My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


I am now paranoid about dogs and my chickens

After the dog ordeal in the previous post, I have maybe, just maybe, become a tiny bit paranoid.

We were arriving home from work a few days ago and there on the road, running merrily along, was the neighbour’s poodle type dog. It was quite a long way from it’s home and it had to pass our (ungated) driveway to get back to it’s place. This is the same horrible dog. that I suspect chased Hilda Hen and caused her to go missing one evening. It is also the same dog that has chased a neighbours ducks whilst it was being walked along the road. A menace.

So what did I do? Well, some kind of mother hen instinct came over me. I hid behind some bushes (in my corporate work clothes and heels) to see if this poodley thing would stop at our (ungated) driveway on the way past and dare to poke his fluffy nose onto my property. One glimpse (or sniff) of my free ranging chickens, who knows what would happen.

So I watched from behind the bushes, this thing merrily trotting along the road and thank goodness, he trotted right on past our driveway. But wait! He decided to turn back and take a look up our driveway and then tentatively started to take a few steps onto our property.

So now what did I do? The mother hen instinct really kicked in and I leaped out from behind the bushes, shouting and flailing my arms about and running towards this poor little poodley type dog. He must have got the fright of his life. This mad woman coming towards him. He put his tail between his legs and he slunk off as fast as his fluffy legs would carry him, out of my driveway and along the road towards his home. I continued to run along our fence line shouting and flailing my arms at this dog, until I lost sight of  him.

My husband, Haitch was standing in horror beside the car, watching this drama unfold and all he said was “you are one scary lady”.


A visiting dog hurt my chicken!

Well, the dog didn’t actually hurt my chicken. Helen Hen did it to herself but I will blame the dog because this is my story.

When I read other blogs about chickens getting hurt or killed, the culprits are usually foxes, hawks or visiting (either invited or uninvited) dogs. So when I look at that list, I am thinking that if anything is likely to hurt my chickens, it would be the visiting dog.

So when a visitor came last weekend with a very big, young dog, I decided to put the chickens back in the run to keep them safe. For some reason I thought it would be ok to let the dog outside (under my very watchful eye) to see how the chickens and the dog reacted. After all, what can happen with the chickens safely in the coop? This dog will be a regular visitor and I don’t always want him in the house when he comes to visit.

Well, I didn’t expect what happened next.

The dog went outside and looked at the chickens. As soon as the two Barnevelders saw the dog (Hannah was in the hen house) they squawked, flew against the run flapping their wings and went crazy. When the dog saw this, he got very excited and lunged at the coop (I think he was trying to play as he is still a puppy, albeit a huge one). This made the chickens squawk louder, flap their wings harder and go crazier.

I screamed and the visitor grabbed the dog by the collar and took him back into the house. When I checked on the chickens to see if they were ok from their dog ordeal, I noticed Helen had blood dripping down her face. How on earth could this have happened?

I looked around the run to see what could have caused it. Then I saw that they had flown into the corner of the run in such a panic that they had popped the pins that held the wire in place and a sharp bit must have cut Helen Hen somewhere on her head. There was blood splattered on the outside of the hen house and all through the pine shavings on the floor inside the house.

Well, that was last weekend. I couldn’t write about it then as I was too upset. She is healing nicely and is happy again and I am very relieved. She had a small rip at the base of her comb on her head and she stopped laying for three days. But all is back to normal in our hen house.


The chickens are sleeping in the nesting boxes

When I only had the two Barnevelders (Hannah Hen was still sleeping across the road in her paddock), they had a smaller house with two nesting boxes, which they loved to sleep in.

Because I wanted the nesting boxes to  be kept clean for the laying of eggs, I put cardboard boxes in the nesting boxes at night (and took them out again in the morning), which forced the girls to sleep on the perches. So far, so good.

Then when I managed to capture Hannah Hen, I upgraded their accommodation. This house had five nesting boxes and I don’t happen to have five cardboard boxes of the right size lying around. So I left the girls to it and hoped they would sleep on the two lovely perches in their new house.

But no. They all started sleeping in the nesting boxes, with the two Barnevelders squeezing into one nesting box  at one end of the house (the nesting boxes you see in the upgraded accommodation photo in the link above) and Hannah Hen sleeps in one of the smaller nesting boxes at the other end of the house (there are three smaller ones at that end).

A few weeks ago I got home after their bedtime. I wanted to check that they were all in the house (as they free range and I always worry that one of them will be missing (like here) and I saw one of the Barnevelders had squeezed her bulk into the little nesting box that Hannah Hen sleeps in (she had backed herself in) and there was Hannah Hen sleeping on top of her and all I could see of Hannah Hen was her little fluffy bum sticking out. I was a bit worried that night that they would both suffocate but no, the next morning they were up and about. (I would loved to have seen them when they woke up and tried to get out of that small space.)

But thank goodness, the two Barnie girls are back sleeping together in the larger nesting box, both backed in.

So what to do about them sleeping in their nesting boxes?  Well I don’t care anymore. Each morning I clean out any pooh that might be in the nesting boxes and if there is a damp patch, I fluff  up the wood shavings to dry it out. A very small price to pay for happy hens.


