My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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The possum who thought he was a chicken.

On the way home from work last Friday, we decided to stop for a meal. We got home about 8pm, which is dark here in New Zealand at this time of year. When we got home, I went outside without my torch and felt my way to the door of the run and shut the chickens in for the night.

The next morning there were the chickens as usual, at first patiently waiting and then if I don’t come out quickly enough, crowing and cackling to make sure  I am awake so I could come and let them out. As soon as they hear the sliding door open, they stop their noise and look expectantly at the corner of the house where they know I will soon appear with treat tin in hand.

An hour or so later, I went back outside to collect the eggs from yesterday. I lifted up the lid of the nesting boxes at one end of the chicken house. Two lovely brown eggs. Thank you Hilda and Helen.

Then I walked around to the other side to the other nesting boxes.

I opened the lid and I got such a fright! I could not believe what I saw! There curled up sound asleep in one of the nesting boxes was a possum!

How on earth did he get in there?
When did he get in there? Possums are nocturnal animals and he would not have been curled up asleep in there before I shut the door to the run at 8pm.
He was not there that morning as I cleaned the nesting boxes before I went to work.
There is no hole in the run or the coop so he could not have got in after I had shut the door.

The only thing I can think of is that he was in the run when I shut the door and he got locked in for the night. It was a very dark night and if he was in the run, I wouldn’t have seen him. But why didn’t he make a noise when he saw me?

But what did the possum do after I shut the door?

Did he just go into the chicken house, squeeze past King George and turn right and choose the nest box that Hannah wasn’t sleeping in and curl up for the night?
But he is a nocturnal animal. Maybe he roamed all night in the small run, trying to get out before giving up and going into the house to bed.

How did he manage to get past King George? King George only just fits in the chicken house. He squeezes himself through the door and just plops himself down on the floor, almost filling the whole floor area. I am sure King George would have made a fuss if he saw a possum trying to squeeze past him?
Why did the possum not try to attack my girls?

How could the chickens not be aware of the posssum sleeping beside them when they got up the next morning? But then I guess it is dark in the house. Can they not smell that there was an intruder sleeping in their house? Maybe chickens don’t have a sense of smell?

When King George was crowing at 5am in the chicken house, how did the possum not wake up and get a fright and run about?

It is all a big mystery that I do not think I can ever solve.

So what did I do with the possum? I got a broom and woke him up and poked him out of the house and into the run. Possums are classed as pests in New Zealand as they  eat our native trees and birds eggs so I won’t go into what happened next.

A very bizarre experience but the egg that Hannah had laid the day before survived being slept on by the possum. He had somehow managed to roll the golf ball out of the nest but the egg as still there, intact and safely buried in the wood shavings. I am surprised the possum didn’t eat it.


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Did red mites kill my chicken?

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This has been a very traumatic week.

This is a picture of my partridge wyandotte bantam, Hannah Hen. This is her, when she first chose us to  live with. She has been with us for approximately nine months and we worked out after finding out where she came from that she is quite an old bantam.

Hannah Hen has hatched five beautiful babies for us and looked after them until they were ten weeks old before she decided they were big enough to make their own way in the world. The same day she abandoned her chicks, she laid her first little green egg since being broody.

A week ago (three weeks after she abandoned her chicks), Hannah Hen decided it was time to hatch some more babies. So she started sitting on a golf ball and two of her eggs which she managed to hide from me.

Oh no. Not again. Not so soon. I still have a batch of teenage chicks living in the coop (without the ramp) that Hannah Hen would need for new chicks. I don’t want to move the teenagers into the coop with the big girls because Helen Hen is mean to them.  I don’t want to sell my teenagers yet because I want to watch them grow into fine adults. Perhaps I could get out my original smaller coop for the teenagers (they’re only small) and then Hannah Hen could have her maternity ward back.

