My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


At last I have my own Orpington

My friend has Orpingtons. I love the fat, waddly way they walk. I love their colours and I love their nature.

I knew one day the time would come when I would have my own Orpington chicken.

A couple of months ago, I bought two Plymouth Barred Rock chickens, Hillary and Henley, in their first laying season. I bought them because I needed to boost our egg production.

A few weeks after the girls settled in, Henley, became broody. I had to weigh up whether to her let her become a mum and drop our egg production for a few months, or try to break her broodiness. I took the easy way out and let her become a mum.


So of course, I called my friend and within a few hours, she had delivered four fertile eggs from her wonderful brood of Orpingtons. She recently had to get rid of one of her roosters and so was unsure of how fertile the eggs were.

Henley had been sitting tight on her golf balls for three days. I had read that it was best to put eggs under a broody at night when they were sleepy and less feisty and they will be more accepting of the eggs. My last broody was a very nasty protective mama and would try to attack me every time I went near her. She would come at me with claws and wings out, and her beak open. She was one scary mama.

But Henley was a very friendly girl and even as a broody she was quite happy to eat out of my hand when I offered her food on her broody nest. So I don’t think I need to wait until dark. I hobbled very slowly outside (I had just had a foot operation a few days before) and reached under Henley to remove the golf balls. I had to give her a little nudge to get all of them. After a few gentle bok boks, Henley wriggled herself and settled right down on top of those eggs.

Twenty one days later, she hatched one beautiful Orpington chick and discarded the rest of the eggs two days later. (I checked and they were infertile.) I am hoping my one Orpington chick is a girl. If not, I will have to try for my Orpington another time. I think she is a girl. Time will tell.


Have our Plymouth Barred Rocks settled into their new home?


The two Plymouth Barred Rocks we bought a month ago have settled in surprisingly well. Even Helen, our resident “not very nice” chicken didn’t bother them, apart from the few raised hackles when the girls were confined to the coop. Maybe it helps that these girls are bigger than my Barnevelders.

We got these girls on a Saturday and kept them locked in a coop where the others could see them. On Monday I had to take a day off work to take King George to the vet where he was put down. That afternoon when I got home, I decided to let the new girls out for a few hours while I was there to supervise. Ever since they arrived at our place, they have been very friendly girls, even coming over to me whenever I opened the door of the coop and letting me touch them. I was pretty sure they were not going to run away.

I let the girls out and sat on the grass beside them to supervise. No supervision necessary. The girls all mingled together, a little bit apprehensive of each other but no fights. In fact they were so good, that when I went to work the next day, I let all of them out and they have been free ranging together ever since then.



And I can even tell them apart. Henley has a smaller comb and is not quite as big as Hillary.

I think I have been very lucky.


Aunty Dorrie the bantam and her 18 eggs

My friend arrived at my house with her gumboots and a determination to find Aunt Dorrie and her eggs. I have shared with her over the last 10 months or so, the saga and the stories of Dorrie and my attempts to help her hatch her chicks and have them survive.

The search area we had to work with is large and treacherous (prickly gorse and dense vegetation including cutty grass and slippery clay banks). So with our gumboots on and the sun shining, we began our search.

We started where I had been searching the day before, near the lone egg. A little further down the bank from where I had been searching, my friend spotted a nest with three of Dorrie’s eggs. Why on earth didn’t I see this yesterday. Maybe because the sun wasn’t shining yesterday. There they were sitting just under the ferns with the sun shining right through and the eggs glowing beautifully in the dappled sun. But these eggs were stone cold. We were pretty sure this was not Dorrie’s broody nest.

So we spread out a little and my friend was very brave and forced her way up another steep slippery hill through tight and treacherous vegetation. There she found lots and lots of broken egg shells. She had found Dorrie’s last broody nest and her chicks had obviously hatched but not survived. (This is a very experienced chicken friend who has hatched lots of chicks and knows what a hatched eggshell looks like.) This made me all the more determined to find her current broody nest. I needed to get her and her eggs into a safe coop so that when the chicks hatch, they have a chance of survival.

So after searching this particular hill to no avail, we moved to another area that was perhaps less likely for her to be in but easier to search as the vegetation was a lot less treacherous and not as steep.

We searched for another thirty minutes with nothing. So we moved further down the hill. As my friend climbed the fence to search the vegetation on the roadside, I was starting to become a bit despondent. There are so many places that she could have her nest where we would never see her. She is so small and her colouring is camouflaged against the ferns and bushes.

