Who said keeping hens is easy?

I’d like to say that Ruby and Nellie, my two new ex-battery hens have settled in happily, but I can’t.

My previous experience of introducing new hens into my established flock, was when dear Buffy (rip) and Polly came four or five years ago. At that time the alpha hen was Hettie who, although she was boss, was a very kind hen. Everything went very smoothly and they were accepted into the flock only a few days after their arrival.

When dear Hettie ‘fell off her perch’ Polly, the Light Sussex took over as alpha hen, or ‘top dog’ ! I’m afraid I can’t say that she is a kind hen. She is a busy, neurotic, precocious hen that is bossy,and really ‘in your face’.

Polly, alpha hen

Polly, alpha hen

She is the only hen I have had that squats when you wave your hand over her. This squatting is an invitation to the cockerel to mount her! She must be more highly sexed, maybe than the other hens. For this reason, when she gets too hyper she tries to mount the other hens. Poor Buffy, was always the one that she picked on. Buffy was at the bottom of the pecking order, but she was a big hen and could take the weight of a mature Light Sussex, which is a large hen. Polly only did it now and again, so I didn’t perceive it to be a problem.

Poor Ruby, the larger of my two ex-batts, but still only half the size of Polly, is the one that Polly keeps chasing.  If she corners her, she jumps on her.  So far Ruby seems unscathed, no loss of feathers, nevertheless a frightening experience!  I am sure that if I had a cockerel, he would sort Polly out, but that would be yet another mouth to feed. As it is, I now have five hens and Polly is the only one laying.

Needless to say that Ruby and Nellie are still going to bed each night in their little broody coop that is inside the hens’ run. They do go in and out of the main coop during the day, just not at night. Yet.

Oh dear, why do I always make my life more complicated? I just want an easy life!

On a more positive note, this week more swallows arrived, so the sky around the stables is full of them swooping, circling and chattering! Such a lovely sight.

Names needed for new arrivals

The sad demise of Buffy has freed up space in the coop for one or two more hens. I was hoping that Winnie or Dottie would pop their clogs as they really are not very friendly, and haven’t laid for nearly two years. It’s always the way, the nicest hens die first!

Today I picked up two little ex-battery ladies. So tiny compared with my big hens. They’ll stay for a few days in the little ark, then I’ll put the ark inside the hens’ run, then after another few days,  I’ll let them all out together. It worked well when I introduced Buffy and Polly to the flock, let’s hope that it will this time.

They don’t have names and I would be very grateful if you could suggest some please.

Names needed for two little ex-batts

Names needed for two little ex-batts

Goodbye glory hole

When I was decorating the kitchen last year I had fully intended doing the pantry too, but when push came to shove, I didn’t. I’d had such a fight to get the wallpaper off in the kitchen (that I had pasted up 15 years before), I couldn’t face the same again in the pantry. Nor could I face finding homes for all the stuff that was in there.

Back in March I bit the bullet and started stripping wallpaper. Only a tiny space, but a pain to do.

Pantry during decoration

The contiboard shelves had to be 25+ years old and definitely needed to be replaced. Pine I thought, would be fine. I could paint them with some of that Cuprinol wood wash, in an ash colour. That would sort of fit in with the limed oak effect in the kitchen proper.

As I was driving to B & Q one Wednesday evening to take advantage of their 10% discount day for oaps to purchase said wood, I started to think that it would look quite nice if I could resource a double base unit like those in the kitchen. So my trip to Norwich to save 10% on just some sandpaper and varnish was a bit of a waste of time!

I scoured ebay and found similar kitchens, in Manchester, the south west and Essex. Mmm, Essex isn’t far, I thought. But it was a whole kitchen and was sure they wouldn’t want to let me have just one double base unit. Back to the drawing board.  Then I remembered John, the carpenter, who lived in the village. I know he’d made whole kitchens for various other village folk. Perhaps I could get a quote from him to replace the shelves and build a front, to make a cupboard?

To cut a long story short, he came over and said that yes, of course he could do that for me. So we agreed a price. He was to make a cupboard across the alcove, in oak (that he had) with two shelves, and I was to lime wax it.

It took a bit of time to arrive, and when it did it was a piece of furniture ! He had made a proper cupboard with sides, top and shelves. Only thing missing was the back. It looked brilliant and, thankfully, slotted in fine, despite the wonky cottage walls! He also replaced the shelves above the cupboard and along the back pantry wall, and over the fridge.

I spent a happy morning roughing up the grain with wire wool and applying lime wax.  I think it looks great. I wonder what you think?

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The first cuckoo and a very lucky mouse!

The day started badly. Was dragging on my clothes when I noticed Minnie scratching under the bedroom door. Thinking that her sister, Maisie, was on the other side I closed the door to have a look, but was surprised to see a little mouse scurrying away under the dressing table. Eeek, I thought, bleary eyed, I can’t catch that now! I sighed, fearing yet another corpse on the dining room floor later in the day.

As I went downstairs, I congratulated myself  that I had decided to put a wooden floor down in the dining room, rather than a new carpet. Much easier to clean up behind  the trophies that the cats seem to  be bringing in with sickening frequency.

I was late rising as I had stayed up to watch the new BBC2 detective series. It promises to be good, and was pleased that I had made the effort. But it meant that I was later to bed than usual with the obvious result in the morning. I need 8 hours sleep and my internal clock always wakes me up eight hours after I have gone to sleep.

