My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


Hannah Hen is a free spirit and doesn’t belong to me (yet)

Since getting my two Barnevelders, Hannah Hen has loved spending each and every day with the new girls.  She toddles off each evening about 5:15 to wherever it is that she sleeps and appears back at the coop to greet the girls the next morning. She is tolerated and she is the boss, even though she is only a bantam and much smaller than the young barnies. She has experience on her side. She is about four years old and they are only five months.

SInce Hannah Hen turned up at our house many months ago, I have never been able to work out where she sleeps. Until two weekends ago.

About 5:15, as per her usual bedtime, she leaves the barnies and furtively walks into my garden and hides in there for a while.

I have never noticed her come out the other side of the garden and had been starting to wonder if she slept somewhere in that garden – until two weekends ago. I saw her make her way slowly out the other side of the garden.

Then she made her way across the lawn.

Over to the shelter of the next garden.

Then she turned left and wandered along the edge of the garden, disappeared down the bank and into the toi tois and manuka.

I sneaked up behind her to find out where she went next. I got such a surprise. I actually thought that she would be sleeping in amongst the bushes in my garden. But no!

She flew, yes flew, over the toi tois and the manuka, onto the road. Wandered across the road, under the neighbour / friend / farmer’s gate on the other side of the road and disappeared under the wooden stockyards. So that is where she sleeps!

That was a few weekends ago.

She had been coming over later and later in the mornings until last week when she turned up just before lunch and left after a quick meal. She didn’t seem interested in looking for the barnies who were in the bush quite near and I haven’t seen her since. She was making strange noises that day and my brother who was visiting (and who has lots of chooks) said she sounded as though she was broody. So Hannah Hen is being all mysterious again.

What this has proved to me is, Hannah Hen isn’t mine. She is a free spirit. Maybe she knew I was in the process of buying another coop and was going to catch her and put her in for a week to get her used to sleeping at our place. That way I could say she is mine and I could keep her safe at nights.


Hilda Hen Missing

Each morning before I go to work I sneak out to the chicken coop in the (almost) dark (still winter in New Zealand) to open the door so the girls can free range all day. By the time we get home each evening the sun has gone down, the chooks have put themselves to bed and I shut their door to keep them safe. This night however, we got home early and expected to see both Helen and Hilda Hen eating their last fill of fresh grass just outside their coop as they normally do before putting themselves to bed.

But  this night something is very wrong. Helen Hen was where I expected her to be but she was on her own and looking anxious. (I didn’t expect to see Hannah as she goes to bed early.) Since getting Helen and Hilda Hen, they have never been more than a short distance apart even though they have such a huge area to roam. If one wanders too far, the other always notices and runs full tilt towards the other (sometimes with wing action).

So I anxiously called (here chook, chook, chook) and listened for Hilda’s answering chatter, but nothing. I sat with Helen and fed her grain while Haitch looked along the bush line for Hilda. I realised that Hilda was definitely not going to turn up so I thought I had better look a little further afield for her.  I walked down the path that goes down into the bush where they spend a lot of their day and peered through the trees and called again. Nothing. Then I walked further into the bush and down the steep hill and called again.

This time Hilda answered my call. She was clucking very very loudly and sounding distressed. She was making the sound hens make after laying an egg but I knew that this was a distress call, not an egg laying call. It was dusk, she was a very long way from her coop in an area that is very difficult to get to, and she was on her own. No wonder she was distressed.  To get to where she was calling from I ran further down the steep hill dodging trees and sticking out branches as I went, I slid down a bank so steep I had to slide down on my bottom and then ran over to where I had heard her. I couldn’t see anything as the bush on this part of our land is very thick and drops down quite steeply. I dare not go any further in case I too disappear into a place of no return.

