I have a gripe with plum trees.
I have two trees, a Victoria and a Cambridge Gage, and I must say this year has been the best I’ve ever had. There are no grubs inside, which was a problem last year affecting the majority of fruit, the Victoria’s are as large as a hens eggs and deliciously sweet, and the Cambridge Gage tree is so bountiful the branches are bending over and touching the ground.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that the plums drop from the tree over two weeks and they don’t store. On top of that, I’ve been eating so many that I have developed permanent stomach ache! (No problems with constipation relating to my painful coccyx then!!!)
I hate the waste. I don’t eat jam, I’m not a big fan of chutney, and all of my friends have trees of their own. Maybe I could make plum sauce, but I am hopeless in the kitchen! So the only choice I have is to freeze them. They are suppose to freeze okay, even whole, but since it’s a new experience, I’m not entirely certain they won’t go to mush.
Having taken a very small percentage, and having given some to the very excited chickens, the rest have fallen to the ground for the wasps, a few honey bees, and the butterflies. The wasps, in particular are in heaven, and don’t even react when I accidentally pick one up in plum. At least they’re happy. Perhaps the tree is not such a poor design after all.
Freddie, the bantam rooster on the left, has a new companion. Meet Ollie, another little rooster.
Freddie arrived a few days ago, and has been settling in nicely, although he has been a little lonely, and whilst he ventured into the extensive chicken pen, he soon changed his mind and ran away from Stanley, the full-sized rooster. That aside, he has been crowing regularly, scratching around the garden, and chasing Blake, my little black cat, across the garden . . . that’s when Blake hasn’t been sleeping in the sink or on the lawn mower.
Ollie was hatched in the same clutch of eggs as Freddie, although he was a little bit more difficult to catch, hence his late arrival. Since they knew each other, we immediately released him into the garden, and they spent over half an hour running and fighting. They weren’t aggressive fights, but play fights, a sign of two mates reunited. It was great to witness, and brought a smile to my face and joy to my dogs who watched them from their own pen.
Soon Freddie led Ollie to his temporary house, offered him a little of his feed, and they had a rest. Maybe now I can get back to work.
Meet Freddie, the latest addition to my menagerie. He arrived courtesy of a friend who saved him from the chop. He is a bantam rooster, and a lively little devil, with great dancing feet. Hence the name, after Fred Astaire.
I have a flock of chickens comprising of 17 full sized hens and 1 full sized rooster. However, I don’t fancy his chances with the flock, since the full sized rooster, Stanley, doesn’t take kindly to competition. He has been the sole male for 6 six years, and he is very possessive of his girls.
Freddie is diminutive in comparison, about the third of the size of Stanley, and should outrun any trouble. However, once Freddie set eyes upon him, he had no intention of joining the chickens, and would not enter their substantial pen. So for the moment, he is roaming the garden by day and roosting in a small cage at night. It is not a permanent solution, since he is lonely, and tries to claim anything that moves at his own, whether it is my feet, a pigeon, or even the cats. The previous owners considered him aggressive; in actual fact, he is just wanting a lady, and even searched my house looking for her whereabouts.
So, his needs are my command. I am now looking for a couple of bantam hens to keep him company. Soon, or so I am hoping, he will have a broad smile upon his face. Maybe then he will leave us all alone.
Being a backyard chicken keeper is not for the faint hearted. During the last six years I’ve had all kinds of things to deal with, some of which have been extremely unpleasant, others which are just plain sad. However, I have one amazing story of survival which I would like to share. It involved a hen suffering from flystrike.
It is a horrid, horrid condition. The flies lay their eggs close to a healthy chickens anus, and within hours, they hatch. The maggots immediately get to work, wriggle inside of the hen and have a feast, eating everything and anything in sight. All the time, the bird is still alive!
Even though we found the girl early, the sight of the maggots and the hollow they had created was not something I wish to describe. I am not especially squeamish, but this was horrendous and I could not look for longer than a fraction of a second. It turned my stomach. Doug, being the kind of man he is, began his work.
One by one he plucked out the maggots, until he could reach no more. Unfortunately, there were still some inside of her, so he sat her in a bowl of strong salt water. Dead maggots floated out of her, every last one of them.
I swear, I could hear the hen’s relieved sigh!
We decided to name her Holly – a play on holey.
We still didn’t really believe she had a chance of making a full recovery as during all of this time she had been lifeless. In addition, we didn’t know the extent of her damage. However, to our amazement, within hours she was animated and demanding food.It was just the boost we needed; days earlier our dog, Bella, had lost a nine month fight with cancer.
