Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Chickens

Changes In The Garden

Our modest garden is split into three sections. The woodland garden. A strip along the side of the house which is shady and is planted up with trees, climbers and woodland plants. The garden at the back of the house and the chicken area.

Shady Garden

The Back Garden

The main back garden, and the area that I can see from the big window in my office, is the main area where the growing goes on and has been reinvented many times over the forty-eight years that my family has lived here. At the back of this garden, there is a shed that, up until today, housed the chickens that I bought last Spring as day olds, but as from today they have been moved to the chicken area. We now have seventeen chickens. seven Silkies; three Pekins; two Araucanas; three Welbars; and two Wybars.

Chickens

2 Araucanas and 3 pekins
Wybar Cockerel Jack
Black Pekin Jet
Silkie Chick

The next big project for us will be to renovate the shed. Clean out all the bedding, varnish inside and weatherproof the outside. Sean fixed the roof last year for me so that should last a while. Laura’s plastic greenhouse is adjacent to the shed and in front of the greenhouse is the area where the pond is.

The Pond

The pond has really come into its own now and is teeming with life. I lost quite a few of the plants that I had planted around the pond last year so we need to do a bit of planning and improve the planting.

The pond has come on a lot since this photo
Elephants Ear
Viola Sororia Freckles
Baby Frog

Spring Bulbs In Pots

At present many of our plants are in pots and containers and I would like to increase the depth of the borders and get some of the plants into the ground instead. I have enjoyed the spring bulbs in pots so I shall do that again next year as they are easy to place around when they are at their best then move away when they go over.

Honey Bells
Allium
Tete-a-Tete
Tulip
Crocus Purple King

Perrenials

This year I have bought in some perennials and we have grown some from seed too so I am hoping to stock up the borders with them and cut down on maintenance.

Wax Flower
Japanese Anemone Pink
Erysimum Yellow Bird
Spectabilis
Kafir Lily
Astrantia Shaggy
Peony

Wild Bird Visitors

We have quite a few wild birds visiting the garden. There are a pair of Blue Tits nesting in Laura’s nest box again this year and as its right outside my window, I have a good view of the coming and going.

This baby fledgling lost his way

Easter Sunday 12th Apr 2020

The number of people who have died in hospital with COVID-19 in the UK passes 10,000, after a daily rise of 737. (10,612)

Its the time of the year to sow seeds of Courgette and Squash. I have quite a few seeds in the seedbox and this morning’s plan was to get them sown into 3″ pots of damp compost. I plan to sow some Hunter Butternut Squash, Courgettes Tromboncino, Black Beauty, Zephyr, Tuscany and All Green Bush. Its a little late in the year but I am also planning to sow Green Bell Peppers and Pepper Sweet Banana.

Queuing to lay their egg

The chickens in the garden are absolutely oblivious to the virus and are laying happily. All queueing up for the same nest box with no thought of social distancing.

The death toll, combined with a busy day trying to order an online food shop plus cooking an Easter Sunday Roast, has meant that I am sitting here at the computer, dinner has been cooked, eaten and washing up done, the shopping is ordered for Wednesday at 7 am, My Herculean task for the day. ‘Herculean task’ seems to be the latest, constantly repeated phrase on the news at the moment. The government’s description of their continuing struggle to find PPE for the front line workers in the NHS.

I am now sitting looking at the seed packets but no sowing has been done. I feel weary so the sowing will have to be postponed until tomorrow.

A Visit From The Local Fox And A Lucky Escape

Since my last post about the Silkies there have been a few developments. On the 14th of May Scarlett, the tiniest of the Silkie bantams, decided at last to sit on her eggs. Having decided that she was in earnest  this time I duly put Day 1 on my calendar. That very same night we had a visit from the local fox and the sight that greeted me the next morning was devastating. The group are housed in a double hutch which is inside a shed. The hutch was ransacked, the roof of it on the floor, the chickens traumatised but luckily still alive. After I had collected myself together, Laura and myself emptied everything out of the shed into the garden fully expecting bad news about the eggs. However, Scarlett was clinging steadfastly on to all but one of her eggs. We were very lucky that all the fox had got away with was ten eggs that Mai had gathered together. Oscar, my brave cockerel, looked as though he had done battle for his girls and won.