I called again (trying to keep my voice calm) and she started clucking loudly again. I couldn’t get to where she was so I pulled myself back up the steep bank and then ran back up the hill through the bush to get Haitch. On the way back down the hill, we heard a loud clucking from near the coop. Maybe she had found her way back up the hill while I was inside. So I went back up the hill hoping to see both girls but no, Helen was there looking afraid and alone, so I guess the loud clucking was her answering Hilda’s distress call. I popped her in the coop and shut the door so I didn’t end up with two lost chooks.

I picked up the bowl of grain that I had been feeding Helen with, hoping it may help  me get Hilda back. I ran back down the hill, slid quickly back down the steep bank without any thought to my own safety (a bit like a mad mother hen I guess, protecting her chicks). I called out to her again and this time she sounded a little closer. I kept calling and she kept answering. Then I saw her gingerly picking her way over the top of a very steep bank that was covered in thick fern and other bush debris. She slowly made her way towards me stepping cautiously and very slowly. She finally got over all the debris and ferns and was able to make her way to me but on the other side of a wooden fence (where a neighbours dog roams free who likes to chase chickens). Hilda  just stood there looking at me, dazed, hungry and exhausted.

Although my chooks are friendly (especially Hilda) and are happy to take food from a hand held bowl and sometimes out of my hand, they are still new and I have never picked them up. So I couldn’t climb the fence and grab her as she might get a fright and run off again. To her left was the place of no return she had just returned from and to her right was probably the dog lurking somewhere. And she was just standing there looking at me and chattering quietly. Then I remembered the bowl of grain. I leaned over the fence and held it towards her so she could see what was in it. She took a few slow steps towards the bowl. I let her take a few pecks. Then I put the bowl on my side of the fence. She moved closer to the fence and jumped up onto the bottom rail. I held out the bowl and she started pecking. I reached my hand underneath her and picked her up. I expected a flapping of wings and a struggle but there was no fuss. She almost seemed relieved and settled in against me as I carried her all the way back to her coop where her sister was anxiously waiting.

I have no idea how she got down there or why. Maybe she got too close to the neighbours fence and the dog may have frightened her. Either that or she was being very adventurous or stupid. I guess that is the chance I have to take when I free range my chooks while I am at work all day.


Scratching and pecking in the bush

The chooks must have gone into the bush. The bush is one of their favourite places to scratch and peck.

This is the path that leads down into the bush. I’ll take a wander down to see if I can see them.

I look to the left. No chooks to be seen.  I can see where they have been scratching and lying in the dirt.

I look to the right. No chooks to be seen.

Aha, there they are. Can you see the black shape in the middle of the picture below?

Scratching and pecking is what we do.

Were you looking for us?


Beat the rats – out with the compost bin and in with the worm farm.

Since I saw mice and then rats in my Earthmaker compost bin a year or so ago, I have been unable to go near it to put anything into it or take anything out of it.  That of course is a bit of a problem, so to beat the rats, it is out with the compost bin and in with a tidy, clean and rodent free worm farm. (I guess you can say that the rats have actually beaten me.)

I checked out the worm farms that are available and ended up with the Australian made  Can O Worms. Haitch put it together for me (the plastic trays and the legs) but he didn’t want anything to do with the worms for some reason. I think he has a secret snake phobia and I’m not sure if he can actually cope with the worms.

I must admit, I was a little freaked out at opening the first box of worms. I don’t know what I expected but I definitely didn’t want to open a box and be confronted with a whole bunch of worms wriggling around. Also, the box had an expiry date of the same day that I had bought them and I was a little scared  of opening it and finding a whole box full of dead worms.  But I bravely slit open the tape and peered into the box. Thank goodness, inside the box was a nice bag of compost with the worms all tucked neatly within.

So I tipped the 2 boxes of worms and compost into my carefully prepared worm farm and carefully smoothed them out. I covered them with damp newspaper  and put their tight fitting rodent and fly free lid on. (See the ventilation holes at the top of the lid. Too small to let anything in. This is one of the main reasons I chose this brand.)