The following day Holly was flapping her wings and squawking. She hated been kept in a small cage and wanted to return to the flock. We knew there was a risk of infection since she had a hole in her back-end almost the size of a tennis ball, but we still considered it the best place for her. So we took her home.
Guess what! She made a full recovery. Even the hole disappeared.
What a result! Sometimes, a little effort is worth it. You just never know what might happen.
My chickens have this crazy idea that I have digging the vegetable bed in their very large pen purely for their benefit. I accept I am animal mad, and I do do wacky things at times, but I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t sacrifice worms for the sake of keeping my hens happy. On second thoughts . . .
The chickens have a pen approximately one third of an acre which is almost entirely their own. I say, almost, because there is a large vegetable bed at one end, with soil that is well drained and loamy, and it has proven perfect for growing potatoes. Once the plants are established, the chickens leave them alone, making them an ideal chicken companion! The problem is getting them into the ground in the first place.
Here’s what happened.
As soon as I pass through the gate, they run towards me. If I don’t stay ahead of them, some of the hens will get in front on me, blocking my way forward and preventing my movement. So I have to be quick, and trot to the vegetable bed. The hens run along behind. It is quite a sight. I feel like the Pied Piper.
The girls recognise my garden fork, and even before I start, the excitement is building. They’ve seen it all before and know what’s coming; they cluck and peck, asserting dominance and striving for prime position. They have one thing on their mind, worms!
My intention was to dig four trenches, add the potatoes, water them, and cover them up, first with soil and then with a fleece cover. It wasn’t so easy.
I make my first hole but the hens block my view of the soil; I am digging blind, and know from the excited cries, that the first worms have been taken. As a distraction, I move further along the row and continue digging. Despite my very slow progress, partly because I had to be careful with the fork so as not to stab a chicken, I reach the end of the row.
Wanting to assess my work, I step back and wait for the girls to drift away. They have filled in the trench! Would you believe it? All my hard work for nothing! All I have done is help the girls find breakfast! A new plan was needed. I decide the only way I was going to manage it was to dig a hole, plant a potato, cover it up, and so on.
Despite the kafuffle, it worked. Job done.
One question remains. Have I planted the potatoes evenly and in straight rows? I doubt it, since I couldn’t really tell what I was doing. If anyone asks, I do not have a drinking problem, nor do I need my eyes tested. I simply had chickens to contend with . . . chickens with greedy appetites and bulging crops!
There’s always something going on in my chicken flock. This is Sylvie, a Speckled Grey hen with leg problems. Basically, she can’t stand for longer than a few seconds. That’s tough when she is a free-range bird who should be spending her days scratching around for grubs and enjoying the fresh country air.
Her troubles started last September. I noticed she rested in the grass for longer periods than the other birds, but since she ate and drank as she should, I paid her little attention. However, gradually, over the last few months she has gotten a lot worse. Aside from never venturing very far, she lies down to eat.
Evidently, she is in a lot of pain and I feel so sorry for her.
The other day, I was digging the vegetable beds preparing for the new season when I was joined by the hens. It’s always fun watching them. As soon as I lift the soil they dive into the earth, snatching worm after worm. They are opportunists, but they are also greedy and had barely swallowed one when another was stretched away from the apparent safety of the ground.
All the time this was going on, poor Sylvie was resting her sore legs just outside the hen house. I decided then that I had to do something, and after spending some time researching, I reached the conclusion she has viral arthritis. Apparently, it’s a condition that’s common in chickens and turkeys, and there is no treatment. That’s never stopped me before. I never give up. (It’s the budding novelist in me!)
Since I have arthritis, I can sympathise with how she feels. The pain is wretched, and aside from making the joints ache, it slows down other bodily functions making the sufferer feel lethargic and very sluggish. It’s hardly any wonder that Sylvie has lost all of her desires.
So, I’ve brought her indoors, and for the moment she is living in a large box in an unheated room. The warmth will help her feel better, as, I hope, will her remaining treatment. On top of what she can manage of her regular food, I’m giving her an egg, which is great for inflammation, and a little flax oil, ginger and garlic. She is also on a course of aspirin, just a few grains, which I hope will help her deal with the pain. Then, she’s having her Epsom salt baths. Twice a day she rests in a tub of warm water and gently clucks.
Talk about spoilt!
Since it’s a virus, I believe there’s every chance she may improve and one day will return to her flock. Either way, at least I will have tried. Some of you may think I should just take the easy option and take her to an early death, but that’s not my way. I’ve never done that before, and I have had some amazing and completely unexpected successes.
There’s always a chance she’ll recover. It may be small, but it’s a chance I’ll take.
As I said, I never give up.
Until later . . .