Then I had to quickly think about what breed of chicks do I want to have next time. I don’t have a rooster so I buy fertilised eggs, so therefore can select any breed of chick, depending on what eggs are available at the time.

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So I decided to have her hatch some Barnevelders because they have such wonderful personalities and they are so pretty.

Hannah Hen had been happily sitting on her golf ball and her two little green eggs for about five days, so I thought it safe and arranged  to get some fertilised Barnevelder eggs on Sunday from the same breeder I got Helen and Hilda from. I had until the weekend to sort out the coop situation.

Then on Saturday morning around 7am, Hannah Hen got off her eggs and didn’t go back on them until midday. Very unusual, as once she is broody, she sits tight, hardly getting off for eating and ablutions. She was a bit puffed up and didn’t move far. I took the opportunity while she was off to check the nest for mites as I know they can force a broody hen off the nest.

I had had an outbreak of mites in the chick’s coop but had worked hard to get rid of them. I had not seen any mites in the big girl’s coop  as I had DE’d it as a mite preventative (I had forgotten to do the chick’s coop when I bought it) and so far the big coop had been mite free. But you never know, so I checked the nest. No sign of any mites, even under the eggs and golf ball.

I phoned the breeder to cancel the fertilised eggs for now as I think something is not quite right.

The next morning (Sunday) Hannah Hen again got off the nest at 7am but this time stayed off the eggs all day. She didn’t look well and was fluffed up and looking very lethargic for most of the day. She stood around and didn’t move far and at one stage I saw her standing with her little head bowed with her eyes closed. She did not look well at all. I decided that when she goes to bed that night, I would pick her up and check her over. I am not able to do that during the day as she won’t let me get too near her. I checked her nest again for mites, but nothing again. And none to be seen anywhere else in the coop.

Then in the afternoon she perked up and started looking her normal self. So that night I didn’t bother to check her out.

Monday morning we went to work in the dark and the chickens were still sleeping so I opened the door of their run so they can free range.
Monday night we were late home and the chickens were in bed and so I just shut the door.
Tuesday morning we left again in the dark before the chickens were up and opened the door.

Tuesday evening we were home at six. (The chickens bedtime at the moment is 8pm.) Hannah Hen was missing. How long has she been missing? I haven’t seen them since Sunday and she had been very poorly Sunday morning. I started to get worried. I checked in her nesting box in case she was sitting back on her golf ball. But she wasn’t there and to my horror, the nest and the golf ball were teeming with mites.

How could this happen? I had been so diligent in checking (or so I thought). I know that mites can kill chickens by causing anaemia. Then I remembered her little droopy head and her eyes closing while she was standing up. I remembered that she was lethargic. Why didn’t I see the signs and rifle through the nest, lifting up the wood shavings and hunting those mites out? How could my inexperience at chicken management cause the death of my Hannah Hen? She had lived for years across the road on the farm on her own and I took her in to keep her safe. How could I do that to her?

She didn’t turn up that night. I cried. I felt so bad and so sad.

I went to work the next day and was very sad but I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Not even my kids. If I had even a hint of sympathy, I would have burst into a fresh set of tears, so I told no one.  I will tell them once I have worked through what I have done.

Wednesday evening we came home and I was sadly and lethargically going about my business of preparing dinner. I asked my husband if he would go outside and look through the bush for Hannah Hen’s body so we could bury her.

Then a few minutes later, my husband called out to me, “Hey, Hannah is outside!” I looked out the window and there she was, looking bright and perky  doing the evening pre bedtime preening with the rest of them. Not long after this, she wandered off into the bushes for the night. The mites had driven off her nest and out of her coop.


The night I discovered the mites, I sprayed and DE’d  and sprayed and DE’d some more like a mad woman. But this weekend my plan is to empty the coop of wood shavings, spray it with Poultry Shield, let it dry, dust it with DE, put in fresh shavings and one day soon, try to encourage Hannah Hen back into her nest. I have a few plans for how to do this. But first I need to find where she is sleeping.