Tag Archives: chickens

Let’s Go Outside: The Morning Routine

14 Jan

IMG_3005As I step out the back door in the semi-darkness, taking in that first breath of a new day, I feel privileged, like I am part of a special world. Yes, even in the middle of winter. I walk out the back gate into the field, pausing as I check out the sunrise, then continue down the slope, over the stream, making sure I don’t slip, which I do – often, and un-hook the electric fence.

This morning the buzzard flew over and landed in the tree next to me. He (or she) likes to watch the chickens. During the day he flies from one spot to another in a triangle around the orchard. Keeping an eye on those pesky hens. Which are, incidentally, far too fat for him to pick up. (I hope.)

As I open the shed to take out the layers pellets for the chickens, some I put in their feeders and some I scatter on the floor, I see the robin, the wren and three blackbirds are all waiting for me to hurry up so they can steal their breakfast. But first, I need to let the chickens out of the two coops. I could hear them singing away, calling me, from the field gate, impatient to stretch their wings, to have a drink and to scratch around. As they hear me approach, their calls get more urgent. One of them is particularly impatient to get out of her coop so she can make a beeline for the other coop in order to lay her egg. I shake my head. That’s chickens for you.

I feed them, refresh their water – or de-ice it if it’s a frosty morning – and check inside their coops, in the laying box just in case there is an early egg. Most of the time all I find is poop, they are mucky birds, so I take that out (yes, ugh) and put in some fresh wood shavings. There is no chance of getting a clean egg when the ground is so muddy but mud is preferable to poop.

This morning they wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew what they wanted. When it is really cold, or really muddy, they can’t scratch at the ground for worms and other exciting treats. So I go into the shed again and take out a pile of straw, scattering it around a large area so they all get to have a scratch and explore. If they’re lucky they’ll find some wheat still left on the stalk. I scatter it in a large area because chickens can be mean to the lower ranking ones if they think they’re in their straw. I’ve already had to administer first aid earlier this week to a young white chicken, whose comb had been attacked by one of my oldest ones and was bleeding starkly into her white feathers. Honestly.

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And then, I’m done. I walk out the electric fence gate, connect the conducting bits, and switch the power on. Then I carry on around the field with the dog whose nose, incidentally, has been inside a rabbit hole the entire time I’ve been with the chickens. We listen to the woodpecker, laughing away, and the male pheasant, who sounds like a broken old fashioned car horn, and walk back indoors to make myself a coffee. Refreshed, invigorated and feeling incredibly fortunate to see the countryside waking up.

Let’s Go Outside: Sowing the seeds for new projects

8 Aug

There has been a subtle change in the weather over the last few mornings. The days are still hot but the mornings have been misty, with jewelled cobwebs and an autumnal chill in the air. The farmer has also started to harvest the field at the bottom of our paddock, the combine harvester moving slowly up and down the field, reaping what they have sown, tractors scurrying back and forth.

I love this time of year. I get a bit frustrated when it is too hot which is has been throughout July. It is nice to have, don’t get me wrong, but it stops me doing what I want to do outside (an enforced break, all for the best). The farmer’s harvest signifies new beginnings. Once he has harvested, next year’s crop gets sown soon after, once the field has been freshly ploughed. I like to think, after taking a bit of a break for family time and a brief holiday, that it is now time for me to sow the seeds for my next projects. Many of these projects are the same as before, but after my break I’ve got a fresh impetus to take them to another stage.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a few changes at Hen Orchard. The birth of a chick, the arrival of three (rather naughty) ducks and sadly, last night, the death of one of my Fat Ladies. This was a chicken rescued by my friend from a commercial farm, then given a retirement home here. I’d like to think she had a wonderful last few months.

Looking forward, over the next few months, we’ve got a few projects in mind.

  • On Saturday we are going to meet a potential new member of the family. I’m not saying too much at the moment until it is all signed, sealed and delivered. Don’t want to count my chickens…
  • At the end of this month we are hoping to give a bit of structure to the house garden. Again, not saying too much until it happens. (I’m not usually superstitious but when I want something badly I keep quiet just in case it doesn’t happen!)
  • We want to get the ducks sorted. At the moment they don’t know or trust us. We’ve had a couple of occasions where they haven’t come into their coop at night and I don’t want that to happen over winter. (The pond is too big and too deep for us to try and catch them.) So we are thinking of transferring them to the orchard and giving them a paddling pool (separated from the chickens by chicken wire). Just until we know they will come when called with food. Once they do, they can come back to the pond. But. We need to catch them first. The females will be ok, I think, but Neville is a different matter.
  • Trees. Yes, the bare-root season will start again from November and I’m already planning what to put in and where.
  • The wildflowers have been such a success I’m thinking of creating shapes with them further down from Hen Orchard. Turf will need to be lifted and then the soil ploughed.
  • Then I just need to write about it all – as well as writing up what has happened so far.