Finally, after 6 months, Nicky has gotten her feathers! It’s taken a while for her to get used to them; she preferred being naked, and pulled and tugged, causing blood to drip down her skin. Considering she has likely to have spent first first two years of her life naked, it is an understandable reaction.
Nicky joined my flock, her retirement home having been a egg-laying barn hen, last August. She was in a state, and never allowed at the feeder, having to fight for every mouthful. For the first couple of weeks, I fed her separately, and then, having gained some strength, she developed her own method and ran between the feeders, extending her telescopic neck and grabbing a morsel before running away.
Look carefully, and you can see her bare back-end at the top of the photo!
Inside a barn with thousands of other hens, all of which were bigger than her, her feathers were nothing more than a hindrance and provided the other hens with a means of holding her down. In order to escape the pecking, she would run. In the process, the feathers would be plucked free of her body.This would have happened over and over again. As a result, they stopped growing – a sensible solution.
It’s taken a while for her brain to realise she is in a new environment. She is a tough little bird. Even on the coldest, wettest of winter days, she would take a walk, unconcerned by the challenging weather reaching her skin. Feathers were for the weak! She did not like them, and even as they started to grow, plucked them free, leaving the downy feathers in piles under the bushes.
Did she like to be different? Did she not like her new outfit? Was it itchy? I really don’t know what her problem was, but regardless, she plucked them out causing blood to drip down her body. But they grew and grew. There was no getting away from the fact she was going through a change.
It has been a confusing time. She hides in the dense shrubbery, staying away from the others and puzzled by her pretty, feathery appearance. She won’t let us pick her up, something she has previously allowed. And what’s even more strange, at least to her, is that she has equal place at the feeder. For days, she would stand on the outskirts, waiting to be bullied. It never happened and it made no sense. Her world had changed.
Finally, Nicky is one of the flock. She is accepted. She is a proper little hen. Her next challenge is the rise through the rankings.
Meet Rhoda, a 3 year old Speckled Grey Hybrid laying hen.
She has a little problem. The upshot is, she needs a bra. Let me explain.
Ever few weeks during the last 2 years she has periods when she stops eating, and drinks ridiculous amounts of water. But the water does not go through her crop and it causes it to feel like a water-filled balloon. Basically, she has a propensity to sour crop, or at least something similar, and if we ignore the situation she will die a slow death.
Sour crop is a yeast infection in the birds crop, and aside from having a squishy crop, the bird has awful smelling breath.It will kill birds and it does need to be treated. Since Rhoda only has the squishy crop, and not the infection, she makes a swift recovery, so long as we follow our routine.
Our solution is to open her beak and tip her upside down. We follow this with a couple of crop massages during the course of the next few hours, and then another tipping if necessary. Since this problem occurs regularly, she has grown used to our intervention and is cooperative.
Today, as soon as I touched her, water spilled out of her beak, and that was when she was the right way up! Yet still she carries on drinking. Now I know why the phrase bird-brain!
The poor girl. As a result of this persistent problem she has rather a saggy crop. Even when it functions properly it hangs down to her legs, and, when she trots, swings from side to side. She needs a bra. Yes, they do exist. Crop Bra’s for Chicken’s! What next?
Would I be humanizing her too much if I put one on her birthday list?
Nicky, a hybrid laying hen is the smallest hen I have ever seen, more the size of a bantam, and she arrived with very few feathers, having spent her short life squashed in a barn with hundreds of other birds. Even though she is small, she is by no means feeble. She is a calm bird with strong legs and a determined personality. She is a survivor.
Since she is featherless, she is at the bottom of the pecking order and has no place at the feeding stations in her new home. That is not a deterrent. At first light, Nicky runs to the feeder, moving faster than the others to retrieve a mouthful of food. When the others arrive, she is pecked and forced away. So she runs to a second station. There is no space for her. That’s not a problem. Little Nicky has a solution. She squeezes in between two birds, and using her telescopic neck finds her way to the grain. They notice her and peck her, but she is quick and runs to another station. This continues until her crop is full. What a girl!
Whenever I am in the enclosure, she remains on my heel in a dog-like fashion. When I open the feed bins, she jumps into the bag, always ready, always eager and tenacious. She may just be a bird, but she has a character, and I will miss her when her time comes. But there will be others to take her place. As I enjoy watching her antics I think of Freda from a couple of years ago with similar character traits, or Quasi, my first oven-ready hen that had lived a sad existence in a cage, and did not survive long in my care. She was a character too, and despite her health problems, had been a happy little girl.
Aw, what joys! For some reason, the smallest and the most troubled seem to have the biggest personalities. Maybe there is a reason for that . . .