My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


Bumblefoot, Scaly Leg Mite or Just Dirty Chicken Toenails

I had my three chickens locked up for two and  half weeks to make sure that Hannah Hen didn’t run away back across the road to where she used to live all on her own in a paddock. Last weekend it was time to let them out to free range, hoping very much that I would still have three chickens at the end of the day.

As I was letting them out and giving Hannah a lecture about staying with us and not going back across the road, I happened to see that she had something wrong with her toes. One toenail on each foot had some sort of dark lump attached to it. I quickly looked to see if the two Barnevelders had weird things on their toes. But no, their toes were perfectly fine. Maybe it was just dirt lodged under her toenails. She seems well enough and she isn’t limping.

If it is just dirty toenails, the dirt should dislodge while free ranging among the bushes and trees.

So after they had been out about an hour or so, I brought out the purple treat tin. I shook it and called them and all three came running with their funny little side to side gait. While all their heads were busy in the treat tin picking through the grain I checked out Hannah Hen’s toes. Oh No! The dark lumps are still there. It can’t just be dirt. She must have something wrong. The first thing I thought of was scaly leg mite but her legs didn’t seem to have raised scales. Or maybe she has bumblefoot (an infection).

I didn’t want to pick her up to inspect her as she is still getting used to living with us and I didn’t want to frighten her. She might run off back to that paddock. But as she walked away from the treat tin, did I see swelling under her foot? Maybe it is bumblefoot.

While the three chooks continued their scratching and pecking oblivious to my angst, I searched the internet for diagnosis and a cure. I didn’t want it to be bumblefoot as the cure is too difficult for me to administer (I won’t bore you with the gory details) so scaly leg mite it had to be. The cure was to dip her leg in cooking oil for a length of time to drown the mites or to smother her legs with Vaseline. I didn’t want to do either of those. So I rang Haitch who was out at the supermarket to ask if he would go to the pet store and get some spray for scaly leg mite. That might be easier.

Haitch got back from the pet store with no spray and a suggestion from the pet store to use cooking oil or Vaseline! So I put them to bed that evening worrying about when to do the oiling. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow night.

The next morning when I let them out I was hoping that her toes were miraculously better. No such luck. Off they went free ranging for the day while I debated when and how to drown her scaly leg mites.

At treat time later in the day I checked out Hannah Hen’s toes again. They were clean and normal! No black lumps. Dirt! Was it just dirty toenails all this time.? Had I given myself all this angst for dirty toenails? Permission to laugh very loudly at me.

Today I found a wonderful post on a blog called Tales of Keeping Chickens and Living by the Sea. The post is called Worrying About Chicken’s Health. I think the post is apt and timely.


And Then There Were Three – Eggs

At last. Three hens and three eggs. I knew even before I lifted the lid of the nesting boxes, that the last of the hens (Hilda Hen) had started laying, .

You see, I have five nesting boxes, three at one end of the hen house and two (for bigger hens) at the other end. Hannah Hen (the Partridge Wyandotte Bantam) lays in one of the dainty nesting boxes being the dainty hen that she is. And when Helen Hen (the large Barnevelder) started laying, being a young pullet she just copied the dainty but matronly Hannah Hen and laid in the same nest.

So when I got home from work a few days ago, I happened to notice some woods shavings on the ground under the larger nesting boxes at the opposite end to where Helen and Hannah lay. Either Helen or Hannah have started to lay in a nesting box at the other end of the house (not really likely) or Hilda Hen has started laying (more likely as she is Helen’s sister and she has been laying for about a week).

So I opened the lid of the nesting box and there was no doubt. It was Hilda Hen’s egg. How do I know it wasn’t Helen’s. Well, it was elongated. Helen lays a more normal shaped egg.
Hilda’s elongated brown egg is at the back on the left of the photo.
Helen’s normal shaped brown egg is at the back on the right of the photo.
Hannah’s green bantam egg at the front.

