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.

A memorable week #R2BC

Monday evening last week I was busying myself in the feed shed mixing Max’s tea, when I heard it. Could it be, I thought? Straining my ears, I stopped what I was doing. There it was again. My heart soared. They’re back, I thought. Then I heard it again… the unmistakable chattering of swallows. My swallows, back from Africa to spend the summer with me. I went out into the yard and there they were, a pair of them swooping and soaring,  chattering away. What joy, I was thrilled.

They have staked their claim on the stable next door to Max’s. The more dangerous one, I feel, where marauding cats are concerned, as the nest is on the gable end right in front of the door. Whereas Max’s door is on the left of the stable, the opposite end to the nest up in the pitch of the roof.

How lovely, now my family is complete!

Swallows born summer 2011

Swallows born summer 2011

Thursday was my last day working for Orchard Toys, after 5 years plus.  It was also the last day of my working life. I am now a retired person! Wow, my life is now my own. It still hasn’t really sunk in. Will now have time to ride Max, garden, grow my veggies, take photos and sort everything out. Whether I’ll have the energy is another thing!

At 11 am on the Thursday everybody was ushered into the canteen for my presentation. My boss said some really lovely things about me and I mumbled a thank you, not having prepared anything to say. Silly me.

I was gob smacked when I opened my leaving gift… It’s a Nikon SLR digi camera. I was, and am, absolutely thrilled. How kind of everybody!  I will now have the time to leisurely snap away and maybe drive off somewhere to get some shots. Hitherto, because of time constraints, I have had to take photos around the cottage or up at the field. Now, the world is my oyster! Can’t wait.

Another surprise was my card. Especially designed by Nicki one of the company’s illustrators, which shows me in my favourite cardi holding my mug. Apparently she has captured my stance perfectly. I had no idea I stood with one hand in my pocket!  What a lovely keepsake to remember my happy days at Orchard Toys!


Another event that made this a very positive week, happened on Friday night. I was sitting eating my dinner. It must have been about 8 pm and it was dusk outside.  I heard one of the cats trying to get through the catflap. It kept going ‘click’ but the cat didn’t come through. (It’s one of those that is operated by the cat’s microchip. So every time they get close to it, it goes ‘clunk’ and it opens.) I went to investigate and it was Maisie, with a baby bird, or a small bird, anyway. I managed to scoop it up as it wasn’t flapping around, unlike the bird she brought in the other month.

It looked like a dunnock. I put it on the tray on the bird feeder. Maisie followed me out there so I picked her up and shut her in the bathroom.  I kept watching the bird feeder until it got dark. The bird remained there. I really thought that I would find it still there in the morning, dead. The forecast for that night was for frost.

This morning I went to check and it had gone. So I hope that it flew off. I haven’t seen a sparrow hawk in the garden for several years, so I’m confidant that it is still alive. Hurrah!

Then today when I was digging bean and potato trenches on the veggie plot, I saw a peacock butterfly, the first I’ve seen this year! Hurrah again!

Lots of reasons to be cheerful, which is kindly hosted by Michelle at Mummy from the Heart

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

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Two little miracles

Throughout this blog, if it survives past the first year, there will, no doubt, be lots of mentions of swallows. Most years they nest in my stables and during their stay with me, they bring me such joy.

14 or 15 years ago I had just one pair nesting in my spare stable, out of which I had just moved my horse.  They had built their nest high on the gable end wall which was, unfortunately, in front of the stable door. This put them in danger from my young cats.

As soon as the hen started to sit on the nest, I made a mental note to shut the top stable door, as soon as I saw the broken shells on the stable floor, to thwart my cats’ attempts to get up to the nest. The swallows would be able to fly in and out through the stable nextdoor.

My mother was coming to stay that Saturday, so I was a little distracted and missed the broken shells. As I walked past the spare stable, when I went to let my horse out, I looked up at the nest and then down to the floor where I saw, to my dismay, the broken nest and three inert, nude little bodies on the shavings. My heart sank. Too late. I was heartbroken.