And here is the tidy, clean and rodent free worm farm all set up and ready to start producing. The plastic trays under the legs are to keep out the ants. (I will be buying some less intrusive / less ugly trays when I can find some.)


Mystery surrounding Hannah Hen (aka Brittany) solved


Last weekend we were at a neighbourhood wild food challenge party, which we have each year. And while we were there my neighbour farmer friend had a bit of a laugh at our “posh” chicken coop that had suddenly appeared on our front lawn. So I told him the story of Hannah Hen arriving at our house looking to be adopted. Our neighbour farmer friend asked what she looked like and I told him that she was small and brown and had a coloured ring around her neck making her look like she had been crossed with a pheasant.

Oh dear. He asked if she had a name and I told him it was Hannah Hen. He turned to his cute little farmer daughter and said “Brittany has a new name”. Well her little face said it all. Fear struck. Am I going to have to relinquish Hannah Hen (aka Brittany) to her rightful owner, this cute little farmer girl?

Thankfully no but before you think me very cruel towards the cute little farmer girl, let me explain something. The neighbour farmer friend and his family live half a kilometre down the road from us and the land that they farm across the road. Hannah Hen (aka Brittany) has been “living off the land” on this farm for a couple of years under the their watchful eye. The neighbour farmer friend and his family noticed her missing a few months ago and wondered where she went. They wondered if she had been taken by the hawk that is ever patrolling up and down the perimeter of this farmland. That same hawk had been responsible for the deaths of the other chooks that had been living there as her companions.

But a hawk hadn’t taken her. For some reason she decided to come and live across the road in my garden. She had been there for a few months before I started to realise she wasn’t going anywhere and decided I had better look after her. So me and the neighbour farmer friend and the cute little farmer girl decided that she was a free spirit and that she could live where she wants. (More of this story to follow.)


A rat in the chicken coop!

Nooooooo, I knew it had to happen but I didn’t think it would be this soon. I was in the house and I heard one of the chooks make a strange noise. I thought that maybe Hannah Hen had laid an egg so I went outside to investigate.

When I got outside I saw a rat run into the woodpile at the entrance to the bush (or woods as people would say in the US). Maybe the chooks had seen the rat and were frightened. But then again I’m not sure what a chook would do if face to face with a rat. Would she be frightened? But the chooks were ok, they were sitting on their favourite perch looking non-plussed.

A little later Haitch looked outside and saw the rat actually in the chicken coop eating chopped dates! (Some would say what are chopped dates doing in the chook coop!) So Haitch thought he would “deal with” this rat and crept quietly away, picked up a big rock and tip toed back to the chicken coop to throw the rock at the rat! But of course, the rat was far too clever for him. As Haitch got closer with the rock held high, the rat trotted off out of the coop and bounced into the bush.

We have had rats in the compost bin before but I thought we were keeping on top of them using our bait station but obviously not. So we refilled the bait station and put it nearer the coop, hoping the rat would come back and decide the poison was tastier than the dates.

Just as the chooks were putting themselves to bed, the rat came back. I happened to be watching out the window as I was waiting for the girls to go into the coop so I could shut them in for the night. They were having their last fill of grass before bedtime quite near the coop as they always do at dusk.

Then they saw the rat who was quite near the bait station. It was only a few metres from the chooks and they both stopped eating and they took a few steps towards the rat. The rat froze. They took a few more steps towards him and they peered at the rat with their beady eyes. Then I think they realised he might be a threat to their food (particularly their dates, maybe) and they both ran at the rat. The rat ran off back into the bush. They looked very pleased with themselves.

Hopefully he will come back tonight and have a lovely feed of bait and bring along his whole family. I had better buy some more bait and maybe a few more bait stations. I think this is going to be an ongoing battle.


One week on after the initial introduction of the 2 new chickens

Hannah Hen has decided to share her special perch with the new girls. She had been sitting on this perch taunting the new girls while they were locked in their coop getting used to their new home.