The situation today, 26th May,  is that Scarlett is on day 14 , Mai is on day 2 and Snowflake, one of my Pekins is also sitting on six Silkie eggs after she went broody with a vengeance on 22nd.  I think the total count to date is 22 fertile eggs under three broodies.  Oscar is doing a sterling job of looking after his girls and all of my fears about having a cockerel in the garden have disappeared. He is not noisy, as gentle as can be and so handsome that he can do no wrong in my eyes.

Setting Up For A 2018 Hatch – White Bantam Silkies

It’s 28th April and Scarlett, the white Silkie bantam, has nine fertile eggs in the nest. I have never experienced the family set up with hatching before so I have had to do a lot of reading. I have come to the conclusion that this natural kind of breeding, with a family of pure bred chickens, is the easiest yet. I have bought fertile hatching eggs before and used an incubator or a broody hen to hatch them but this is the first time that I have let nature take its course and left it to them. All I have to provide is safe housing, clean bedding, fresh water and the correct food. Human intervention is the last thing they need. After all they were breeding long before humans domesticated them. I am much happier with this situation and Im sure the chickens are too.

My breeding group consists of Oscar, a handsome cockerel, Scarlett who is the first of the girls to go broody, Starlight and Mai. They are from a good bloodline and should produce some perfect offspring. Although Scarlett is sitting, Mai has also contributed about four eggs to the clutch. Starlight, as far as I know, hasn’t layed an egg yet.

When Scarlett first showed signs of being broody I was expecting her to sit constantly on the eggs in the nest but she was spending her days out in the garden with the others whilst gathering together quite a big clutch. In my ignorance I thought that the eggs would go off but after a bit of research I find that the fertile eggs are able to stay viable for a few weeks until the broody is ready to sit and hatch. I am excited about the prospect of chicks but have no illusions about the possibility of fertility failures as the group are all so young and this will be their first attempt.

Well it’s 4th May and although we have lots of eggs in two nests there is still no sign of either hen sitting. Update 7th May – 16 eggs back in the two nests after my Grandson Jobie decided that the girls weren’t going to sit and Nanny Chris needed to get an incubator. He conscientiously carried all the eggs into the kitchen without breaking one.  He is only five, he would say nearly six, but is very knowledgeable and is usually right about most things. However, Nanny Chris doesn’t have the money to buy an incubator and another knowledgeable chicken person said “Why would she need to sit in this weather?” currently a heatwave on Bank Holiday Monday, so I cleaned out the nest, put fresh bedding in with a sprinkle of Diatom, and placed the eggs back where they were.

Update – day 19. All the Broodies are still sitting. No sign of any pipping. Scarlett is sitting tight again after a little toilet break when she sat back on the wrong nest and her eggs went cold. I sat her back on to her eggs.

Scarlett Day 21 – still no sign of any chicks.

Breeding Miniature White Silkie Chickens 2018

I have decided to have a go at breeding Miniature Silkies and on Thursday 12th April I shall be travelling to Lincoln to collect my first family group of one cockerel and three hens. I have had experience of hatching with an incubator before but I have never kept a cockerel. I have always bought in fertile hatching eggs. I am acutely aware of the problems involved both with having a cockerel and having baby chicks who turn out to be boys. I am under no illusions and realise that although the law of averages says the hatch should be 50/50 this isn’t always the case. To add to this, although Silkies are renowned for being good mothers, I once had a silkie who ate twelve hatching eggs that I had bought from Scotland and put under her to hatch as she was broody. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I don’t have to allow live chicks. I could sell fertile eggs or eat them.

Today is 4th May and it’s the first time that I have felt able to update this post. I have had a massive setback in my plans to breed miniature Silkies. After travelling all the way to Lincoln, which is quite a jaunt from home, the Silkies on sale weren’t miniatures at all but bantams. I still bought them and they are living here in the garden. They are beautiful and I love them but I am still looking for miniatures. I may let this group breed if they are inclined to but I shall persevere in my search for miniatures. It’s a hard lesson learned. The world of show chickens do not recognise the miniature apparently so I shall have to be very careful when sourcing my group.

