Fowl Play

It’s a good thing the sun has come back and giving everything a summery boost of energy (well maybe not in the case of the weeds and lawn perhaps) because there’s so much going on right now it feels like my feet don’t touch the ground from dawn till dusk!

However I do like being occupied and having many diverse jobs to do around the home and farm stops me from working 100% on just making stuff and leading to creative fatigue – something I know that can happen quite quickly to me when I don’t get outside in the fresh air as well. I find doing mundane routine jobs leaves my brain free to mull over new ideas and iron out the kinks in existing ones or edit things I want to write about before sitting down to type or create…

Sometimes it’s all too easy to get distracted however and these little cuties who’ve taken up residence in my spare bedroom haven’t been helping on that score over the past week or so!

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You might remember Tommy the Partridge Pekin cockerel who’s made the odd appearance on this blog? Well I’m sad to say that 2 weeks ago he went to sleep and didn’t wake up – not a bad way to go if you’re an elderly chicken – and whilst literally falling off your perch has slightly macabre comic overtones, the sad truth is that we miss Tommy IV very very much. He was a sweet chicken both to us and to his adored Henrietta (who probably didn’t appreciate what a lucky girl she was as much as she should). He would look after Henrietta most assiduously, making sure she had all the best bits of food and ALL of the mealworms we treat them with and generally fussing most anxiously about her general welfare in a most un-chicken-like way.

They spent an awful lot of their time free ranging just outside my front door where it’s a sun trap and being near to human company they were relatively safe from the foxes and polecats that plague our poultry and have caused us to lose so many over the years. Tommy and Henrietta were the sole survivors of the once numerous Pekin bantams we’ve hatched and raised over the past few years. We once had so many that we had to give away or sell quite a few. We had a lot of Lavender Pekins especially and a clutch of these got split up, two going back to the granddaughter of our friend who first gave us Pekins and the remaining six becoming the nucleus of the now almost-celebrity-status chickens of the excellent blog over at HilltopCloud run by my friend Katie.

Our own bantam numbers dwindled thanks to smash and grab raids by polecats until we worked out that they were lifting the lids of the nest boxes and swiping sleeping bantams off the nests so I screwed down the lids and sure enough the next night was woken by a terrific racket of Something trying to claw its way fruitlessly into the little bantam house and shooting out into the dark in my dressing gown I caught sight of a fleeing polecat in the beam of my torch. Inspecting the deep gouges in the wood left by the claws and teeth of the thief, I realised why gentle little sleeping bantams were so defenceless…

We have lots of foxes that get dumped around here too – a dirty not-so-secret legacy of the fox hunting ban that town foxes get trapped and brought out to the countryside to be released because presumably the reasoning goes that out here we don’t mind our poultry and lambs being slaughtered by hungry and bewildered foxes who have no restaurant bins to scavenge from or places to hide. Rural foxes generally don’t get seen, they hunt nocturnally and have their dens and family groups. Urban foxes cruelly dumped in the countryside don’t have those advantages, aren’t generally scared of humans and not only wander around in daylight searching for something to eat but also come close to humans and usually stand their ground if disturbed whilst sleeping in outhouses as though they were domestic animals, albeit not very friendly ones. Small non-flying gentle chickens and ducks ranging loose around the yards are like manna to such would-be predators and in recent years we’ve lost more poultry than you’d believe despite them being shut in early at nights and in winter and early spring when small prey is scarce making the hungry foxes even more desperate especially vixens feeding cubs, we have to keep the birds housed up inside in barns to prevent losing everything although last winter it came close; by December we were left with just Tommy and Henrietta and two older laying chickens in the main hen house so I bought three laying hens for my mother for Christmas and she bought a further three pullets a few weeks later. All are now penned in large runs we had to go to the expense of building. It’s sad not to let them free range but chickens are not cheap and it’s desperately sad to hear frantic clucking fading across the field and know that a dying chicken is being carted away for lunch and that even if you run as fast as you can, all you’ll find when you get there is a trail of feathers blowing across the grass…

So whilst I was glad that Tommy lived out his full life in peace and contentment, we were now down to just one Pekin bantam. I adore these birds, they are by far the sweetest and most amusing chickens we’ve ever had in 25 years of poultry keeping. Henrietta was looking lost too so a search online found someone wanting to rehome an 8 month old Partridge Pekin cock who from the photo looked to be a very fine bird indeed.

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Mum went to pick him up 10 days ago with her best friend and they were both entranced by the place he had been raised – it was a hobby flock but on a sweeping scale and she enthusiastically told me about the immaculate pens and houses, the gorgeous birds and other animals there and particularly the Lemon Pekin bantams the lady was breeding which isn’t a colour we’ve ever owned. When she got home with the new Tommy (the Fifth) after a very long round trip she realised she’d missed a trick – we currently have an incubator on loan from a friend and she wished she’d also bought some hatching eggs from the Lemon Pekins. Luckily her friend who lives nearer was more than happy to go back with her husband last week to pick up some hatching eggs for us and the lady also had the 3 day old chicks for sale so Mum arranged to buy those as well.

Henrietta initially wasn’t that impressed with Tommy V. She was so used to being an old man’s darling and his courteous ways, she was deeply suspicious of her new eager Toy Boy who is also very gentle and kind but hasn’t quite learned all the endearing habits a spoiled girl like Henrietta appreciates. So initially she kind of let everyone know she wanted her space thank very muchly…

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Which meant that Tommy Junior spent quite a bit of time feeling like a lemon…

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But now they’re getting on a lot better… although every now and then Henrietta still goes off to have a little “me time”. The ducks get on quite well with them too so all is happy in what’s known as the Pool Paddock at the moment.

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The ducks are very old now and we’ve not hatched out any more new ones – I love our Saxony ducks so I will probably hatch some more some day – we had nine ducks last year but thanks to random daylight fox raids over winter we’re down to only five!

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So back to the younger members of the family; the 3 chicks are growing well. The Lavender chick is definitely a cockerel, the Black Pekin chick is a hen and jury is still out on the Partridge chick – I thought initially it was a cockerel but not so sure now, we will find out once it has all it’s adult feathers! They’re less Orville-like at the moment and have got to the slightly gawky stage where they’re part fluff/part feather and they are deeply suspicious of my movements around the room which they can see through the plastic of their brooder box.

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I like watching them; like all babies they play hard and then suddenly get overcome by sleepiness and it always makes me giggle when they’re pecking around and then suddenly sink down onto the shavings as their eyes close sleepily and then beak-dive forwards zonked out flat from their chickly games. Last week when they were still very small they liked to cram into their food bowl all together. I had to take a picture through the plastic because I knew if I lifted the lid to take it they would jump up so it’s a bit blurry but still sweet!

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And the eggs in the incubator are doing well. We candled them last night to see if they were fertile and so far all 12 eggs are growing chicks inside of them so hopefully we’ll have some more babies in a couple of weeks.

Goodness knows what Henrietta and Tommy will make of that!!

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