How lucky am I? (I promise I will try to make this the last egg post.)


A new bigger and better coop for my chickens

In the background is the original rather small coop I bought for my chickens before I knew anything about chickens. Here is a post about my original rather small  coop.
It was bought to hold three to four hens. At least that is what it said on the box.
It was bought before I realised how big my heavy breed Barnevelders would grow.
It was bought before I realised I would fall in love with having chickens and would want more than three.

So once I had captured Hannah Hen, I decided that the little bantam and the two rather large Barnevelders where a bit squashed in the rather small sleeping quarters in the rather small coop and were probably sleeping on top of each other. And that isn’t fair.

So I searched Trade Me and found a hen house that is meant to hold eight to ten chooks and bought a run to go with it. So I set it all up  with nice soft wood shavings in the nests and on the floor, moved the handles so the run would fit properly against the house and added perches to the run so they could sit on them and watch the world go by.

Then we moved them in. I was worried that they might not settle straight away and that they might not even want to go into the new house! I had already disrupted their lives. I had captured Hannah Hen and locked her in a rather small coop for ten days when she had been roaming free in a paddock for years.  I had locked the two Barnevelders in with Hannah Hen to get them all used to being together when they had been used to free ranging all day . How they must be hating it.

But no need to worry. After about five minutes of exploring the run, the rather brave Hilda Hen walked into the house.

And then came back out to tell the others all about it.

This is what she saw .

Since then they settled quickly in their new bigger and better coop and continued to lay their little brown and little green eggs. And they have enjoyed sitting on the perches in the run watching the world go by.
That was last weekend. This weekend it was all about letting them out to free range again. That post is for another day.


The final Hannah Hen mystery solved. What breed is she?

There were a number of mysteries surrounding Hannah Hen when she first turned up at our place.

The first mystery Hannah Hen presented us with was where did she come from.
That mystery was solved a little while later here.

Another mystery? How old is Hannah Hen? She is very tiny but she doesn’t seem to be a young hen. She seems old and wise.
That mystery was also solved at the same neighbourhood party as above. She is at least four years old. So yes, old and wise.

The next mystery was where did she sleep at night. She would spend the day at our place and then she would go off somewhere to sleep.
This mystery was solved here.

So that leaves one more mystery that has been very hard to solve. Her breed.
I spent many hours searching the internet for something that  looked a little like her. But I couldn’t find anything.
I spoke to people who “knew about chickens” but they didn’t know what breed she was.
I looked at all the beautiful pictures of “Poultry Breeds” in the Lifestyle Block magazine – Your Poultry. (Link is to volume 2 which is due out soon). She wasn’t in there.
I asked the neighbour / farmer / friend who told me where she had come from but he didn’t know.

Then after I had given up, I was searching online for something (obviously chicken related) and I came across this.
And there she was.
I sent them an email and a photo of Hannah Hen and they were able to confirm her breed for me. She is a Partridge Wyandotte Bantam. Thank you Rotherham Poultry for solving my final mystery.

And yes, it was she that laid the little green egg.  Apparently Partridge Wyandotte Bantams lay any coloured egg from “a light cream to a nice brown colour“. I am lucky enough to have her lay green eggs. (More information on blue / green egg laying chickens for those that left comments on my green eggs and ham post.)


Green Eggs and Ham

I think Dr Suess had a little chicken like Hannah Hen who laid little green eggs. His inspiration for his wonderful book.

Today I went out to feed the girls before rushing off to work at 6:45am and Hannah Hen was not in the run. There is only one place she can be. In the hen house. I know she had heard me outside. She would have known I had the treat box and scraps. I heard her scuffling around in the nesting box. I waited for her to step graciously down the little ramp but she didn’t come. She must be sitting on the nest laying an egg!

I wonder what it will look like? I wonder what colour it will be? I wonder how big it will be?

I didn’t have to wait long. She came out a few minute later as though nothing had happened. I almost threw the treats at her in my haste to lift up the nesting box lid. A little green egg. Thank you Hannah Hen.


