New arrivals and departures!

Holy Saviour, Light of the World, Source of All That Is and Will Be,

Thank you for the changing seasons (though a little more warmth would be nice: it is going to drop below freezing tonight!). There is joy in each flower, hope in each bird song, new life in the warmth of the sun, and most of all: love is here.  

Amen

IMG_20190406_174112_2
Starksy (behind) and Hutch

Well, we’ve got two new birds! Starsky and Hutch came to us from the RSPCA site at West Hatch, Taunton, Somerset. They arrived there in January, a pair of bantam (small) cockerels (male chickens less than 1 year old) who had been left to fend for themselves. Starsky is the biggest, weighing 1.4 kg; Hutch is 1 kg. They were named by one of the RSPCA staff members.

I have been looking at them since I started volunteering there… in January. We do, after all, have room for 6 birds.

Cockerels, Cocks (over a year old), and Roosters (another name for Cocks) are very difficult to re-home because they can be aggressive and they are noisy. The last pair of Bantams at West Hatch were there for over a year. There are two standard cockerels there too, and they will be very hard to re-home: the bigger the bird the louder the crow and the stronger the kicks. Because we live in the country their noise is not an issue.

The RSPCA does a cracking job at vetting potential adopters. After speaking with someone on the phone about the possibility of adopting them I was sent a form to fill in. Once I sent that back and it was processed I was contacted by a home visitor who came round to make sure  all was well here. The RSPCA also do a cracking job at supporting adopters, making it quite clear that if there are any problems, I only need to ask them for help; and if the birds just don’t work out, they will happily take them back.

As with the introduction of any new flock members, I kept the boys separated from the girls for the first 2 days, and since then have kept a close eye on them. I set up a dog crate in the shed, sprinkled lots of straw around, and gave them their own food and water. They spent most of their time looking out the window, watching for movement of some kind.

Some would suggest two days is too soon for an introduction, but as they could hear each other quite well through the shed wall and the girls seemed curious, I gave it a try.

First, they just got to look at each other: I kept them separated by the hutch mesh, letting the boys run around in the paddock while the girls were still locked in; then I let the girls out into the garden and left the boys to explore the paddock and the hutch on their own.

The following day I decided to put them all together to see what would happen. It was a hectic: the boys alternated between kick fighting with each other and the girls, the girls alternated between kick fighting with the boys and running away, Kelpie kept trying to get a good sniff of the cockerels’ bums (He does this with the girls. They’ve gotten used to it).

I  didn’t know who to feel most sorry for: the boys because they had hens kicking on one side and a dog sniffing on the other, the hens because their home had been invaded by these pompous Napoleons, or Kelpie because I kept telling him ‘No!’ and ‘Lie down!’ every time he tried to approach them. After 45 minutes or so, I separated them again and that night they slept apart.

The next day I let them out at the same time, and things were just as awkward. The boys thought it best to keep the hens corralled in the shed, and the hens were not comfortable with this restriction of movement. I decided to let the hens go into the large grassy garden alone. I was going to keep the cockerels in the chickenarium, as I had the day before, but as soon the hens were out of the boys’ sight…..well there was flapping, clucking, and next thing I see is Hutch, running on his tiny little legs, to find out where the girls had gone! He had flown over the paddock fence! I picked him up and put him with the girls only to see Starsky standing on the same fence trying to decide if he should follow. I carried him over to the rest.

In the garden the girls and boys started out by doing their own thing. But it wasn’t long before the boys had pinned the girls in a corner and were keeping them there. Night came, they slept apart.

The following day a sad thing happened. Little Nutmeg, who had suffered with respiratory issues, had to be put down. She had developed egg peritonitis, something that happens when the egg-making mechanism in a chicken goes wrong. Instead of an egg forming properly and being laid, the egg material moves into the abdominal cavity and festers ( a bit like an ectopic pregnancy, except the egg is not fertilised). It is not immediately fatal but there is no effective treatment, and it is likely to recur.  Eventually the chicken will become septic and die. Death is slow and painful, sometimes taking months to wear the bird down. So we put her to sleep. It was not a comfortable decision, but the best one I think.

img_20190115_121947~2
Nutmeg

But since she has gone, things have settled. It makes me wonder if part of the kerfuffle was caused by the girls trying to protect their poorly friend. In any event, by the end of that day flock of five was more or less mingling. They were mingling in the grass, they were mingling in the chickenarium, and so I decided it was time to try them together overnight.

