The Photo Gallery: Week 133

This week’s theme for the Photo Gallery, kindly hosted by Tara Cain over at her blog Sticky Fingers, is the letter C.  Well now, this could be a veritable Pandora’s box… Chocolate, of course being the first thing that comes into my head, children which, I’m sure will be very popular, cooking, cakes, cookies… the world is our oyster.

So, what have I chosen? Well, I’m a bit predictable I suppose and I’m going for chickens. Until you keep them you cannot appreciate what interesting, busy little creatures they are. Every single one of them with their own little foibles, habits and quirks. All so different.

But in one thing they are all of the same mind – FOOD. With Polly, the Light Sussex (white one to the uninitiated), the alpha hen since Hetty died and queen greedy of the flock. It’s so funny to watch her when you put out three containers of corn in the afternoon. She runs around like a demented whatever, pushing in, eating some from this container, then rushing over to another eating some pushing fellow hens out of the way and then rushing off to another one and so on.

Chickens on a mission to find food!

Chickens on a mission to find food!

When I’m at home, and in the summer when it’s lighter later, they are let out of their run. Off they roar, making a bee line for…. the bird feeders, knowing there are always easy pickings under the containers. The wheat that the finches and tits have discarded is what they’re after! It’s so funny watching them loitering around waiting for the grains to fall to the ground, at which time they all plunge in head first to get to them first.

If you value your life, you don’t go and sit in the garden with a cuppa  and a packet of Garibaldi biscuits. If you do, you get mobbed. I’ve had my biscuit snatched out of my fingers on it’s way to my mouth. They have no manners when it comes to food !


With two young cats around the house there are also lots of toys about the place. These include 4 or 5 ping-pong balls that they love kicking around. Minnie, especially, loves it when I throw one up the stairs to the corner where it hits the wall and, barely before it has the time to bounce off the wall, she is there. Kicking it between her legs, turning somersaults and chasing it down the stairs, trying to catch it as it bounces high in the air when it hits the wooden floor.

As you can imagine, these ping-pong balls are always disappearing under the furniture; two bookcases, a dresser and small plan chest of drawers. All these pieces have fishtail designs around the bottom, so it is difficult for the cats to get their paws in to scoop them out.

I know when one has gone under the furniture as Minnie, as it is nearly always she, sits by the bookcase or whatever, or sticks her arm leg in, to try to scoop it out.

It happened thus, this morning. “Lost your bally?” (sorry, cat-talk), I said. Using the handle end of a dressage whip, kept indoors for just this purpose, I got down flat on my tummy to peer under the bookcase. Aha, there it was, in the gloom, right at the back. So I bashed it, with the handle of the dressage whip, as is my want, expecting it to come shooting out the other end. But it didn’t.

I looked again and there was nothing there. “Oh dear,” I said to Minnie who was breathing down my neck, “there’s nothing there after all!”

Not wanting to disappoint her, I checked on the other side of the fishtail. Aha, there was one there! So, again, head flat on the floor in front of the bookcase, but more gently this time, I tried to scoop it out. In the gloom, at eye level, not six inches from my nose, I saw some tiny scrabbling legs. EEeeeeeek!! its’ a mouse!!!!! I said, as I jumped up, glad that it hadn’t shot out into my face!

I walked away, feeling awful that I had bashed it with the dressage whip and leaving Minnie to her efforts to extricate it.

Minnie - Butter wouldn't melt......

Minnie – Butter wouldn’t melt……

The Photo Gallery: Week 131

This week’s theme is ‘girls’. Well, my girls, with whom you might already be familiar, if you are following me on this journey, are my lovely two kitten-cats. Well, they’re not kitten-cats any longer as they are 19 months old, can’t believe that time flies so fast these days.

