken antics, however a few weeks ago Hazel surprised me by laying an egg when I had my camera nice and handy... and I probably surprised her by shoving it in her butt! Poor girl. This isn't the first time she has been the subject of an egg video.

When a hen lays and egg she likes to find a nice dark quiet place which is why you should provide some nest boxes where they can hide to do their thing. They can sit for up to an hour or more before the egg emerges. They will nest and make themselves comfortable, then just before they lay, they stand up and lower their bottom toward the ground so the egg doesn't have far to fall.

Since this is a rather "graphic" video of Hazels bum... lets get technical!

Chickens and other birds have a common opening for both defecating and laying eggs which is called a Cloaca, however eggs are always clean when they are laid. They actually come out with a damp film which quickly dries and only get dirty if the hen contaminates it with her feet or feathers. The film that covers the egg is called the "bloom" and helps to keep the egg fresh, which is why I don't wash my eggs until I'm ready to use them.

There is an interesting article following the egg laying process step by step on the Domesticated Bird website, or see the process for your self in my video.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to Build a Fish Pond

Loving the Fountain!
Water Feature

Our front yard now has a brand new pond and I am very proud of having built it myself so we're taking a little diversion from chickens for today. I started off reading a lot of things on the internet and there is so much conflicting information that I thought I would share how I built our pond in case you would like to replicate it yourself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back in the Garden

Being Chickens
Spreading the Dirt

Who needs shovel and rake with these girls around. We dumped a wheelbarrow load of dirt from the front yard under the orange tree to try and fill the holes the chickens have dug. They headed straight for it and within minutes they had it spread out nice and flat. Chicken heaven!

The seasons are changing and we have been doing a lot of gardening. I've been in the front garden digging a hole for a fish pond and the chickens have had many chances to cash in on this work. Every time we find bugs hidden under something a chicken is brought to the font yard to dispose of them. White one (Doris) now runs for the gate every time we walk into the backyard incase she is needed.

Pea Flower
Pea Flowers - August 30, 2009

Mark has been in the vegetable patch, but most of his "work" has been eating the peas. In between this important task he has also prepared one of the beds for planting the spring crop. This area is off limits for the chickens even though That Green One keeps finding ways to get inside. The chickens aren't a big fan of the pea plants, but they adore brocolli, and we have been pulling up a plant for them any time we haven't been able to let them out in the yard because they do love their greens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mad City Chickens

Mad City Chickens

Tarazod Films have created some fantastic promotional images for their film "Mad City Chickens" and I had to share this one as it looks just like it could be one of my girls. She must be an ISA Brown hen.

In their own words the film is "a humorous and heartfelt trip through the world of backyard chickendom". I hope it will help aid in easing the laws stopping many people (especially in America) from keeping some hens in their own backyard. The movie is still making its way around America, so why not head to their website and see if it is showing near you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day Light Savings

Being Chickens

Here in South Australia we put the clocks forward an hour last weekend. The positive effect to this is more daylight in the evenings so when I get home from work I can spend some time in the garden and with the chickens. In the dead of winter there were days when the girls were already in bed by the time I got home from work at 5.30pm, so it is fantastic to be able to come home and let out some very excited chickens for a couple of hours in the evening.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gardening with Chickens

Chicken Help
Exterminate! Exterminate!

With this lovely weather we're back in the garden. Stage two (or the second part of stage one) got a bit of a move on over the long weekend last week, and I could barely muster the energy to eat dinner, but it is looking great!

The start of the day we had to move a lot of old garden surrounds, and then start positioning rocks and of course there were a lot of creepy crawlies living underneath. We brought all 6 hens around to the front yard and they had the best time eating everything that moved. They usually eat everything from earwigs and slugs to millipedes, but towards the end they were so full that only the tastiest critters were gobbled up and millipedes were allowed to run free.

Once the bugs were disposed of the hens became a bit of a pest by getting into everywhere we were trying to work on, so back to the back yard they went with full tummies.

Maple and Wall

And the garden? We built a lovely little wall to add some dimension and planted a Japanese Maple tree. The maple is absolutely stunning and has a variety of colours throughout the year from a beautiful green to a gorgeous red.

Japanese Maple
Maple Leaves

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Food Lives In Here!

