My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


Did locking my hens up stop them from laying in the bushes?

I suddenly stopped getting eggs in my nesting boxes and suspected that my free ranging girls were laying somewhere in the bushes but I have never found their nest.

So I locked them up each day until late afternoon, for one week.  During that week, the Barnevelders, Helen and Hilda got the message and started laying in the nesting boxes again. But Hannah Hen, my best layer, only laid one egg during that week.  She has not laid an egg in the nesting box since.

While they were locked in for that week, my neighbour was letting them out each day after 3pm and I am now wondering if that wily bantam was holding onto her eggs  until she was let out and then scurried off to her bush hideaway to lay her egg.

I don’t mind Hannah Hen living here and eating my lovely food and not producing eggs. But if she is producing eggs, I want them. I do wonder if maybe she has just stopped laying. I think she is probably quite old and maybe has passed her egg time. But I am not so sure.

The only way to tell if she is laying or not is to lock her up for a week and not let her out for an afternoon walk. So I have set up the spare (maternity) coop and tonight after she has gone to bed, I am going to grab her and put her in the spare coop. I got it ready for her today with nice fresh wood shavings and fresh water and food bowls. She will hate it but at least I will know if she is laying or not.



My chickens love Al Brown’s best ugly bagels

Best Ugly Bagels  has opened in Auckland causing a bit of a stir as they are meant to be rather good. But of course, how would I know. They are not gluten free so I can’t have one.

But my friend at work knows. She says they are wonderful. But maybe they are not so wonderful after all. She let one go stale in her desk drawer. So on Friday she gave it to me to give to my chooks.


Did my chooks like Al Brown’s best ugly bagels?


Hannah Hen loved them.


Maybe I should have cut them up a bit smaller. I expected her to peck at them like the other chooks but no, not Hannah Hen. She gulped them down in one big beakful. 


She didn’t stop until they were all gone.


Hannah Hen is back sleeping in her coop and not outside in the trees

After being chased off her broody nest by poultry mites, Hannah Hen, my partridge wyandotte bantam started sleeping in the trees at night so she didn’t have to be anywhere near those nasty mites.

So once I had ridded the nest of mites, I needed to get Hannah back sleeping in the cozy, warm coop. I didn’t want her to be cold or wet or hurt at night while she slept in the trees.

So the first night after I found her in the trees, I hatched three plans to get her back into the coop at night, a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.
Plan A consisted of me luring her into the coop each night with treats and shutting her in so that she had no choice but to go into the house to sleep. She would eventually get used to this and go to bed on her own.
Plan B consisted of me going out at night in the dark and getting her out of the tree and putting her into the coop.
If plan A and plan B failed, plan C was to lock her in the coop for a week until she realised this was her home. But that was a drastic thing to do to a free range hen.


The first night after finding her sleeping in the trees, I put plan A into action. I lured her into the coop with watermelon and yoghurt, about one hour before her bedtime. All three of the big girls trotted into the coop for the treats and I shut the door behind them. They ate the yoghurt, pecked away at the watermelon (until they tipped it skin side up and couldn’t be bothered turning it back over) and by the time they realised they were locked in for the night, they all happily hopped up onto the perch to wait for bedtime.

Later in the evening after they were settled for the night, I checked in the coop to see where they were sleeping.
I found Hilda Hen and Helen Hen in their normal beds (my girls have always slept in the nesting boxes) and Hannah Hen had squeezed herself in with Helen in the same nesting box. There was no way she was going back to the other side of the coop because those nests were where the mites were. What a clever chicken.

The next night I lured her into the coop with her favourite treat tin but Helen and Hilda were busy outside and didn’t want to go in. I let Hannah Hen wander back out and thought I would get them all a little later in the evening but I missed my opportunity and Hannah waddled off and flew up into her tree for the night. I decided not to put plan B into action as the tree was at the bottom of a steep bank and I couldn’t imagine traversing down it in the dark (even with a torch) as I would probably end up rolling down the bank and frightening Hannah from her roosting spot and I may never find where she sleeps again.)

The next night I managed to lure Hannah Hen in with another of her favourite treats, corn on the cob. Hilda and Helen followed shortly after. That evening Hilda and Hannah slept in the two larger nest boxes at the favourite end and Helen got relegated to the “mite” end of the coop where the three smaller boxes are.

For the rest of the week, the evenings went on as above, with only one night sleeping in the trees. But when will she go back into the coop at night on her own like she used to? This weekend would be the test. We were going away. Would she take the opportunity to go back to her tree with me not being there to lure and lock her in, or would she realise the coop was safe, warm and mite-free and be happy to put herself to bed there?