The new girls, Hilda and Helen are delighted to be allowed to share. They have even been allowed to use the perch as a preening spot.

The perch is also good for a nap after an adventure in the bush looking for bugs.


Introducing new chooks to the resident Hannah Hen (part 3)

This morning I woke up and quickly looked out to see if Hannah Hen had returned. But no, still no sign of her. So I went outside and let Hilda and Helen out of their coop and this time they ventured out very bravely indeed. They held their heads up high and trotted down to the edge of the garden and started scratching furiously and pecking away at the bugs and grass.

Once they were happily pottering and pecking, I left them and went inside to have my breakfast along with lots of habitual glances out the window to see if Hannah Hen was outside looking in waiting for treats. But still no. The night she went missing, our neighbour / farmer / friend had been shooting rabbits on his farm across the road and about 11pm I heard him stop just across the road from us and fire three shots. I think that must have been too much for Hannah Hen and she may have got scared and ran away.

And then just as I was trying to get on bravely with my morning, I glanced around and there was Hannah Hen looking in at me as if nothing had happened. She had no idea what angst she had caused me. But all is forgiven.

With a smile that wouldn’t leave my face, I dropped what I was doing and went out to entice her around the corner to be introduced to Hilda and Helen.

I needn’t have been worried about Hannah Hen getting pecked on. She is definitely the boss.


Introducing new chooks to the (missing) resident Hannah Hen (part 2)

Today should have been a very exciting and happy day for me.

I had been looking forward to today, ever since we decided to get some company for the chook that turned up at our place a few months ago, whom we named Hannah Hen. Today is the day that the two new chooks (Hilda and Helen) are to be let out of their coop to free range with her. I saw them interacting yesterday through the wire of the run and it seemed promising. No major hissy fits from either side.

So this morning the girls in the coop seemed to be up earlier than usual. Maybe they knew their big day was upon them. They beat Hannah Hen out of bed which is unusual. She is normally outside my bedroom window by 8am looking in waiting for me to get up and give her her breakfast. By 9am still no sign of Hannah Hen. Little alarm bells start ringing.

So I got up and moved the coop to give the new chooks fresh grass and made sure their water was clean. I wasn’t planning on letting them out until later in the afternoon as that is what my internet research suggested so that they didn’t have time to go too far from the coop before it was time for bed.

By 10am, still no sign of Hannah Hen so I went to the part of the garden that she has made her patch, called her (choooook, chook, chook, chook, chook) and shook the container that holds her grain. That always makes her come running. But no. Not this time. No sign of Hannah Hen. The last time I saw her was 5pm last night when she waddled back to her patch in the garden to put herself to bed.

So at 2:00pm, trying to feel excited and happy, I opened the door of Hilda and Helen’s coop to let them start foraging in their new home without Hannah Hen to greet them.

They peeped out and peeped out some more until finally they decided it was safe to venture out. Slowly they made their way down to the garden, about five metres away from their coop.

They poked around  and then pecked bugs off the cabbage tree and the manuka and then poked around some more. They looked up startled as the birds in the trees made their loud noises. They looked up startled when the neighbours lamb bleated. But they were happy for me to sit and watch them while they pecked and poked and looked up.

So what happened to Hannah Hen? Did she turn up during the day? Sadly no. But I haven’t completely lost hope. She might turn up tomorrow but I think the chances are slim. I have an idea what may have happened but will leave that for tomorrow’s post. You never know, I may not need to write that post.

So how did Hilda and Helen cope with their time out foraging and how easy was it to get them back into their coop? They stayed in the same area of the garden for about thirty minutes until a Tui flew past making a bit of a noise and they skedaddled back to their coop and wouldn’t come back out. So my concern that they may run away and not come back once their coop was opened was definitely unfounded. But I never expected for one minute that Hannah Hen wouldn’t be there to greet them.