Max, my horse, is very patient and accepts my irregular hours with equanimity. Always happy to greet me, with a nicker and a smiley face! I turned him out in home paddock as the weathermen said that it was to be really windy and rainy in the afternoon. He can be quite a handful bringing him back from the meadow with wind and rain driving into his face!

After taking delivery of a large number of bales of bedding for the stable, two men from the roofing company that installed my new roof last week, turned up to clear away the rubbish.  I have to say that I would highly recommend the company, Anglia Roofing Solutions. Have never had such polite, tidy workmen before! They were a pleasure to have around.

At last I got into the garden and carried on with flowerbed number two. For once I didn’t have my headset on, listening to Radio 4, so I was lucky to hear it. A cuckoo heralding summer, as it started to rain ! How wonderful, was so pleased as they have, sadly, become a rarity these days. Though I expect the local bird population are pleased at their decline, as, without them, they will only have the magpies, and my cats to contend with.

As I looked up from my toil, I saw Maisie sauntering past with a fledgling blackbird in her mouth! Oh my goodness, did I shout at her! But she didn’t drop it, just bolted off down the garden. Five minutes or so later, one of the roofers clearing the rubbish, who had heard me scream blue murder at her, called out to say that he saw her drop the bird on the drive at which point…. it flew away! Phew, I thought, one less little corpse on the dining room floor!

My poor garden, after night time temperatures of -14 degrees this winter,  so many shrubs seem to be dead or dieing. My bay tree looks decidedly dejected, as does my honeysuckle halliana and I think a well established variagated wigelia, in the bed I was weeding, has seen better days, too.

Distressed bay tree

Distressed bay tree

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Fortunately my spirea arguta is flourishing.

Spirea arguta

Spirea arguta

So many plants can’t cope with such low temperatures. Last year I lost a ceanothus, so planted another in a different place, but the new one looks as though it’s struggling. Will have to research carefully the new plants needed to fill all the spaces in the borders.

Well, here I was sitting writing this post. Max had his tea and my supper was in the oven. There was a rustling under the desk. Thinking that it was one of the cats, I peered into the gloom. Nothing there, only a cast-off cellophane wrapping, that had missed the wastepaper basket. So I carried on typing. There’s that rustle again. Strange I thought, I hadn’t moved my feet.  So I looked under the desk again and eeek, guess what, little mousie was sitting there looking up at me, as bold as brass.

Eeek (again) what could I do? Looking around I picked up an old shoe box and scooped up mousie, before he had time to think and whacked the lid on. Phew, saved him. I rushed downstairs, got into the kitchen and realised that there were two mouse-sized holes in the ends of the lid (presumably to help the shopkeeper to pull the box out of a stack). Eeek, did he jump out on the way down the stairs? Scooping up the kitchen towel I draped it over the box, grabbed a torch, as it was getting dark outside and rushed down the drive to the long grass area on the corner.  Took the towel off and then the lid and shone the torch into the box. Little mousie, dazed by the bright light was looking up at me. “Go on scoot,” I said as I tipped him out. He didn’t waste any time to say thank you and charged off into the long grass. As I walked back up the drive I had a big smile on my face! Ahhh, a happy ending, I thought.

Bye bye Buffy ballerina

Little did I think when I snapped Buffy having her dust bath in the bonfire ashes on Friday, (see yesterday’s 365 #18 post) that it would be her last performance.

I went out late last night to say goodnight to Max and to close up the hens’ coop, because I had been watching the last in the series of The Village (which I found most disappointing!).  After I had dropped the hens’ pop hole door, I went back to Max to give him a couple of carrots and heard argie bargie in the hen coop. As though they were squabbling about having the best perch on which to roost (though no clucking).  Then there was a ‘thud’, which was strange. I now know that it was Buffy falling off her perch. Whether she had a heart attack and toppled over onto the hen next to her, causing the ‘argie bargie’ sounds or whether somebody pecked her and she fell off the perch and broke her neck, I will never know. But there wasn’t a mark on her. So I suspect the former.

She was the star turn in my post for 365 #18 on Saturday. When responding to one of the comments, I said that I hadn’t bonded with any of the hens that I had left, because none of them would let me touch them, let alone pick them up. This wasn’t, technically, true.

Buffy was my ex partner’s hen. When we went to pick them as point of lay pullets, I chose Polly because Light Sussex hens lay really well. My ex chose Buffy, a Buff Orpington, because she was so pretty, like a ballerina, he said. She had a lovely bussle and skirts and seemed to glide across the ground. Against all the odds, she laid an egg a day practically all year in her first year. Which must be unusual for her breed..

In May, three years ago, Pippa, M’s horse, whom he had owned for nigh on 16 years, had to be put down. It was a Thursday so I took Friday off to be around for him. It was 4.15 in the afternoon and I was washing Max’s tail in front of the stables. I happened to look up and saw Buffy, in the jaws of a fox, being dragged off into the ditch at the bottom of the paddock. I ran down there wailing like a banshee and waving my arms like a helicopter.  The fox, probably wondered what an earth was coming in his direction, dropped her in the ditch and bolted!

Poor Buffy came up out of the ditch rather the worse for wear.  She let me pick her up, wash, dry and treat her wounds. Poor thing was in shock. But she survived and three or four days later was all but back to her normal self.  She was a sweet hen, without an ounce of malice in her.

I’m so glad that she had such a wonderful time in the bonfire ashes the day before she fell off her perch. R.I.P Buffy dear.

Buffy's bussle

Buffy’s bussle

Dear Buffy with 'orrible Dotty

Dear Buffy with ‘orrible Dotty

Buffy enjoying her dust bath on Saturday

Buffy enjoying her dust bath on Saturday