Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Mice in The Garden?

The header picture is Chico Grande, one of our many cats over the years at this house. She is long gone but was a mouser and would often present a mouse or a young bird to us.

We have noticed that we have been having mice in the garden since last Autumn. I am assuming that the fact that we have chickens is probably the main reason as they have a regular source of food and bedding plus warm hidey holes under the chicken houses. They are very attractive little creatures and although I am aware that they breed prolifically, I am loathe to do anything cruel to them.

The Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is sometimes known as the long-tailed field mouse and is widespread; it is probably most common in woodland, rough grassland and gardens. It is mostly nocturnal and an agile climber. Wood mice will gather food stores of berries and seeds in the autumn, which they keep in underground burrows or sometimes in old birds’ nests. Females have up to six litters a year of between four and eight young, and may even breed over winter if food is abundant.

Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is golden-brown, with a pale underside, large ears and eyes, and a long tail. It is bigger than the harvest mouse, and browner in colour than the house mouse.

The wood mouse is our commonest mouse and the one you are most likely to find in your garden. Because of this, it often falls prey to domestic cats, foxes and owls; in fact, tawny owls may not breed if wood mouse numbers are low as it restricts their diet. The Wildlife Trust

Laura has noticed that she has lost quite a few seeds and young plants from her greenhouse too.

This is only the second year that we haven’t had a family cat or two as our old girls and boys finally died and we haven’t replaced them. I can only assume that, although I was never happy when the cats brought me a mouse, the cats must have acted as a deterrent to the mice.

On the positive side, since the cats died, we have many more small birds inhabiting the garden now too.

Field Mice

Gardens are ideal habitats for these small mammals as they provide plenty of cover and a wide range of food sources. Sometimes, however, they come into conflict with gardeners when they eat highly valued plants, seeds and bulbs. When populations peak mice are more likely to become a nuisance in the garden. Mice are small mammals that sometimes feed on garden plants. They are shy nocturnal animals so there could be more of them in your garden than you suspect. Which Magazine.

Field Mouse

Field mice commonly live in gardens, where their vegetarian diet can cause problems for gardeners. For most of the year their numbers tend to remain low. However, in autumn they can build up high populations and cause a great deal of damage into early winter. Which Magazine

A wild, green garden full of colour and life is far more rewarding for both people and wildlife than a grey square of paving slabs and our garden is definitely a paradise for wildlife so I suppose we should welcome these creatures. Following a bit of online research, I think maybe our tiny lodgers must be Wood Mice.

Hmmmmmmm. Should I get a kitten?

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

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.

Products from Amazon.co.uk

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.

 

Jemima – Broody Call Duck

Jemima, our white Call Duck, is sitting on a nest of fertile eggs so I hope she has some luck this year. This is her second season and last year she only had one surviving duckling. Puddles, her mate is standing guard on top of their hutch and warding off all comers. We only have four call ducks now in the garden and things are much quieter and tidier. The second pair are Myley, Jemima’s baby and Rosie, one of the ducklings I hatched out last year in the incubator. They are living together and so far Rosie has six eggs in her nest. It broke our hearts to let the other calls and the runner ducks go but they are all now living in lovely places with loads of space and plenty of grass. We shall probably have to sell the ducklings if they hatch but it all helps to pay for food and bedding and the ducks will be much happier and content if they are allowed to rear a brood of their own. The ducks aren’t the only ones who are broody in the garden but as the chickens don’t have a cockerel with them there won’t be any chicks this year.