In the meantime, here are some current pictures of projects from the first half of the year…

 

 

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Let’s Go Outside: The Orchard: Before & After

15 May

P1240858It is one year at our new house. Well, it will be in ten days. Packing up our old life in our old house, I had no idea how much my life was going to change. Obviously we knew we were taking on a house with land, but I don’t think we were aware of what was involved. And what it would lead to. And how, nearly a year later, a new shed would be an Extremely Exciting Event.

The day after we moved in whilst we were unpacking boxes and finding breakfast cereal and worrying about having no cooker, my dad got the mower out and started to mow the lawns. And that was pretty much the theme for the rest of the summer. Being outside, mowing, chopping weeds, more mowing, more chopping of the weeds. It was hard work as we didn’t use weedkiller – it was all by hand or machine. But mostly by hand.

The area I now call Hen Orchard used to be the Pig Pen. The previous owners had pigs there and it was fenced off with pig wire with a sty inside. We didn’t know initially what to do with that area. We had enough on elsewhere so just allowed the weeds to grow.

The chickens were free-ranging at the time, but as autumn started to hint at winter my thoughts turned to how I could keep the chickens safe during the winter months, when predators would be prowling around. And that’s when we decided to fence off the area and turn it into a chicken run. I did not like the idea of electric fencing at all, but you know what? It’s the best thing we could have done. I thought we would have 6 foot high chicken wire fencing. But that was prohibitally expensive for the area we wanted to cover. Electric fencing it was – making the area far more flexible.

But first we had to do something about the weeds.

Then the chickens were put inside. And I had an idea to turn it into an orchard.

The first thing we did was to erect fencing to the left of the orchard. Whilst the trees in our neighbour’s garden were lovely we needed to make it secure for the chickens and we wanted more privacy.

Then the trees were planted. I have holm oak along the new fencing, plus hawthorn, silver birch and leylandi. At the back, behind the wooden coop I have laurels, holly, more silver birch and hazel. Inside the orchard we have fruit trees, plus rowan, wild cherry, sweet chestnut and a nut.  With help from my brother in law we erected a wind break. This has honeysuckle and a clematis starting to grow around it. I’ve also created natural looking perches for the chickens. Some, made of willow, are now starting to grow.

Since taking the large ‘after’ picture I’ve moved things around inside a little. The purple Eglu is in the far left corner making it look a lot neater. And the blossom on the fruit trees is coming out. The grass is starting to grow, the weeds will soon be defeated. And quite soon it is going to look gorgeous.

As projects go, this is quite a satisfying result-in-progress.

Let’s Go Outside: The first, explanatory, post.

6 Mar
An example of what was facing us when we moved in.

An example of what was facing us when we moved in.

Early in 2012 we moved to the countryside. We being myself, my husband, my nine year old son and four year old daughter. The main aim was for more space, previously we lived on a modern housing estate near Milton Keynes, and we were drawn to this house by the three acres and the life the previous owners had. Three ducks, a few chickens and a dog running happily around and their son, kicking a rugby ball about in the field at the back. This was exactly what we wanted. A great deal of stress, negotiating and planning (new schools, finances, the usual house moving stuff) later, the house was ours. Now, some people thought we were mad. We very rarely went into our garden at our old house, and my husband works long hours, commuting to London a few days a week. I am a writer and was in the process of getting my freelance career off the ground and our two children had to start a brand new school. My daughter was going to be starting school for the very first time. We had no idea what we were going to do with the land – other than having space. But we thought, we don’t have to do anything with it right now. We’ve time to think about what we’d like to do with it. It didn’t occur to us that land can’t just sit there. It needs tending to.

What happens to the land if left just for a short while during the summer.

What happens to the land if left just for a short while during the summer.

Once the summer holidays were upon us, and we stopped commuting our son back to his old school, my son and I went on a chicken course. Holding that chicken in the sun, the stress of the house move and the very long school run, pretty much melted away. Surprisingly, chickens appear to be my thing. I adore them, their quirky little ways, the way they run, the way they sunbathe, the eggs they lay. And I enjoy looking after them. Picking their poop out of the coop, filling their water, scattering layers pellets, sprinkling some corn. I found life became very contended. So then I became ambitious. What next? More chickens, of course. But maybe pigs too. And trees, fruit trees and native trees. And what about bees?

Who knows what I’ll end up doing in the Great Outdoors. I’m learning every single day.