Where the food comes from...
Stepping Inside

This photo is a bit of an old one, but it is a regular occurance now. I used to prop open the door fairly regularly to take out the washing or when coming in and out a lot, but now if I do that I am likely to have hens wander in. Just today I opened the door up to talk to Mark and had to fend off Gladys and Hazel. Notice again that Gladys was front and centre to do the cheeky naughty thing and lead others astray!

Now regular readers will know by now that I have six beautiful hens, and am regularly getting six eggs. Sometimes we only get five in one day. Occassionally two will slack off and we will get four eggs. Earlier this week we only had four eggs, followed by a five egg day when they were extremely busy in the garden and excited from getting a lot of attention from guests. The next day I collected five eggs in the morning and let them do their thing expecting perhaps one more...

We got SEVEN eggs!

Now either someone held one in overnight, or perhaps laid very very late in the afternoon, possibly just before going to bed. What surprising girls they are!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Through to China

Through to China
Excavating the Backyard

Excavations started this afternoon when it was discovered that there are delicious things living below the surface. Now I'll give you all one guess as to who this naughty girl is...

Did you guess it? That's right... it is the nemesis. Creator of messes, excavator of dirt, consumer of delicious worms. Gladys spent hours today digging deeper and deeper. When other hens tried to take advantage of her hard work she would tell them off.

Elsie tried to dig her own hole nearby, but gave up a lot quicker and with less of a mark left on the landscape. Poor Orange Tree! Luckily it has quite deep roots so nothing looks to have been exposed.

She wasn't going to be dragged away by any other temptations, so we let her eat her fill and Mark is out there filling holes as we speak.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Red Hen Food

Laucke Mills Red Hen Feed
Laucke Mills Red Hen Free Range Layer Feed

While overall this would be a great food to feed your hens, there are a number of things I didn't like that mean I probably won't purchase this again.

The pros of this grain mix is that it does not contain any pellets. I refused to buy pellets for my hens even though that is what the store tried to push. I prefer a more natural diet that does not contain highly processed foods which can be full of anti-biotics and hormones that your chickens just don't need.

In the cons, it contains small rocks, which hens will eat in order to help them process their food in their crop, however I provide shell grit and they are able to pick up this sort of thing in the backyard, so I wasn't very happy paying for rocks which they don't eat.

My hens are also not very keen on the split peas and these seem to comprise of roughly half of the food mix. This meant that they were always telling me how hungry they were even when they had a bowl full of neglected peas left to eat.

Therefore we've decided that we're going to switch to a diet of mainly wheat and buy smaller bags of seed mix or sunflower seeds (which they love) so that we can give them a small handful with their daily grain.

The Red Hen Layer mix was AU$32 for a 30kg bag. Wheat is only going to cost me AU$26 for a 40kg bag! So with the savings we will buy them a little 5kg bag of sunflower seeds for AU$9 as a treat.

Laucke Mills website

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guess Who is Laying?

Elsie Chicken!
Elsie Chicken

Elsie has finally become a big girl and started laying. We got our first egg from her on Sunday and it was a darling tiny thing compared to the other eggs. You can see her comb is finally getting larger and she has a big fluffy bum like the other girls now which is making her much harder to pick out of the flock than she used to be.

Our girls are all grown up now and we are getting so many eggs! I've taken a few dozen into work so the girls can start earning their keep and other people can enjoy our delicious eggs too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Feathered Nemesis

"I'm going to eat you first, you know!"

That is a common saying around here...
Who is in the vegetable garden? Green one!
Who made the mess in the pots? Green one!
Who hasn't laid an egg today? Green one!
Who is snatching food? Green one!

Poor Gladys... Dont' worry darling. I won't let him eat you! ;)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Hens are Chicken!

Hen under the Clothes Line
Sylvia under the Clothes Line

My darling hens do not fear a plane flying overhead. They will even stand up to magpies invading their yard and Elsie chases them out. However try to hang some clothes and they run away screaming their little heads off.

The first time they reacted I was hanging out some towels and I thought it was actually fair enough that Elsie started screeching and they all ran away as they'd never been outside when the clothes line was used before. The ideal hiding place is apparently behind the shed where they can't see you, but still Mark had to go and collect Elsie who continued screaming until she was picked up.

Then last night after they had been out for several hours and had been playing around under the line I took off a pair of pants to straighted them. Six hens went running as fast as they could to the safety of the back of the shed!