That was last night. And this morning, all is well in chicken land. Well – but different.

Hutch, though the smallest of all, is definitely Number 1. Starsky is his back up.

Ginger is subdued for the first time even. I think she is still trying to figure out if this is OK, but she is not fighting it.

Actually, it was the bully, Cinnamon, who was most aggressive towards Hutch, but even she seems to have relaxed now.

Clover, being the lowest ranking hen and having nothing to defend, didn’t fight at all. Instead, she bravely approached the boys, walked around or through them and pecked at the ground as per normal. She has acted as peacemaker.

I think Starsky and Clover may become ‘a thing’ as they seem to stick together. I think bossy Hutch gets the two high maintenance girls. Frankly, they deserve each other.

IMG_20190410_114748.jpg
Proper Mingling Behaviour

Now, a couple of other points. It is unusual, but not unheard of, to keep two cockerels. Often these birds are so territorial they will fight ‘rivals’ to the death. But, because these two came in to the RSPCA together, and roosted together without any problems, re-homing them together was/is worth the risk. As long as they feel they have enough space, and there are enough hens to share, the boys should be fine. But if aggression starts up I will have to reconsider things.

It is possible that the boys may fertilise the hens’ eggs, but as the girls are twice their size, it may take some determination for them to succeed. I am not interested in chicks right now, so I will simply to continue to collect the eggs each morning. That will keep any embryos from developing, even if the eggs are fertile.

IMG_20190410_113119.jpg
Hutch crows first….
IMG_20190410_113110.jpg
Then it’s Starsky’s turn!

 

The last Bee Class was about pests including Varroa Mites. The subject is important but not nearly as exciting as the arrival of Starsky and Hutch, so I will skip telling you about that; the tadpoles have all hatched, the songbirds are nesting, and I have had the pleasure of visiting a nearby farm to ‘help’ with lambing. This included feeding and watering lots of sheep with hay and feeding a couple of lambs whose mums don’t want them, and sharing lovely cakes and breads and cups of tea and conversation with my host.

Spring is lovely! And busy!

 

 

 

 

The Birds and the Bees

Giver of Life,                                                                                                                                         Help me help you share your gift.                                                                                                    Amen.

The Birds

spring chickens

The Chickenarium in the morning

Well, Nutmeg has been acting up health wise and this has prompted a need for all four birds to be on antibiotics:

The birds seemed to cut back on food intake about two weeks ago, then egg production dropped from 4 to 3 a day. Somewhere in there Nutmeg developed a ‘dirty bum.’ Chickens are good at keeping their back ends free from faeces, so when they get ‘dirty’ it’s a sign something is not right. Nutmeg’s bum was dirty enough to earn her a bum bath in the old dish tub in the utility room: warm soapy water and a bit of swishing and gentle scrubbing with a cloth.

I did not give her a blow dry!

The next day after the bath she was droopy: head down, tail down, even wings hanging a bit. So off to the vet we went. The vet wasn’t certain but thought she might have a chronic respiratory infection that wasn’t showing, so she got an antibiotic injection, and at my request because Clover had woken up with a dirty bum, I was sent home with additional antibiotics to put in their water.

That was last week.

This week Nutmeg is looking better. Her comb colour is improving and her posture is better, and each day she has been more active than the day before. But she is sneezing again, so I need to check on that. Perhaps she does have a chronic respiratory condition.

As the weather is warmer and the rain has stopped we removed all of the winter weather-proofing to improve the ventilation in the run, and I have moved the food and water to a sheltered spot outside of the run, just in case the run has been damp enough to cause a problem.

Hopefully all of this will do the trick, but I am remembering now how much care rescue hens need compared to chickens who have not been used for commercial egg laying: at less than two years of age they are worn out, and this makes them vulnerable.

The Bees

img_20190324_141352-1.jpg

Dandelions are one of the best early food sources for bees so DO NOT pick,                            mow, or dig up until later in the spring!

Bee Class is going pretty well. But…

During last week’s class – on hives –  in which all of the seasoned beekeepers agreed that cedar hives are preferable to all others, I did ask about polystyrene hives.

‘You haven’t mentioned polystyrene hives this evening, or in last year’s class … so, what about polystyrene?’ The instructor fixed my gaze with his. ‘What about polystyrene?’

Which was about all I expected, really.