I spoke too soon. The chickens found my garden

For a long time, my chickens didn’t realise there was some nice soft garden dirt to scratch in. I even wrote a post about how lucky I was. But then one of them looked up and found the garden in the tub.

And then the second one saw the first one up there and decided she would take a look as well.

And not to be out done, Hannah found the other barrel and she has it all to herself.


Did the chickens survive while we were on holiday?

The chickens survived, thanks to Aitch. She drove out twice during the five days we were away to make sure the chickens were ok.

During those visits they were shifted to fresh grass, they were given loads of treats, their water was checked, they were chatted to, they were windproofed from hurricane style winds and they were made safe from torrential rain.

The roof on their run blew off but Aitch put it back on with a few alterations to make sure it didn’t blow off again. She was drenched to the skin from the torrential rain but she made sure the chickens were safe. All of this was going on while Haitch and I were having a lovely time on holiday. Thank you Aitch.

When we returned to New Zealand the wind and rain had gone and the chickens were happy. They were back out free ranging this morning and so excited, they even ignored the treat tin and ran off to scratch and peck.


What to do with the chickens while we are away

Haitch and I have had a trip to Melbourne planned for a long time. Now it is upon us and we have been trying to decide what to do with the chickens.

Do we leave them to free range for five days and let them put themselves to bed each night. They always put themselves to bed if we are late home so I have no problems with them doing that. But when we are late home, we are still able to shut the run door so that nothing can get in at night while they are sleeping. But then I don’t think there are any night chicken predators in New Zealand except stoats or ferrets and I don’t think we have any of those around here. There are possums but I have never heard of possums attacking chickens.

If I let them free range while I am away, it means there is no one home in the evening to check that nothing has happened to them during the day. One could have got lost or hurt and there would be no one to help out.

I could always leave them locked up for five days but I feel mean doing that. But then as Haitch pointed out, they have been locked up for two weeks before and they survived. But then if they are locked up, they need their coop and run moving after two days or else the grass will be non existent. So I rang my daughter Aitch to talk it over. (She loves the chickens as much as I do so she is the perfect person to have this discussion with.)

Problem solved and I will have safe (but maybe not happy) chickens. Aitch will visit the chickens every two days to check on them, give them some treats and move the coop and run to give them new grass to scratch and peck in. I feel relieved and it means I won’t worry about them while I am away. Thanks Aitch.


Chicken sisters should watch out for each other

This morning, as every work day morning, I staggered (I am not a morning person) outside to let the chickens out of their run before going to work. We have just started daylight savings in New Zealand so the sun is just starting to rise as I am leaving for work. The three chickens are awake but still sleepy and are sitting on their perch in the run, preening themselves while they wait for me to let them out.

This morning I gave them their usual scraps scattered on the lawn as I turn to leave them to free range for the day. This morning, as every work day morning, they slowly hopped down from their perch, wandered out of the run and started to peck at the scraps. This morning was one of those mornings they didn’t particularly like the scraps on offer so they turned their little beaks up and wandered off.

By this time I had gone back inside to change into my work shoes, grab my bag and move reluctantly towards the car. As I went into my room to get my shoes, I happened to see Hannah Hen wandering and pecking, in an area that I hadn’t seen them in before. This area is very open lawn with no cover from the local hawk. This bothered me a bit but they are free range chickens and I guess it was only a matter of time before they discovered this area of our property and they need to learn to take care of themselves. I looked to see if the other two hens were following. Sure enough, Hilda Hen came trotting around the corner following Hannah Hen.

Haitch had been waiting in the car long enough so I turned away to leave them to their foraging. As I was walking towards the car, I heard one of the hens calling loudly. I had heard this distress call once before so I knew one of them was in trouble.

I ran back outside and there was Helen Hen perfectly ok but alone. Her sister Hilda Hen and Hannah Hen had gone around the corner into the unknown and left her behind. She was very distressed and calling and calling to them but they were both ignoring her.

So I went back inside, got the treat tin and one shake of this purple tin full of their favourite seeds and grain got everyone’s attention. They all came running to me. I scattered a handful of seeds and they started to happily peck and scratch together.

I was very cross with Hilda Hen for leaving her sister alone and ignoring her distress calls. I thought chicken sisters would watch out for each other!


Gardens and Chickens

Unfortunately where we live, the soil is made up of heavy, orange, gluggy clay and when our house was built unfortunately it didn’t come with topsoil. So I don’t really have a garden. I have wine barrels filled with container mix and a few herbs and other edible bits and pieces. I guess you can almost call that a garden.

I also have a few pots dotted around.

I guess this is also our garden. Our house is tucked under a bush.  Lots of very tall pine trees and lots of native trees in amongst.

I have read many other chicken blogs and it seems that chickens devastate gardens. So much so that many of them start off as free range chickens and then have be curtailed due to garden destruction.

My chickens seem to walk around with their heads down always looking for things to peck at and I don’t think they even know there is dirt and tasty things in my containers. I guess one day they might look up and find the coriander and blueberries.

Of course they can peck and scratch as much as they want in the bush.