I picked up the three little bodies that could only have been a day or so old. They were but 1.5 inches long and completely bald except for a few bits of fluff. I cupped them in my hands taking the opportunity to look at wild birds at such close quarters. As they lay in my hands, looking much like Disney characters with their big heads and eyes and huge yellow beaks, did I notice a flicker of an eyelid? Was there a chance that one of them was still alive after such a fall?  I carefully cupped my hands around them, warming them and blowing gently on them. Slowly, slowly, two of them began to squirm, they were still alive, I could hardly believe it!

Now, what could I do with them? Waiting a while, until they had warmed up, I placed them on a duster, in a bowl, and put them in my linen cupboard, well away from marauding cats! Then left to drive down to my mother’s to bring her back.

On my return, I checked the linen cupboard and they were still alive! But what to feed them? It was the beginning of May, cold for that time of the year and it hadn’t rained for over a month. No flying insects L. I checked an RSPB leaflet I happened to have on caring for fledglings. Cripes, I thought, these weren’t fledglings, they were newborns! Well, it suggested scrambled eggs, and digestive biscuits soaked in water which I proceeded to feed them every few hours, with the help of a pair of tweezers.

Over the next few days, cut up worms (eeek) some flies I managed to swat (two amorous flies in one go which was a bonus) were added to their diet. They continued to survive, if looking a bit of a mess with little bits of scrambled egg and biscuit scattered about their person.

Their ‘nest’ changed to a shoebox packed with hay. They were so cute, the slightly larger one nestled his sibling under his wing and, before long, every time I opened the bathroom door they heard me coming and began to cheep madly!

Outside I could see a pair of swallows sitting up on the electricity wires above my paddock. I took the chicks in their shoebox, covered with a tea towel, out to the paddock and stood under the wires. Uncovering the shoebox, and saying to the chicks “Now cheep for all you’re worth” I held the box up, at arms’ length to let mum and dad see their chicks in the box. Every evening I did the same as, as luck would have it, the adults were roosting next to their broken nest. “Look”, I would say, “here are your babies”. During that weekend the swallows were flying in an out of my shed and barn looking for their two remaining chicks.

The chicks had fallen out of the nest on the Saturday morning, and by Tuesday morning they were still alive and I was beginning to despair. How could I train them to fly when the time came? How long could I keep feeding them every few hours? How could I continue to keep the cats away from them?

I went for a walk around the stables, hoping for inspiration. Looking into the stable nextdoor to the one with the broken nest, I looked up and saw an unused nest from the year before. Why hadn’t it occurred to me before? Why hadn’t I thought of putting the chicks in there?

Excited by the prospect of a happy ending, I put a step ladder up to the old nest and removed all the cobwebs. I brought the chicks out, stood under the parents up on the wire, removed the tea towel, again holding them up to show them. Did I imagine them moving their heads, looking down…. Quickly I took the chicks into the stable, climbed the ladder and put them, oh dear one went in head first, into the nest.

I left the stable, removing the ladder and went and hid behind my car, peering out the side to see what, if anything would happen…. I can’t type this without the tears welling up in my eyes.. After a few minutes the parents came down from the wires and… flew into the stable. Within ten minutes, they were in and out of the stable feeding their little ones.

Words cannot express how I felt. I could not believe that they had actually been watching, that they found their chicks in the nest in the other stable, three days after they had fallen from the nest nextdoor… and that they had accepted them and carried on as if nothing had happened.

Over the next few weeks I watched those little fluffy creatures turn into fully fledged birds. I was so proud of them when they flew for the first time. I had really bonded with them after caring for them for those three days, trying to find and prepare food for them, worrying about what to do with them.

It is hard to believe the tenacity of that pair of swallows, that they stayed there watching me bring out their chicks to them each day and, when the time was right, picking up feeding and caring for them again. Experts say that birds will reject chicks if they have been handled by humans… This certainly was not the case with my swallows, thank god.

Having read this post you will understand my elation when, probably in April, I will mention that my swallows have returned.