To be fair, the instructor did point out that he had one – right next to him on the floor, in fact. But because they are so lightweight the wind tends to wreck havoc with them if they are not weighted down properly, and as the recommended way of cleaning them between colonies is to submerge them in boiling water for 15 minutes (as opposed to scorching the wooden ones with a blow torch!), they may be impractical. Add to that their negative environmental impact and the fact that cedar hives may last in excess of 70 years…

All of the usual styles of wooden hives – National, Smith, etc. – now come in polystyrene as well. This means the frames that hold the honey and the brood can be used with either wooden or polystyrene hives.

So I am considering one of each. I could do my own comparison that way. But I haven’t decided.

Peer pressure is hell.

This week’s class was on The Beekeeping Year. We were taught about the yearly cycle of the colony and what care is required when.

Autumn seems to be the starting point as it is the time of year when most of the work has finished and the bees need to be bedded down for winter. Hive numbers begin to decrease from a maximum of 70,000 to 10,000 bees per colony, and it is these 10,000 worker bees who overwinter with the queen, keeping her alive until spring.

Things that will kill the bees, and are to be avoided, are damp and starvation. Damp is avoided by having adequate ventilation, and hives are designed to provide this. As long as the hive is sited well the only thing needed to keep it well ventilated is to remove any snow or ice that blocks the vents. Starvation is avoided by providing the bees with enough food to get through the winter. This food comes in the form of either a liquid or a solid which they access from inside the hive, thus never needing to go out in the cold weather.

It is important NOT to open the hive in winter because the hive will lose so much heat. It is imperative that the keeper puts a generous supply of food into the hive in the autumn so that the hive can be left closed until spring.

However, sometimes the food stores do need to be topped up. The way to figure this out without opening the hive is by ‘hefting’ it – lifting one corner – to see if its weight corresponds to the amount of food that should be in there. If it is too light the bees may have eaten more than expected, and they will need a food top up.

It is better to put ample amounts in in the autumn than top up in the winter. So, put in more than needed in the autumn.

If the hive must be opened in the winter to add food it is best to use the most concentrated form of sugar you can find. Fondant icing is the best because it has a very low water content. It provides all the energy without the hassle of frozen water. Liquid feed may freeze, and this creates the additional work of both thawing the water and evaporating the water before eating the sugar. All of this work is done with bee body heat. By beating their wings, their little wing muscles produce heat. This thaws the ice and, in time, causes the unneeded water to evaporate. To create this body heat the bees needs additional food which may already be in short supply as it is winter. Redirecting energy needed to keep the queen alive may cause the colony to starve and die.

As winter comes to an end and temperatures begin to warm, the bees come out and begin to forage. This is what they are supposed to do. But if there is a brief spell of warm weather followed by a cold snap it may cause problems: The bees will begin foraging before the early food supplies – particularly pollen – are available. This is what I was worrying about a few weeks ago when the I saw a few bees in the garden.

But good news! It was announced this week that the Exmoor apiaries were inspected for the first time this year and all was very well in the hives. Instead of finding starving bees, and they found queens busy laying eggs and glistening stores of nectar in the combs! So it looks like the colonies are a bit ahead of the curve. Well done, bees! And phew.

The hives will not be opened again until near the end of April, when we get consistently warm temperatures. The only thing the bees need in the early spring is to start increasing the size of the hive and the less we mess with them the better. But when the hives are opened again, it will be time for full observational checks –  finding the queen, checking for eggs, larvae, capped cells, honey stores, nectar and pollen stores, and disease.

As the spring season progresses weekly checks for all of the above are necessary, along with any interventions that may be required.

Interventions include adding frames to hold brood (eggs and larvae) and honey, removing diseased frames or old dirty ones, treating for pests, and possibly removing excess honey stores. Some bee colonies do so well in the spring that keepers can do an early honey harvest.

Late spring brings one of the biggest risks: swarms. Swarms are a natural phenomenon. It is how colonies grow and reproduce themselves. Once a hive gets too full of bees the colony will begin preparations to swarm. This is best avoided.

Swarm class is next week so I will write more about how to prevent swarms next time.

After swarm season ends hives still need weekly checks to monitor food stores and reproduction rates. June can be a slow month for foraging as the spring blooms are coming to an end and the summer ones don’t really gear up until July. Colonies may need to be fed sugar solution in June. Come July the keepers main responsibilities are preventing/treating pest infestations and preparing to harvest honey that is EXCESS to the (winter) needs of the hive. More about this later.