And then I turned and there she was. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was sitting under a few straggly bushes and was barely sheltered at all. She was all fluffed up sitting tightly on her babies-to-be.

I called my friend over. This is so exciting and I was so glad she was here to help me and to share the excitement. The plan had been to find Dorrie and then to come back at night to move her and her eggs as that is the best time to move a broody without the risk of her abandoning the eggs.

But we agreed that it would be too difficult to get back down here in the dark, so we made a decision to move her now.

I gently scooped her up (remember this is a bantam who has never been held and lives “in the wild”) and she sat quietly. She was in her broody trance, thank goodness. I carried her as quickly as I could up the hill, through the trees and bushes and vegetation and up the steep slippery clay bank and onto the lawn in front of the house. I carried her across the lawn and she started struggling and squawking! I am so glad that King George, the rooster was way down the hill on the other side of the house. He started calling out when he heard her distressed screeching  and then the rest of the girls started squawking. We finally got to the maternity coop without any mishaps, my friend opened the door and in Dorrie was placed.

Yes, we should have had a bucket with us on our search to collect the eggs and bring them up at the same time but remember the plan was to get Dorrie and the eggs after dark. So we ran off to the garage, got a bucket, ran back down the steep slippery clay bank, down the hill and through the vegetation and back to the nest.

We collected up eighteen eggs and carried them back to the maternity coop and gently placed them in the clean, dry wood shavings. Aunt Dorrie was pacing up and down in the run and after a while she went into the house and found her eggs. She came in and out a few times but after a while she stayed in the house, hopefully sitting on her eggs.

Now it is a waiting game but so far so good. This is what I like to see. A maternity coop with no sign of the broody mum out and about.


Thanks you Trish for helping me search for Dorrie. I couldn’t have done it without you.


Is this why George has lost his mojo?


Perhaps this is why George lost his mojo. Ever since this rooster somehow found his way to our place from one of the neighbouring farms, to spend all day and every day with us, George has not been himself.


Poor George. Maybe he is thinking he can’t compete with this newcomer when he is not looking and feeling his best!

Or maybe this newcomer’s arrival coincided with George’s moult.


King George has lost his mojo


King George was a very proud rooster standing tall with his chest pushed out and his tail feathers held high. He crowed each morning long before the sun came up, eager to start his day.

When he was finally let out of the coop each morning with the girls tagging along behind him, he would do his little morning dance and then spend his day watching and listening out for his girls, finding food for them and generally standing tall with enough crows throughout the day so that any roosters within hearing distance, knew he was boss. He loved life and he loved his girls.

Then something terrible happened. He started to lose his beautiful feathers! Beautiful rooster feathers lined the coop. Beautiful rooster feathers were all over the lawn. His beautiful neck and tail feathers were gone.


King George did not stand proud anymore. King George did not crow anymore. King George did not do his morning dance anymore. King George did not find food for his girls anymore. King George was sad. In fact he didn’t feel like a King anymore.

He was just plain old George who did not love life or his girls anymore. He was miserable and he was grumpy and all he wanted to do hide was hide in a bush and hope no one sees him.

King George had lost his mojo.


In case you were wondering

I have had backyard hens and my “chook” blog since 2012 and have loved every minute if it. Yes, both the hens and the blog.

In November 2013, my husband’s daughter and her 7 month old baby came to live with us, joined by her partner a few months later. I was struggling to manage my life and all of the additional stress that came with it.

Early one weekend morning in April, when I was lying there panicking and almost in tears, thinking of all the things I had to do that day, I made a very difficult decision to close two of my three blogs down. My blogs are a big part of my life and require energy and love and lots of time. If energy, love and time is not able to be given, then as far as I was concerned, I was not able to continue for myself or my readers.

A few more months have now passed and we have one less person living in the house. (We still have mum and baby, who is now a 15 month old toddler).  For some reason in the past few weeks, the grey fog that was surrounding me has lifted. Maybe I have come to terms with my new life, or maybe my tiny flock of backyard chooks has helped to lift me.

We are past the shortest day here in New Zealand and my chooks have started laying again and King George, my magnificent rooster, has most of his feathers and his mojo back.

When I closed my blogs down, I made them private. I did not delete them. I am sorry to my readers that I didn’t put up a post to explain what I was doing. I am now ready to start blogging again about my tiny flock but forgive me if the posts are a bit few and far between. I realise I would have lost most of my readers but maybe they will see my posts and start to come back.