So it is official... I have chicken chickens!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

For the Love of Eggs

Giant Hen Egg
Giant Hen Egg

There is nothing like a fresh egg... and there is nothing like waking up in the morning to find a monster like this in the nest box. The egg on the right is an average size for the hens at the moment. The giant egg on the left barely fits into an egg box for large eggs. I bet it is a double yolker. We have 2 of these big eggs waiting to be cracked open at the moment!

You'll notice the photos of my eggs sometimes pick up some of the dirt on them. I don't wash my eggs when I bring them inside. We keep them in cartons on the bench at the moment because we're using them so fast.

Eggs have a natural "bloom" coating on the shell that seals the pores and keeps them fresh. Therefore with fresh eggs you should only wash them just before using them. Store bought eggs have been washed and coated with mineral oil to maintain freshness. Eggs straight from the hen are said to keep as long as 3 months and perhaps longer.

Reference: Georgia Egg Commission
Further Reading: The Humble Goog

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chicken Bums

Chicken Bums
Chicken Bums - Hazel, Gladys and Doris

Today marks one complete month (31 days) since our girls first started laying. We've had 8 dozen eggs in that time and are now getting 4 or 5 eggs per day.

Today also marks the christening of Doris, the last hen to get a name. She is the one with the white tag.

It rained heavily this morning, but fined up this afternoon and the girls had a lovely run outside in the garden. I took a stack of photos, including one of Mark cuddling Harriet and one of the ducks that visit my neighbour, then I managed to delete them all accidentally! I was mightily annoyed at myself.

The girls went mad in the garden beds, scratching around and fighting over worms. The rain has brought a lot of goodness to the surface and they are doing a fine job of slowing down the weeds. I am hesitant to mow and tidy up the backyard as I know summer will kill off the grass and I want them to enjoy the green while they can.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hazel's Egg Song


Today Hazel sang "the egg song", but of course I wasn't home to hear it. Mark rang me at about 4pm to let me know he'd come outside because he'd heard her carrying on and saw her appearing from the side of the house. So he spent some time this afternoon searching for an egg and wondering if she was only teasing him.

When I got home we had another hunt around because we only had 4 eggs today instead of the usual 5. If she did lay an egg she has hidden it really well.

Have a look at Hazel's beautiful red comb. They are becoming beautiful grown-up hens and look nothing like the sleek birds I started off with. Even Elsie is starting to catch up. By our estimations she is approximately a month younger than the other 5 and we expect her to start laying soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Double Yolker

Double Yolker
Double Yolk Egg

We had a bit of a fry up yesterday afternoon and made bacon and egg muffins. I had a feeling one of the large eggs we received last week may be a double yolker, and this proves it. All that egg came from within one shell.

I love double yolkers! I once got a dozen eggs from my mum's hens and all but two were double yolkers.

So how does this happen? Usually you will see this in young hens as their egg cycle is not well synchronised, though sometimes heredity plays a part too. Ovulation has occurred too rapidly and one yolk joins the next yolk and is surrounded by the same egg sack and shell. They’re a "mistake" of the chickens reproductive system.

I think they're a pretty cool mistake! Who’s had double yolkers from their hens?

Reference: Poultry Help

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Four Dozen Milestone

Elsie and Gladys
Elsie and Gladys

As of this morning our girls have laid 4 dozen eggs in 3 weeks. I have been eating eggs like crazy now that they are plentiful, making quiches, omelette, boiled (hard and soft) and fried eggs for meals. They are laying beautifully now with an average of 5 a day this week.

Most eggs are laid in the nesting boxes. We have one who is laying on the ground in the coop. We know that it is the purple one, however Mark didn't quite have the time to try and coax her into a nest box before she squished out her egg when he caught her seeking a laying spot in the coop. I don't think it is a problem of not enough nest boxes because she has laid in the afternoon when no-one else was using them and on morning when I have only had one other egg. Hopefully she'll learn as she gets bigger that eggs go in nest boxes. I'll reduce the amount of straw we lay out in their coop to keep it clean and see if that helps.

We also had one incident with Gladys, who decided to hide her egg one afternoon in some bird netting laying on the back side of the vegetable patch. Luckily I noticed she was missing and we caught her exiting her special place and found her egg. It would have been an unpleasant thing to find in a few months time. For a little while we are leaving them locked up until the afternoon, or until we've had 5 eggs.