Then, at the end of the summer, comes the collection of honey… which is our way of saying sneakily stealing it from the bees when they are not looking. Once the honey-filled combs are removed from the hives, the honey is extracted and the wax is melted down and cleaned for reuse – perhaps as candles or furniture polish, or perhaps to go back into a hive.

And, then you find yourself preparing the hive, once again for winter….

And so it goes: a time of preparing to rest, followed by rest, and then the busy time of new life. With a lot of worry about food all the way through.

Sounds a lot like any other form of life.

img_20190324_141115

Ginger and Clover doing what they do best

Update on the bees!

Holy Mystery,

As the days lengthen and the air warms                                                                                            I give thanks to you for the fulfilment of your promise of life forevermore!

Amen

20190226_090357

Hazel tree by the Exe

Well, it is definitely moving towards spring.

We’ve got frog spawn in the pond, the Hazel catkins are out, there’s a lot of otter activity on the river, and not a sheep to be seen…I think they are all in the lambing sheds.

The Exmoor Beekeepers  beginner’s beekeeping course has started again. They run one this time each year, and it was good to be reminded of why I am so interested in bees. The first session was a simple introduction to bee anatomy, life-cycle, hive life, and what the Exmoor Beekeepers Association (EBKA) does.

There will be practical sessions starting near the end of April – by then it will be warm enough to open the hives without worrying about the temperature. It is very important not to open the hives until it is warm, as opening a hive on a cool or cold day may kill an over-wintering colony.

The practical sessions take place in an apiry (the place you keep the hives) that the EBKA maintains. These sessions allow the students some hands-on practice with experienced beekeepers. If we do well with these there is an option to look after a hive on-site with less supervision and if all goes well, at the end of the season, we may be able to purchase the colony and take it home!

So, it sounds like it will be at least May or June before I can get my hands on my own hive, and even longer before I can set one up at home, but I have been already been offered a corner of an unused field to keep my bees on. It is a lovely small, flat and square field, tucked well-away from the road, and next to the old railway-cum-footpath. There are lots of trees, a river and the accompanying streams/drainage, and it is fairly sheltered. Also, not many people about.

The owners has several fields of this size that he rents out for various uses, but this one is kept in reserve for his own use… and as he doesn’t have a use for it at the moment, he is happy for me to set up in one corner. I am very grateful for this.

bee field

Could this be the site for my bees?

The only drawback is the field is a mile or so from the house, so I will need to use the car to travel there and back with a box of stuff for looking after the bees. I am thinking of asking if I can set up some kind of storage box on-site to save me taking everything each time.

Next week’s class focuses on hives – parts of and different models. I am going to ask about using polystyrene hives. This is a risky thing to ask, I think. I have come to believe that these beekeepers don’t like polystyrene hives because they never mentioned them last year (I did take the course last year; this year is a refresher for me) and they didn’t mention them this week when briefly introducing the class to the various types. They have said they all use National style hives (which are wooden) and they encourage us to do the same: beekeepers like to share bits and pieces, and sharing is much easier when everyone is using the same model of hive.

Traditional modern hives are made of wood. Before that skeps (upside down baskets, woven and dome shaped) were used, but the only way to get the honey out of a skep was to kill all the bees first, then scrape out the honey. Polystyrene hives are a relatively recent development and are supposed to have a few benefits over wooden: they don’t rot, are much lighter (this is the most important thing for me with my lupus) and they insulate better than wood.

Bees spend a lot of their time and energy on temperature control and ventilation. Damp is deadly, and extremes in temperature require the bees to expend extra energy warming up or cooling down the hive. They do this by fanning their wings. When it is hot outside the fanning helps the air circulate thus bringing the temperature down, and when it is cold outside the fanning creates body heat which brings the temperature up. Polystyrene keeps the temperature more uniform, allowing the bees to use their energy on things like foraging and feeding and making honey instead of heating and cooling. This, in turn, improves productivity in the warm months and survival in the cold ones.

 

I have seen a few bees in the garden on the recent warm days. Most of them have been bumbles, but one or two have been honeybees. I have learned of the location of two sets of hives within a couple of miles of us; it is most likely that the honeybees have come from one of these. The bumbles have been feeding on the heather, gorse, violets, and primrose in our garden, and though I have not seen any bees on the Hazel catkins (which are everywhere), I understand that catkin pollen is an essential food at this time of year.