The Silkie is a breed of chicken named for its soft, fluffy plumage. The breed has several unusual qualities including black skin and bones, blue earlobes and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. They are often exhibited in poultry shows and come in many colors. The Silkie comes in Large Fowl, Bantam and Miniature. After careful consideration I have decided to concentrate on pure white miniature. I have sourced some good blood lines so hope to produce some good stock.

In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics Silkies are known for their calm, friendly temperament. they are among the most docile of poultry. The hens are also exceptionally broody and care for their young well. Although they are not prolific layers themselves, laying about three eggs each week, they are often used to hatch eggs from other breeds due to their broody nature. Silkie chickens are very easy to keep as pets. They are ideal to be around children which was another reason that I chose them as the grand children love the chickens.

There is no doubt that the Silkie is a very old breed, probably of Chinese origin. It is believed by some that the Silkie dates back as far as the Chinese Han Dynasty in 206BC. The Silkie made its way westward either by  the Silk Road or by the maritime routes, maybe both. 

Their feathers lack barbicels, the hooks that hold the feathers together, which gives them their fluffy appearance. The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproof so they need to keep dry.  Underneath all that fluff, the Silkie has black skin and bones. Sadly, this makes them a food delicacy in parts of the Far East. The meat is used in Chinese medicine too as it has twice as much carnitine as other chicken meat. Carnitine has anti-aging properties apparently.

Too Close For Comfort

This vixen is being seen in a garden very close to mine on a regular basis so the chickens have been confined to the run for the foreseeable future. They are showing signs of boredom already but at least they are safe. The lady who is feeding the fox assures me that she won’t be interested in my chickens as she is well fed however, it is a natural instinct for a fox to kill a chicken and this will be even more true come the spring when she has cubs to feed. I love to see foxes and think they are  beautiful creatures but I know that I need to be really vigilant to keep the hens safe from now on.

 

Eglu – 13 years on.

The Eglu was the start of a big adventure for me as I ended up with fifty chickens, all bantams, and fifteen ducks, calls and runners. This adventure came to a crashing halt when my son was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. I don’t regret a single minute spent caring for Adam and In fact feel very privileged to have spent that time with him and honoured to have been able to help him through, what was for him, a horrendous time. My new chicken venture is to help me through my grief after losing him in February 2016. Life will never be the same for us without him. However, he left me with three wonderful grandchildren, and they are a lasting legacy for which I am truly grateful. They love the chickens and the Eglu is really safe for them to use.

Today I received a refurbishment kit for the Eglu from Omlet. My Eglu was number seventeen off the production line when Omlet, the company, was born. It was delivered by their own chicken bedecked van and assembled in the garden in August 2004. It came with three large fowl, Araucana, which are blue egg layers. The students who designed and produced the chicken house have come a long way since then. I have bought plastic replacements for the originally wooden perching bars, a new green shade and an all weather transparent full cover for the bad weather to come. Other than that, thirteen years later, it is as good as new.

Well, I am a little disappointed as the replacement perches didn’t fit. They looked lovely too. Strong and easy to clean but just not the right size. However the Eglu is back together and looking safe and warm with the two new covers. The five new chickens look happy. They are all small breeds so have plenty of room and I feel confident that they will be warm and dry this winter.

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Favourite Flower 2017 – Didiscus

The growing season is at an end and after long consideration I have chosen my favourite flower from the new seeds that I have never grown before. I have gone for Didiscus for its beautiful form and colour. It is still in flower now at the end of October. This plant is aptly named as it is indeed disc shaped and both flower and foliage are lacy. The seeds I bought are mixed colours but the only one to perform for me was the beautiful blue. This years flowers are still blooming and although I scattered a few seeds in the pot I think the chickens have already taken them. I have brought the pot indoors and sown a few more seeds. After a long chicken less interval I have introduced five chickens into the garden and so must now learn to think differently about seedlings. I had sown a pot of Cerinthe too and they should be showing through but as there is no sign of life I can assume that the chickens ate those tasty new seedlings too. I look forward to many years of enjoying this self seeding gem.

 

Orpington Bantams

I have decided to sell my chickens so that I can be available to spend more time with Adam. My son Sean and his partner Deb are taking the eglu and four of the smaller chickens to live in their garden. I have advertised the three Orpington Bantams for sale and will be advertising the others soon.