Little Elsie still isn't laying yet, but she is catching up to everyone now. Her comb is just starting to become larger and more colourful. When they all have their heads down eating it is harder to tell her from the others now as they all have big fluffy hen bums instead of the sleek form of young pullets.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Simple Quiche

Simple Quiche

Uses 3-5 eggs (if you make pastry too)


1 2/3 cups plain flour
125 g butter, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk

Rub butter into flour. Add other ingredients and knead into smooth dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll dough out on a lightly floured work surface to line the pie dish. Prick pastry base several times with a fork, cover with baking paper and dried beans and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and remove baking paper and beans; cool slightly.


3-4 eggs (see below)
250ml milk
Pinch of nutmeg
fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 rashers of bacon
2-3 leaves of silverbeet or spinach
Grated cheese (I used tasty cheddar and parmesan)

Note: I added the white left over from the pastry too - no waste! Mine are small pullet eggs, so I used 4, however 3 large eggs are probably enough.

Lay out bacon, silverbeet and cheese on pastry base.

Whisk nutmeg, eggs, milk and parsley until combined. Pour evenly over pies. Add more cheese on top.

Bake in oven at 180°C for 35-45 minutes. Cover the top with foil if it looks as though it is browning too quickly. Allow quiche to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before serving.

Substitute bacon and silverbeet for any other desired filling.
Choose parmesan or mozzarella if a non-oily cheese is preferred.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dust Baths and Eggs

Dust Bath
Dust baths under the Orange tree

A beautiful day today, and we have had 5 eggs! Unfortunately one of those eggs was on the coop floor and one was laid in the afternoon behind the vegetable patch (where chickens aren’t supposed to be in the first place!) I was hoping we would be lucky enough to have very smart girls who would all use the nesting boxes, but Gladys is a little too clever and wants to hide her eggs now. We at least found out that she is the one laying the very, very speckled eggs.

Harriet has it all figured out. She laid an afternoon egg and went back to the nest box to do it. What a clever girl! She gave us a beautiful small brown egg.

So who isn’t pulling her weight? I think that Elsie is still a bit little to be laying as her comb isn’t anywhere near as big as the other girls. I think she may even be substantially younger than the other hens, even though she seems to be highest in the pecking order most of the time.

It is such a nice day that the chickens have spent a substantial amount of time dust bathing. They let me get right up close and take a video of their dirt flying everywhere.

Video - Dust Baths

I have been trying to use up some of our eggs and have made some quiches using our home grown silver beet and parsley. I even made my own pastry since that used up an egg as well. They’re still in the oven, but if they turn out I will share my recipe!

Do you have any favourite recipes to use up your spare eggs?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Peach Blossoms

Peach blossom
Peach Blossoms

The girls all had their feathers re-trimmed on one wing as some of their adult flight feathers were coming back in quickly and Elsie could get herself quite airborne again! It was much easier this time around now that most of the girls have been squatting. They are all getting used to being picked up.

You don’t have to look far to see the signs that Spring is almost here. The new peach tree we planted recently is shooting and flowering.

A Magpie walked into the chicken pen today after we let them out for a run. They are a lot smarter than pigeons! I gently chased it out and it headed straight out the door instead of trying to fly up and getting stuck in the wire of their fully enclosed pen. I don’t want the Magpies to discover that eggs are laid in the chicken coop, even though there were none there when it was in there today.

We have had 3 eggs so far today... I wonder when we’ll start getting a fourth now that we are more consistently getting two or three per day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Rooster Necessary

20th Egg Celebration photo
Egg Selection

Today we have celebrated our 20th egg. Most of them are brown, however we have also received three very, very speckled eggs. Their rate of lay is increasing with us receiving three eggs today. Soon I shall have to start baking with egg-heavy recipes or find some people who would like fresh eggs for a small cost which can help pay for the hen food.

Interestingly over the past couple of months I have been asked on three seperate occassions how it is possible to get eggs without a rooster. Much like with human and other animal biology, hens will still produce an egg even if there is no means to fertilise it. They taste exactly the same, the only difference is that they are not viable to be incubated for baby chicks.