Pollen is high in protein and the bees need this in the spring to get themselves into top shape after the long winter. Though bees only live for 6 weeks in the summer months, the over-wintering bees – the ones that keep the Queen alive – live up to 6 months. They survive on food stores over the winter, and often need to be supplemented by their keepers with fondant or something similar.  So when a few warm days come along….these bees take flight and start looking for fresh food.

In addition to pollen, bees eat nectar – for carbs – and they drink water. They also collect a resin-like substance from flowering plants called propolis. Propolis is used to fill in any gaps or holes in the hive that ought not be there. It is very strong stuff and can weld a bee box shut if it is not scraped off when the hive is examined. Propolis also has strong anti-bacterial properties, so perhaps it helps keep the hive healthy.

Adult worker bees eat pollen and nectar, but they also feed it to the larvae and the drones. [Queens are fed royal jelly…more about that later.] The larvae and drones are fed by the workers because they are unable to feed themselves. This makes sense for the larvae, but the drones are adult bees. Why don’t they feed themselves? Watch this space.

IMG_20190226_081933_2

Is it spring or winter?

I have been a little worried that the early warm days have brought the bees out before the flowers are ready for them. If the bees begin foraging before there is much to collect, they may use up energy reserves that they do not have. This will lead to death and may make it harder for the remaining bees to tend to the increasing number of new larvae. It is up to the winter bees to last long enough to get a new crop of workers up and running for the spring so a warm spell of weather can be dangerous.

There are some who put out sugar water for bees when there is not much natural food available (2:1 ratio of white granulated sugar to water). This may be an OK thing to do as a one-off, if you find a flagging bee, but it is not a good idea to do it over time as the bees will keep coming back even when there is natural forage available.  So, fingers crossed for longer spells of warm weather and less cold, wet and wind.

 

And the chickens? They are doing quite well! We have twizzled the hutch around to catch more light in the front and get more wind protection from behind, and we removed the tarpoline. I can see them better from the house this way which is good. We get four eggs most days, thank you, ladies… but the folk at church are beginning to tire of me pushing eggs. It must be time for an egg stand out front!

spring chickens

Spring Chickens

Today is a sad day

I am currently working on my Radio Devon Sunday Service message, which is to be aired on 24th March. In light of the diabolical political situation in the UK (ie the great Brexit divide) I thought it would be appropriate to give a kick-in-the-pants message about the importance getting on with people we don’t like.

But I have awakened to news that Pakistan has retaliated again India’s military action with military action of their own; that the US Senate will be listening to Cohen’s testimony regarding the President’s alleged criminal activity while in office; and that the United Methodist Church Special General Assembly to decided not only to ban LGBT+ clergy and same-sex marriage, but make moves towards punitive behaviours towards congregations that support the LGBT issues.  But these are not issues, they are people, created by God in God’s image. And they have been told to get out or else.

I am wondering if it is time to give up on the living-in-harmony thing. I am wondering if it is time to say let the UMC split. I am wondering if I should preach something else.

I am sad.

I am sad that people can’t love each other as Christ has called us to.

I am sad that, with every passing day, my decision to move from the US and to the UK and affiliate myself with the British Methodist Church is affirmed by current events.

I am sad that I and others I know have felt they had to leave the UMC because they were not welcome.

I am sad that I don’t want to visit the place of my birth and see my family because I cannot bear to spend time in what feels like an unloving country.

I am sad that so many of the values I was brought up believing  – freedom and justice for all, with a bit of hard work you can achieve anything – only apply to select group of people who look and act like those who currently hold power.

 

I suppose I am an optimist, but today I am not feeling very optimistic. Today I am feeling angry and frustrated and  I am questioning the point of my life’s work – healing the sick and bringing light and love into places of darkness. Is it worth the effort?

I believe the Kingdom of God will come, and all people will be able to live together in peace and harmony, but I am gutted to think that in the course of twenty four hours the Kingdom has receded further into the distance.

What am I – what are we – to do? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?

The book of Micah is an interesting and hopeful commentary on the present times, so long as you are on the right side of God. You can find it online if you don’t have a print copy of the Bible.

Over and over again, in the Bible, the people of God overstep their boundaries. Over and over again the people of God forget their past trials and how – through God’s grace and mercy – they arrived at a place of some standing in the world. They think they’ve gotten there on their own merits, and they’ve forgotten God’s warnings about the consequences of their selfish behaviour: they will fall. And then they will repent and make a new start. And then they will forget again. And again. And again.