Maisie and Minnie

Maisie and Minnie

Minnie and Maisie are very different. Minnie is much bigger than Minnie and is predominately ginger and white with tabby tinges. She eats a lot, loves to be outside, has quite slow reactions (though she is a good hunter), loves lolling about on the back of the settee or my lap. She loves affection, but hates to be picked up. She is a big softee and will never scratch you. She takes no notice if you tell her off,  she’s thick-skinned and does exactly as she pleases.

Minnie, on the other hand, is small and lithe and quick as a flash. Very intelligent and nervous. She just loves to be with me. Even if it’s chucking it down with rain, she’ll trot out to the stable behind me, waiting till all is done and then scampers back to the house in ahead of me. She loves to sit on my lap when I’m cleaning my teeth and will come up to bed with me.

Sadly, there is an undercurrant of sibling rivalry and I can see them both, whether at the end of the bed, or near me in the sitting room glaring at each other. If they could talk they’d be saying, “Don’t you dare sit on her lap, that’s my place!” Sometimes Maisie will go for poor little Minnie and I am sure it is just that she’s jealous. They are ‘my girlies’ and I love them dearly!

A difficult decision

Six, or maybe 7, years ago we (my ex partner and I) decided we would like some hens. Well, to be honest, it was probably me who decided and he went along with it!

Dotty, a Cuckoo Maran, Hetty a Speckled Maran, and Aggie and Betty, two Black Rocks were, you  might say, my foundation stock. I bought them from an ol’boy who I thought was a breeder, but who turned out to be a bit of a wheeler dealer, as they say.

All four hens were pretty wild, although Betty did become approachable in time. She used to sit on the spade when my ex was digging-over the veg plot. They were very clever (who says that chickens are dumb?) because whenever they saw the fork or spade they would waddle after you as they knew that worms would be in the offing.

Grumpy Dotty

Grumpy Dotty

After a couple of years, we were in the garden one early summer’s day and Hetty (the Alpha hen) hurtled past us. Catching a glimpse of bright red on her breast we thought that she had injured herself. Trying to catch her was out of the question… like her three comrades in arms,  she was unapproachable. After some investigations, trying to look as closely as we could, we came to the conclusion that her flesh wasn’t broken but was livid red and devoid of feathers. We then discovered that the feathers were all in the nest box, and after doing some internet research we came to the conclusion that she was broody, and indeed she was.

We built her a broody coop and bought 6 hatching eggs, including a couple of blue cream legbar eggs, and a Welsummer egg gifted by my neighbour. 22 or 23 traumatic days later, the eggs started to hatch. I say ‘traumatic’ because Hetty was such a good hen she just sat on ‘her’ eggs, refusing all sustinance or inducements to take a walk. After 10 days I was physically pushing her off the eggs (what the experts would have said, god only knows) and covering the eggs with a towel. During those days she hardly ate or drank anything.

The outcome was 4 chicks. The other eggs didn’t hatch. Two Rhode Island Reds, a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer. One Rhode Island Red, Boris, and the Cream Legbar, Ozzie, were obviously cockerals. My neighbour took them, we thought to breed with because they were purebreds, but I have a sneaking suspicion  that they ended up in the pot, which, between  you and me, we were very sad about.

That left Winnie the Welsummer and my lovely Rosie the Rhode Island Red. Sadly Rosie died 2 weeks after getting over an oviduct infection. She had Marek’s disease which paralyses their legs.

We lost the two Black Rocks and, in 2009, we added two more to our dwindling flock. A Buff Orpington, aka Buffy and a Light Sussex we named Polly. Sadly, a couple of years later lovely Hetty, Mother Hen, died. Just leaving Dotty, Winnie, Polly and Buffy.

Hetty hen

Hetty hen

Dotty is in her 9th year and although she laid two or three eggs last year, her egg-laying days are over. Her eggs have always been speckled with blood, so had she been in a commercial flock, she would probably would have been culled at the end of her first year. So she has had a good life with me. Winnie is 6 this year, as are the other two.  She has only ever been ‘on the lay’ for 3 months of the year, god knows why. Last year she probably only laid half a dozen eggs.