Egg mystery unravelled (maybe)


I have had a few intriguing mysteries since keeping chickens. Firstly there was the mystery of where Hannah Hen came from. That is now solved.  Yesterday I had an egg mystery. Who laid that first little, brown egg? I did not think I would solve that mystery so quickly, if at all.

We were out for the morning and on our way home, we met up with my neighbour / friend Jay who was going for a run. We slowed down to say hello (as you do in the country) and she said she had heard my chooks as she walked past our house. Now that is quite unusual as my chooks are very quiet and I wouldn’t expect their gentle clucking as they scratch and peck to be heard from the road. So either something had frightened them (possibly some pesky sparrows had got caught in the run again while trying to steal food) or one of them had laid an egg.

When we got home I went straight outside to see if they were ok and I could only see two chooks. Hannah Hen (the bantam) and Hilda Hen (one of the Barnervelders). The coop and run are not very big so there was nowhere the third one could be hiding and I know that she can’t escape. Maybe she is sitting in the nest laying an egg. So I did what no chook would want anyone to do when trying to have a bit of privacy to lay her egg, I peeked inside. And there she was sitting on the nest. How exciting. I left her to it of course and went back inside.

After a few minutes Helen came out of that nesting box telling the whole world she had laid an egg. She was so loud that the whole neighbourhood probably heard her. She went on and on and she looked dazed and a bit shocked.

I went quickly to the nesting box and lifted the lid. There in the same nest as yesterday was an exact replica of yesterday’s egg. Aha, so now I know who laid that egg.

But then maybe I don’t know who laid yesterday’s egg. Yesterday the layer was very quiet and it was laid before 8am. Today’s layer was raucously loud and it was laid at lunchtime. So maybe yesterdays was Hilda’s and todays was Helen’s? Hilda does tend to take things in her stride and I wouldn’t expect her to make a fuss. But Helen is a bit more like me. The smallest thing can become a huge drama. One thing I can be fairly sure of though, is that both eggs came from a Barnevelder as they were almost identical in size and colour. I can’t imagine Hannah Hen’s bantam egg would be an exact replica.


Which of my chickens laid this first egg?

Who laid me this beautiful, little egg? Which one of you did this?

It could have been any of my three chickens.

They normally free range during the day but for now they are enjoying a little rest and relaxation from all that scratching and pecking. They are currently living in luxury holiday accommodation (their coop and an extended run) while Hannah Hen gets used to living with us and the two Barnevelders. Normally shutting a chicken in for a week would be plenty of time for them to realise where home is but because Hannah Hen used to live across the road in a paddock, I am not going to let them out until next weekend. That will be just over two weeks and if Hannah Hen runs back across the road after all that time sleeping here in her warm luxury accommodation then I will have to accept that she isn’t mine.

This morning just before 8, I went outside to let the sparrows out of the chicken run who had become trapped after sneaking in through the smallest gap to steal the chook’s food. Some of the sparrows were crashing against the chicken wire in the run and some were flying around inside the coop so I lifted the lid of the nesting box to give the sparrows another escape route. In amongst all of this commotion, I almost didn’t register that there was an egg in the nest. My first egg! A little brown egg nestled among the wood shavings.

Whose could it be?

Could it be Hannah Hen’s? She is a bantam so I would expect her to lay a small egg. She has been captive living in the holiday accommodation for ten days now and prior to that we think she was broody and sitting on unfertilised eggs somewhere in the paddock. Maybe it is time for her to start laying again.

Could it be Hilda Hen’s? My Barnevelders are almost six months old and should be laying sometime in the next few weeks. When I first got the Barnies, Hilda was the bigger of the two and seemed to be the most developed. Although her comb was still small, it was quite red. A Barnevelder lays a reasonably large egg but their first one can be small.

