My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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The continuous chicken moult

Not so long ago, I was feeling sorry for Helen Hen as she continued to look lack lustre and hadn’t laid since February after going into a “mini moult”. I say mini because she never looked as though she had lost any feathers but there were feathers in the coop and she had stopped laying so I was guessing she was in some sort of moult.

Hilda Hen also went into the same “mini moult” although she was laying sporadically throughout. A few weeks ago, Hilda Hen was  fat and glossy and her comb was nice and bright and she picked up her laying consistency to about 2 eggs per week.

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This was Hilda Hen three weeks ago, all fat and happy and laying.

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As you are probably aware, it is winter here in New Zealand and I leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark so I don’t see my girls except in the weekend. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw Hilda Hen this morning. Scruffy, skinny (maybe her feather loss makes her look skinny) and looking quite pathetic. And of course it is raining today, so not the best type of day to show off her beauty at the best of times.

Here was I feeling sorry for Helen Hen last weekend as she hadn’t laid for such a long time and her comb was pale. Well, she has nothing on Hilda Hen when it comes to looking pathetic. I guess she is now going into a full moult. No wonder she hasn’t laid any eggs for two weeks and there are a lot more feathers in the coop. Poor girl.

 


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Chicken patience is a virtue

Chicken patience is a virtue.
Having no chicken patience is not.

Yesterday morning I was rudely awoken by one of my chickens (I think it was Helen) making the loud “I’ve just laid an egg” noise. But she hadn’t laid an egg. She never lays at daybreak. Then Hilda decided to join in on the cacophony of sound. It was 6:17am and I panicked, thinking we were late for work. Then I realised it was Saturday.

The coop is just outside our bedroom and I think they were making sure I was awake so that I would get up and let them out, which I did of course! Naughty girls with no patience.

Then later in the morning, Helen Hen was sitting on the nest laying her egg. Hilda sat outside in the garden not far from the coop.

She was sitting patiently waiting for Helen to come out.

She waited.

And waited some more.

Then Hilda decided she had waited long enough. Her patience had run out. She got up and started pacing up and down outside the coop. Then she started making the loud bok bok bok BOKAARRRKKK  sound and looking nervously about. I think she thought Helen had come out when she wasn’t looking and had run off and left her alone.

But after another ten minutes or so, Helen did come out. Hilda ran over to her and then off they went merrily on their way scratching and pecking.

And where was Hannah Hen during all this? Well, she was sitting tightly on her eggs of course. She hasn’t come off the nest even for her ablutions, since we put the eggs under her on Thursday evening. Good little bantam. Be patient. Only another nineteen days to go.


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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.