And so for anyone who is interested in chickens for the production of eggs rather than breeding, consider leaving a rooster off your shopping list. If you're in an urban jungle like us, your neighbours will thank you for it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching Hens to Come

Garden chickens
Free range hens

One thing that can be scary is allowing your chickens out into the big wide world while you wonder if they’ll ever go back to their secure pen ever again. I spent six weeks in preparation for their first big outing.

After bringing my girls home the first thing I did was start training them to come when called. There are no real shortcuts around the fact that you need to put in substantial time to achieve this. I work 9-5 Monday to Friday, and as it is currently Winter this means that for 5 days out of 7 I would have only 10-15 minutes to spare in the mornings as they would be asleep by the time I would get home. Even so, I would spent that time hand feeding them and seeing who would let me touch tails before spreading their days food out and heading off to work.

On weekends I had more time to spare and could spend an hour with them hanging out in the pen. The way to a hen’s heart really is through her stomach. I would try to always remember to take some food with me and allow them to get used to me being around. One exercise we would do is for me to wait for them to ignore me, and then with a handful of food, call them over. "Chook, chook, chook!" Some repetition will teach them that your voice means "come quick! I have food!"

On days that you plan to let them free range don’t feed them their normal meal so they are nice and hungry. Then when you are ready to put them away, get their attention and call them as you have been training. Mine followed me straight back into the pen!

Also remember that chickens can get quite airborne. Mine could fly as high as our fences as evidenced by them getting onto the roof of their coop, so we decided to clip their wings a week before we allowed them to free range just in case anyone got any escape ideas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nesting Instincts

Hazel in a nest box

Quite often when a hen lays an egg she sings an egg song, which declares her achievement to the world, or perhaps warns everyone to stay away from it!

As I watched Hazel lay her egg (and caught it on camera) I thought I would be able to share her egg song with everyone, however she was a very quiet hen. Perhaps she knew she had broken it on the bare boards after pushing aside all the straw. She stood over it for a little while, then sat back down and started straightening her nest. That was adorable as well, so I took a video of it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hazel Lays an Egg

Is this a nest?
Hazel explores the Laundry

Chickens are surely one of the most amusing creatures. This afternoon I had a visit at the back door from Hazel (with the red tag). She was clucking and standing on the back step and when I opened the door to say hello she came straight inside! After surveying the kitchen and the laundry she got a fixation with the shoe rack. Her behaviour made me think she wanted to lay an egg, but then she decided to head back outside with the other girls.

Not long after I walked outside, I had 6 hens following me around the garden, so I got them some grain and took them back to their pen. Clucky Hazel didn't want to come inside, and then spent some time walking up and down the fence wanting to come back out. Her behaviour made me think she may have laid an egg somewhere in the yard and wanted to go back to that "nest", but we haven't been able to find one.

Soon she started heading in and out of the coop and I peeked inside to see her hopping in and out of each nest box. She was scraping the straw aside down to the bare wood, so I got her some more and straightened out the boxes thinking she didn't have enough to make a nice nest. That got kicked out and pushed aside as well!

Hazel chooses a nesting box

I watched as she finally settled into a nest box and the other girls filed in to offer support. Harriet actually took a snooze next to her on the floor during her egg laying ordeal. I had been taking a couple of photos and videos and I noticed her stand up, so I pressed record and was surprised when I heard an audible *clunk* and realised I'd captured her egg laying. Listen out for the clunk at about the 6 second mark. She pushed aside too much straw and broke her beautiful egg when she laid it.

Hear the Egg Break

So now we know that Hazel is definitely laying eggs. I don't think she is the only one. We had one egg this morning as well, so that makes two for today!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Readiness to Lay

Chicken Squat
Hazel does the Chicken Squat

How do you know when you're due for your first egg? Watch for a chicken squat!

We first noticed this behaviour in one of our girls about 2 or 3 weeks before we received our first egg, however it is very hard to photograph!

The hen will lift both wings slightly, squat down to the ground and may also lift her tail.

Squatting seems to be an indication of readiness to lay (that is that they are ready for a rooster's attention), as well as a sign of submission. This behaviour is less common if there is a rooster present or if it is a dominant hen.

You can see the photo larger on flickr, or have a look at this video.