And so, it seems, we never get any closer to entering the Kingdom of God this side of physical death. Why, then, do we pray ‘your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven’?

 

The UK is not a perfect place, and the British Methodist Church has its own set of potentially fatal flaws. But I still feel closer to the Kingdom of God here than I did in the US.

Not a day goes by that I am not grateful to be in this place. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish some of the liberal, taken-for-granted aspects of British society (cross-cultural, interracial marriage, for example) could be transplanted into the most conservative parts of America.

I am sad today, but I am glad I am here.

 

 

Winter joys

Dear God,                                                                                                                                        Thank you for the beauty of the season:                                                                                        the grey clouds heavy with snow                                                                                                    the white frosting of ice                                                                                                                    the frozen trees silhouetted against the sky                                                                                  and the blinding sunlight that comes after the storm.

Amen

IMG_20190201_083708_2

View from the kitchen

It’s cold here, but not as cold as many other places. Maybe 1 degree Celsius (just above freezing). Several inches of snow are expected a bit later today (see above), though we have already had a bit sleet and snow and freezing temperatures for a couple of days (see below).

The pond is developing a nice ice crust, though it is not yet thick enough to hold anything of weight. This was made plain the other day when Ginger, thinking it was solid ground, stepped onto it, fell through and got soaked. Thanks Phil, for pulling her out.

Knowing that an animal falling into near freezing water is an emergency, I brought her straight in for towelling and (another) blow dry, and this she stood stock still for. But she was not quiet. She actually made a lot of noise  – loud, insistent squawks – but as I still cannot speak fluent chickenese, I was not sure what she was saying. I wondered if she had slotted herself into the typical hairdresser/customer relationship and felt this was the time to share the difficulties of being top girl.

img_20190130_102730_2

                                                                                                       Ginger and me

If she falls in again I will begin to think she is doing it deliberately.

 

Joking aside, the cold weather makes me fret. I worry about the chickens keeping warm, especially as it is their first winter living outside. Keeping their coop dry, well ventilated, and free of drafts is key and I think I’ve got this sorted. But we do live in England, and we do get a lot of rain, so the ground in their  chickenarium is spongy. [The one good thing about freezing temperatures is they do make the ground hard again.]

I have been told that a bit of warm mash to eat and warm tap water to drink helps keep them warm on the inside. So when the temperature drops to near freezing I give them chicken crumbs mixed with hot water morning and evening, and warm drinking water in the morning (and later in the day if the temperature stays low).

Fingers crossed for them, and all the creatures, as the snow deepens and the temperature falls.

20190130_101131

 Kelpie by the pond 

NB: When it snowed the chickens would NOT stand in it. I put some cardboard and tarpoline on the ground so they would walk around outside of the covered run, but their was not one chicken print in the snow. Only when it began to melt did they venture out.

 

Good News!

Dear God,                                                                                                                                                  Help me to see your hand in everything.                                                                                      Help me celebrate the small things.                                                                                                      Amen

 

img_20190115_1219472.jpg

left to right: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Ginger

Well, I am not certain that separating the chickens did much to stopping the bullying, but it has changed the dynamics in the group: after three days of separating Cinnamon and Ginger from Nutmeg and Clover, Clover has blossomed! She is now first out of the run in the morning, first in line for a free-range walk round the garden, and she is very chatty. She is also incredibly nimble. I think she has figured out that the best way to stay out a Cinnamon’s way is not to cower but to run, jump, and flap her way to a clearing. It will not be long before she is able to not only dodge Cinnamon and Ginger, but Kelpie, Phil, and me.  I am feeling much better about the group.

I will say that Ginger and Nutmeg have had a respiratory bug over the last 10 days which has led to medical treatment.

Had I mentioned that I once wanted to be a veterinarian?

The thing that stopped me was allergies to animals with fur. However, living in a rural environment, and a farming environment at that, I have been given the chance to dabble a bit.

I had to ring the out-of-hours vet about the sneezing and wheezing. Respiratory illness in birds can become very serious very quickly. Anatomy-wise, their bones are a part of their respiratory system, so an infection in the lungs can quickly spread systemically. In addition, their lung tissue is so delicate that little rips and tears frequently occur, and these can lead to secondary infections. So, the treatment prescribed by the vet: steroid and antibiotic …. injections. Not powder to mix with the food or water. Intramuscular injections.