The difficult decision is what do I do with Dotty and Winnie? I have to say that neither of them are very nice, and neither of them are friendly. Dotty is a bit aggressive with the others and Winnie drives me mad because she won’t come in at the end of the day. I have to get booted and coated up, wooly hat as well, just to go outside to get her in before Charlie fox catches her!

Winnie Welsummer

Winnie Welsummer

Last year I felt the time had come to send them to chicken heaven, but I certainly couldn’t despatch them myself. I asked my neighbour if he could do the dastardly deed and he said that he would, just remind him. That was nearly a year ago and I haven’t reminded him. Can’t bring myself to do it. I am finding it difficult to come to terms with actually having an animal’s life terminated. It’s different if they are terminally ill or suffering, then there is no choice, but just because they are too old to lay eggs, and are not very nice characters, is that enough of an excuse to chop off their heads? Am I being too sentimental? Would you be able to do it?


The joys of country living

I awoke on Monday morning with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Looking out of the window I realised why. A blanket of snow covered the garden, shrubs trees, fences as far as the eye could see. It was 6.10 am and I had to be at work by 9 am.

I groaned as I pulled on my three layers of stable clothing. Brrrr I thought, as the central heating hadn’t yet kicked in. Managing to get downstairs without being tripped up by  Minnie or Maisie who chased down with me, hopeful for a handful of biscuits for breakfast, I filled the hens’ saucepan with water.

After yet two more layers of clothing, a silly-looking wool hat with ear flaps and thick gloves, I ventured out of the back door. Brrrr, I said out aloud.  Brrrrr, I said again, as I looked at the  thermometer.  -12 degrees it said. Brrrr flippin’ brrrr, I said again.

The catch on the gate into the field was frozen, as was the bolt on the stable door and the clip on the gate into the hen’s run. Unable to touch metal anywhere with my bare hands, as they stuck to it, I kept my gloves on.

After giving Max his breakfast I mucked him out. His droppings (poo to you) and the water in his bucket were frozen solid, as was the outside tap.

I groaned, (again) when I saw the accumulation of snow on the netting above the chicken run.

Snow on chicken run netting

Snow on chicken run netting

Instead of 5′ high, the weight of the snow had reduced the height of the netting to more like 3′. Before I could open up the hens’ pop hole, I would have to remove the snow weighing down the netting. This I did with a broom, from underneath. Thank god for my hat, I thought, as the snow showered down around me.

I found some parcel tags (which were, surprisingly, where they were supposed to be) to anchor the netting that I’d pulled tight down the sides of the run. This done, I could open the pop hole.

Don't want to come out, thanks very much

Don’t want to come out, thanks very much

Oh well, stay in there I said, and they did – all day. Don’t blame them, at -12 degrees I didn’t want to stay outside either.

Next job? Breaking the ice on the trough with a lump hammer and scooping it out with a sieve so it didn’t knit together. It was over an inch thick. Brrr, I thought.

Had to fill Max’s water buckets in the bathroom and every time I went into the house my glasses steamed up. What a struggle, I thought as I trudged down the drive to open the gate. All of this before I try to get to work to start my day job!

Finally, all the outside jobs done, I could go in to shower, breakfast, get dressed and off…. Oh, better get the snow off the car and turn on the ignition to warm it up, I thought.  Easy peasey, right?  But no, I couldn’t open the driver’s door! No matter how I tugged, it wouldn’t budge! So back into the house for some warm water and a sponge and yet again not being able to see because of my glasses steaming up. Blow this for a game of soldiers, I thought, as again I left the house with a another bucket of warm water. After a few minutes, I managed to thaw out the ice around the door and it opened. Allellujah, I said as I started the car. Crikey, it started first time!

As I drove down the drive, a mere 40 minutes late for work, I looked in the mirror to see Max standing by the gate, looking at me ….

Can I come in now please, mum?

Can I come in now please, mum?