Could it be Helen Hen’s? She was the smaller of the two Barnies but in the last few weeks she has had a massive growth spurt and is now quite a bit bigger than Hilda. And I noticed a few days ago that Helen’s comb and wattle are quite developed and a lovely red.

So the layer of this egg could be any of the above. I wonder if we will solve this mystery. The photo below shows our little brown egg sitting beside a “normal sized” free range egg from the shop. Cute huh? I have boiled it and will take it to work tomorrow for lunch.


And Hannah Hen makes three

Look what I have. Three captive (and captivating) chickens.

As you probably know, Hannah Hen lives across the road all on her own in a farm paddock. Up until a few weeks ago she was spending all day at my place and then tottering off across the road to sleep somewhere in her paddock. A few weeks ago she stopped coming over and has been turning up for a few minutes for food every now and again, making strange clucky noises and then running (yes running with her little short legs) back to her paddock, probably back to her broody nest.

The aim has been ever since I got my coop, to catch this little bantam and lock her up with my two Barnevelders so that she considers this her home and I can then keep her safe, warm and well fed. This has proven to be quite difficult as although she is quite friendly, she is also elusive and very smart.

I hadn’t seen Hannah Hen for about ten days but a few days ago, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked up expecting to see a bird hopping along but it wasn’t a bird. It was Hannah Hen running as fast as she could around to the side of the house where she knows the chicken coop (and the food) is.

Aha, maybe this is my opportunity to capture her. I grabbed the treat tin and ran outside. There she was, standing in the coop pecking furiously at the scraps left by the other two (who were free ranging just outside the coop).  I thought that she would run out of the coop as I came near (as she has done in the past when I have tried to shut her in) but no, she kept pecking ravenously, even as I reached inside the coop to place the treat tin in front of her.

There was nothing on her mind except eating.
Even when Hilda Hen ran into the coop and started pecking from the treat tin alongside her, she didn’t stop eating.
Even as I shut the door of the coop and locked them both in, she didn’t stop eating.
Even when Helen Hen was running around and around, squawking outside the coop she didn’t stop eating.
Even when I opened the coop door to let Helen Hen in, she didn’t stop eating.
Even when Helen Hen caused a huge commotion, wanting the treats but not wanting to go right into the coop because Hannah Hen was in there, she didn’t stop eating.

After a few panicky minutes of this, I finally got Helen Hen far enough into the coop for me to put my hand behind her bottom and push her in and slam, the three of them were captives!

Then I started to feel unsure.
Am I doing the right thing?
Hannah Hen has been a free spirit for so long, who am I to capture her?
We think she has been sitting on eggs somewhere in her paddock. What if they are fertilised?
Maybe there is a rooster somewhere around that I haven’t seen or heard?
What if there is a brood of baby chickens sitting waiting for their mum to come back?
What if I traumatise Hannah Hen by locking her in and not letting her back to her eggs?

I rang my husband Haitch. He said that I should let her out as she is a free spirit.
I rang my daughter Aitch. She was undecided but thought Hannah Hen may become traumatised.
I desperately looked up the number of the breeder I got my Barenvelders from. Thank goodness she answered the phone.

Thank goodness for her understanding and her knowledgable advice.
I was doing the right thing as some chickens sit on unfertilised eggs for such a long time, only eating when they have to (as she obviously is) and ending up losing condition and possibly getting sick.
The best thing for Hannah Hen was to keep her locked in the coop for “a good week” and leave the two Barnies in with her.
The breeder suggested I put two boiled eggs in one of the nests as she may continue to be broody. If she does continue to sit on the eggs, the breeder has some black Orpington fertilised eggs that I could have. Fingers were crossed hoping she would remain broody.

So three days on from this dramatic and emotionally exhausting day, where are we at? Well, the photo above is the three girls today in their extended run that joins to the coop (and the coop’s minuscule run). They all seem happy and Hannah Hen does not seem traumatised.

Hannah Hen’s broodiness got broken by locking her in and so no chickens for me this time. I guess that is understandable. I’ll have to wait for her to go broody again.