The wild rabbit who thinks he is one of our chickens

We live in rural New Zealand and farmers here do not like rabbits.


But how can you resist this little guy. He thinks he is a chicken and what’s more, he thinks he is one of our pets.

He was born this spring and his mum lives somewhere in the bushes beside our house. So this little rabbit has decided he is part of our family.

He can usually be seen cruising with the chickens and eating their seed, their  scraps and their grass. (There is not much grass left on this side of the house as the harsh summer sun has burnt it all away. There is plenty left around the other sides of the house but this side is sheltered from the hawks.)

He doesn’t even run away when I go outside. He seems quite happy being one of the flock and the chickens seems to have accepted him.

Lucky little rabbit. But I suggest you don’t cross the road into the farmer’s paddock.


My bantam sat for 57 days on her infertile eggs


As you can see, my little bantam, Aunt Dorrie is now back in among the rest of the brood. (She is the one nearest to King George.) After sitting on her infertile eggs for 57 days, she finally gave up.

For each of those 57 days she came off the nest to eat, drink, stretch her legs, and do her ablutions and then she would go running back. I always made sure there was plenty of fresh water but I was worried about her not having enough food. I would always leave food out for her in the mornings before I went to work but I know that the other chickens and the birds probably ate it all before she came out. But then I had to remember that she is a “wild bantam” who has lived across the road on the farm without being fed by anyone, for a long time before she came to my house. So I had to trust that she knows how to survive without me.

And then one day in the weekend, I saw her come out and run towards our chooketaria. A chooketaria is a self feeding chicken feeder that opens up when the chicken steps on the lid. She is far too light surely, to open the lid with her tiny little bantam frame.

This is a picture of one of my other bantam, Hannah using the chooketaria, with Hilda Hen waiting in line.


But no, Aunt Dorrie went straight up to the chooketaria, put her feet onto the step, the lid opened and she raised herself as high as her little body would allow, and leaned in and started pecking at the delicious grains.

So that is how she has been keeping herself fed. What a clever little bantam.


So Aunt Dorrie is off her nest and back with the rest of the brood looking no worse the wear for her ordeal.


How long will a mother hen sit on her infertile eggs before she gives up?

Aunty Dorrie has been sitting on her eggs now for 49 days. Now you may think that I am very cruel to leave her for that long on her nest but I can’t find the nest and she is too wily to be caught and locked up when she comes out to eat, drink and do her ablutions.

She is sitting in among very dense vegetation. I have followed her to her nest site many times but I always lose sight of her when she goes over  the fence and then squeezes her tiny body through the dense and prickly vegetation and then just like that, she is gone! I think she chose such a dense site just to make sure I didn’t find her like I did last time. 

I think this time she is only sitting on her eggs and not a nest that has been shared with the other girls. I could be wrong but I don’t think the Barnevelders would be able to get their little fat bodies over the fence and into the thick vegetation. When Aunty Dorrie sat last time for so long, the only egg that hatched was one of the Barnevelder’s and the single chick didn’t survive the nightly hedgehog visits while she continued to sit trying to hatch the rest of her obviously infertile eggs.

This time she could have hatched chicks and lost them again but somehow I think she is just sitting and sitting, and sitting some more, on her infertile eggs once again. I think she is just too tiny for our very huge rooster.

When I am home in the weekends, I see her come out once each day to feed and water and she is looking healthy and fit. Better than the rest of my girls who are all moulting and scruffy.


Aunty Dorrie is broody again

Aunty Dorrie is broody AGAIN and is sitting on her eggs somewhere “in the wild” AGAIN. We know the general direction where she is sitting but can’t find her or the nest. A repeat of last time and such a short time ago.

I have seen her running across the lawn towards the feed container.

I have patiently waited and watched from a distance, while she feeds, drinks, does her ablutions, dust bathes, drinks some more, and then feeds some more.

I have followed her with stealth, as she runs back across the lawn.

When she disappears down the steep hill I hurry so that I don’t lose sight of her, whilst at the same time trying not to let her see or hear me. This little bantam is so clever she will go in the opposite direction if she knows I am following her.

I have seen her disappear behind a Toetoe bush.

But I have not been able to see where she goes from there. I think she goes over the fence as there is a lot of thick vegetation but I just cannot find her.

I have leant so far over the fence and poked my head into the gaps as far as I can without falling into the bushes but to no avail.

And the worst part is that her eggs are due to hatch today or tomorrow and I am going away tomorrow for a week! Once AGAIN nature will have to take her course with Aunty Dorrie and her chicks.