‘Are you able to inject them?’ asked the vet.

‘I was a nurse, so, yes,’ I said, with a mixed sense of excitement and trepidation.

‘Come round to the surgery and I will have the syringes waiting.’

Picking up syringes of medication after hours, in the dark, from a woman I had only spoken to on the phone, in an unlit car park… well, it felt a little illicit. What about wrestling the animal into a carrier? What about the cooing and tutting that vets normally do when they see your precious pets? What about a physical exam?  There was none of that. This is a hard core farming community. A couple of chickens, though worthy of treatment, were not worthy of sympathy. The only thing that reassured me was that the syringes came in a plastic bag with a proper label and directions for administration. And no money exchanged hands. I guess I will be invoiced.

My trepidation regarding the injections came from the knowledge that there is not much meat on an egg-laying chicken. These birds are not bred to have massive breasts and/or thighs. In fact, it was hard to tell thigh from drumstick. Ah well, I must’ve hit the right spot: both birds seem to be feeling better.

Once Ginger and Nutmeg were feeling better I tried to redress the bullying thing. A squirt bottle (water) is recommended, much the same as it is to condition cats and dogs with bad behaviour. While I was watching the ladies, Ginger stood on Clover’s head, forcing Clover’s head onto the ground. SQUIRT.

Ginger was surprised.

The second time I squirted her she got the message.

But is was late in the day, the temperature was dropping, and my previously poorly chicken, being the last to finish her moult, was covered in wet downy feathers.

NB: you cannot towel-dry feathers.

So, feeling unable to leave her to take her chances overnight, I took her in for a blow dry.

I have blown dry the feathers of several hens. Sometimes they get mucky and need a bath. Sometimes they get a foot washing that stretches up to their bellies. I have known of chickens who so like a warm bath they will simple hunker down in an old washing-up tub and soak for a while. As you cannot towel dry feathers and I live in the UK… out comes the hair dryer.

This was Ginger’s first trip into the house. She was a model guest.  I took her up to the bedroom, covered the bed with a towel, set her down and turned on the hair dryer. At this point in my own beauty regime, the dog leaves the room. He does not like the noise. But chickens are different. They don’t seem to be bothered by the noise OR the warm air. I did keep a hand round Ginger in case she decided to run, but in the end, I didn’t need to.

I laid a hand mirror on the bed so she could consider her reflection whilst I dried her.  This was of interest to her, but not nearly as interesting as the arrival of Tinkerbell, the cat. Ginger seemed pleasantly surprise to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place.

Image result for cartoon chicken wearing makeupMissy Prissy from Looney Toons

 

In other news, it is time to register for the beginners beekeeping course. I did take this last year, but feel it will be good to refresh my memory before starting for real. Phil is going to come, too. This is so I don’t have to explain so much to him when I need a hand with stuff.

 

Additionally, I will begin a volunteer position with West Hatch RSPCA  very soon. I will be working as a ‘cat socialiser.’ Most the cats taken in by the RSPCA have not had a positive experience with people, so it is necessary to help them learn – slowly and gently – to trust. I am really looking forward to this.

Not only do they have cats, they have dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, regular pigs, chickens, geese, parrots, ferrets, hamsters, and – at the minute – a Chinchilla. Next door there is a wild life rehabilitation centre! They have lots of things there, even baby seals!

The trick will be keeping me from bringing them all home!

 

img_20190115_122028~2

Kelpie and Clover on the scrounge

Chickens behaving badly

Dear God,

I know it wasn’t that long ago that I asked for an extra dose of patience,                              but it seems I have used it all up.                                                                                                  Please, may I have another?                                                                                                          Thank you.                                                                                                                                              Amen.

 

Chick– i – NAIR – ium:  the designated area in which the chickens are allowed. This includes their coop/hutch, their run, and the larger penned area that includes the hutch and run. See picture below.

 

4 hens in a pen

 

Last week things in the Chickenarium changed.

 

I noted that the flock ranking between Clover and Cinnamon had reversed and Cinnamon was back at the Number 2 position and Clover was back in 4th place. I was so sad. It seems Cinnamon was just biding her time, tricking Clover and me into thinking she was content to be at the bottom of the pecking order.