Three out of our six hens are now squatting and we have had 4 eggs in 5 days. Usually the squat will happen when I bend down to pat them, however on some occassions just walking up to the coop has initiated a squat from one of them. They quite like a pat on the back and will shake themselved happily afterwards.

Another sign that your hen is nearing laying age is to keep an eye on their wattles and combs. Young chickens have quite small, pale combs which get larger and redder over time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Installing a Wider Perch

New perch
New Perch

A few days ago I discussed how Elsie was shunning the perch in favour of the nesting box and it was suggested that my perch may be too narrow for them to comfortably sleep. Everyone seems to agree that while a chicken will perch in some peculiar places as high as possible, they prefer a wider perch to a small one as while they will grip, they relax during sleep and sometimes even fall off thin perches!

Yesterday I installed their new perch. It was recommended that I put in something around 4 inches wide, however the widest length I had in the shed was about 4.5cm so in that went. I installed it approximately 10cm higher and a few cm closer to the back wall so they have more room behind the nesting boxes.

To install it I drilled 4 holes, two in either side of the walls, and then I lined up the beam and secured it with wood screws. My beam was about 1mm too short after I cut it to size so I had to wedge it into place with a little scrap piece of wood as I didn’t have anyone to help me hold it. A cordless drill with a screw driver attachment made this job super easy. I also had chicken helpers to inspect that the job was carried out properly.

Last night they got to test it, and while Elsie went straight for the nesting boxes she didn’t make as much of a fuss when I kicked her out and once she jumped onto the perch she stayed there. I think there was less wobbling while they settled themselves for the night.

This morning we received another egg! It was sitting right in the middle of a nest and is about the same size as yesterdays.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Egg!

First Egg!
The First Egg!

That's right! I found our first egg this morning. It was tucked right into the corner of a nest box so it may have been laid yesterday and I didn't notice. I shall have to ensure to look right inside every morning now!

It is a beautiful light brown egg with white speckles and quite a reasonable size for a first egg. I am not sure who laid it but my guess is the purple one. I think the red one will be next! Time to find some egg recipes!

We've had our girls for 8 weeks exactly. What a lovely way to celebrate 2 months of chickens!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Perch vs Nest

Night time nesting
Inside the coop

A couple of days ago Elsie decided that she liked sleeping in her nest box better than perching with the other chickens. Aside from broody hens I haven't seen a chicken do this before so I had a look for advice on the internet.

The consensus seems to be that while there isn't anything damaging they probably shouldn't do it. The most common argument is to keep the eggs clean so they do not need to be washed, though some people say that as long as you don't mind cleaning the nesting straw every day or two instead of once a week then it is not a health problem. If the straw isn't kept clean and they are sleeping on top of faeces then it can lead to potential parasite problems, which is also the case if chickens are sleeping on the floor of the coop instead of a perch.

In order to re-train Elsie there are a couple of things I can do. Firstly tonight when it was dusk and they had put themselves to bed I took Elsie out of her nest box and put her on the perch. Hopefully after a couple of days of relocating her after dark she will be in the habit of perching again. This takes me back to our first week when I had to pick up all 6 chickens from the floor to their perch for 2 days as I don't think they'd ever seen a perch before!

One reason why Elsie may have chosen the nest box is if she has decided that the perch I have is a little bit small or uncomfortable. This weekend I shall have a look to see if I have a flat beam in the shed which could replace their round perch as I have seen suggestions that chickens have trouble on something too round and slippery. Another suggestion is to make the perch higher as they like to roost as high as possible and if the nest box is the same height it will look appealing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Free Birds

Purple one close up
Purple One enjoys the garden

After the previous success I had a whole day Sunday which I intended to spend outside as much as possible, so I used this opportunity to let them out. Of course, my gardening plans went out the window while I enjoyed watching the hens explore and do their chickeny things.

I let them out at about 11am and let them do more or less their own thing for 4 or 5 hours and only closed the pen up when they all went back in of their own choice. Half of the chickens chose to have a dust bath in the garden bed (watch the video) while others used the time to explore as much as possible - bushes, garden, pot plants...

Surprisingly the white one was fine this time, and it was Harriet who was a bit unsure and had to keep herself close to the pen. Elsie discovered how to go under Mark's vegetable garden fence this time and had to be evicted three times.