We got home tonight about twenty minutes after the big girls’s bedtime. I went outside and tentatively peeped into the nest boxes and there she was! Hannah Hen had taken herself to bed and was tucked into the nesting box, safe and warm. She was still sleeping in Helen’s “mite-free” bed and Helen was in the smaller bed all alone at the other end of the coop but I don’t care.

At last I can say I have my Hannah Hen back home.  What a relief.


To sell or not to sell the chicks

The master plan for growing my brood of chickens from three to a maximum of eight (which my husband agreed to when we bought the bigger coop but has since forgotten the conversation), was to hatch a batch (or is that a clutch) of eggs each time my bantam went broody. I would then keep one of the girls from the hatch each time and sell the remainder. In this way, it would take a few years to get to my maximum number of chickens and it would give me time between broodiness to decide on the breed for the next hatch, while watching the new chicks grow.

My last (and only) hatched batch (or clutch) are now fourteen weeks old. I have three girls and two boys. The plan was to keep all of the chicks until the girls started laying and then I would keep one (Hazel with the crooked toe) and sell the other four. I decided if I kept them until the girls were laying, I might have more chance of selling the four of them as pairs. That way the boys may get a chance of surviving and living a happy life.

I say that was my plan because Hannah Hen went broody again far too quickly. (Only two weeks after she abandoned the chicks at ten weeks old). The maternity coop which I would need to move Hannah into, still had the chicks living in it. So the easiest thing (after weighing up a number of options) was to sell my four chicks early. But I was not ready to let my chicks go. I wanted to see my baby girls lay their first egg. I wanted to see what the magnificent boys looked like as fully grown bantam roosters. I wanted to enjoy the chicks for a couple more months.

But I knew how to go about selling them and that was to list them on the Trademe website, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay. So the first thing I had to do was to follow the chicks around and take some photos. The photos had to have the chicks looking as magnificent or as cute as they could, so I could entice a nice owner into buying them. At least I could take the photos. I didn’t have to list them just yet.


Here they all are innocently sitting together not realising they were posing for their Trademe photographs.


Here are the boys on their own so that the first person to want one of the pairs could see the boys colouring and choose which one they wanted.  I know it is not the best photo to show off their colouring but I had only just started taking photos. I was going to spend much of the weekend getting the right photos for  their prospective buyers. But this is as far as I got.

The mite drama and Hannah Hen being driven off her broody nest suddenly took precedence over getting the chicks to pose for photographs.

I feel terribly sorry that mites attacked Hannah Hen. It was obviously not very pleasant. But at least I can now keep my chicks for longer.


I found where Hannah Hen is spending the nights


I happened to see Hannah Hen going off to bed last night. At the end of our front lawn just before seven, one hour earlier than the younger girls. You can see her sleeping somewhere in this picture.


Can you see her?


There she is, in the manuka tree.


All tucked up for the night. On a very thin branch I might add. Luckily she is a lightweight bantam. Thank goodness it is still warm here in New Zealand, even though it is Autumn. There is no rain forecasted for the next few weeks so I have a little time up my sleeve to get her back to a mite free coop.


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.


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.)


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.


Slowly unravelling the mystery – Where did Hannah Hen come from?

The mystery of where did Hannah Hen come from is further answered today. At a neighbourhood party a few weekends ago, I found out where she had been living before she turned up at our place.

It turns out that Hannah Hen is famous. She had been carefully selected (that’s not how it was described to me but she is so beautiful that I am guessing she was carefully selected) to be part of a brood of three chooks to appear on a sustainability TV experiment where a now famous TV personality lived on an acre of land for a year.

Once the television programme / experiment had finished, the three chooks were meant to go to a friend of the TV personality.  But this friend didn’t have a coop so my very kind neighbour farmer friend (who at that time lived beside this sustainable TV experiment) offered to make her a coop and look after the three chooks until they and the coop could be safely delivered to her house.

But time went on and my neighbour farmer friend bought himself some chooks that roamed with the famous three. When he had finished making the coop for the friend he went to put the famous three in his truck but he couldn’t remember which were the famous ones. When he got the famous three and the coop to the friend’s house, she glared at one of the chooks and said “that is an impostor”. Oh well, too bad, she got three chooks and a coop.

After a while my neighbour farmer friend decided his chooks (including the famous one) could live off the land opposite where we live. (His house is just down the road and he is there every day.) She had been living there a couple of years (with different chooks as they came and went after being taken by the resident hawk) before she decided the grass was greener on the other side of the fence (road) and “moved in with me”.

So slowly we are unravelling the mystery of Hannah Hen (aka Britanny). (I am not naming the TV personality as his friend might find this story one day and want her chook back!)

But of course, no one has Hannah Hen at the moment. I think she is sitting on a pile of eggs somewhere at someone’s place. So we unravel one mystery and she immediately presents us with another.


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.