I do still feel a bit mean locking the girls in for ten days but they will be free ranging once more throughout the day before they know it.


Free range chickens and heavy rain

Today at work, I looked out the window and the rain was pelting down and being blown sideways against the windows of our high rise building. All of a sudden there was a commotion with many of my workmates running towards the window and looking outside down onto the road. Apparently a wheelie bin had blown onto the road causing chaos among the traffic.

Did I run over to the window to watch the traffic chaos? No, all I could think of was my chooks being outside about 80 kilometres away from where I work, free ranging in the adverse spring weather conditions. I wondered if they were scared and if they were clever enough to take shelter in their coop.

A few weeks ago when Hannah Hen was still visiting us on a daily basis, the three of them were free ranging not far from their coop when a huge rain storm hit. I happened to be shutting the windows at the time so the rain didn’t get into our house and looked out at the chooks to see what they would do. When they heard the heavy rain came down they all looked up, possibly thinking that the sky was about to fall in, (perhaps that is a good name for a new chook when I get one – Henny Penny). Hilda Hen and Helen Hen ran into their chicken run (which has a roof) but of course Hannah Hen didn’t follow them as she doesn’t live in their (yet) so it wasn’t a safe sanctuary to her as it would be to the others. I couldn’t see where Hannah Hen went and I guessed she was sheltering under the trees in the bush somewhere.

So I went on into the bathroom and quickly shut the window with a loud bang and then I saw Hannah Hen run from where she was sheltering up against the side of the house directly under the window. She ran in the heavy rain over into the garden where she stood fluffed up and looking extremely dejected. I felt really bad for frightening her from her dry spot against the house out into the rain. Luckily the rain deluge didn’t last longer than five minutes.

So I am hoping that Hilda and Helen were clever enough to seek refuge from todays rain in their run and wherever Hannah Hen is (hopefully sitting on eggs somewhere), that she is sheltered from the rain and the relentless wind.


Chicken treats

No, I’m not letting my chooks eat Quality Street chocolates. This is the treat tin that I keep their Scratch & Lay in.

I feed my chooks the same as many people, food like Peck N Lay from the local farm / feed stores to encourage them to lay but I didn’t want my chooks to go through life eating pellets and not ever experiencing the real thing. So I went on a mission to find them some treat food.

A few weeks ago I visited my aunty in Tauranga and I called in to the local pet store at Greerton on the off chance that they may have some delicious chook treats. Being new to chooks, I don’t know where to buy these types of things or even what I was hoping to buy so I was feeling a bit naive wandering around the pet store. Just as I was about to leave thinking how silly I was to think I could buy chicken food in a pet store, I spied bags of chicken food tucked away on the bottom shelf. After reading the ingredients and talking to the lady in the store, I came out with what I hoped was the perfect treat food for my girls.

So the next day I found a brightly coloured container that they may recognise as their treat tin. (You never know when you might need to use it as a bribe.) I carried it out and gave it a wee shake as I called chook, chook, chook. I threw a few grains in front of them and that was all it took to get them to come right on over to take a look in the tin. Hilda Hen was very quick to put her head in and start sorting through all of the grains for her favourites, with Helen Hen putting her head in shortly after. Now whenever they see the treat tin, they run very quickly and stand as close as they can to me expectantly waiting while I sit down, take the lid off the tin and hold it out to them.

I have already used this treat tin as a bribe. I was going out one evening about an hour before their bedtime and I wanted to shut them in for the night before I left. So I got out the treat tin, called them and held it in their run.They did think it a bit strange and hesitated for a minute but they couldn’t resist and trotted into the run to put their head into the treat tin. Aha. Early night for you two tonight.

Actually hasn’t Hilda Hen (closest to the camera) got a scruffy tail. I wonder what that means. I think by now (5 months) I would know if she was a he. Actually she has got quite a masculine face compared to Helen.