When I first got these girls in mid-November it was clear that Ginger was going to be in charge. She pecked at Clover and Nutmeg, and seemed to leave Cinnamon alone. So this indicated Ginger as Number 1, Cinnamon as Number 2, Nutmeg as 3 and Clover as 4. Over a week or so, Cinnamon began bullying Clover, having a peck at her while she was trying to eat, but it wasn’t too bad, and overnight Cinnamon seemed to concede to Clover and she completely backed off.

For the last few days, however, Clover has been getting rushed and pecked by both Cinnamon and Ginger. I have decided that Cinnamon is a bully chicken, and she seems to be encouraging Ginger to bully, too. I feel it is only a matter of time before Cinnamon and Ginger convince Nutmeg that she can get in on this pecking action.

Clover looks pitiful, running away and cowering, and when they land a peck that hurts, I can almost feel the pain myself.

I cannot bear this.

So, I did some reading, and the advice is to separate the bully from the rest of the hens for a few days, let her consider where her behaviour has landed her, and then reintroduce her to the flock. Now, I will say this is not recommended unless the bullying has gotten to the point of drawing blood and/or pulling out feathers, but I cannot bear watching Clover trying to avoid Cinnamon and Ginger. Worse still is watching her snake her grovel in an attempt to protect herself.

So, out came the dog crate, a cat carrier, additional food and water containers, straw, and a big piece of ply. I have successfully divided the Chickenarium in half, with Cinnamon’s jail on one side, the rest open for the others to go about their business.

the-wall.jpg

 

Dog crate on the left, plywood (under the tarp), then chicken run on the right. Nutmeg and Clover in the run, with Ginger and Cinnamon behind in their separate area.

 

There is good visibility between the two sides, as most of the partition is made up of the back side of the run, which is chicken wire. It is important for the birds to be able to see each other so that the isolated bird isn’t forgotten completely and then seen as an interloper when she returns.

The idea behind all of this is by removing a chicken from the flock, you can change the pecking order. The remaining chickens re-order themselves and when the removed chicken is reintroduced she is forced to begin in bottom spot. She may, however, still be assertive enough to try and work her way up again. We will have to wait and see.

 

So, once things were set up, I put Cinnamon in the crate, closed the door and sat down to observe the flock. Kelpie, our Border Collie, was most distressed: he is only happy when EVERYONE is TOGETHER. He decided to lie next to the dog crate and keep her company. Cinnamon spent 5 or 10 minutes testing the gaps between the bars, and then decided as she could not get out, her best option was to perch atop the cat carrier/nest box and watch everything.

All four chickens had come to look at the crate while it was being set up. Now the free birds came one-by-one to inspect the finished product. Nutmeg first, Ginger second, and eventually Clover came over. After assuring herself that Cinnamon was not able to reach her, she began to reach just inside the cage and pick up bits of gravel. She looked smug.

After a bit of time to acclimatise to her new hutch, I let Cinnamon out into her yard.  This seemed to suit everyone, so I went to potter round the garden, checking back from time to time.

During one check I saw Ginger rush Clover.

I put Ginger in with Cinnamon.

So, now I’ve got two camps: 1st- and 2nd-in-command in the make-do half, 3rd and 4th in the prime location. This separation needs to be maintained for several days, maybe a week. I think Ginger can be reintroduced first, then a day or so later Cinnamon can come back. I must not reintroduce them simultaneously: that will lead to the two of them ganging up on the others.

nutmeg as doorkeeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutmeg as gatekeeper

 

 

 

Leaving them to their own devices, I came inside for a rest. During that time Phil returned from his walk with Kelpie. He said as he approached the Chickenarium he could see Cinnamon, silhouetted in the waning light, perched on the plywood dividing wall looking into the area from which she had been banned. By the time he reached her, she hopped down into Clover and Nutmeg’s side. Phil put her back where she was supposed to be.

Did I say these birds can fly? Well, they can. Bummer. So I have used a blue tarp to create a lip/overhang on the jail side. Fingers crossed it will deter anymore escape attempts.

That was all yesterday. This morning:

Clover and Nutmeg had a good night’s sleep in the main hutch, and are very chatty. That is new. Nutmeg has taken over gate keeping and Clover had the audacity to have a dust bath just inches away from Cinnamon.

clover dustbath

 

 

 

 

Clover having a dust bath while Cinnamon watches

 

 

 

Ginger and Cinnamon had a cozy night in a cat carrier in the shed. One egg was laid as per normal, and in between a bit of scratching and pecking they are watching the other two through the mesh.

 

jailbirds.jpg

I wonder what they are thinking.