Our neighbour poked his head over the fence and was delighted to see we'd finally let the hens out of their enclosure. We're lucky to have a neighbour who has turned his backyard into a vegetable patch and is understanding about our chicken love.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Garden Trial

Attitude chicken (the red one)
Seeking a way into the vegetables

After clipping the hens wings we decided it would be best to give them a week to unlearn their flying behaviour. After 3 or 4 days they stopped trying to get up onto the coop and were content with their ground dwelling life.

Today we had a little time and decided that we would let the girls explore the big wide world under strict supervision. When the gates were open, noone knew what to do. Elsie and Green One were the first to venture out. White One was so shocked she had to go back to the coop several times until she was confident enough in her new surroundings.

Mark spent some time in the vegetable garden and I was not very surprised when Elsie discovered the space behind the pen lead into it... and was closely followed by Green One. We have some clever and cheeky chickens!

After about 45 minutes we deemed the outing a success and I decided the next test was to see who would come back to the pen. I got a small container of wheat and calling "chook chook chook" walked slowly into the pen. Happily 5 chickens ran to follow! Elsie was not interested, but she was easily scooped up in my arms and carried home to her coop.

Now that we can be confident they are not flying and will come when called it might be time to let them spend longer in the backyard when we are home!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Clipping Wings

Eating pollard

Now that at least two of the hens have learnt to fly onto the top of the coop, wing clipping has become higher on my agenda. Unfortunately it is a two person job so I had to wait for some help. Today was the day!

One by one we caught each hen and while I held them with one wing open, Mark carefully clipped the flight feathers. At the same time we put different coloured leg rings on the birds that we've had trouble telling apart. So if you hear me mentioning the green one, purple one, red one or white one from now on, you know why! We really should decide on some more names!

For more information on wing clipping I recommend this article at Backyard Chickens.

At the end of the "ordeal" I mixed up some pollard as a treat and they loved it! Pollard needs to be mixed with water until it clumps together, otherwise it is too dry and fine for them to eat.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dust Baths

Dust Baths!
Dust baths

Bathing in dust is one of the ways chickens keep themselves clean and prevent mites. Thanks to some unexpected sun the dirt in their pen dried out and obviously was nice enough to laze about in the sunshine.

I was surprised that the girls let me get right up to the pen in order to snap this photo. Chickens lying down in the dirt is one of the most undinified sights I have ever seen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gardening Adventures

Front Yard
Elsie in the garden

Most people are joined in the garden by a helpful dog or curious cat. Not our family... We started the task of removing the front lawn to replace it with a more water smart garden as our summer time water restrictions are too harsh to keep the grass alive. Though now we have two 5000L rain water tanks I want to use them for keeping our vegetables and fruit trees alive and not waste it on a bedraggled poor lawn.

Since I am confident that I can recapture Elsie if anything goes awry I carried her out to our front yard and let her loose to search for worms and bugs. She tends to stay near people but is also a very independant chicken and has taken to scratching better than the others. I think she thinks she's the rooster of the flock.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Worm Hunter


It has continued to surprise me that most of my hens do not seem to understand that worms are food. I think they are finally starting to get better. Elsie has taken to scratching through the dirt in their pen regularly, but for the others offering them a worm meets a look that seems to say "yuck... it's covered in dirt!"

The most exciting thing for Elsie currently is when I take the shovel into the pen. Recent heavy rain has meant that I have needed to do some clearing and moving of their dirt to allow better drainage. I also turn the dirt so that it remains soft for them to scratch. Elsie enjoys getting up to her elbows (if chickens have elbows) in mud hunting for worms.

Though they don't have a lot of dirt in their pen, which has a cement floor, the worms do seem to be breeding. I don't think there is any chance of them eating them all any time soon.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eat Your Greens


Within a week our girls had completely cleared every speck of green from around the edge of their pen. We would love to let them out, however I don't feel they are tame enough yet to be trusted and they are starting to test their wings out. I am afraid of losing one over the fence!

While we have a lot of grass and sour sobs we have started to give them an armfull every day. We have found that a problem with cut grasses is that they are unable to pluck small pieces when the grass is no longer attached to the ground. They end up with awkward long pieces of grass that are hard for them to swallow.

To help them with this, Mark rigged up a grass press with two bricks. The greenery is held down with the weight of the brick and the chickens enjoy having fresh greens every day. They also love standing on top of the bricks and looking out.